Transgress the Prison Walls

I just sat down after taking two letters to prison pen-pals to the mailbox and saw the article Abolitionist Efforts to Trangress the Prison Walls by Jaden Janak, Hood Communist, March 10, 2022. I don’t like to include too many quotes in my writing, but this article touches on many things I’ve been learning, much which is about Mutual Aid.

Through a close reading of Black Communist trans prisoner Alyssa V. Hope’s legal efforts and writings, this article unearths how a pen-pal relationship transformed into a comprehensive abolitionist community. This case study provides an example of how abolitionists are grappling with the need to support the material needs of marginalized communities while still building otherwise possible worlds separate from a failing welfare state. Mutual aid projects, like the one formed by Hope’s supporters, showcase that otherwise possible worlds are not only possible, but they are being created right now before us.

Abolitionist Efforts to Trangress the Prison Walls by Jaden Janak, Hood Communist, March 10, 2022

… it was not always this way, which proves it does not have to stay this way. 

What we have is each other. We can and need to take care of each other. We may have limited power on the political stage, a stage they built, but we have the power of numbers.

Those numbers represent unlimited amounts of talents and skills each community can utilize to replace the systems that fail us.  The recent past shows us that mutual aid is not only a tool of survival, but also a tool of revolution. The more we take care of each other, the less they can fracture a community with their ways of war

Ronnie James, The Police State and Why We Must Resist

The focus of the Transgress the Prison Walls article is on the writings of political prisoners, but much applies to prison pen-pal relationships with anyone who is incarcerated. I’ve become involved in the prison letter writing project of the Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America. Not surprisingly, I found several of my Des Moines Mutual Aid friends are also involved.

I wrote the following based upon a sample letter.

As abolitionist organiser and theorist Mariame Kaba writes, “The work of abolition insists that we foreground the people who are behind the walls… That we transform the relationships we have with each other so that we can really create new forms of safety and justice in our communities.” (Duda/Kaba 2017) This solidarity takes many forms such as written correspondence via pen-pal pro-grams

Abolitionist Efforts to Trangress the Prison Walls by Jaden Janak, Hood Communist, March 10, 2022

More than a one-way exchange of sympathy, abolitionist solidarity operationalises mutual aid as a foundational modality for community building. Abolitionist mutual aid recognises the necessity of meeting immediate communal needs while also addressing deeper causes of violence: mechanisms of control, management, and punishment that structure everyday life (Spade 2020, 9). Historically, mutual aid communities have taken many forms including the 1969 Free Breakfast programs of the Black Panther Party in the United States and the maroon communities formed by free and escaped en-slaved people (Nelson 2011). In the 1950s and 1960s, health providers routinely refused Black patients and relegated Black people to sub-standard facilities (ibid., 24). To protest this treatment and provide for their community, the Black Panther Party of Oakland and other chapters around the nation and world opened People’s Free Medical Clinics that provided quality medical services free of charge to Black community members (ibid., 79). Mutual aid work, like that of the Black Panther Party, is not top-down charity. Rather, mutual aid projects “are an integrated part of our lives… and [they] cultivate a shared analysis of the root causes of the problem.” (Spade 2020, 28f.) Even as the welfare state continues to crumble, communities work together to meet each other’s needs while creating new relations of accountability and care in the state’s absence.

Abolitionist Efforts to Trangress the Prison Walls by Jaden Janak, Hood Communist, March 10, 2022

So, I work with a dope crew called Des Moines Mutual Aid, and on Saturday mornings we do a food giveaway program that was started by the Panthers as their free breakfast program and has carried on to this day. Anyways, brag, brag, blah, blah.

So, I get to work and I need to call my boss, who is also a very good old friend, because there is network issues. He remembers and asks about the food giveaway which is cool and I tell him blah blah it went really well. And then he’s like, “hey, if no one tells you, I’m very proud of what you do for the community” and I’m like “hold on hold on. Just realize that everything I do is to further the replacing of the state and destroying western civilization and any remnants of it for future generations.” He says “I know and love that. Carry on.”

Ronnie James, Des Moines Mutual Aid

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