Prison activism does not initially seem like a viable foundation upon which to build a social movement, especially to a society that is conditioned to look at prisoners as people who don’t have or deserve rights for which to advocate. It is an undesirable topic for a social movement, yet when examining what is being asked for, a complete redesign of this system is the only option that makes sense from a rights standpoint. In the lists of demands from the module, the demands ranged from simple to more complex, yet each was grounded in foundational human rights issue that has been violated. Dismantling the prison industrial complex would require a complete shift in how we view justice and prisons. Prisons should only be used, if at all, as a tool for separation of those who pose a definite threat to society and don’t show promise of a chance to rehabilitate. It is surely easier to lock away people for breaking laws, yet it does nothing to improve the people being locked up and does not thoroughly prepare them to reenter society as active, contributing citizens. People have been proven to respond better to therapeutic rehabilitative methods over isolation and depravation. One encourages a person to participate in a positive way in society and helps them envision a life in which that is possible. The other, often erases the possibility for reintegration into society in a positive role and actively works against it even after the period of incarceration. A world without prison is far more desirable than the world full of prisons present in the U.S. Certain offenses deserve to be punished more harshly than others, and there are people who do affect the well-being of society so heavily that it is best for everyone if they are separated. Unfortunately, many of those people are the ones running these institutions that keep this complex working and their offenses are going unpunished, if not being encouraged. Instead of incarcerating people, it seems more progressive for the institutions to come up with alternative methods of dealing with offenses so that people are encouraged not to reoffend through positive measures, instead of being forced to reoffend through inhumane treatment and lack of rights.
Chomsky and Herman’s propaganda model is very convincing, as it is visible in the scale at which it plays out in the current media. The operation of the press is understood through the different devices that function as control mechanisms. In the US, the press is used to spread messages sent out by different information suppliers, but the information that actually gets sent out it controlled by who owns the media source, the advertisers that fund the source, and the interests of the government or commercial entities that hold power over the source through financial or political means. The news media has covered events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere as each source sees fit. More leftist outlets focus on the victims and the public outrage surrounding the events, often covering protests from the public’s perspective to spread awareness and garner support behind the causes. More right-wing outlets cover the events in ways that diminish the victims’ voices and uphold the power of the police to carry out justice as they see fit. Leftist outlets uplift the #BlackLivesMatter movement by continuing to cover stories that resemble each other in nature of police brutality and other injustices committed against black people, while right-wing outlets have pushed a Blue Lives Matter campaign to once again counter and undermine a movement, devoted to empowering marginalized communities. Each source still covers current news, more or less, and diverts the perception to represent their beliefs and the interests of the powers that control them.
Because “Manufacturing Consent” was published over thirty years ago, and the concept of media has changed over time, the application of the propaganda model has to be altered slightly to address its current implications. The idea of Anticommunism (the fifth filter) was thoroughly explored as the agenda being pushed by major governmental and corporate powers in order to keep the economy flowing in their favor. In today’s context, the concept of anticommunism has still been referenced in different ways in debates over how the economy should operate and what the government should be obligated to provide for the public. For example, in the current climate of the Coronavirus pandemic, people have been forced to socially distance themselves from others and limit their interaction with the outside world other than essential business. There has been heavy debate over what constitutes as an essential business and who are essential workers, but regardless these workers (outside of medical care professionals) are only still required to work because people have the need to engage in the economy. There have also been protests across the nation advocating for businesses to reopen so people can return to work, and others can resume their prior economic activity. Yet, if their view was less focused on capitalism and socialism was more embraced, people would be advocating for wages to be paid during this time, and mortgage and rent payments to be halted as we’ve seen happen in other countries. Yet, early in the crisis, the government bailed out Wall Street to ensure their economic interests were met. The only way they have been able to get away with putting corporate and economic interests above the health and safety of the public is through propaganda supporting these ideals. Digital and social media has aided both the public and the media in making the news and responsive commentary more accessible on a wider scale and by giving a voice to people who wouldn’t have been able to communicate their views and advocate for their causes in this way before.
The prison system has wholly strayed away from its main purpose which was to isolate those who disobeyed the law and to deter them from doing it again. And has now turned into a massive business; a business that targets minorities majority of the time. Prison oppresses black people and has done so since the end of slavery. Prisons are located close to black neighborhoods and black neighborhoods are primary targets. But it is great to see and know the prison activism that is happening. Natural born rights are violated behind bars and those held in prison are deprived of their rights. The prison system is the physical building of what society does to minorities who are free and natural-born citizens in America.
Citizens and minorities rising up and becoming an activist regarding the discussion of prison is tremendous and can bring about many movements. When looking into dismantling the prison industrial complex dismantling the justice system. The prison system is the response of how the justice system works, so dismantling the brains of the operation will be the most effective way into making change. To imagine a world with no prisons I think it wouldn’t be bad, but there would still need to be ordered in order to maintain some peace. But honestly, what would the world look like without prisons…hmm nice to wonder.
To be a kid in America especially an African American child; they are 10x more likely to have been suspended or expelled than a Caucasian child. The school system is set up like society and has begun to modify itself more like a prison system day after day. Those kids who are suspended fall behind in their academics and sometimes are less likely to want to go back to school. Looking deeper into the school system many majority African American schools have metal detectors, big bulky students conduct books and the zero-tolerance policy. This new zero-tolerance policy deals with behavior in schools and not tolerating it at all; which leads to many African American students being the target of this new policy. Up north many schools are located close to jails which leads to many students being exposed to that kind of atmosphere.
In this Ted Talk principal, Benjamin Williams he speaks of the school that he leads that is only filled will African American Men who care about disrupting the school to prison pipeline. Within the school, to prison pipeline controversy as well as in society the highest population of those incarcerated are African Black Men. So what principal Williams is aiming and striving to do in his community is to change that and give kids hope and opportunity letting them know that they are more than just a statistic. Schools should not be micromanaged as prisons and the zero-tolerance policy should be throughout because in my own opinion it is just another hurdle and way to oppress minorities starting at a young age.
Schools are constructed in a way where there is a strict order and stepping outside that order equals consequences. There are times to eat, attend, learn, and use the restroom similar to the format of prison. In elementary school, you are taught to stand in line and remain in order, which I feel really sticks with children throughout their school journey and they remain in order. To combat the school-to-prison pipeline I believe there needs to be more teaching and less strict structure.
Ferguson: Crime, Race, and History has taught me a variety of things and has allowed me to expand my knowledge. I’ve expanded my knowledge and analyzed different perspectives mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. Initially, I was under the impression that the class would mostly focus on slavery, oppression, and a dab of police brutality. However, we uncovered material concerning the mindset of Black and White Americans from the past two centuries. The class focused on the terrorism and oppression of Black people, the micro-aggressions we formulated as a coping mechanism, the specters of criminality that identified blacks as criminals, which is easily disputable. Also, understanding blackness/ whiteness, and reading/ writing/ and watching the historical efforts for equality, change, and justice. #Blacklivesmatter was the bedrock for social justice and change for the new generation. The national attention BLM inculcated allowed for other marginalized cultural groups to be heard such as the LGBTQ community, DACA, Indigenous people’s rights, and many more. My parents always mention that my generation is the one that’s gonna be the change for the world. Honestly, I always responded by saying it was hearsay or just noise. However, as I get older, I really started to believe they were actually right! Millennials and Generation Z are not only shaping the future, WE ARE THE FUTURE! We’re tackling and approaching complex topics from women’s rights to gay rights to gun reform. The path forward consists of a progressive America. An America that doesn’t stick to confirmation and implicit biases. An America where race doesn’t determine your intelligence or economic status. An America where a black guy with dreadlocks is a neurosurgeon. An America where a woman with tattoos is thriving on Wall Street. An America that truly encompasses and understands the impact of “land of the free, home of the brave.”
WARNING: THIS POST TALKS ABOUT SELF-HARM IN SOMEWHAT GRAPHIC TERMS
The Prison Industrial Complex module was one that I found myself easily intrigued by. Although I missed the lecture and talk with the guest speaker, I read the assigned reading by our professor Adam Ewing which was compelling, and watched some of the YouTube videos posted on the module page. I was not able to watch all of the videos because I fell into the rabbit hole of solitary confinement videos. I watched the two videos and then I watched the recommended ones after that until I was bought to the PBS page where I watched the hour long documentary (that I will link here: ) titled Solitary Nation. Although this course was designed for discussion and meant for us to do things like dive deeper into what interests us, I had not experienced it on this level. By reading the professor’s essay, the topic was already prefaced and the words in the essay flowed through my head as I watched these videos that were actually quite heartbreaking. I am a firm believer that if someone commits a crime or transgresses against others in a way that causes harm, they should be punished but I also know that these are still human beings in most cases that deserve at least some basic human decency. Solitary Nation took me on a first hand tour of how the process of in/visibility occurs. With the exception of a few men, who seem to have been a threat to everyone they came in contact with, the inmates I saw in “seg” as they called it, were just people who knew they were being ignored, thrown away, and viewed as irredeemable. Not only did they know this, but it was made even more apparent when they were once again thrown into seg. With no direct contact with other human beings and no way to feel the sun on their skin (besides the one hour a day they got in a pin that resembled one dogs at shelters stay in), I saw the mental deterioration of these men. I saw the means they went to just for any escape of the hell of solitary. Most of the episode, there was blood from men who self-harmed. There was one inmate in particular who I saw the deterioration of due to being in “seg” that quite frankly, shook me. He was an inmate who had NEVER self-harmed in any way before he had been put in “seg” for inciting riots in the prison. Him and many others in “seg” would use razor blades to cut veins in their arms and wrist. From there, this would usually be done before or after covering the small windows in their cells (covering windows is a violation that can gain MORE TIME in solitary). After this, these inmates were finally seen and heard. Some of these men had obvious signs of mental disturbances but the first thing that happened if they self-harmed was get punished heavily with more time in solitary.To me this exemplified the entire in/visibility process. Seeing this was like an endless vicious cycle that seemingly had no end. Although I went out on a tangent with this post, I am glad I did, because I have never seen anything like what I saw by watching these videos. I have recently had inmates in my prayers dud to COVID-19 and the lack of resources they would have. I have also been worried because often times, people go into the prison system and they become dehumanized- sometimes this is warranted- but a lot of times it is not. They are thrown away and expected to reform and change all while still being viewed as irredeemable animals. This prison system is one, that like many large scale systems, that needs major reform for the sake of everyone and for the sake of the future.
During our last class session we discussed paths forward, and we came full circle to who and why this class was even started. Michael Brown, a 18 year old black boy, who was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, Missouri. It awoke something in black individuals that had been lying dormant since the Civil Rights Movement, the call to be heard and seen as a person, not just a scary black person. I think the most memorable part to me of this module and #BlackLivesMatter movement is that it was started two years before the Micheal Brown incident and was created by black women and not just any black women they are queer. To be a black women in a world of hate is already a hard enough thing to do but to add being queer on top of that is just bad ass to me and I respect any person in general that is strong enough to carry that title so proud. This movement has started up such an uproar over the years that it has gave people all across the world a place to fit in and share their concerns with anything, for example #MeToo was started in response to the sexual assault survivors coming out against their attackers, and the Women’s March was to advocate legislation and policies regarding human rights and other issues, including women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, reproductive rights, the environment, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, workers’ rights and tolerance. The National Prison Strike, Teachers Strike, Global Climate strike have all come to be because the fearless leaders of the #BLM came together and created something special. When we talk about paths forward we must look in the past to project what we want our future to look like. Whether this be a nation without prisons, how to eradicate white privilege, how do we shape ideas surrounding race and so forth; I think it all starts with our communities. I honestly have never been a fan of the “each community is it’s own” community’ thing because every community in itself is different because the people are different, and they cannot all access the same items because of their differences. A main question i would want answered is “how do we address the school-to-prison pipeline?” I feel this is such an important topic to bring up because a child’s future is determined by how they are in school no matter the type of school they are in. Schools now are in the format of a prison basically, the kids have to ask for permission for anything that they do, To me this is crazy because you realize that these children are on the same timely schedule as someone who is incarcerated. And like they say a hit dog will holler, and the more you treat these children as if they are criminals and make them feel they are always being monitored and have everything they do regulated they will act as caged animals. I’m not going to say that precautions and safety measures should not be put in place but they could definitely dial it back a little with things like metal detectors, being pat down, having to have clear luggage when in school, monitoring their bathroom usage and attitudes the kids will feel they can be kids and live and make mistakes without thinking that the worse would come for them.
As our time in this class comes to an end, we must acknowledge what steps we shall take as we move forward. When I ponder on what this means for me, I think back to our guest Jihad Abdulmumit and his parting words, encouraging us to “find our home” and align ourselves with causes we are passionate about; whether it be education, prison reform, or climate change. This stuck with me because we are in a time where we have to actively pursue the changes we want to see in the world. We have to put ourselves in positions to enact the changes that our community needs. As we critically discuss what the path forward is, we have to first assess where we are, how far we come, where we need to go, and develop an action plan.
I personally am very passionate about educational equity and affordable housing I believe that children are our future and we must pour into the next generation of leaders. In my community, I am “finding my home” by going into education and furthering my education with hopes of going into educational policy. I would like to address the affordable housing crisis in my community by discussing with my city leaders about the value of taking care of our people over development.
A part of addressing the issues that I am passionate about is acknowledging the issues that come with trying to establish reform. To start, educational resources are in danger of being cut in federal budgeting. Where there is a lack of resources, there is the risk of increased challenges in establishing reform. Not to mention the disparities in public vs. private vs. charter schools, disparities in testing, classroom resources, etc. Now that we have addressed the issues we face, we must break those concepts down even further and hold our elected officials responsible for advocating for the changes we need to see in our community.
Once we find our home, we should dedicate whatever time, energy, and resources we can to helping our community. Only with a collective effort will we see the changes we desire. We are advocating for those who can not advocate for themselves. We must use what we can to restructure ideas and continue to be agents of change.
On Wednesday, we spoke with William “Tufayl” Lane, who is currently incarcerated at MCI Norfolk in Massachusetts. Tufayl is the former president of the prisons African American Coalition Committee or AACC, and the founder of Know Your Smoke. Know Your Smoke or know your enemy as he likes to put it educates and informs and organizes incarcerated persons around addressing their true enemy in life and that is the prison industrial complex. While speaking with Tufayl we could clearly see how the government and prison is definitely against people speaking foul on them. Every time we would ask Tufayl about COVID-19 and the measures that are being taken inside the prison to help combat the virus from spreading all across the prison they would terminate his call. This is another way of controlling everything that the prisoners do while in prison, they monitor their calls and if they hear something they dont like they just terminate them without any warning. Prison activism addresses the concerns and needs of some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens. Is this a good foundation upon which to build a social movement? I think it is, what better way to start a movement about injustice than from where it happens the most a prison or jail. These individuals would have the most stories to tell of injustice and would probably have the best and most sane ideas as to how to fix these problems.
How do we dismantle the prison industrial complex? I feel we can dismantle the prison industrial complex by making rehabs more of a mainstream thing and not a place where celebrities just go or the latter have it seen as a crazy home. I feel if we were to shake up the prisons and fix them in any way is to look at what the prisons on the other side of the world are doing like in places such as Norway. They are known for being the most renowned and humane prison in the world. They do not have the death penalty or sentence people to life in prison. History on Norway’s Prison System: Prior to the introduction of the restorative justice system, Norway had a punitive justice system. In 1968 Norway’s people were unsatisfied with the harsh living conditions of the correctional system and the Norwegian Association for Criminal Reform (KROM) was formed. KROM attacked the penal system which depended on medical treatment of offenders. The offender was treated medically and, depending on the success of the treatment, they were incarcerated for an appropriate term. In 1970 the first act was to abolish forced labor systems. By 1975 juvenile delinquency centers were abolished. The penal model was a failure, with a recidivism rate of 91 percent. According to the creators of it at that time recidivism was not the problem, and their goal, to abolish juvenile delinquency centers and forced labor camps, was completed therefore making their first movements successful. At the time this system helped to pioneer the way for a new way of treating offenders. As of 2017 KROM remained active. With knowing this information it is easy to see that a punitive prison does not always mean an operational or just prison, and that there can in fact be a way to come to justice. What does it mean to imagine a world without prisons? I personally think a world without prisons is something that could never happen. The US strives on the money that comes from these institutions, and to have them just disappear would set the US and worlds economy back tremendously. Is such a thing desirable? It is very desirable but would never happen.
Before I end I would like to add something that Tufayl mentioned while speaking to us and something that I feel is very important to remember. “People closer to the pain need to be closer to the power.”
After re-listening to the first interview with Tufayl, I noticed one thing that Tufayl mentioned that stuck out to me. Tufayl mentioned that Massachusetts prisoners lost the right to vote in 2000. Because I was under the impression that only prisoners with felony convictions weren’t allowed to vote, I decided to do some research on this issue.
According to WGBH News, Massachusetts prisoners did indeed lose the right to vote while incarcerated in 2000. Before losing said right, Massachusetts prisoners were able to vote following decisions made by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in the 1970s, which allowed Massachusetts prisoners to vote via absentee ballots. What led to the loss in that right was the decision made by some inmates to form a political action committee in 1997 to gather and distribute information about elected officials’ voting records on issues regarding prisons and encourage prisoners and their family members to register to vote and participate in the electoral process according to Daniel Medwed, a professor of law and justice at Northeastern University. Medwed said that the day after the announcement of the formation of this political action committee, former Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci held a press conference where he expressed his desire to essentially take away their right to vote. After that, 60% of voters agreed with Celluci as they voted for incarcerated felons to lose their right to vote in 2000.
According to the ACLU, state felony disenfranchisement varies state to state and prevents nearly 6 million Americans with felonies (in some cases misdemeanor) convictions from voting. The only state where convicted felons permanently lose the right to vote is Iowa. While some states allow incarcerated felons to vote depending on their felony convictions, there are only two states that allow all prisoners to vote – Maine and Vermont. However, according to The Marshall Project, few prisoners in either state take advantage of that right. In analyzing the racial makeup of the prison population in Maine and Vermont, The Marshall Project reports that most of the prisoners in both states are white, which may play a role in why allowing these individuals to still have the ability to vote while incarcerated may not be such an issue. However, many of those individuals do not take advantage of the right to vote, in part, due to high illiteracy rates as noted by one Vermont law librarian. Other reasons mentioned regarding why these individuals do not exercise the right to vote include lack of interest as incarcerated people do not have internet access to educate themselves on candidates and are unable to watch the news. Despite efforts made by organizations like League of Women Voters and the NAACP to hold voter registration drives, prisoners in either state are still not voting.