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North Texas DSA: Why We Support the #PrisonStrike

“I appreciate you treating me like a human despite my incarceration. Yes, I’ve made some mistakes in my past, but that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily a bad person...it just means I’m human indeed!”

- Ezzial Williams, organizer currently incarcerated at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida

North Texas DSA’s Racial Justice Working Group proudly joined other chapters in supporting the nationwide prison strike that took place from August 21st to September 9th. Although the strike has ended, we continue to support the strike demands that call for swift improvements to the conditions of prisons; an immediate end to work without wages; a rescindment of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Truth in Sentencing Act, and the Sentencing Reform Act; an end to the over-charging and over-sentencing of black and brown people and racist gang enhancement laws; prioritized state funding and access to rehabilitation programs for all; and voting rights for all confined citizens.

We endorsed the strike because our members are working toward a future of total prison abolition. This means the eradication of all forms of the carceral state, including policing, detention centers, and public and private prisons. As socialists, we recognize prison labor as slavery: as is explicitly allowed by the law under the 13th Amendment. Given that all slavery is categorically unacceptable, regardless of its nominally legal status, we call for an end to the largest detention center in the world. Although we recognize that the above demands of the strike could be viewed as reforms constituting a compromise of our support for total prison abolition, we instead argue that these changes are necessary for two primary reasons. First, the sheer scale of the physical and mental suffering currently inflicted on those incarcerated demands immediate alleviation. Second, these changes represent a necessary step toward positioning the strike’s organizers to move for the full abolition of the carceral state. We remain committed to working toward building alternatives to policing and mass incarceration that are rooted in a fair and equitable society, with the emphasis that liberation demands housing, health care, food, rehabilitation, mental health care, and the protection of our vulnerable communities. We acknowledge that we must collectively work toward a future of true liberation, where justice is restorative and not punitive, and where we unequivocally recognize the humanity of all.

One way we buttressed the work of organizers on the inside was writing letters to those being retaliated against for bravely engaging in coordination of prisoners to fight for their rights. Ezzial, the comrade mentioned above, is currently serving 18 months of close management for his efforts. In Florida, close management entails sitting for 23 hours every day in a 9x7 cell no bigger than the average parking space. And still, his letters radiate gratitude. He wrote that our letters “lifted his spirits to heights undreamt---a very welcome change from where they had been for so long.” Our hope is that we will be able to continue correspondence and supply organizers like Ezzial with both words of comfort and support, as well as literature to keep their spirit strong for the fight ahead. Many of the other letters we received contained zines and recollections of their struggles. This correspondence is useful in building an understanding that our mistakes do not automatically mean we forgo our humanity, and that our humanity is incomplete without liberation. We aim to ensure their voices ring out beyond the unforgiving cells that currently house them.

In addition to letter writing, another prison organizer in Louisiana contacted us to request that his words be made into flyers for distribution. Their continuing work with Decarcerate Louisiana strives to connect organizers both inside and outside the prison system in order to, collectively, work on undermining the prison industrial complex while also ensuring that incarcerated people gain and maintain some control of their lives. These flyers serve that same purpose: retaining and strengthening the bonds between prisoners and their communities.

Furthermore, these exchanges can assist in demystifying the very idea of prison itself. For most, their understanding of what it means to be incarcerated and navigating the system comes from television. It’s easy to reduce prisoners to racist tropes and inherently amoral individuals, rather than face the reality of the predatory and unforgiving nature of the prison industrial complex. As we engaged in this work, we have strengthened our political education on the issue by reading “Are Prisons Obsolete” by the great Angela Davis. Her words regarding the very nature of prisons and what they mean on a grander scale are particularly poignant in highlighting public’s eagerness to build and populate new prisons. She creates a resounding reason for the acceptance and normalization of a place which she deems the ultimate harbor of human division. Davis writes, “The prison therefore functions ideologically as an abstract site into which undesirables are deposited, relieving us of the responsibility of thinking about the real issues afflicting those communities from which prisoners are drawn in such disproportionate numbers. This is the ideological work that the prison performs-it relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.” As capitalism kills our creativity, and thus, our ability to imagine solutions for our community that don’t involve isolation or separation, society will continue to populate places like prisons with those who fall victim to systems that require constant feeding to survive.

In order to effectively push for a better world that heals rather than fosters and profits from division, it is vital that we paint a clearer picture of the complicity of this system. As an incarcerated comrade from Decarcerate Louisiana pointed out in one of his emails, “today, enslavers have multiplied to become a complex system of representatives, senators, mayors, governors, sheriffs, political action committees, the police, surveillance state, prosecutors, judges, wardens, and a billion dollar prison enterprise.” It is imperative that our work illustrates this system’s complexity and highlights pressure points where collective action can not only undermine, but obliterate, these positions of power.  This is how we will work together to end mass incarceration and create an alternative rooted in restoration and justice, not confinement, punishment, and the degradation of our very humanity.