When I left Death Row, I could no longer use my signature sign off: “live from death row,” which incidentally was the title of my first book. I had to find a new sign-off, so I chose “from imprisoned nation.”
As I looked around me, now in prison population, I found astounding numbers of men and women in prison, a nation of millions in chains. State by state, the United States has embarked on the greatest incarceration increase in history.
Fueled by the politics of fear, the states and the federal government chose prisons as the option to address a variety of social problems. Politicians played to media-driven fear to launch wars on drugs, wars on gangs, wars on those seen as dark others such as the so-called superpredators. Remember that one?
So-called social scientists gave pseudoscience to politicians to justify their assaults on the poor, again, sending thousands and tens of thousands into the netherworld of state and federal prisons for longer and longer periods of time. And even for those who made it out of prison, they were condemned to a lifetime of social and political revenge.
These punitive powers have been used to poison the putative freedoms of ex-prisoners, denying them jobs, education, and simple human growth. Thus, as they were denied these things in prison, so they are denied these things once out of prison, ensuring their poverty and social marginalization, pushing them back into the lives of hustling, of illegal drug sales or use, and returning many people to the health of prison.
Dr. Angela Y. Davis, herself a former political prisoner, has worked for decades to teach the merits of prison abolition. That’s right. Prison abolition: the core and kernel of bringing an end to prison nation. In 2003, Angela published the book Is the Prison Obsolete? With her characteristic brilliance, she raised a question that is now right on time for us all. That question can and must be answered by all of us today. Is it time to abolish prison nation? Angela Davis asks us is the prison obsolete? What say you?
From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.