Prison Reform vs Prison Abolition. This is what I think of when discussing working in the system versus against the system.

Prison reform includes things such as mental health care, improved facilities, and alterations that do not change the system while prison abolition does just that; it is for absolutely no prisons, on the basis that prisons do not actually address harms.

When I think of these two pathways, and you might agree, it seems impossible to get rid of the prison system.

One of the hosts on the Justice in America podcast episode, “Mariame Kaba and Prison Abolition,” offers a helpful framework to keep in mind when imagining a world without prisons. Essentially, getting rid of a system that has existed for so long seems unrealistic to some, but it is also something we have done before for slavery.

The prison reform path seems more practical, so it has an advantage of getting more backing. However, the cost of just altering the system leaves the structures to work against the same, marginalized people but in a separate way. For certain people who have privilege, a high socioeconomic status, etc. this cost is not as important and prison reform is a reasonable solution.

Prison abolition is “radical,” time-consuming, but sustainable. So, it will not happen all at once, but will build something else for justice that is not a replacement for prison, it is something different because it must work efficiently, and the efficient methods are fair and equitable. That said, the prison system today is working in the way it is designed to.

I see myself investing time outside of institutional systems.

When I imagine the system my first thought is government because legislation impacts everything. I want to put my energy into organizations outside of politics. I do not see myself being fulfilled working in government.

If you were to ask about working in education or healthcare, suggesting they are institutions as well, then I would see myself more working on the inside because for me I want to work directly with people and build relationships.

My vision is a lot more personal than what I imagine working inside the institution allows.

What Can I Do?

Photo by Tim Dennell on Flickr. License.

You might hear, “The personal is political.” I have not always been conscious of this… Is it a battle for you too?

For me, I usually focus on the person over society. Are they good or bad? Not the larger picture – that is honestly intimidating.

The inner and interpersonal work you can do to be non- or anti-racist is important. But I was oblivious to how large institutions are so significant! Learning the history of school, health care, policy, and all the things we might not identify with, but certainly is a part of us, pushed me to join this program.

The transition from home to Duke was huge for my awareness.

Growing up I did not think about my culture, especially my dad’s African American side. I can remember first starting to feel torn in high school, like I have not been able to embrace that side of me. I have  even avoided parts of me because I was confused or in an environment that made me uncomfortable with it.

I would not consider it an identity crisis, just contemplation these last few years: ‘Why do I feel this way?’ or ‘How did this affect me?’

Especially the culmination of going through the college application process, starting my first few classes at Duke, and gaining independence all lead me to be more curious about myself. The last year or so have been really influential in how I perceive myself. Affirming my feelings helped me mentally attack the larger structures in society that shape us. The systems that are life-support for injustice.

Photo by James Eades on Unsplash

I find it overwhelming to adjust my focus from myself or just one friend of mine to everything and everyone around. However, it is worth struggling to dismantle racism. And finding people that help you through this, support you and challenge you, is necessary.

I am pushing past recognizing how I feel, and into other people’s walks through life. What can we do in this larger sphere? How can me and you have an impact?

Racism is complicated. There are complex connections between the past and present, the public and intimate.

All of us will have distress, those who experience racism, ignore it, admit it, and try to dismantle it. Disagreements are inevitable and necessary!

I am hoping to become more comfortable with discussions around social justice. Perhaps it is not about being comfortable but a willingness to be uncomfortable. I want to stir conversations back home, then go past talk in my town to enact change. I am counting on a forceful learning experience from this fellowship.