Prison Abolition

Introduction

Picture from Culture of Resistance

My desire to focus on prison abolition, came from an article I wrote in October 2012, called Prison Abolition & Permaculture. This was triggered by supporting a close friend in prison and exploring my own history of imprisonment - I wanted to understand the political, social and economic landscapes of prisons and how we can build alternatives and dismantle the prison industrial complex.

Below are some very brief introductions to the prison industrial complex and abolitionist organising for the reader.

     * What is the prison industrial complex?

The Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) is a term used to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems. The PIC helps and maintains the authority of people who get their power through racial, economic and similar privilege.

    * What does organising for abolition mean?

PIC abolition is a political vision with the goal of elimating prisons, policing and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonmnent. Abolition is both a practical organising tool & a long term goal.

(Both definitions from the Critical Resistance Abolitionist Toolkit).

“Prisons are the most blatant evidence of the inequities that constitute capitalist culture, a junction where all social injustices converge”.

- Karlene Faith

My Work During this Output Period

The core of activity I undertook during this output period involved:

  • Extensive reading around the prison system. See my annotated reading list here.
  • Active reflection of my own experiences
  • Pro-active critique, analytic and strategic thinking relating to prison abolition organising
  • Action learning through groups & projects engaged in prison-related organising involving organising events, leading workshops & managing post-arrest support
  • Creating the first Caged Bird Zine, Womyn’s Journal of Prison Abolition, with friends in prison
  • Collaborating with others to create the Post Prison Zine

My Key Areas of Research & Learning

Women & resistance to the Prison Industrial Complex

The majority of prison literature is centred on men's experiences, including ther resistance. Through this output I wanted to explore how are armed by the prison system, and most importantly, how women resist. 

My efforts are captured in the first Caged Bird Zine, which will be uploaded here. It is one of the first in the UK focusing explicitly on women, that is written by and for women prisoners.

Prison Abolition in Practice

The second key area of engagement for myself was looking at ‘prison abolition in practice’. It is very easy to oppose the prison system, but to defeat it, and harder yet, design a world without prisons, addressing the huge complexities of harm, justice and freedom is a major undertaking and I needed to find clarity in my heart and head about what this work means for my lifetime dedicated to working until all are free.

Key activities involved:

  • Reading and reviewing literature
  • Undertaking an appreciative enquiry, drawing examples from my reading and research of prison abolition in practice, especially groups from North America
  • Action learning from my own engagement with Bristol Anarchist Black Cross, a group that supports political prisoners and is dedicated to prison abolition


My key learnings were summarised in a handout I designed called Prison Abolition in Practice, which aims to look at the different options for organising and agitation, while interlinking the necessity of practices such as permaculture and agroecology in creating a prison-free world.

I felt creating this handout would result in the most impactful use of my time in summarising and disseminating my learning, as it can be more widely shared, rather than processing all the information into a report for the reader of this output.

The handout will be availble at http://www.prisonabolition.org/ a website for a project starting in 2014 (see info in the outcomes section).

Further evidence of my prison abolition work can be found in my Output Outcomes page.

Resilience to Repression

Introduction

The second major political thread of my output work was understanding repression, and its diverse forms, histories and contexts around the world.

It became clear to me that effective action will undoubtably be repressed by those with oppressive interests to protect. Therefore we will never be able to stop repression, but we can be more resilient to it. Resilience in its most basic is, “The capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure.” (Walker & Scott) In relation to repression I see this as the ability to experience repression in all its diverse manifestations, yet still be able to continue to function and be effective in achieving movement goals.

Picture from libcom.org

My Work During this Output Period

The core of activity I undertook during this output period involved:

  • Extensive reading around repression. See my annotated reading list here.
  • Active reflection of my own experiences
  • Pro-active critique, analytic and strategic thinking relating to how we can be more resilient to repression on personal, group and movement levels  
  • Action learning through groups & projects engaged in repression related work
  • Producing materials embedded in this output packet, such as the Resilience to Repression Zine

My Key Areas of Research & Learning

Understanding the diverse manifestations & complexities of repression

Repression may give the image of disappeared activists in Columbia, lengthy prison sentences in North America, or violent policing in riots in Europe. How it manifests is unique to culture and place, however across the world individuals, groups and movements feel its harm and impacts on their work for social change.


My work exploring repression involved:

  • Surveying my own experiences & those of close allies
  • Reading & reviewing literature (see my reading list here)
  • The experiences and examples from workshops I facilitated around repression, which generated knowledge and captured people’s experiences, as is the foundation of popular education.

Picture from ITV.com



I then summarised different forms of repression in the mindmap below:

Exploring how individuals, groups & movements can be more resilient to repression, in theory & practice

I then wanted to use this information to increase the resilience of groups and movements to repression. Through reviewing the literature, applying my own ideas and capturing the ideas and feedback of participants on the repression workshops I led, I managed to craft the below mindmap that summarises some of the key ideas around resilience to repression.

I also created this Resilience to Repression Handout, which again was deliberately created in a format that can be most easily and widely shared. It will be available at: http://www.animalactionnetwork.org.uk/

Text box

“With enough bold, empowering resistance, we can move beyond small victories to achieve a lasting victory against the state, the patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy. Revolution is imperative, and revolution necessitates struggle. There are many effective forms of struggle, and some of these methods can lead to the worlds we dream of. To find one of the right paths, we must observe, assess, criticize, communicate, and above all, learn by doing.” 

- Peter Gelderloos

Action Learning

I am without a doubt an action learner, and what brings Gaia University alive to me is the ability to put my learning into practice and then actively reflect and adapt my work. These action learning cycles accelerating my best practice.

In combination with the studying of repression I have also been actively involved in some projects which have allowed me to put theory into practice, one is Balcombe Defendant Solidarity, which I detail here, where you can also see the outher outcomes and impact of my work.