Tuesday, January 01, 2019

On the Poison of Prison and Community as the Antidote



Another year has come and gone; another year of writing and teaching and blogging and talking and thinking and learning about the socially-constructed, political notion of "race." One new idea that was put on my radar this year is the idea that White Supremacy is "toxic" in nature and that everything emanating from White Supremacy is, ipso facto, "toxic" as well.

It's a no-brainer, I suppose. You can't rub poison on something and not poison it, along with everything else it touches. And certainly, the word "toxic" has been used in recent years to describe all manner of physical, psychological, and social aspects of our daily lives. Yet when I heard the term applied to the so-called "correctional system," a topic I have been deeply concerned with for nearly fifty years, I found it something of a surprise. I shouldn't have. I know full well by now that oppression breeds creative responses to it. And the prison system in this country -- federal, state, and local -- takes oppression to a level more nightmarish than most of us would ever be able to imagine.

As far as I know, the folks that first connected the term "toxic" to prisons in America can be found working as a part of the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons. So I jumped at the chance to help bring one of their spokespeople, Jordan Mazurek , to our campus the end of October and managed in the planning process to get to know him and their work a bit. We talked about how to organize a Louisiana Network for Criminal Justice Transformation. One of FTP's organizers Skyped into my Social Movements and Social Action course one class period. Jordan met with and inspired the members of the new Justice4All student group my department birthed last semester. And I have maintained the connection since then to the point that he dragged a group of young organizers into the small town where I live yesterday morning just so we could all have breakfast together and brainstorm social change issues face to face before they headed back to the highway on their way to their next stop eight hours away. These folks are the real deal.

In any case, as part of Jordan's presentation in October, he included tape recordings of incarcerated individuals talking about the subject they know better than anyone. One of those featured was Clinton "Nkechi" Walker* and I was so impressed with what he had to say on surviving toxic prisons that I asked about it later and Jordan told me that Nkechi's statement had been published on the Fight Toxic Prisons' website, where I could find it to re-post it here. I am delighted to do so, although I must warn you that it is a painful read. Be prepared to reach a new level of conscious awareness on the toxicity of prison life in the United States and the brilliance of some of those who make up the community of humans who must -- and do -- endure it.