In this blog page, students reflect on multiple issues related to prisons as spaces of power and resistance. The blogs are purely reflective, using critical, decolonial, and intersectional approaches to understand prisons as global structures.
By Grace Chalmers
Figure 1: Austin Mural “The Rose That Grew From Concrete,” Accessed 27 January 2022. https://blockclubchicago.org/2019/09/03/new-mural-the-rose-that-grew-from-concrete-offers-message-of-hope-and-resilience-to-west-side-youth/
Grit. A word I grew up hearing, and a quality I once strove to possess and embody. My American high school liked to emphasize the importance of grit: strength of character, courage, resolve, and above all, resiliency. Again and again, I listened through motivational talks from the school president about how resiliency is a quality and a skill that would allow us to overcome all obstacles we might one day face. Again and again, we studied literature imbued with an underlying message of the importance of grit. Tupac Shakur’s “The Rose That Grew From Concrete,” for example, was required reading for all the American literature classes, and while I appreciated the poem at the time, I never quite agreed with its message. It was in studying prisons and spaces of violence and resistance that I began to understand why stories about grit and resiliency felt somehow incomplete.
Grappling with Abolition
By Alex Theisen
(This is a sketch I did showing that abolishing prison will take teamwork but also lead to a happier society)
As a kid, you are taught that bad guys go to prison, we have sayings in society such as, “don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the crime,” and kids dress up as police for Halloween. The idea of prisons is ingrained in us at such a young age. As a result, prison abolition has always felt so out of reach for me; getting rid of the correctional system seemed like a utopian idea. Prisons are such a constant that questioning them did not even occur to me until college, and even then, abolition was not my first thought.
Tales from Abu Ghraib: Prisoners’ Struggle for Recognition Amidst Unending Torture
By Aarushi Sharma
“The torture is at the very least doubly embedded in sociality: it constitutes apposite punishment for terrorists and the bodies that resemble them”
– Jasbir K. Puar
The images of sexual torture at Abu Ghraib is an exordium that directs gaze towards a serpentine phenomenon of prison torture. The various images of sodomization and feminization of prisoners (in Abu Ghraib) stimulate the question of ‘How do prisoners become targets of ferocious torture amidst the growing focus on universal claims for dignity?’. My blog post is steered by an attempt to investigate what legitimates extreme torture inflicted upon the bodies of prisoners. I argue that prisons birth an obstinate space where prisoners cease to exist as ‘humans’ and become ‘monsters’. The attestation of these monsters manifests in torture practices. Michel Foucault talks about categorization of certain bodies as monsters in his book “Abnormal”. He untangles how certain bodies are viewed as being encoded with monstrosity. According to him “the monster is a breach of the law that automatically stands outside the law,, so to speak, the spontaneous, brutal, but consequently natural form of the unnatural” (Foucault, 55). This construction of monstrosity is visible in the ways prisoners are viewed within prison complexes.
Achieving justice for sexual assault victims in a world without prisons
by Anna Moran Watson
Illustration by Chelsea Charles, ‘Breaking the cycle of harm’ Accessed September 29, 2021 https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/breaking-the-cycle-of-harm
Like many people, I was initially sceptical about prison abolition. I asked myself the same questions that abolitionists are regularly confronted with, what about the rapists and the murderers? Should violence go unpunished? Shouldn’t certain people be locked away from society, for our protection?
Fighting cruelty with cruelty: Who wins?
Pictured above is an inmate from Miami Dade County bootcamp where male inmates as young as 14 are subject to ‘shock incarceration’ as an alternative to typical prisons and juvenile centres. Learning of the hyper-masculinity ingrained into boys and men in correctional bootcamps in the U.S. made me question the effectiveness of state responses (incarceration through imprisonment and bootcamp) to perpetrators of gendered violence on reducing male violence against women. This blog will illustrate how I support prison abolition whilst caring about protecting women and girls against male violence – an issue particularly close to me as a feminist.
White saviorism exists for white people
Relearning perceptions on prison as a structure is a process which has provided critical thinking tools with which to recontextualise my past experiences with prisons. In 2019, my mother (a US diplomat), was engaged in a long, bureaucratic battle to free an elderly American prisoner in Mozambique. He was incarcerated at the Maputo Central Prison (pictured above) after getting scammed online and allegedly tricked into unknowingly carrying drugs across the South African border.
Prison Abolition is the Fight Against White Supremacy: Lessons from Foucault’s Theory of Biopolitics
by Marisa Turner
An image of a quilt art from Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative. The words stitched read “If all Lives Matter ‘Cause We’re All Equal, Why Are Some Lives More Equal Than Others?”. This quilt powerfully questions the reality of state sponsored violence against marginalized communities in the United States when the values of equal protection are codified by the state. The history of quilt art is powerfully intertwined with the experiences of disenfranchised communities in the states, and reflects the story of resistance to racial oppression.
Deviance or necessity: critique of criminalisation during Covid-19
Photograph from France 24 (2021); Informal vendors in Ghana awaiting the Ghana-Côte d’Ivoire border re-opening.
A comprehension of criminalisation rooted in sociology—and the focus of this reflection—is driven by the assumption that the ‘audience’ holds the power to perceive something as correct or incorrect, criminal or not. The audience, however, marginalises those most vulnerable. Those excluded are ‘the deviant,’ a criminal identity created by the public audience not by an act but by the social reaction or response to such act.