This article is based on remarks given by Crissman during a Workers World Party webinar on April 9: “Free Them All! COVID-19 and Racist Mass Incarceration.”
Workers World Party provides nearly 1,000 free newspaper subscriptions to incarcerated people. Readers interested in supporting this can donate at patreon.com/wwp.
We’re particularly excited about revitalizing a section of Workers World newspaper dedicated to covering prisoners and the prison-industrial complex. This prisoners page draws on a legacy of newsletters like “Through the Looking Glass: A Women and Childrens Prison Newsletter,” “The Bond,” the monthly newsletter of the American Servicemen’s Union, and a variety of written communications.
Comrade Leslie Feinberg, who began writing about prisoner issues for WW in 1975, became the editor of the first WW prisoners page. The page developed from the Prisoner Solidarity Committee’s dedicated support of the uprisings at Auburn Correctional Facility and Attica Correctional Facility in New York State in 1970 and 1971.
This new section of WW — Tear Down the Walls — has several aims, one being radical communication across the barriers put up to keep us in or out. We are committed to providing a space for incarcerated folks to communicate with each other and for them to put things out to those outside.
Another goal is to encourage broader analysis of different forms of incarceration. Michelle Alexander, scholar and author of “The New Jim Crow,” warns against e-carceration via ankle monitors as a reformist concession to abolitionist visions of decarceration.
In addition we will communicate ideas on how to improve conditions. Harm mitigation and reduction of suffering in the face of these deadly systems is no small thing, provided that reform is not the end of the fight against this modern mutation of slavery.
The prisoners page seeks to reduce our numbers in jails, prisons and detention centers. Another aim is to shorten sentences, while believing that society needs to be radically changed so prisons cease to exist. This necessitates guaranteeing human needs like food, health care and housing in a society that disperses the abundance of those things in an oppressive manner that can only be called deliberate apartheid.
We understand that there are many kinds of prisoners — women, children, LGBTQ2+ folks; migrants and refugees in concentration camps; workers forced to wear ankle monitors under house arrest; those on parole, on probation, those who have been released from prison but face restrictions on their ability to work and vote because of prior convictions — and any combination of the above.
Tear Down the Walls dedicates itself to the project of prison abolition and against prison imperialism. Prison abolition is a necessary and long-standing battle. When we say “Free Them All” that means no exceptions. Racist and anti poor logic argues to put people there in the first place; we cannot and will not let it decide who is to be released.
We know prisons are monuments to white supremacy and colonialism. We see that particularly in the United States’ most influential exports — mass incarceration and militarized border violence. The U.S. government is involved in prison systems of at least 38 different countries.
These U.S. programs involve construction of new prisons as well as prison guard training, accreditation, data management and overall design. The maximum-security prison La Tramacúa in Valledupar, Colombia, is modeled exactly after the maximum-security Coleman Prison in Florida.
Common features of prisons structured on the U.S. model include overcrowding, neglect of health care, use of torture and extreme/punitive isolation, transfer of prisoners far away from families and communities, severe restrictions on visits including legal defenders and prison militarization. (Alliance for Global Justice, 2018)
In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen those in power retaliate against unarmed people in detention for going on hunger and work strikes by using pepper spray, rubber bullets and other punitive measures.
These actions only strengthen our resolve to change the conditions necessary to make the generative project of abolition possible. We say no to prison imperialism, no New Jim Crows, free them all and tear down the walls!