The Scarlet & Black

The Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Tresther’s Tru-pinions: The 2018 Prison Strike and Prison Abolition

The 2018 national prison strike, from Aug. 21 to Sept. 9, was an important continuation of our society’s progress towards prison abolition. Organizers across 17 prisons held work strikes, hunger strikes, sit-ins and protests. Their demands call for an end to modern day slavery.

This strike was a feat of immense grassroots organizational power, and symbolism is tied to the very dates of the strike. The first day of the protest, Aug. 21, commemorates the 47th anniversary of the killing of jailed African American activist George Jackson. The last day, Sept. 9, commemorates the 1971 Attica prison riots in New York, “eventually leaving more than 40 people dead when police stormed in to re-take the facility,” according to an article from USA Today.

In case anyone wants to support prisoners involved in this national strike, I recommend you read the demands and USA Today article, research about the prison abolition movement in general and, in Iowa, make contacts with organizations, organize a phone zap or fundraise/raise awareness! Even reading and having conversations about what you learn is a form of activism.

Activists right next door to us in Des Moines protested in front of the Iowa Prison Industries office in support of the national strike. Unfortunately, there was no large organized action at Grinnell in support of strikers, but that does not mean there were no amazing Grinnell-affiliated activists working behind the scenes on their own projects. There are people helping prisoners through the Liberal Arts in Prison program. There’s a group of professors who just received a grant to make a school-to-prison coalition. Last fall, Gina Clayton won the Grinnell Prize for her organization the Essie Justice Group which harnesses collective power of women with incarcerated loved ones, and there are many other people doing personal or community work related to supporting the humanity and health of communities affected by mass incarceration.

I didn’t really know about prison abolition until a few summers ago when I interned at Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa (now called Monsoon Asian Pacific Islanders in Solidarity), where I had access to an amazing book collection filled with radical female warriors. One of my coworkers lent me his copy of “Are Prisons Obsolete?” by Angela Davis, the queen. Here’s a basic rundown of the book, since you probably don’t have time to read the actual book:

Prison abolition argues that racism is so deeply interwoven into the fibers of the prison system that the only solution is to abolish it entirely. This does not necessarily mean burning down prisons but restructuring how we think about punishment, especially when the punishment system is so explicitly racist (police are stationed in poor Black communities to arrest them for petty crimes). The reality is that the existence of prison systems paired with a militarized police state is physical and psychological warfare on communities of color. The system is based on punishment rather than restoration, and those released from prisons are thrown back into society with a criminal record that marks them for life — not to mention the toll on family members and communities most affected by mass incarceration (Black and Brown communities).

To no surprise, prisons proliferated under Reagan’s administration. The first prison in California was built in San Quentin, California in 1852. Within the next century, eight more were built. Reagan became president and prioritized the expansion of the prison industry. Nine prisons were built between 1984 and 1989. Twelve more opened in the 90s. Today, we have 102 federal prisons, not to mention 1,719 state prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails and 79 Indian Country jails.

The 2018 prison strike is a big deal, but I didn’t hear many people talking about it. I hope this article raises some awareness on the amazing work community organizers are doing, and I hope to see more involvement in the future from the Grinnell community in the prison abolition movement and prison studies in general.

In the words of Max Horkheimer, “The Revolution won’t happen with guns, rather it will happen incrementally, year by year, generation by generation. We will gradually infiltrate their educational institutions and their political offices, transforming them into Marxist entities as we move towards universal egalitarianism.”

P.S. “Fuck the prisons.” — Malcolm Davis ’21.

“Prison and reform are two words that sound good together on purpose. The prison industrial complex is itself [a] site of slavery reform after all.” — Jin Chang ’19.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *