It is Cops and Jails friday at Scission and the temptation is to head to Ferguson for a story, but we will wait on that for now. Instead how about a book review. The book in question, Locked Down, Locked Out, is a damning account of the ugly philosophy and practice of what we call incarceration. The book written by Maya Schenwar, editor in chief at Truthout, is:
And it is more.
Schenwar talks of her own personal experiences with her sisters incarceration. Jean Trounstine adds in her review:
But Schenwar’s sister’s struggle and her family’s excruciatingly painful experience of dealing with it is only her entry point into the story of incarceration. This saga, as she says, is borne by all who love someone locked up, although “this country’s most marginalized communities bear the overwhelming brunt of the devastation.” Locked Down, Locked Out is a heartfelt book which takes to task the “behemoth” often called “the prison industrial complex.” Prisons and jails are locking up 2.3 million people behind bars and Schenwar gives us stories as well as facts to illustrate its inner workings, while still managing to present us with hopeful alternatives to prisons.
In an interview with Truthout Schenwar is asked what it means to her to be a prison abolitionist. This is how she answers,
I don’t think that prisons can be fixed and I don’t think the system surrounding prisons can be fixed. It also means putting prisons in the context of why they exist. It means recognizing that they’re grounded in racism and anti-blackness. It means understanding that they’re perpetuated by social, racial, economic injustice, not by a process of correction.
I know there’s a lot of controversy around imagining alternatives. But I think that’s part of being an abolitionist: having discussions about what do you do in particular situations if prisons didn’t exist. It drives me crazy when people ask, “[Without prisons] what would we do with people who commit violent acts?” At the same time I think it’s important to think about. Not because people who commit violent acts are so different from people who don’t, but because you need to have a framework for dealing with things that happen in ways that don’t involve confinement and further violence.
...I think being an abolitionist is about making mistakes and trying to understand them and moving forward that way. It’s always going to be about contradictions until we’re living in a better place.In her book Maya writes:
Prison’s role in society, the logic goes, is to toss away the bad eggs so they can’t poison us—so we don’t even have to see them. With those eggs cleared, we seamlessly close up the gaps and carry on, clean and whole.The surprise pops up when the broken seams are revealed—the way that incarceration rips open new holes in the social fabric of families and communities outside, severing intricate networks strung together in ways that are observable only upon their breaking. Instead of eggs, we are tossing away people’s mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, partners, friends
It should be noted that while the first half of this book focuses on the problems of prison, the second half is all about ways deal with those problems. Trounstine in her review of the book elaborates on that last paragraph.
She says “really effective treatment means bringing people out of isolation—not imposing more of it.” She points out ways people on the inside work with people on the outside through telling their stories. And she highlights some particular community-based programs that she has encountered from shore to shore...Angela Davis adds,
Maya Schenwar's stories about prisoners, their families (including her own), and the thoroughly broken punishment system are rescued from any pessimism such narratives might inspire by the author's brilliant juxtaposition of abolitionist imaginaries and radical political practices.
In another review of the book on Truthout, Mariame Kaba ends with a quote from anti-prison activist Barbara Fair. I think I will end with the same quote.
I have worked so hard at reform, and saw so little change, that I have come to the conclusion that revolution might be the only response to what is occurring in America relative to criminal justice and the prison industry it feeds.
As a former prisoner myself, an ex-con as it were, I think you and I need to read this book.
The following is from the web page of Maya Schenwar.