© 2023 by Mumia Abu-Jamal
How do we arrive at this place we call abolition? What are the roads to such a destination? We arrive from the almost-lost lessons of history, shaped by generations of ancestors who struggled their whole lives for that rare breath of freedom and yearned with all their hearts that we, their progeny, would one day breathe free air.
For abolition stems from the long, hard struggle against slavery. For abolition, the destruction of that system and the beginning of freedom. For a brief moment in time, freedom dawned over the land, but it was a mirage, a lie usurped by the greater lie of white supremacy. Which plunged people into the darkness of terror and death, in fact, slavery by another name, those unholy origins led to the specter of mass incarceration; the greatest incarceration of juveniles in global history.
Into the current system of imprisonment, what activists rightly call “DBI,” death by incarceration, or lifeless sentences of life – forever. These are the twin faces of Janus. The same face reflected into its illusion of two. In 2003, Dr. Angela Y. Davis wrote, [Are Prisons] Obsolete? published by Seven Stories Press.
It was a book before its time, in that it introduced readers to the notion of prison abolition. She showed how history featured the abolition of slavery, the convict lease system, and racial segregation. In another book, titled Abolition Democracy, Davis explains tomorrow’s struggles for free and true social change, as noted by a philosopher named Eduardo Mendieta, who penned the book’s introduction, writing these words:
“For authentic democracy to emerge,” Davis argues, “abolition democracy must be enacted. The abolition of institutions that advance the domination of any one group over any other. Abolition democracy, then, is the democracy that is to come. The democracy in American history. Those that opposed slavery, lynching, and discrimination.”
The prison system, a relic of that same cruel past, was the next logical step. Davis argues that, “the systems of white supremacy, of ruthless capitalism and labor exploitation, led to the monster now before us, mass incarceration in the millions.” As a new generation has emerged, her insights are being studied, referenced, and actualized in ideas that confront the weighty shadow of the penitentiary.
Another prison abolitionist and noted scholar, Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore stated, “Abolition requires we change one thing, which is everything.” The presence and threat of prison sits like an incubus over the soul of society. It doesn’t create. It doesn’t treat. It doesn’t help. It feeds. It harms. It cripples. And yes, it kills.
It is a creation of state, cruelty, and carnage. It is the institutionalization of meanness, plain and simple, and movements, only social movements, can pull it from the throne of skulls.
Now is the time, with love, not fear. This is Mumia Abu Jamal.