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Sunday, November 22, 2009

the topic of prisons--brought up at the showing of "down by law"

jason and i had a great conversation about imprisonment and the institution of prisons, and i wanted to share some of the conversation.

it started with the email reminder that sent to the guerilla drive-in list. jason said, "I also want to remember friends and comrades that are currently caught up in the jail/prison system. Let's talk about this system and our experiences, either from being inside or being close to those that were/are. How do we support each other and challenge this mode of oppression?"

and i responded by saying "i want to expand that question a bit. i also want to talk about people caught up in the system who we might not be close to. people who might not be our friends and comrades. i want to talk about the poor, black or latino, gangbanger who is in prison for murder.
i want to challenge us to connect with, and feel compassion for, that person and their family despite the fact that we don't feel like we have much in common with them."

jason responded by saying "i agree with you and in fact i am opposed to the "criminal justice system" and so share your perspective. folks are caught in the system that does not serve them or me and i also consider all worthwhile of support. for the email i wanted to begin from a personal point of view but that is not an ending place for me and in fact the larger picture is on my mind. thanks for also contributing your perspective. let's talk tomorrow and see what kind of question and audience participation aspect we can craft."

the audience participation was great. there were a number of people who talked about friends in the struggle for a better world who are in jail because of their direct action.

one man took some time to remember his cousin who was recently killed in a gang related murder. this cousin had been a drug addict, but not a gangbanger. then he got busted for drugs and went to prison, where he fell in with gangs and came out of prison in worse shape than he had gone in. to me, this was the perfect example of why we should all be concerned about the state of prisons and the high rate at which people are incarcerated.

in santa cruz, a 16 year old was recently stabbed and killed by a gang member. since then, the town has been in an uproar with the dialogue mostly revolving around fear and anger. i think fear and anger in this situation is reasonable, but it can not be the basis for decision making, and we certainly need to be thoughtful and rational when we talk about solutions for a safer society. i firmly believe that prison is not the answer.

lastly, i was moved by the comments of a woman in the audience who mentioned an inmate in a women's prison in arizona who died due to heat stroke. the audience member said that, though she had never met the woman, she felt sad for the way her life was treated so callously.

i hope that in thinking about prisons, we can share this audience member's compassion. i think the key to building a better world is to think about and feel compassion for everyone, even the people we don't know.


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