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"I don't want to die and leave a few sad songs and a hump in the ground as my only monument. I want to leave a world that is liberated from trash, pollution, racism, nation-states, nation-state wars and armies, from pomp, bigotry, parochialism, a thousand different brands of untruth and licentious, usurious economics." — George Jackson
During our annual Abolition Week effort, Scalawag publishes work centered on the life-affirming and collective emancipatory project we know as Abolition. We center the writings of those currently incarcerated in the South who resist as a daily and deliberate practice, radically insisting on their own survival.
In 2020, as we face not only a health crisis, police brutality, political corruption, as well as active and inhuman erosion of constitutional rights on top of a quickened and escalating devaluation of life itself, every prisoner is a political prisoner.
For Abolition Week, we highlight and uplift Southern abolitionist artists, organizers, thinkers, and fighters who insist that a world without prisons and police, without cages, racism, extraction, and domination is not only possible, but on the way.
Nearly 30 years ago, in late August 1971, revolutionary theoretician, member of the Black Panther Party, and co-founder of the Black Guerrilla Family prison organization George Jackson was assassinated by guards at San Quentin Prison during a prisoner-led uprising.
When asked about her son and his participation in the event, George Jackson's mother, Mrs. Georgia Jackson responded, "You see that's the whole story of America, they take their violence and turn it back around on somebody else. I don't have to talk about American violence you can look all over the world and see American soldiers everywhere, fighting in other people's countries and killing them. So if I were running the country in America, I wouldn't open my mouth about violence."
Prison rebellions are never just about the freedom of the prisoners participating.
In their struggle for freedom, the death of George and the other Soledad Brothers is grounded in a long archive of Black-led rebellion toward emancipation—the Haitian Revolution, Nat Turner's Rebellion, the founding of the Underground Railroad, the call for a general slave strike by Henry Highland Garnet, the Watts Rebellion and the March on Washington, the birth of Fred Hampton and the death of the W.E.B Dubois. All of these events took place in the month of August, which many now refer to as Black August, a time for reflection, a time for rupture, for ending the epoch of dehumanization in favor of beginning the next world.
Photo by Terence Price II
Prisons and police, and their underlying logics invade all of our social and interpersonal lives. In the U.S., these two forces remain the primary vehicle for how the state manages human labor, undermines and contains political dissent (particularly the dissent of Black people), violently responds to the effects of a decimated social welfare system, and fear mongers particularly white constituents into reactionary politics, submission, and paranoia of "crime." Ruth Wilson Gilmore explains, "What's happened is that that legitimizing force, which has made prison systems so big, has given police—including border police—incredible power, increasing amounts of power. What has happened is that certain types of social welfare agencies, like education, or income support, or social housing, have absorbed some of the surveillance and punishment missions of the police and the prison system."
See also: Free the press in prisons, too
Hundreds of years into the development of the U.S. settler project, bondage has not been defeated. Its current form takes shape as what Rachel Herzing and others have coined as the "Prison Industrial Complex", "to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems." There is no community, no local economy, no wage or family un-impacted by this totalizing and pervasive system of social control.
But bondage has never been the horizon of our possibility. Since the very first act of chattel enslavement and racialized domination that underlies our current reality, there have been acts of resistance, kinship, sustenance. Indigenous peoples on unceded sovereign territory, fugitive slaves, maroon societies, race-traitors and sabotage collaborators, unbowed militant trade unionists, the trees and abundance of other species that enable ongoing refuge and oxygen—we have always been abolitionists.
"Abolition," Gilmore reminds us, is not just advocating for the elimination of carceral forces: "Abolition is a presence." Abolition Week insists on the regular and ongoing presence of perspectives and insights from incarcerated writers within our newscycle. Through a partnership with Exchange for Change, a writing course and letter exchange program for incarcerated folks in Florida, we were able to work with writers on the inside to bring you their reports and commentary. This week you will hear updates from Marina and Boudicca and on how women incarcerated in Florida continue to be endangered by negligent responses to COVID-19. Our Arts & Soul vertical will bring you Eduardo's lyrical storytelling which explores the miring and far reaching carceral forces that invade lives and psyches. Finally, Dante will open up to us later on in the week concerning the psychological need to not be forgotten, to find purpose, and to make meaning even during uncertainty. We'll also profile some of the most critical and inspiring thinkers writing from the inside.
As a publication, Scalawag recognizes that amplifying the stories and voices of incarcerated people advocating for their dignity and freedom is part of a collective obligation of our collective freedom. Join us for Abolition Week.
Photos for Abolition Week by Terence Price II. Terence Price II is an artist who emerges from a tradition of mid-twentieth-century street photography, capturing the world around him in evocative portraits and cinematic snapshots. He blends this history of the medium with a distinctly contemporary understanding of representation, collaboration, and the way media circulates in our culture. His photographs offer a depiction of the intimacies of place, family, and relationships for the public record.