Do you think about prison?



Many people rarely do. Others have no choice.

The same is true of prison’s sister institutions: the cops and the courts. A wave of well-documented and unjust violence, and the militant activism that followed, has forced the brutality of policing into plain view. As a result, people who previously had the class or race privilege to ignore or even support policing now vocally advocate for its abolition.

How might that momentum expand to also challenge North American incarceration culture? Our culture has been so deeply invested in punishment through captivity, for so long, that prison is widely viewed as somehow natural, necessary, and the only possible solution to the problem of harm. This belief is easiest to sustain if you (and your crimes) are protected by virtue of your race, class or gender. Rather than create reform or restore harmony, the criminal justice system is fundamentally structured to protect these defining hierarchies of power. In other words, the powerful depend on prison to maintain their power in all its luxuries.

Perhaps you are at the losing end of this deal. Or perhaps you benefit from it. Anybody can engage with this issue, but if, indeed, you don’t have to think much about prison, I’d like you to do so before opening the cover feature by Sarah Speight.

What do you know about prison? Do you know anybody who is incarcerated? Why or why not? Who goes to prison and who does not? Why do you think people end up in prison? How did you come to think that? What are prisons meant to do? What do they actually do? Do you read zines by prisoners? What could you get out of reading them? What can you learn from writing letters, sending zines, or making phone calls to prisoners? How can you find out what prisoners’ needs are? What can you offer?

We have written about zines in prisons in the past, but this time we want our readers to locate themselves in relation to the topic. Rather than act as though prison is a distant world unrelated to the lives we enjoy on the outside, Sarah Speight reminds us that we can, and ought to, find ways to engage with it. Her piece smartly takes on the practical and ethical considerations of what it means to make zines with prisoners and bridge the gap between inside and outside. We admittedly could have spoken with
more prisoners. Yet the motivation of this spread is also to encourage you to become one of those bridges yourself. What’s clear is that there are many ways to do just that, whether by transcribing prisoners’ writing over the phone, following prisoners’ input in developing workshops that can be delivered inside, or distributing zines in and outside of prison to further solidarity. Not everybody will choose to turn this information into action, but my hope is that some will be so inspired.

Write a letter. Make a call. Mail the zine. Free them all.

In solidarity,