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32 Years of Assata Shakur and The Prison Industrial Complex

“Never in our history has critical resistance to the status quo been more important. The growth of the Prison-Industrial complex has been appallingly rapid and the escalating repression that has accompanied it is totally alarming. What future lies ahead of us? What are the implications for our children?”

As applicable as they are to the current state of affairs, these words were written by Assata Shakur in a 1998 letter concerning the prison industrial complex. 32 years ago, on November 2nd 1979, Assata Shakur escaped from prison and currently lives in Cuba.

Many believe in her innocence, just as many believe in Troy Davis’s innocence. But there are still those who believe, as Mos Def states, “that being convicted of a crime makes you guilty. But that imposes an assumption of infallibility upon our criminal justice system.”

Each year on this day, I reflect on the prison system and how it continues to affect our lives. I consider the ways we can resist its injustices and critically examine the job it does as it compares to the job the prison system is supposed to do.

Angela Davis describes the conflict between the prison system as a place for rehabilitation and prisons as business as such:

Imprisonment has become the response of first resort to far too many of the social problems that burden people who are ensconced in poverty. These problems often are veiled by being conveniently grouped together under the category “crime” and by the automatic attribution of criminal behavior to people of color. Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages.

Prisons thus perform a feat of magic. Or rather the people who continually vote in new prison bonds and tacitly assent to a proliferating network of prisons and jails have been tricked into believing in the magic of imprisonment. But prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings. And the practice of disappearing vast numbers of people from poor, immigrant, and racially marginalized communities has literally become big business.

On this day, I want to urge us all to actively reflect on the role and purpose of prisons in our society. And then express those to your community leaders, representatives and politicians. I urge us all to continue to make noise.