Ask questions

Abolition & Justice, Education, Text Talk

As a graduate student, one of my favorite topics of discussion and research was inquiry. Asking questions, conducting investigations, and building knowledge through exploration are powerful tools for thinking and learning. As I continued in my studies, I learned of critical inquiry, which expands the idea of questioning to include a political or sociocultural lens. Developing conscientização, or critical awareness/awakening, is akin to taking the red pill. You start to ask sociopolitical questions and suddenly  you are hard-pressed to see anything as flat, uncomplicated or devoid of nuance. This isn’t a negative thing, but it makes for interesting conversations.

The Meaning of FreedomI mention all of this to introduce a quote by Angela Davis. I’m currently reading The Meaning of Freedom and Other Difficult Dialogues,  a compilation of speeches she delivered between 1994 and 2009. One thing I appreciate about Dr. Davis’ work is her constant admonition to reflect upon, reconsider, and rethink long-held ideas about “normalcy.” In her speech titled Race, Power and Prisons Since 9/11, she discusses the embodiment of evil and its requisite opposite good, xenophobia, militarism and the ever-expanding punishment industry. Although this is the context for the excerpt below, it’s a salient word, and useful for all serious thinkers reflecting on the world.

Things are never as simple as they appear to be. It is incumbent on us to think, to question, to be critical, and to recognize that if we do not interrogate that which we most take for granted, if we are not willing to question the anchoring ground of our ideas, opinions and attitudes, then we will never move forward.
~Angela Davis

On Behalf of Justice. | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Abolition & Justice

Reading in preparation for a lecture on Buddhist writings, I came across this quote:

What is the noblest way of life? My unhesitating answer to that question is: a life dedicated to truth and justice.

Only in a world where truth and justice flourish can people freely bring forth their innate goodness. If, in contrast, philosophies or belief systems that deny the possibility of infinite human improvement prevail, misery and suffering will abound.

~Daisaku Ikeda, Lecture on Nichiren’s Letter from Teradomari

This resonated today. As some of you know, I’m becoming an activist and advocate for modern abolition – the end of mass incarceration. These days I’m mulling a series of essays. I want to help us imagine a world in which imprisonment is no longer the strategy of first resort. My premise begins with the innate potential, dare I say, the innate goodness, present in all people, and the options we can design when this potential, or goodness, is foregrounded rather than summarily discounted.

I’m thinking about our continued reliance on the mantra of personal responsibility in the face of structural inequities; the fallibility of lawmakers; the dynamic way we criminalize behaviors; the hierarchy of crime.

And if we study the fallout from mass incarceration on the incarcerated, on their families, and on society at large, I believe we’ll find we’re not “better off” with a swelling population of bodies in cages. There are too many minds in cages already, and we certainly aren’t any better off for that.

I digress.

This quote encourages me because speaking up against mass incarceration is a matter of justice. In 2010, 1 out of every 137 people was behind bars. (How many friends have you on social media?) Now, over 2.3 million people are jailed and imprisoned, and the number continues to grow. Mandatory sentencing guidelines cage people for decades with no consideration of their individual circumstances. While inside, prisoners are routinely denied reading materials that could be a pathway to growth and transformation. Where is the justice in that?

Corporations profit from an increasing prison population. Who might be criminalized next to feed the bottom line? And once you’re freed, good luck. In many places, ex felons are summarily barred from reentry into society. No money. No housing. No opportunity for work. No voice.

No justice.

Each of these things is but a strand in the knotty mess that is mass incarceration. This mess strangles the very possibility of individual human improvement, and by extension, societal improvement as well. Our disposal and disregard of people we view as “other” or “less than” does not move us forward. Fighting on behalf of justice? Maybe that does.

Humane Treatment for All | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Abolition & Justice

I begin with a declaration. I never believed it radical in nature, but I’m coming to the realization that it might be.

People are not disposable.
People deserve to be treated humanely.

And by people, I mean all people, not just a select few. Not just those who have (thus far) avoided the label criminal; but everyone.

We sometimes view the world in dichotomies. We place things at one end of a continuum or the other. We see something as black or white, not that troublesome gray. We prefer simplicity instead of nuance and complexity. We favor “or” rather than embrace “and.”

But here’s the thing: people who engage in criminal behavior, are still people. The mere fact that they are human, means they still deserve humane treatment.

But what about {insert the most violent, heinous crime ever committed and ask if the victim was treated humanely}? Statements like that become the marker by which all people who have engaged in criminal behavior are measured. Leaving aside the stats that more than half of all prisoners are non-violent offenders, my response is still yes, violent offenders deserve humane treatment, too. That means, no, it’s not okay that prisoners in Texas boil to death due to lack of air conditioning, for instance.  No, it’s not “their fault” that inmates in Philadelphia are denied medical treatment, and are sometimes forced to endure pain and suffering for months at a time.  And no, women who give birth in custody should not be shackled while doing so.

In the coming weeks and months, I plan to unpack my thinking about this and related issues. I’m sure some disagree with my declaration, but therein lies my challenge. I’m up to it.

People are not disposable. People deserve to be treated humanely. And by people, I mean all people, not just a select few.