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Transcript: Season 1, Episode 6, Abolition is Ending the School-to-Prison pipeline and Poverty

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Taina  00:00 Today we’re joined by guest Professor Oscar Soto who’s a Chicano scholar, activist and prison abolitionist. His work centers on systemic change and he works closely with prison abolitionists communities and communities that want to see an end to global capitalism. He holds two positions, one as a lecturer at Cal State University, San Marcos’  Sociology, Criminology and Justice Studies, and a teaching associate at the University of California in Santa Barbar’s Sociology department. Again, Professor Soto, thank you so much for joining us today, we’re really excited to have this conversation with you. You know, there are so many subjects that relate to prison abolition and you know, a place I think is really, really important to start why so many folks end up in prison in the first place, and the school to prison pipeline is a really important subject to dive into. So before we get into the conversation, we thought it might be cool if you could talk to us a little bit about what the term school to prison pipeline means to you? And you know, when we say that, like, what are we referring to?

Professor Soto  01:01 Well, when we talk about the school to prison pipeline, there’s different scholars that kind of title it or kind of have different terms for it or, but for, for a scholar like myself that believes in revolution and believes in systemic change and abolition, it’s basically criminalizing poor communities. That’s how I see it. Because in reality, when we really think about it, what’s happening is that we have different systems of social control. We have policing, we have immigrant detention centers, we have prisons, and we have gang injunctions, which in San Diego and LA, it’s very heightened. So these are different systems of social control that actually criminalize a certain population. And when I mean a certain population, we mean, Black, Brown, and oor White communities. So the systems of social control for me, it’s a systems systems- I’m a big critic, critic of capitalism, global capitalism, and I, for one, I critique global capitalism and see systems or what they call is a bad luck system, that they’re related to everything else. Everything’s related to everything. So gang injunctions, the school prison pipeline, policing, they’re all related snd they’re all interconnected to this massive system of global capitalism, a global capitalist system of profits, right? So how do you make massive amount of profits? 

Lee  02:12 Sure.

Professor Soto  02:13 The prison industrial complex is a system of massive profits. So you have big corporations coming in trying to invest in the enslavement of poor people. So what I’m really getting at here is that the systems of social control, which is when in this episode, we’re talking about the school to prison pipeline, is a system of pushing out poor communities, poor people out of the school system. You don’t see the school to prison pipeline in Beverly Hills. In San Diego, the rich area in my area is La Joya, Carlsbad, you don’t see the school to prison pipeline in these institutions, but you do see police protecting their investment of the rich.

Lee  02:48

Yeah, Professor, if when you talk about pushing them out, can you just break that down a little bit more? Because I think that’s a huge and key point to the actual process of the school to prison pipeline, right, in these lower economic communities, or the lower class communities that society would necessarily deem them when they’re pushing them out. Can you just break that down just a little bit more?

Professor Soto  03:10

Right, so when I talk about the school to prison pipeline and these communities being pushed out is that there’s when you talk about schools in these communities, there’s a lack of resources. 

Lee  03:19


Professor Soto  03:20

There’s instead of having counselors, you have police officers or security, you have metal detectors, you have actual schools that look like prisons. So ideologically, people already seen the school as a prison. 

Lee  03:35

A place of confinement. 

Professor Soto  03:37

In North County San Diego where I grew up, there’s a lot of low income communities. So on these low income communities, you have Escondido you have Vists you have so this is North County San Diego. I’m describing North County, San Diego and I call it North County San Diego, because when you talk about San Diego people would like to kind of like make it look kind of like appealing. So it’s oh, it’s a military town. Oh, beautiful beaches. Yeah, but when we talk about North County San Diego, that’s different. We are getting injunctions. We are poor communities. We have ICE we have the majority of immigrant communities are in those counties. And so these are poor communities, and that will we call it a racialized communities, because mainly composed of Black and Brown. So this is the process that I’m talking about in the schools, you have, again, officers that criminalize a certain population, which is mainly black and brown community Black and brown youth. Right? You have already an ideology, an idea what I mean by ideology and idea of who are criminals. Every time I started my classes I always start my classes with- I always sit in the middle of the class and I dressed like this, like, I don’t know if you can see it to the podcast, but I’m tatted up, I’m sleeved up. I wear my hat. I look like a like a homeboy, right? Because I’ve dressed like this my whole life. So, I sit in the middle of my class, wait for all the students come in and then five minutes pass and everyone’s like where’s the professor where’s the professor?  I’m about to leave this class, fuck this class. He’s gonna be late all the time. They might why why come to the class? Right? I’ve heard like people say this.

Lee  05:04


Professor Soto  05:06

And then I just get up, boom, write my name on the board. My name is Professor Soto. I’m the professor. And a lot of students go, oh, shit, or fuck, I hear people cuss. But ideologically, we’re thinking he can’t be a professor, he should be-

Lee  05:25

Automatically you shake that belief, that is like the implicit bias that is, like been instilled in us as we’re growing up.

Professor Soto  05:32

Exactly. So ideologically, when we look at the school to prison pipeline, there’s already like, counselors, the police officers already have an idea of what students to criminalize what students-

Taina  05:43


Professor Soto  05:44

are going to be the bad apples, the bad students, right. So we tend to criminalize them. And again, these a lot of the students are coming from poor racialized communities. And a lot of times also to like, with the lack of resources, a lot of the students have no resources, they go home, they lack internet. So a lot of the time, people will say, oh, they’re just lazy, they don’t want to do homework. But in reality, there’s some folks that really do want to put their effort into education, but lack the resources to get higher education or education in itself.

Taina  06:14

Right. And for me, when I think about the school to prison pipeline, it’s a few different things, right? It’s like the the culture of you know, criminalizing black and brown yout poor, you know, creating the idea of what a you know, quote, unquote, like, troublemaker is. Usually, you know, a black or brown boy, who might be like, precocious, or, you know, speak out in another way. And instead of, you know, that being perceived as, like intelligence or creativity, it’s like, okay, you are defiant, and we are going to criminalize you in different ways. So, like, one and it’s like, the concepts and the culture of like, who is a quote unquote, criminal into it’s the structures, which you also spoke about Professor Soto, which looks like, you know, schools, essentially having cages around them, you know, chain-link fences around the school, it looks like having metal detectors. It looks like having police officers. It’s folks know, I’m from Los Angeles, so I’m a product of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is the only school district in the country that has its own police department. So it’s not LAPD, it’s not the LA County Sheriff’s, it’s their own institution of police, they have different police cars, different uniforms, that are set up just to police, our school system. So when you you know, when you think about, like the structure in place, and the culture, and like the way that things are just like punitive in school, just thinking about, like what we call things, right. Like, if you get in trouble at school, what happens you get put in detention, which is, you know, what we call jails, and prisons, or detention centers, you know, you get punished for wrongdoing, you don’t get, you know, encouraged to do anything different. And often, a lot of the punishments actually, like, make it more difficult for you to learn, like suspensions never have made sense. Like if you’re so concerned about my education, why would a consequence of misbehavior be suspension, and me like not having the opportunity to go to school and get my education and I think that, you know, these are areas that instill in our youth, like, from a very young age, the things about you that are different or wrong, or criminal, so we start, you know, to see ourselves in that way. And, you know, we start to just accept punishment as the norm. And that happens, like, you know, very, very early on, so yeah, it’s, it’s the culture, it’s the structures, and I know, like, Lee, I’d really be interested to hear like, what your views are on, you know, what school to prison pipeline looks like to you?

Lee  08:40

Yeah, I mean, y’all are like laying it out, like, very clear, and it really does, like it covers all of those, I guess, qualities of, of human nature, whether folks are are poor, or whether, you know, you’re a person of color, the area that you grow up in having police kind of patrol, you know, the blocks and the areas, you know, you get tickets in the hallways, if you’re like, late for school or whatever. Me personally, like, I moved so many times growing up and went to so many schools, like it was already like destined for me, like, all of the males in my family had gone to prison and in the school, the teachers, they weren’t supportive, like I was already labeled a bad apple just because I had the same last name, as you know, my, my other family members. And so it was kind of already like predestined for them in their eyes, like, you know, this is the path that you’re on. And this is where you’re going to end up. And these are the reasons why Professor Soto was talking about like, you know, I never had a counselor call me in. I never had like a teacher hold me back after class and asked me like, hey, how’s things going? And like, you know, I saw you come in with a black eye or, you know, a bruised lip today or something like this is, everything good? Like it just it just didn’t happen for me, and I know Like, when I went to prison, I ended up spending 25 years inside. And when I went to when I went to prison, like the folks in there, we started really delving into our personal biases and our personal ideologies, even our self efficacy of whether or not that we could actually even accomplish some type of education or, or if that was a an alternative route for us in our lives. And most of the folks inside will tell you to a tee like, you know, growing up in the neighborhood, or growing up in the school district that I was in or whatever, it wasn’t cultivated, like a healing community or, or helping community it was cultivated into, like, we’re gonna separate you from the ones that are that we feel like have potential, right. And I know that there’s been like, talk about like, at-risk youth, and then there’s at-promise youth, right. And I think that’s a huge difference. And even just that one label on how you see folks, and how you actually engage with them because if you feel like somebody is at-promise, then you’re going to try to cultivate that you’re going to try to assist that you’re going to try to move that forward within that person. But if you look at them as at-risk, you’re going to try to keep them at bay, you’re going to try to keep them in line, you’re going to try to keep them like away from the good, or the the other kids in your lives. And Taina, you mentioned something that was really interesting to me about like you’re dealing with the police mentality within school, how did that affect you and your learning? And how you kind of like, how did you navigate that, as you pushed forward through school? And I’m sure Professor Soto can like, obviously talk about it and from his perspective, too, because, like, there, there is a way through it. But how do you get through it? 

Taina  11:45

Right? So I’ll say similar to you, Lee, like my school experience was kind of a mixed bag, I transferred to different schools quite often. And my mom was, you know, one of those moms who would lie about our address so that we could go to a school in a different area. You know, her understanding was the understanding of a lot of parents that the schools that were in our communities were not as you know, quote, good, and she wanted us to get a good education. So when I was at those schools that tend to be more white and more affluent, I generally have like a really good learning experience. You know, I was seen as a gifted and precocious child. And, you know, and, you know, I got good grades and I excelled. But it got to a point especially in my high school experience that I wanted to go to school in my community, like I felt, you know, I was different from the other kids there because my background was different. So I wanted to go to school in my community and there it was, you know, complete like night and day experience where I went to high school, it was very heavily policed. In the ninth grade, I ended up getting a truancy ticket because I was 20 minutes late to school and why was 20 minutes late to school poverty, my school was far away, I had to take the bus, the bus only ran once an hour, which meant every day I was either 40 minutes early to school, or 20 minutes late to school. So that day, I was 20 minutes late. And the way that it was set up was the cops just waited outside the school gates and everybody who was late was told to go into an office, we weren’t told why we had to sit there for about 20-30 minutes, we were told to sign some papers and then we were allowed to go back to class. I had no idea in the whole process what was going on. A couple weeks later, I get a ticket in the mail for being truant, and my mom was like, why were you ditching school? And I was like, I was not I was late. And what ended up happening there was we are fined $250.

Lee  12:21


Taina  12:25

Yeah, I had to miss school to go to court. Again, you care about my education so much you’re forcing me to miss school. And you know, our family wasn’t able to pay. So for that reason, I was not able to get my driver’s license until I turned 18. And then, in addition to that, the following year in the 10th grade, the only time I’ve ever been in handcuffs in my life was in school, I had a teacher who called the school police on me for a quote violating the dress code. I was wearing a shirt that showed maybe about half an inch of my midriff and it was such an egregious crime that he called the school police and they escorted me out in handcuffs. And, you know, I have to ask myself, like, what, what lesson Are you trying to teach here? Why, you know, Was I being criminalized for something like that, because, of course, there’s a gender aspect to that as well. But you know, like what you were saying, Lee, you know, I was going through a lot of things growing up, my dad was in and out of jail. Both of my parents were addicted to drugs and alcohol. We were homeless for a lot of my life. I had to start working at age 14 to, you know, support myself and my siblings and my parents and I was depressed. Like, I spent, like, pretty much my whole ninth grade year, not going to school. I would just like go to a park or the library or something and I didn’t want to go to school and at no point did a counselor reach out and say, hey, you’ve missed a lot of school is everything okay? I would get in trouble for missing school. But yeah, that’s you know, that’s been a little bit about my experience, and I’m grateful like, personally, I didn’t get pushed into prison or jail. But it was clear to me that my school system saw me as you know, like, as a criminal in some way, but Professor Soto I know like that you had also shared that, that you’re formerly incarcerated. So yeah, I guess, you know, same question to you like, how do you feel that a system of the school to prison pipeline had an impact on your life?

Professor Soto  15:21

Right? So first of all, I want to unpack some of the stuff that we’ve been talking about. I want to talk about the relationship between the school to prison pipeline and policy. A lot of people see the school to prison pipeline as an isolated, oh it all it just happens in schools. But in reality, what happens is that policies are made in the schools in order to criminalize a certain population, in order to push into the school to prison pipeline by by like you were talking about, there’s a zero tolerance policies. A student fell asleep in the class, zero tolerance, go to the principal’s office, you get detention. Students are playing and I used to have those little diamond papers I used to play like football. 

Lee  15:57

Yeah, I bet you was a good kicker too/

Professor Soto  16:00

I used to get in troubke for that. Go to the principal’s office, you got detention for a week paying with paper clips, with a rubber bands, So minute and stuff that the kids do, really criminalize them and certain populations get criminalized. Other people are like, Oh, no, boys are boys, girls will be girls, or they’re just kids, right? But when you talk about a certain population, ideologically, I’m thinking about black and brown, poor communities, right? Oh, he’s gonna be a bad student, he’s gonna be a bad apple, he’s gonna end up in prison, right. And that’s the ideology that we need to get rid of. Like, we need to revolutionize the way we think, but also the material world, so need to shy away from this capitalist system. That’s one of the things that the zero tolerance policies, I wanted to highlight. We need to get rid of the zero tolerance policies. And you pointed out something also too that it’s very important that there’s a lot of people that see different schools more prestigious than others. And a lot of parents, they’re like, we need to get an education, I need to get my son or daughter into the schools in order for them to get out of what they call it- I don’t like using the word ghetto- I like to use the word barrio like barrio because it means a lot to us when we talk about our barrio it’s very dear to us. And so a lot of parents want to get their students into these prestigious schools because it will get their students more prestigious schools and more prestigious colleges. But when we try to do that, when we try to get an education, right, we’re criminalized. I remember there’s a, here in, North County San Diego, was one of the parents tried to get their student they lied about their address, right. And tried to get their student into one of the more prestigious schools- that parent got two years in prison for doing that. And in reality, we’re trying to try to do what they call upward mobility, we also get criminalized. And one other thing finally, what I want to highlight is that criminalization a lot of people think the school to prison pipeline is  high school,  to prison, high school to prison, but criminalization happens at a very young age. I remember when I was, in first second grade, I was already in the principal’s office for the whole year, just because I got in a fight with a student and we were fighting because we we were fighting over a ball and this label from second grade follow me all the way to high school. I was

Professor Soto  18:06

 in-*siren goes off”

Lee  18:08

They’re coming for you right now.

Professor Soto  18:11

I’m already being policed here.

Lee  18:12


Professor Soto  18:13

I’m talking shit about the Sherrifs and it’s funny because the Sherrifs live right, next to me. 

Lee  18:19


Professor Soto  18:20

So I’m already being criminalized at such a young age, right, and the impact that it had on me, I took the, what they call remedial classes. So all the way from middle school to high school, I took what they call it a special ed classes every week, they just put Disney movies on us, we had to learn cursive and a lot of my peers were just Brown people. You never didn’t see any white folks. Because again, where I’m from it’s very prestigious farming, there’s, it’s it’s a valley center. So it’s it’s a farming industry. There’s a lot of immigrant communities. So there’s a lot of exploitation, but there’s a lot of rich folk, right. So again, this label from second grade followed me all the way through high school, I started seeing my homeboys going into what they call continuation school, if nobody knows what continuation school it’s basically a school, a high school where you can get credits that you fallen behind of, you can get them at a faster track, right? So a lot of my homeboys were going to continuation school because a lot of times, even the curriculum is kind of like pushing away students in your history books, in high school, middle school, you don’t see your raza, you don’t see your people, you don’t see the Chicano movement, you don’t see the Black Panther Party, you don’t see the Black Liberation, you’ll see the Civil Rights Movement, you don’t see the movement against the war on Vietnam. I did a study and I saw only about 12 pages in a 400 book history book about our people, and mainly was criminalizing in our community. How the Native Americans were conquered, right, and they didn’t say they were killed and murder there was like, Oh, it was a free man for for people without alive, right. So I wanted to highlight the curriculum because that’s the one that another aspect that pushes our community We’re gonna lose interest if we don’t see community if your community has been murdered, if we see our community as being labeled as criminal, of course, we’re going to lose interest, but also too that affected me after my- I got incarcerated after I graduated-

Lee  20:12


Professor Soto  20:12

high school, I didn’t see myself going to college, a lot of the counselors in my community, there will see a person like me, oh, you want to take PE classes, you want to take a weightlifting, you want to, they would never inform you about college, I didn’t know what college until I graduated after high school. I was like what the fuck is college right and knowing not knowing that there was a college right, like two blocks off my street. Right. So a lot of time, the system, and I’m talking about like the counselors that is complacent in pushing us out of the educational system. I say the educational system, did sav me because after my incarceration, I did get an education, I’m getting my PhD. Right. So that’s one of the ways that it affected me personally, but there’s a lot of aspects to the school to prison pipeline, I could spend a whole semester just talking about the school to prison pipeline and the different aspects that have been criminalizing poor communities. 

Lee  21:05

Yeah, you know, when I was going to school, and I would be curious to hear my instructors look like like my aunts and uncles right? Did they look like your aunts and uncles, when you all were going through? Like, you know, your school and your tutelage were? Or did they look like my aunts and uncles? And did they not like relate to the community that they were actually teaching?

Taina  21:26

That’s a great question. And now that I’m reflecting on it, no, most of my teachers were were white, they were not folks of color. And I don’t think that they were from the communities that they were teaching in.

Lee  21:36


Professor Soto  21:36

And to back that, none of my teachers were from my community. And now that I look at it, I have homeboys that are teachers here, I’m like, I’m like, man, I would have benefited way more if you were my professor, or you were my teacher, growing up in this community now, because again, my community now has been transformed into more Latino, what they call Latino Latinx communities. So now there’s more professors, more teachers, more profesors, teaching that looked like us. And even like, the simple thing as a tattoo, it’s more accepted. Yeah. Back then you get a tattoo you criminal oh he’s a cholo, right. Even from our own community, oh va ser cholo, or he’s gonna be a cholo when he grows up, right. But now the culture has changed so much. And we’ve been educating ourselves so much that a lot of stuff has been more accepted.

Lee  22:23


Professor Soto  22:23


Lee  22:24

Yeah, I think it’s like, so for me personally like, and thank you so much, Professor for sharing all of this wisdom and dropping these, these nuggets on us because it’s, it’s really helpful for people to understand. And you know, as we continue the three of us to share parts of our lives, I think it’s really important to see the intersections of how all of this kind of come into play and how they manifest within our lives. And it kind of steers us down certain paths, or we have certain journeys to go. While I was inside, it was, you know, I dropped out of school in ninth grade, I just had enough of it, I wasn’t going to do it anymore, I ended up making a series of bad choices. And I was arrested at the age of 17, I ended up being sentenced to life without parole plus 17 years. And so I spent the next 25 years inside and what I did is I started pursuing education. But the interesting part is I started learning from my peers, and my peers looked like me, or they at least were in from the community that I was from. And so I learned better from them, right, I was able to grasp and understand and relate to them. And it wasn’t until like later that I started doing like a lot of inner talking about my traumas that I had gone through talking about the environment that I grew up in talking about, like the things that I had done to harm other people, and marrying that. And I’ve talked about this a little bit with some of my colleagues and marrying that with higher education, my inner education and higher education. When I’ve really brought that together, that’s when I started to like everything started to like really click for me. And I started to understand not only the power of higher education, but the power of inner education and how that will, like release me from these tethers that had held me back for so long thinking, you know, that low self esteem, that low self efficacy that I didn’t have, like the belief in myself that I could do these things that I was capable that I was worthy that I was loved. And so all of these things really started to be demystified within myself like hey, are they been like debunked within myself of like, hey, like, you can do this, and you can make a difference achieve the things that these like things that were sitting on clouds almost for us, right, these colleges or these, you know, high paying jobs or these positions of authority within our communities that had the influence with folks and so I think having that like experience for me personally, was like the the jumping off or the catalyst or the that broke the camel’s back that propelled me to change my life and to start to like, mentor and change the lives around me. And I think that’s like our intersections, you, Taina, and obviously you Professor Soto, like where our stuff kind of comes to a head of where we’ve changed something and within our lives to be able to be that positive influence within within our communities. 

Taina  25:25

Yeah. And you know, speaking of that, Lee, you, you know, like, I also have some experience on the other end of it. I was a middle school teacher for a year in Oakland, and I taught special education students. So 6/7, and eighth grade, all of my students were Black or Latinx, they were all low income. And the way that I was instructed as a teacher was essentially to criminalize them. There was one student in particular, who I was warned about before the school year even started, they were like, Oh, you know, he’s a troublemaker, he talks back this, this and that, you know, he’ll probably spend the whole year in the principal’s office. And this is what I was told before I even met this kid, you know, they were just like, He’s trying and he was, he was hilarious. And he was, you know, kind of like a pain to deal with sometimes, but he was a hurt kid, his dad was incarcerated, his, you know, mom was like, struggling to do the best that that she could as a single mom. And yeah, like, he would get on my nerves and disrupt learning, like for the rest of the kids, but every time like, he would act out, I’d be like, okay, let’s go talk outside, and I would pull him outside, and we would have a conversation. And you know, I’d bring him back in and he would be fine. Like, as a teacher, I really wanted to, like, push back against the school to prison pipeline, like, as hard as I could, even though it’s operating within that system. I had a another who was chronically absent. And I could relate to that. Because, you know, that was my experience. And in the ninth grade, because I was going through some rough things. That’s when, you know, my dad was in jail. And I asked him, why is he absent so much and I ended up finding out that he had a strained relationship with his father, Dad was deported, they finally started rebuilding, and then his dad abruptly passed away, and that his mom was just diagnosed with brain cancer. So he was depressed, and he didn’t want to go to school. And, you know, one day, I was told by the administration at the school, that I had to report his family to the district attorney, because he was absent so much. So what I ended up doing was pulling up to his house instead, and being like, Hey, you need to bring your butt to school, because they’re telling me to call the cops on you, you know, and I don’t want to do that. And I had to like collude with the attendance administrator at the school, like, where we faked his attendance records, so that I wouldn’t, you know, be forced into calling the district attorneys and like reporting his family. And, you know, and then I was just thinking how I was set up for failure as a teacher, I was 23 years old, when I was teaching this class, I had no training in special education, I had no training and writing IEP s, which are their individualized education program. And I had no textbooks, no budget for my classroom, no curriculum, and a sixth, seventh and eighth graders who were at, like the reading of math let levels varying from, like, kindergarten to fourth grade. So I’m just supposed to teach all of these kids different levels with a very limited understanding of like, how to accommodate their learning disabilities, like all of that is a recipe for disaster. And then we wonder why, you know, kids end up dropping out of school, or even if they graduate, you know, not really finding a lot of success, because we are setting them up for failure. So, you know, even someone like me, on the other end, who is trying really hard not to push kids out into the criminal legal system. There were just so many things that were outside of my control. And actually, you know, so this was going on 10 years ago that I was a teacher, I got a call from, you know, that same student who I was warned about couple months ago, and he told me, you know, he got in trouble. He got arrested, you know, is there anybody who I can connect him with to help him fight his case? So, you know, I was doing my best to support him, but I just felt like so overwhelmingly sad, knowing that, like, this entire system has failed him, and that he is one of like, millions of, you know, kids across this country who are being pushed into the incarceration system.

Professor Soto  29:22

Yeah, that’s one of the things I really do critique about the school system is they care more they see students, and that’s why I tie it to capitalism. They see students as money, money makers, you miss you miss class, they’re losing money. Right. So once instead of addressing the trauma that’s going on at home, addressing the trauma of someone’s father being incarcerated someone’s mother because there’s actually a higher rates of women being incarcerated at this point now, someone’s mother being incarcerated, their parents are at a that they themselves are addicted to some drugs. So instead of addressing that traumas, instead of having hiring counselors instead of hiring  psychologists instead of hiring people that can actually help students deal with that trauma, we rather hire police, police officers or go to their home and arrest them. Why don’t you go to school  let me arrest you, instead of dealing with that trauma. And that’s why again, I critique the system, because again, it creates students as commodity, what they call commodities as things that they can buy and sell, right? You don’t come to school, we don’t make any money. That’s why a lot of people are so adamant for students, that’s where they there’s people calling your house a wanting to go to school, we need to report you that you’re sick or whatever because we’re losing money. That’s how I tie the school to prison pipeline capital. And that means you can tie it to policy, political education. But we haven’t learned to deal with that trauma that a lot of the students have gone through, especially when it comes to these low income communities. And harassment happens on a lot of time. And if you’re being harassed all the time, like why aren’t you at school, why aren’t you at school, you’re gonna get tired, be like, leave me alone, I’m dealing with something at home. I don’t want you to harass me no more. Right? And it gets tiring like, well, you don’t want me to be at school, I won’t be let me drop outn then. Right? So a lot of the times again, we’re we’re not educators, a lot of the time, they’re not trained to deal with the trauma that happened at home.

Taina  31:17

Yeah. And if I could also, you know, right now we’re talking about all of the things that the school system is is doing wrong, I also want to highlight something at the middle school, where I was a teacher that they were doing, right, like something that that was working, that was one of the few schools that had a a pilot restorative justice program, as well. And the students were like peer mediators, and actually one of my students was one of the mediators. So whenever my students had a conflict, like I had the opportunity to send them to the restorative justice classroom and like mediate a conversation, instead of calling school police, that school didn’t have a police force, they had one security guard, and he was kind of like, an older dude that like everybody was cool with and you know, like, had like, a good relationship with Him. And, you know, the, the vibe was just like, different. But it was wonderful, like, as a teacher to say, Alright, you two kids are having a disagreement, you need to just go in this classroom and talk it out. There was also a situation where two of my kids got into a fight. They got into a fistfight, like it started in the classroom, and then like spilled out into the hallway. And honestly, like, I was watching it happen, I was like, these kids are not going to hurt each other, you know, their two little boys are mad over whatever they’re, they’re mad about. I’m going to let it de escalate. And then I’ll send them to the restorative justice room afterwards, but because it ended up spilling out into the hallway, another teacher saw, and then she called security, and they ended up getting sent to the principal’s office. And I am, like, advocated on behalf of both of them. I was like, Look, let’s not, you know, suspend them. Let’s not, you know, punish them for this. Let’s talk to the both of them. And if I can talk to the both of them, and get both of them to apologize and promise not to fight each other again, like, Can we squash this? Can we work it out? And they let me do it. And the kids did end up apologizing to each other. It was a long and frustrating process because you know, their two boys arguing about whatever dumb things little kids argue about, but it but it worked. And they didn’t need to get criminalized. It just took more time and attention. And I just wish that, you know, we would do better in our school system. And that, you know, a story like that isn’t an outlier, because I think what happens nine and a half out of 10 times in a situation like that is they call school police, as they call security and the kids end up getting punished.

Lee  33:37

Yeah, what what type of like? I guess, not interventions, but what type of policies or procedures that would you recommend? Professor Soto like, obviously, she talked a little bit about restorative justice, we know how impactful that can be for our communities. But how do you see it like how can we start to implement some of these, I guess, ideas that may be novelties to the other communities that aren’t dealing with these types of issues? What can we what can we implement? 

Professor Soto


Well, I always tell my class and I always tell every time I give also talks that in order to get especially when we talk about the school to prison pipeline, you must get rid of the prison system. I’m a big push for prison abolition. So if we didn’t have prison system, we wouldn’t have the school to prison pipeline, because there would be no prisons. Right? So we have to stop seeing the prison system as a system of profit. And we have to, again, disinvest in this profit making prison industrial complex, we might not get rid of it in my lifetime, but there’s a large push especially y’all are in LA area. There’s a lot of push against defunding police against closing prisons, because there’s going to see that prisons aren’t working. Yeah, right. prisons don’t work. And they’re the it’s called CDCR. I split the lowercase I because they say rehabilitation. There’s no rehabilitation in the in the prison system. In reality, a lot of times they make you what they call a better, criminal, but that’s a different story. I mean, get rid of this global capital system that invests a lot on this prison system. I won’t talk about immigrant detention centers, there’s a lot of investment, different companies from like at&t companies, from ankle braces from building the prisons system. There’s all these major corporations that invest in these prisons. So when we talk about policy change, we need to start investing in our communities, we need to start investing in after school programs. When you look at after school programs that have been cut, a lot of times they are in low income communities. And a lot of times these after school programs were a safe haven for a lot of the poor communities because they had soccer, they had karate, they had different activities for the students. So when you take that away, they go into the community, they they come to the barriom, and they see what’s happening, the community in the barrio, they  see policing they see criminalization. And a lot of times they get kind of sucked into this this Yeah, lifestyle. Right. So if you have like different programs, and that’s why I wrote it, I just wrote an article to about okay, you have to reinvest in the community, you have to look for alternatives to the prison system. You have to look at housing, right when it comes to poverty, Echo Park right now, a lot of the homeless people got kicked out of Echo Park, why? because they want to make it appealing to people. They want people to come back to LA they want people to come back to Echo Park and look at the beautiful boats but when reality there’s major in Skid Row in Los Angeles, there’s a crisis of homelessness. We’re seeing it here in San Diego a crisis of homelessness, you have streets and streets full of tents with with homeless people. So instead of investing, and we criminalize homelessness, right now, you camp here you, you have a ticket, you have a fine, they’re homeless, they don’t have money, they don’t have a job, how are they gonna pay the fine. Oh you  haven’t paid the fine, we’re gonna arrest you. Right. So that for me, that’s one of the biggest because when you talk about prison abolition, that’s one of the major kind of like components that is tied to the community, because when you police the community, so you get through from the community, the school to prison pipeline, gang injunctions, immigration, right. So dismantling of the prison system as one of the kind of like, the byproducts of the capitalist system is one of my major works in my life’s work. But I’ve been working on with not just community members from LA, but community members from here in San Diego. And that will bring a lot of policy change. I know that it’s a long shot. But I was in the prison system as well. And I believe in second chances. And maybe second, third, fourth, fifth chances present for me, prison abolition is the way to go. 

Lee  37:42

Yeah, no, I appreciate you breaking that down and making that connection there. Because that’s exactly where, you know, our mindset is, and what we believe in is the the abolition of the system that is in place, and you talk about the little are, you know, you’ve gone through the system, some I’ve gone through the system, and everybody that is connected through IJ, is system impacted whether they were formerly incarcerated or their loved ones are formerly incarcerated, so they have first hand knowledge about these issues. And as the commander Taina likes to point out to folks, you know, those that are closest to the issues are also closest to the solutions. And these are like our methods, and we know that prisons are designed in order to capitalize on capitalism, right, like they’re getting paid $80,000 a year and CDC tiny R to house of folks inside and where is this rehabilitation actually being reported to the to the public? You know, there’s another organization that is that is going after some of the budget next year. And, you know, it’s like, point oh, 6% of the budget that is poured into CDC, are is actually spent on what they call quote, unquote, rehabilitation. And we’re looking at a $15.4 billion budget, you know, a year here in California. And so when you really start to break down those numbers, and you start to look at it just financially, like where can we get folks to kind of, you know, see the bigger picture, see the bigger light of what this this system is actually doing. For the folks that are you know, profit, profit, profiteering or the profit. Yes, that word right there that are profiting off of off of our taxpayers and and off of us but then aren’t decreasing what they are purporting that they’re being able to do 40 years ago, the recidivism rate was right around 60%. Now, it’s right around 60%. Yet the budget has gone from 400 million to 15 point 4 billion, like where does this connect? Right? I think we can meet people anywhere we want on whether it’s statistics, whether it’s finances, whether it’s trauma, whether it’s growth, whether it’s Getting people to be pro social or productive members of their community, I think we can, we can find ways to connect any of this tying in I know, this has been your big, a big passion of yours and a big, like a push of yours. And, you know, you’ve done great thus far. And I’ll push back on Professor Soto, I think we will get it done in our lifetime, he’s still a young man. And I think that we’re moving in the direction just by having these conversations and starting to show people, you know, these connections, how they connect, how the system is actually run, and how we can actually divest from the the system that is in place with CDCR. And, and, you know, the educational system and, and start to invest in our app promise kids are at, at promise community members. And so Taina, like with you, like I know, I’ve set a lot, how does that like? How does that kind of resonate with you, just having this conversation and being able to have the platform in the arena to be able to talk about the the school to prison pipeline and how it connects to abolition,

Taina  41:05

You know, I actually want to go back to something that you had said Lee, about, you know, offering our kids a first chance, you know, often we talk about like second and third chances. But, you know, most of us like weren’t offered a first chance, like we were set up for failure, like from the very beginning, like if you listen to like how we’ve all, you know, talked about our school experiences, we were made to feel like we were criminal from a very young age, our schools are under resourced and over police. So it makes, it’s only like a logical conclusion that most of us would end up in the jail or prison system, we often say the system is not broken. It’s operating exactly how it was designed to operate. So you know, we’re talking about policy change, like, like you were talking about Professor Soto, I think, basically, if we could look at the where schools are operating Now, look at every policy and do the opposite of that would probably be like the best way to dismantle the the school to prison pipeline. I know. Like we were all kind of talking about how like, we were just met with punishment, like when we were acting up in school, like, what if instead of you know, you getting in trouble for playing games in class, like you were asked to be the the kid in the class to create the games that the kids were gonna play during resource during recess? What if we just like redirected that energy, and instead of being seen as like, disruptive, you’re like, Okay, you’re creative. Let’s, you know, take this creativity, and put this somewhere else. You know, for me, when I was late to school, if somebody had just asked why I was late, I would have said, because I have to wake up really freaking early to catch this bus that only runs once an hour. And the only reason that I’m even going to the school that’s so far away from my house is because this is, quote, unquote, a better school. And you know, what, if someone had reached out and said, Okay, well, what do you need? Do you need some more bus tokens? Do you need a ride? Do you need a car pool? You know, like, right now we have a system of punishment, we need a system of support. If my family was too poor, for us to have a car for someone to drive me to school, why would they think that I could afford a $250 ticket, you know, as as punishment for my crime of arriving to school, 20 minutes late. And I think about, you know, the students who I taught, they were all living with some kind of trauma, all of my 16 students, except one had a loved one who was incarcerated. So they’re all surrounded by the system, and they did not receive the support and the resources that they need to be able to heal from that. So I think, you know, to your point, Professor Soto like part of prison abolition is yes, getting rid of the the prisons in the jails, so that they’re, you know, there’s no pipeline of punishment to go into, but also just breaking down, like everything that we do. We got to stop calling things detention, we got to stop putting kids on timeout, or, you know, punishing them by hitting them, like we need to break our addiction to punishment. It doesn’t work. Yeah, it might be like the faster thing, it might be more like self gratifying. And in the moment, I’ve said this on the podcast before, like, it’s sort of satisfies a thirst for revenge, but it doesn’t do anything else. And if we really want to, like set kids up for success, we need to make sure that they feel loved, that they feel supported, that they feel like you know, even if they make a mistake, or if they cause harm, there’s a restorative option, and they can make it right instead of getting punished all the time.

Lee  44:28

Yeah, so we’re coming up on the end of our, our time with Professor Soto this time, hopefully we can, we can have him back and talk more about it. You did mention an article that you just wrote, and I would love for you to go ahead and drop that or give some closing comments on what you think about prison abolition of the school to prison pipeline, or whatever it is that you feel like that you didn’t get to say or that you would like to share with everybody.

Professor Soto  44:55

Yeah, I actually did just published an article called can the Panthers Still Save Us? And that talks about the thin line between co optation and revolution. So there’s a lot of organizations that not that pretend to do a lot of work for the community, but sadly, get co opted by major corporations. And that’s where what the article is about that there’s different movements about prison abolition, or reforming the criminal justice, I call it the criminal justice system, because it’s only criminalizing certain populations. Yeah. And then there’s other movements around structural racism. But then there’s billions and billions of dollars being funneled into these social movements, that at the same time, they don’t want to change the system, but they want to be part of the system. So that’s what we’ll call about co optation, the qualification process of social movements and it has to do a lot with prison abolition there is made because a major corporation that it has now become a movement, like a system of funding now, if you don’t get funding, then we can personally infer we can’t get the people that are industries are active was paid, right? So a lot of times these major corporations find non threatening movement, and rather radical movements get pushed out. And that’s the process of CO optation. So that’s what the main many of the arguments about and and to end with. With this, we need to again, start caring about our communities instead of caring about capital, because in reality, even people from all across our own race get funneled into with the system of capitalism, the system of earning money, why we’ve been taught as such as to be individualistic. When in reality, when we look back in time we thrive on being a community. That’s why the system fears, coalition, fear, solidarity feels people getting together, because together, we can fuck shit up. 

Lee  46:46


Taina  46:47

I think the only thought that I would add in wrapping up is to really double down on what you were saying Professor Soto about caring for the community, because that’s something that all of us can do. You know, whether or not you’re a teacher, or you know, a school administrator or a policymaker, you more than likely, like interact with kids and use in your life. So you can reach them with compassion, you can resist the temptation to, you know, punish them for you know, causing harm, you can support them and surround them with love and let them know that the way that they are is, is okay and encourage them to grow up to reach their full potential. And that’s something that that any of us can do. And then for those of us who do work in, you know, policy advocacy, or you know, do work in some of these structures, we can do everything that we can to challenge the existing system, change policy, and, you know, create a world that we know as possible an abolitionist world where we treat people with care and support instead of punishment and revenge.