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Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind - The New York Times
"“I get where you’re coming from,” she said. “But how about this: Instead of asking whether anyone should be locked up or go free, why don’t we think about why we solve problems by repeating the kind of behavior that brought us the problem in the first place?” She was asking them to consider why, as a society, we would choose to model cruelty and vengeance.

As she spoke, she felt the kids icing her out, as if she were a new teacher who had come to proffer some bogus argument and tell them it was for their own good. But Gilmore pressed on, determined. She told them that in Spain, where it’s really quite rare for one person to kill another, the average time you might serve for murdering someone is seven years.

“What? Seven years!” The kids were in such disbelief about a seven-year sentence for murder that they relaxed a little bit. They could be outraged about that, instead of about Gilmore’s ideas.

Gilmore told them that in the unusual event that someone in Spain thinks he is going to solve a problem by killing another person, the response is that the person loses seven years of his life to think about what he has done, and to figure out how to live when released. “What this policy tells me,” she said, “is that where life is precious, life is precious.” Which is to say, she went on, in Spain people have decided that life has enough value that they are not going to behave in a punitive and violent and life-annihilating way toward people who hurt people. “And what this demonstrates is that for people trying to solve their everyday problems, behaving in a violent and life-annihilating way is not a solution.”

The children showed Gilmore no emotion except guarded doubt, expressed in side eye. She kept talking. She believed her own arguments and had given them many years of thought as an activist and a scholar, but the kids were a tough sell. They told Gilmore that they would think about what she said and dismissed her. As she left the room, she felt totally defeated.

At the end of the day, the kids made a presentation to the broader conference, announcing, to Gilmore’s surprise, that in their workshop they had come to the conclusion that there were three environmental hazards that affected their lives most pressingly as children growing up in the Central Valley. Those hazards were pesticides, the police and prisons.

“Sitting there listening to the kids stopped my heart,” Gilmore told me. “Why? Abolition is deliberately everything-ist; it’s about the entirety of human-environmental relations. So, when I gave the kids an example from a different place, I worried they might conclude that some people elsewhere were just better or kinder than people in the South San Joaquin Valley — in other words, they’d decide what happened elsewhere was irrelevant to their lives. But judging from their presentation, the kids lifted up the larger point of what I’d tried to share: Where life is precious, life is precious. They asked themselves, ‘Why do we feel every day that life here is not precious?’ In trying to answer, they identified what makes them vulnerable.”"



"The National Employment Law Project estimates that about 70 million people have a record of arrest or conviction, which often makes employment difficult. Many end up in the informal economy, which has been absorbing a huge share of labor over the last 20 years. “Gardener, home health care, sweatshops, you name it,” Gilmore told me. “These people have a place in the economy, but they have no control over that place.” She continued: “The key point here, about half of the work force, is to think not only about the enormity of the problem, but the enormity of the possibilities! That so many people could benefit from being organized into solid formations, could make certain kinds of demands, on the people who pay their wages, on the communities where they live. On the schools their children go to. This is part of what abolitionist thinking should lead us to.”

“Abolition,” as a word, is an intentional echo of the movement to abolish slavery. “This work will take generations, and I’m not going to be alive to see the changes,” the activist Mariame Kaba told me. “Similarly I know that our ancestors, who were slaves, could not have imagined my life.” And as Kaba and Davis and Richie and Gilmore all told me, unsolicited and in almost identical phrasing, it is not serendipity that the movement of prison abolition is being led by black women. Davis and Richie each used the term “abolition feminism.” “Historically, black feminists have had visions to change the structure of society in ways that would benefit not just black women but everyone,” Davis said. She also talked about Du Bois and the lessons drawn from his conception of what was needed: not merely a lack of slavery but a new society, utterly transformed. “I think the fact that so many people now do call themselves prison abolitionists,” Michelle Alexander told me, “is a testament to the fact that an enormous amount of work has been done, in academic circles and in grass-root circles. Still, if you just say ‘prison abolition’ on CNN, you’re going to have a lot of people shaking their heads. But Ruthie has always been very clear that prison abolition is not just about closing prisons. It’s a theory of change.”

When Gilmore encounters an audience that is hostile to prison abolition, an audience that supposes she’s naïvely suggesting that those in prison are there for smoking weed, and wants to tell her who’s really locked up, what terrible things they’ve done, she tells them she’s had a loved one murdered and isn’t there to talk about people who smoke weed. But as she acknowledged to me, “Part of the whole story that can’t be denied is that people are tired of harm, they are tired of grief and they are tired of anxiety.” She described to me conversations she’d had with people who are glad their abusive husband or father has been removed from their home, and would not want it any other way. Of her own encounter with murder, she’s more philosophical, even if the loss still seems raw.

“I had this heart-to-heart with my aunt, the mother of my murdered cousin, John. On the surface, we were talking about something else, but we were really talking about him. I said, ‘Forgive and forget.’ And she replied, ‘Forgive, but never forget.’ She was right: The conditions under which the atrocity occurred must change, so that they can’t occur again.”

For Gilmore, to “never forget” means you don’t solve a problem with state violence or with personal violence. Instead, you change the conditions under which violence prevailed. Among liberals, a kind of quasi-Christian idea about empathy circulates, the idea that we have to find a way to care about the people who’ve done bad. To Gilmore this is unconvincing. When she encountered the kids in Fresno who hassled her about prison abolition, she did not ask them to empathize with the people who might hurt them, or had. She instead asked them why, as individuals, and as a society, we believe that the way to solve a problem is by “killing it.” She was asking if punishment is logical, and if it works. She let the kids find their own way to answer."
prison  incarceration  prisons  2019  mariamekaba  ruthwilsongilmore  geography  policy  justice  prisonabolition  abolitionists  restorativejustice  socialjustice  transformativejustice  activism  punishment  vengeance  angeladavis  mikedavis  cedricobinson  barbarasmith  prisonindustrialcomplex  neilsmith  carceralgeography  bethrichie  society  rachelkushner 
april 2019 by robertogreco
Stefano Harney (part 2) | Full Stop
"I also think there is a story of something more radical than the student movement — wildcat strikers, black liberation armies, etc., that is not so much surpassed by economic changes but politically, violently destroyed. And with it the possibility of more political democracy in general in society comes to a halt, at least temporarily."



"there is something kind of cool about the way we are writing to each other from under this work regime of bulk teaching, as my friend Marina Vishmidt called it. We’re writing to each other from our conditions, conditions that we make harder by being kind to the students and to each other. So that’s what we got to do, even if it makes us uncouth.

It’s also good timing that you wrote to me about this comment I made to you in an earlier conversation because I just finished a terrific book called Dixie Be Damned by Neal Shirley and Saralee Stafford. They write about insurrections in the South from the dismal swamp in the 18th century to a 1975 uprising in a North Carolina women’s prison. It’s stirring stuff and then in a really sound, clear-hearted concluding chapter they surprised me. They said our enemies have been saved not by fascism but by democracy. It should not have surprised me, given that we were just speaking about Du Bois and democratic despotism, but it did. They are right. And I think it is in this sense that a better university would be worse for us, has been worse for us, in a paradoxical way."



"In any case, whiteness is either absence or violence, and in either case, not much to offer as an ally. But on the other hand white people have a big role to play in the revolutionary violence Shirley and Stafford speak of because the act of abolition of white communities is a monumental task."



"But we have to be careful here. Blackness is neither the opposite nor the total reversal or abolition of whiteness. Blackness exists in/as the general antagonism. It’s always anti-colonial, always fugitive."



"What I realize now is that leisure evokes free time that we have in opposition to work, no matter how much that leisure has now been commodified itself. But this opposition between free time and work is alien to the black radical tradition, something Angela Davis, Barbara Smith and many others have taught us for a long time now. The black body, especially the black female body, under racial capitalism, should either be working or must be interrogated for why it is not working. Free time doesn’t come into it, but that is not the only reason. Free time itself has to be ‘reworked’ within an abolitionist history. Freedom is neither possible nor — more controversially perhaps — desirable. Fred and I talk about the opposite of slavery being something like service, not freedom, learning from Saidiya Hartman. And Denise instructs us to think of time outside its deployment in enlightenment European philosophy, instead through her concept of difference without separability. So a free time that is neither about freedom nor sequential time."



"Otium starts as a term in Greek that is in opposition to war. It is the time of rest, of peace, or pursuits antithetical to war, a way of being without war. Then with the Romans it starts to stand for time that is in opposition to public service, a way of being without the civic. The first sense gives us a time of preservation, of militant rest, in opposition to the ongoing war of settler colonialism. And then the second sense gives us a time without public service. Think of what we learn from Frank Wilderson about the impossibility of black civic life and we see the other side to this is some kind of anti-colonial otium, an otium of black operations. Otium is fugitive from the good cop- bad cop of politics and war."



"There’s something else about this otium and maybe the closest I can come to it right now is through a phrase Che Gossett uses, ‘an ontological cruising.’ I came across this phrase in an amazing piece Che wrote for the Verso blog and it stayed with me. Here’s the whole sentence: ‘As queer and/or trans people of color, already dispossessed, we yearn to be with one another; our search and seeking is a be-longing, an ontological cruising.’ Otium is this, not leisure, not free time, but this be-longing away from war, away from the public and the civic, and not an opposition to work but an alternative to it."



[Michael Schapira] "This is a long way of saying I’m not sure. I’ve suggested laying yourself bare in a different way than the laborer or developing a different relationship to death as two ways to get back leisure. I suppose this is like the existentialist’s guide to teaching. But I do think you are right in what you said earlier, that getting sucked into policy is a bit of a trap despite the pressing policy issues like debt, unionization, job security, etc. It pushes the personal off the table in favor or professional concerns."



"And you are right that it is increasingly all students who stand before capital as supplicants, without mediation, and it is increasingly all of us. Under these circumstances it might be important to distinguish between this exposure to capital and the persistence, perhaps especially in business education, of what Foucault called a total education, something Fred and I have been speaking about.

As you may recall he was talking about how the prisons instructed prisoners in every aspect of prison routine, to use your mentor’s apt distinction from study. Foucault says this total instruction attacked what it saw as the perversion of prisoners. And the first step in this attack, this instruction, was the individuation of bodies and minds. That’s the first and most brutal reform, individuation. Perversion on the other hand therefore could be thought of here as the refusal to be individuated. It is another word for the entanglement of beings, the encircling, winding, curling flesh, blurred and indistinct parts, different but inseparable, as Denise Ferreira da Silva would put it. Total education is an organized attack on our perversions, our versions, our differentiated inseparability. The brutal individuation of the prisoner, his or her straightening, the construction of fortifications around each of these bodies not just around all of them, the training in the distinction of individualized bodies and minds. This is the instantiation of reform of total education. Literally a re-forming of these perverse unformed, under-formed, deformed beings into proper forms. That is why reform is the true punishment, the truly vicious side of the prison and of reforming, conforming societies like ours. We do the same in education.

In education the very first lesson is individuation in time and space. What are the first two lessons kids are taught? First, you can’t touch each other. Second, you are required to stay. You cannot leave when you want to — to go to the bathroom or eat or because you are bored. You leave when they say. Fred and I have also been writing about the relationship between wandering and gathering, and refuge and receiving. And it all starts here. Kids are taught they cannot wander, and they are taught they cannot gather. By gather I mean as with the prisoners they cannot retain what society calls perversion, indistinct, experimental and blurring forms of senses and porous bodies being together. Collective self-unorganisation, wandering, seeking refuge and receiving is replaced by order, and the classroom as the only place they can be, or the playground and lunchroom at regulated times. Denied their own forms of both gathering and wandering, they are educated.

This instruction in individuation of the body and mind that precedes and accompanies instruction in the interactions, routines and spatial propriety of the student or the prisoner might be opposed to something else. This something else would be another kind of education, or study — the kind that prisoners persistently find a way to convene, as we know from the black radical tradition in prison, famously for instance with Malcolm X and George Jackson. Moreover there is plenty of evidence that this kind of study has never gone away. For instance, I am reading an amazing doctoral dissertation by Angelica Camacho from UC Riverside who is writing about the families supporting the recent prisoner strikes at Pelican Bay, and the forms of study that emerged inside and outside with those strikes. We might call this a form of study that takes place despite instruction, despite the brutal individuation of solitary confinement, despite the sadistic separation of families — we might call this a partial education. As opposed to a total education, a partial education is, as its roots suggest, partisan. It is an education where as Mao said the one becomes two, or perhaps as Fred and I would say the one becomes both less and more than one. Totality itself is exposed as partisan in the process.

But a partial education is also partial in another sense — in the sense of being incomplete, and indeed being based on incompleteness, vulnerability, needing other people. Cedric Robinson speaks of a principle of incompleteness in communities in Africa, and elsewhere, in his great book Terms of Order. I also remember this amazing moment where Albert Woodford is asked why he continued to think of himself as a Panther through all the years of confinement in Angola Prison even as the Panthers seemed to fade into history and commodification. He said he needed them. This most extraordinary figure who might otherwise be narrated as a lone, brave unbreakable singular man of principle, talks about himself very differently, as needing others, as being incomplete."



"How can we join with the only force of resistance to all this delusional individuated sovereignty? That is, how can we join with the students?"



"And here an important point should be made about a partial education. Their total education always becomes more and less than one, and any time they make it one, any … [more]
stefanoharney  fredmoten  michaelschapira  jessemontgomery  2017  education  highereducation  highered  individuation  neoliberalism  capitalism  markets  labor  work  leisure  individualism  study  studies  solidarity  society  liberation  resistance  refusal  democracy  nealshirley  saraleestafford  chrisnefield  marcbousquet  revolution  whiteness  blackness  escape  fugitivity  opposition  saidiyahartman  angeladvis  barbarasmith  deniseferreiradasilva  chegossett  otium  frankwilderson  settlercolonialism  decolonization  colonialism  colonization  socerignty  howeteach  teaching  learning  cedricrobinson  hortensespillers  love  annettehenry  fordism  fugitives 
december 2017 by robertogreco

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