Lee 00:00 So obviously you have been, like involved in and entrenched in this with Measure J and with been very outspoken about closing prisons and defunding the police. And you know, IJ is an organization about the abolition of prisons and that’s the that’s our movement. That’s kind of our thing where we’ve been pushing more and more for it and Newsom currently says that he’s going to close three and there may be more on the horizon. He just survived his recall and so we’ve been kind of like really discussing that and what it means with us, um, but yeah, man, we would love to just be able to sit back and chat and and have a conversation about about defunding the police in the work that you’ve been doing. And like, how did that even like started for you and how you became so involved with with that movement?
Brian Kaneda 00:51 Yeah. Hi, everybody, thanks for having me to talk. And yeah, it’s a really interesting time. I think the results of the gubernatorial recall election, really spoke volumes and I think what it said is that we can’t go backwards. And that right wing, would be politicians, and law enforcement, special interest groups, can’t erase our progress and we have to be bold. Californians have to be bold, we have to be spiritually bold, psychologically bold, we need political will, to be able to close prisons, in the interests of public health, fiscal responsibility, environmental justice, and of course, racial justice. Which the ties back to our demand to defund the police.
Lee 01:47 Yeah, exactly. And you know, and there’s people out there that when they hear that, that term defund the police, right, it literally makes a lot of people cringe. They’re like, wait, what do you mean, this is gonna be like chaos, anarchy, it’s gonna be like, the Old West days or something like that.
Brian Kaneda 02:02 Yeah.
Lee 02:03 And as we continue to, like, educate folks like, no, that’s not what it means, at all, what we’re moving forward, and like you said, we want to be bold, right? We want to go into the spaces of funding, the the resources, or the the things that are available out there that are actually gonna make our communities safer.
Brian Kaneda 02:24 Yeah, absolutely. And I think people, different people can mean different things, when they say defund the police or close the prison and that’s not always a good thing. And that’s why it’s important that we have conversations like this, and we talk about what we want. I think some folks, to some folks, looking at you centrist democrats, moderate Democrats, I think that some folks think those are slogans, and maybe bad slogans. And that’s not what they are. They’re demands, they’re demands by the people and I think at the core of those demands, is that the thing that we’re doing right now isn’t working. Or rather, it’s working precisely how it was intended to
Lee 03:17 Exactly.
Brian Kaneda 03:18 And that it can’t fundamentally be fixed. Because in truth, it’s operating so well and that’s maintaining the status quo, which tends to serve the interests of mostly white, mostly rich people. And, you know, you asked me earlier how I got started doing this work and I think a lot of people came to this realization last year, especially, I’ve been doing this work for about a decade and I think there’s been a call toward usefulness, that it’s important that people find how they can be useful during this real period of intersecting crises. And I think probably the best way for people to be useful is to center taking some kind of stand doing some kind of work that addresses the most significant moral and ethical issue of our time, which is racism against black people, and the disenfranchisement of other marginalized groups.
Ra 04:29 So when you say, you’ve been doing this for a decade, what does that look like?
Brian Kaneda 04:33 That’s a great question. Um, looks like a lot of sleepless nights. I started doing this work about a decade ago, and I was going through a lot of personal stuff. I had undiagnosed bipolar disorder. I felt a little bit lost. I had a really good career, but I felt really hollow inside and I’ve been really really blessed to be friends with some wonderful people who have been challenging this system for a really, really long time, some of them 10, 20, 30, 40 years, you know. And I never thought I could do this kind of work because I always thought it was for lawyers, right? And when you get deep into it, you realize lawyers and academics, right, that’s because they take up a lot of space, and they tend to be in front. And when you get into their work, you see that that’s not really the case, but it’s actually really led by the people who have the most wisdom around these issues and those are the people who are most directly impacted by it. But at the time, I was trying to figure out what I could do to be useful, because I wasn’t super happy, you know, and I think you can, we can probably have a whole other podcast on what happiness is, and if that’s even something that we should be trying to aspire to, um, but I wasn’t super happy. And I asked one of my friends how I could be useful. And they asked me, Well, what is it? You know, what is it that matters to you and I said that I think what’s important is making sure that we reduce that we reduce suffering that we try to reduce suffering, and who we focus on in order to do that’s important, and I said that I wanted to focus on folks who are Black, who were Brown, were poor, who struggled with mental health issues and substance use issues. Women, trans people, non binary folks, all the people that we know, society can disappear or abandon. And a really good friend of mine said to me, that there are places where all of the worst things, all of the things that we know to be horrible, torturous and terrible, there are places where all the worst things happen to the most vulnerable people. And that’s inside of prisons and jails. And a light bulb really went off for me for the first time. And I was lucky enough, as I said to the community with these wonderful folks. And we formed the first LA chapter of California Coalition for Women Prisoners, or CCWP, which is an incredible organization that people should look up if they don’t already know about it. There’s some there’s some saintly work happening with CCWP, that consistently inspires me. And being so consistently inspired by CCWP, I think has given me a lot of fuel. So I visited women’s prisons for about eight years, advocating for folks rights, especially people who were in special housing units, people who are struggling with mental illness, the queer community, and really, you know, that that individual work is so important and simultaneously, just something that CCWP is good at relating this work back to the systemic issues that have to be addressed and putting forth the policy proposals to address them is a huge, important piece of the work. And that really drew me to CURB, California United for a Responsible Budget, whose focus is on reducing the number of people in prisons and jails, reducing the number of prisons and jails in the state, and shifting all of these billions of dollars of wasteful spending into the things that we know actually keep us safe, like housing, healthcare, jobs, we believe in care, not cages,
Brian Kaneda 08:51 Billions. Like you, I don’t think a lot of people, don’t really like understand.
Brian Kaneda 08:57 Yes.
Lee 08:57 Or if they do, it doesn’t really it just becomes like a number
Brian Kaneda 09:00 Of course.
Lee 09:00 in there, right? Because we’re dealing with so much, like, so much money and the budgets are just astronomical. And I know that I was I was looking at the proposed budget, the CDCR, I think for 2021 and 2022 and it’s like at $13.1 billion. And they’re like, oh, we’ve reduced it from the last time by 300 million.
Brian Kaneda 09:23 It’s not true.
Lee 09:24 And exactly.
Brian Kaneda 09:26 First of all, what like what most of CDCR says lowercase r because there’s not a big emphasis on rehabilitation. Most of what they say is, is lies and you know, trying to be as generous as possible I wonder if sometimes these people who are you know, moving as system actors if the first person that they’re lying to are themselves. Even a cursory because we don’t really think too many people are really, really that bad. Like there’s not really that I don’t really think I don’t even know if I believe in bad people. So that has to, there has to include some of these folks who are part of the opposition. My first hope is that they don’t, that they just need to be educated and, and one can be really educated just by taking a deep dive into that. Where you would see that, in fact, there hasn’t been a reduction in prison spending that in fact, it has gone up every year. And some of that money is obfuscated, and other pieces of it are just playing to see adding up infrastructure spending, for instance. So in reality, when we’re talking about state prison budgets, you’re really looking at closer to $17 billion and then realize that we’re just talking about CDCR, right? We’re not talking about sheriff’s departments, we’re not talking about LAPD.
Lee 10:47 Nope.
Brian Kaneda 10:47 We’re not talking about jail systems. So yeah, I mean, whose eyes wouldn’t glaze over looking at these numbers with all of these zeros after, and it’s even more harmful and scary to think how what a waste of money it is, because we know, just based on the data, that prisons don’t really do a lot to keep us safe. We know from the data, that policing doesn’t really do what people think it does, and actually decreases the public safety of a lot of communities. I don’t really like I don’t really like the term public safety, because it’s so loaded, but that’s part of what we have to unpack. Some of you might know, in LA County, we passed Measure J last year, which is intended to allocate 10% of net county costs to community based services. And we estimated that about a billion dollars and the county was really fighting us. And ultimately they only allocated about $187 million and in the community’s direction and Measure J was challenged in court and the sheriff’s department who sued LA County won the first round of this lawsuit saying that Measure J was unconstitutional. And part of their argument is that there are mandates for spending on public safety. But the truth is, that definition, the definition of public safety is far too narrow. And that’s what all of this community investment we’re talking about is an investment in the safety of communities.
Ra 12:26 No, all that makes a lot of sense. I do I do appreciate you bringing up something about the opposition can’t, you can’t really hold abolitionist ideals and believe that someone who has a different stance on this isn’t like an inherently bad person who can’t be changed that they don’t really, they don’t fit snugly together as it feels like they do sometimes, you know,
Brian Kaneda 12:49 It’s hard to get hard, it’s pretty hard.
Ra 12:51 They make ithard. They make it hard. When someone is saying that, you know, racism in courts is like not not big enough of a deal to get fired up about it’s hard to be like, okay, well, let’s, you know, let’s find a center place where we can talk about this, but it’s so important that we do because, you know,
Brian Kaneda 13:06 Yeah, I mean, and it’s not to make excuses for people that behave so horribly, and really
Brian Kaneda 13:12 but the line between horrible neglect, and a willful disdain of information, and a grasping of power and a refusal to let go of power, the line between that and, you know, actual malevolence, and if you believe in that sort of thing is pretty blurry. And it is hard. For me, it is straightforward, as you know, systems versus people, right? Like when we say abolish the police, when we say even when we say some hardcore shit, like, you know, fuck the cops, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who are in law enforcement that are decent human beings that maybe came to that place to do what they thought was the right thing. It just means that that’s impossible in the system that they chose to participate in, which is based on white supremacy. So it’s, it’s the system’s fault, and it all of this stuff, you know, and that’s why abolition is important. One of many reasons why abolition is important as an organizing strategy is because it takes us back to the root causes of issues. And really, you know, we’re all forced to participate and all of these harmful systems and all of these, you know, various intersecting areas of crises in California and, and across the country and across the world. And it’s really our job, I think, as you know, people who are engaged with the world around us and engaged with ourselves, right, because abolition, abolition has to do with looking at ourselves and interrogating our own belief systems.
Ra 13:12 Of course.
Lee 14:53 Yeah.
Brian Kaneda 14:53 I think that we have, you know, a responsibility to identify and address these systems which you know, means reforming them. And and you know, when we talk about abolitionist reform, versus reformist reform, those are two different things not not all reform is bad, but it has to meet a certain level of criteria. There are certain criteria that I think we need to meet when we’re talking about reform.
Ra 15:25 Yeah, for sure. And I think that even go ahead Ra, I’ve jumped in on top you go ahead.
Ra 15:30 I was just gonna ask for more information about what your personal metric for that is. In our first episode, Patrisse Cullors mentioned non-reformist reform as like
Brian Kaneda 15:32 Yes.
Ra 15:34 a guiding principle of abolition. And while that makes total sense, just hearing,
Brian Kaneda 15:42 Yeah.
Ra 15:43 I think it’s harder
Brian Kaneda 15:44 Jargon.
Ra 15:44 to understand than, yeah, like when you’re putting it in practical practice, like where, where’s the compromise? Where’s that?
Brian Kaneda 15:51 That’s a really good question. And so this is the way I would think about it and Patrisse is, always speaks so eloquently on on all of these on all of these subjects. And I think that there are a lot of people who have done a lot of thinking and writing about this, like Critical Resistance, is an incredible organization that helps inform so much of how we talk about abolition as an organizing strategy and I think some of the basic things to look out for when we’re thinking about reformist reforms versus non-reformist reforms. It’s kind of a mouthful, um, reformist reforms, tinker, right? So they’re tinkering around the edges. And I think the big thing is that they support the status quo.
Lee 16:36 Yep.
Brian Kaneda 16:36 A non-reformist reform challenges the status quo, it challenges the status quo, and it would try to address the root cause of an issue. I think that a non reformist reform, it’s something that doesn’t leave people behind. So they reject binaries, like, who is deserving, and undeserving of help, redemption, love. I think a big piece is about expansion of power and it’s where people also get tripped up, budgets in power. So a non-reformist reform, wouldn’t expand the budget or reach of what we call, you know, the prison industrial complex, I’ll just say carceral system. So it doesn’t perpetuate the notion that we can make a gentler police force, you know, training. So training is what we would call a bad reform because, you know, we don’t want nicer cops, we want less of them, and for the community to take up some of these responsibilities that the cops don’t do so well. We don’t want a nicer prison, like, um, you know, that’s not and to clarify, that doesn’t mean that conditions of confinement aren’t important. Like, it’s absolutely it’s the state’s responsibility, the state’s legal responsibility to make sure people are trained, treated humanely. We don’t do a very good job at that, regardless, but
Lee 18:06 Terrible job.
Brian Kaneda 18:07 Yeah.
Lee 18:08 Terrible job. We can both personally attest to that.
Brian Kaneda 18:10 Yes. I think that that has been like not only experience, but I think it’s starting to become more part of the education of the public. And, you know, part of the reason that they took away the media access to institutions was so they could hide the atrocities that are kind of happening behind bars. And I think it also that it doesn’t allow the light to be shed on where this money is actually going. I think it’s something like 97% of the budget actually goes to the the funding of the CDCR officers and their benefits
Brian Kaneda 18:52 Overtime.
Lee 18:52 and their pay it yes, and it doesn’t go towards actual as we all like to call it the tiny r, right, the rehabilitation part and you know, with the with the budgets and putting the money back into the communities, and putting them back into community based organizations, and the starting to fund more and more of the resources or the organizations that are actually putting in the work on, you know, allowing folks to come back into our communities, allowing folks to stay in our communities in a healthy and a contributing way, I think is the most important here, that that often gets overlooked because when you hear about police and you hear about prisons, you know, there’s been this at least for me, even growing up there’s been like that’s where the bad people go, right? That’s where the folks go that you should be afraid of.
Brian Kaneda 19:48 Right.
Lee 19:48 That you should be fearful of. And it’s not the case like you said, Brian, when you were working in the women’s prisons, for as long as you have, there’s a lot of really great people.
Brian Kaneda 20:00 Fantastic people.
Lee 20:01 Yes, people who have made bad choices.
Brian Kaneda 20:03 Yes, but can I tell you? Can I tell you in and you know, this, after spending eight years working in a women’s prison, I can tell you I, I met not a single person in prison who I thought deserved to be there. And you know, somebody might be able to tell me that they exist, but I didn’t meet them. And I’ve
Lee 20:23 Yeah.
Brian Kaneda 20:24 spent a lot of time in a prison. And you know, I work with almost exclusively people who are serving long sentences life, virtual life, life without parole, and people who have been accused or convicted of the most, you know, serious types of harm, and I’ve never met a single person, right, that should be in a place.
Ra 20:41 I love that and I do appreciate your work and CCWP’s work. I know we’ve never met in person, or even actually, I think shared any kind of space. But but yes, I’m formerly incarcerated, I spent a year and a half at CIW and it’s, it’s one of those things that is kind of women’s prisons, women’s carceral systems, women’s incarceration is one of those things that so often left out of the dialog.
Brian Kaneda 21:06 Absolutely.
Ra 21:06 And, you know, I know I know, the majority are men, but even TV shows and things like even our media focus focuses so much on the struggles that men have in and those are super important, but it is, I guess, heartwarming to me to have organizations that turn that lens a little bit and say women have unique issues, non binary people have unique issues, the trans people inside have unique issues.
Brian Kaneda 21:30 Absolutely.
Ra 21:30 And let’s let’s cater to that a bit and see what we can do.
Brian Kaneda 21:33 Yeah.
Ra 21:33 So I do I do appreciate that. And yeah, and in my time, I echo what you say, I didn’t meet anyone who I thought needed to be there.
Brian Kaneda 21:40 Yeah, absolutely.
Ra 21:41 And let alone there forever oh my goodness.
Brian Kaneda 21:45 40, 50 years, there’s, you know, women who are you losing their eyesight, who are 80 years old, that are sitting there in prison who you know, could there can be no possible argument that they’re a danger to anyone else. And thank you so much for naming that because this isn’t an either or proposition, but let’s think about the history of incarcerated women, especially in California. This is a group that has been long overlooked. Virtually 90% of people who are in prison in women’s prisons report being sexually violated at some point in their lives suffering abuse.
Brian Kaneda 22:23 There’s an incredible number of people in women’s prisons, who have survived intimate partner violence, and it’s connected to why they’re in prison now, so they’ve survived and been punished for surviving. And something that people often don’t realize is women are actually the fastest growing group
Lee 22:2 Yeah.
Ra 22:43 Yes.
Brian Kaneda 22:43 of incarcerated people. And because of
Lee 22:46 Say that again, fastest growing group of incarcerated people.
Brian Kaneda 22:52 Yes, women.
Ra 22:53 It’s wild. It’s it’s crisis numbers by any measure of any any problem was rising to this extent we would call it a crisis. Sorry go on.
Brian Kaneda 23:02 No, that’s exactly it. It is a crisis.
Ra 23:04 Yeah.
Lee 23:04 Yeah. And as we step more and more into that into, like, learning about the, the ageism, that is happening in prisons, and I know they’re creating more spaces for the in the males, prisons, to support geriatrics, right? They’re training more incarcerated folks to take care of the aging prison population and increasing those facilities instead of
Brian Kaneda 23:33 Letting people go.
Lee 23:34 Right, exactly. And so instead of like doing the due diligence, they’re like, how can we hold on to these persons even longer? How can we continue to label them as a danger to society, a threat, or a risk to the safety and security of the institutions and in our communities, it’s becoming more and more apparent that their only concern is the amount of money that they’re making?
Brian Kaneda 24:01 Yeah, and, you know, it’s so hard because these systems just need to sustain themselves. And people can make this differentiation between profit and for profit prisons. Right. So we have like conversations about, you know, private prisons, okay. Private prisons are so bad, like they’re somehow inherently worse than state operated prisons or federal prisons. And you know, yes, state run prisons don’t produce revenue as it were, but they support bloated budgets, and these they’re statewide departments, almost all of them, you know, some of them that do good work. Some of them they do bad it’s probably a mix for for most of them heavy on the bad for CDCR. They have an interest in sustaining their budget levels increasing and prison guards make a lot of money, especially since it doesn’t require a lot of education and there are a lot of prison towns, towns that have become prison towns that have been sold a bill of goods by CDCR about how the prison will benefit their community and the data shows that that’s not really true that in fact, prisons are kind of an unhealthy economic engine for town, but so many folks have been forced to rely on these monolithic carceral economies and I think we’re running into that kind of pushback, at least one of the prisons that Governor Newsom announced for closure CCC, and it’s in this town that’s called
Lee 25:35 Susanville.
Brian Kaneda 25:36 in Lassen County, and, you know, they’ll they’ll probably lose some jobs over prison closure. And that’s, that’s real, that’s important. You know, there are people who will be impacted by prisons closing in the same way people that own slaves were impacted by no longer having slaves. So you know, we can’t really use these antebellum south arguments about why we need to keep prisons open in the interest of these unhealthy economies, instead of focusing on real policy solutions. You know, we were speaking earlier, and so much of CDCR’s budget is going to cops, it’s going to COs that made a pretty, pretty decent amount of money, which is why it’s alarming to folks like listen, these are really toxic jobs. I don’t think anybody dreams about being a prison guard unless it’s the only way out of poverty. Prison guards have really high levels of mental illness, PTSD, domestic violence, domestic violence is really rampant
Lee 26:45 Suicide rates.
Brian Kaneda 26:46 A lot of these folks are hazed in really deadly scary ways. I don’t think prisons or being a prison guard isn’t, these aren’t the dreams of community. But what’s real is that, you know, when we’re thinking about defunding our police, when we’re thinking about closing prisons, there needs to be economic solutions, there needs to be labor solutions to a lot of these issues. And that’s why the kind of legislation we need a piece of the focus has to be on labor solutions for people who are trapped in carceral economies. California means we have so many industries that are extractive need a just transition, address a just transition to careers that heal and not hurt communities, there needs to be a deep investment in towns near prisons in in order to realize the promise of prison and jail closure and reducing police forces. These plans have to include cops and people that work at CDCR. You know, these folks need to be transitioned from the careers they’re in and there is there is a state responsibility to do so. And you know, the idea that this town like Susanville’s economy isn’t already state sponsored is ridiculous. Like that’s the whole point of the prison project there. 10s of 1000s of people rely on, have been forced to rely on, income generated from carceral systems in California. And it has to end it’s not healthy. Healthy employment, though, is life saving for people who want to work and efforts to transition people into jobs that benefit everyone in the community, and don’t harm the most marginalized, should be funded. And that’s why a just transition policy proposal is really necessary. And it’s something that we are collectively working on in the CURB community in support of folks like the care first coalition, who has really been leading in this work and justice LA, who has been really thinking about, you know, what does it look like to take some jobs from the sheriff’s department and give them to people who are actually way more suited to do the work like, you know, people who interact with folks who are houseless, or people who are, you know, having a mental health crisis. We know from the data and from our lived experiences that cops aren’t really the best people to do that and I can say specifically what that means, like, I think that we need to establish a statewide universal basic income program. We need workforce development, we need to develop financial packages that incentivize retirement of correctional officers and law enforcement officers, making sure that the incentive continues to help them transition to positions outside of these carceral sectors. There’s needs in the new economy. We were talking about infrastructure packages on the federal level, we’re talking about this a lot. building out the green sector, we’re experiencing the impact of climate change. Susanville’s a great example that town was almost burned down by the Dixie Fire.
Lee 27:14 Yeah.
Brian Kaneda 27:18 And so many folks were simultaneously complaining that there’s not going to be any jobs in Lassen County when the prison closes, and what are we going to do? What are we going to do if the prison closes and the fire camps close? Because we won’t have incarcerated firefighters. And to me, that’s a pretty straightforward solution. If folks need jobs in Susanville, I hear firefighting is a really good job. So maybe that’s somewhere we could invest.
Lee 30:20 We could start there, right? And there’s, there always comes this thing when people talk about, you know, defunding the police or abolishing prisons, and you were just touching on it, obviously, Brian, with the oh, well, people are going to be out of jobs. Right. And and I don’t think, first of all, I think we’re losing sight of when we start to argue that point, which is a point that the opposition often wants to make, I think when we start to argue that point, then we’re, we’re losing the message here, that there’s better ways to actually deal with our community members than to incarcerate them and to oppress them and put them in systems that is doing more harm than good, because there’s not the type of treatment that that folks actually need when they’re dealing with mental health issues when they’re dealing with substance abuse issues. And then, you know, when we start to talk about the folks that are actually running these institutions, the rehabilitation that they actually need, in transitioning from a job, where it is all about power, it is all about control, it is all about, you know them putting or dominating the folks that are in charge of their wards or however we want to kind of label them and how do we actually get them back ingrained into our community because they too, are losing touch, right, they’re out of touch with what actually needs to happen within our communities, I don’t want to go into you know, too much of of that, but it is a it is a point that that you have made and that I think needs to be highlighted a little bit too, it’s like, we need to transition them out of that mindset, those ideologies and that type of workforce and, and into another type of workforce that is actually going to be beneficial for our community. Because I know Ra, you were inside the fire camps for like a year and in the work that you were doing was like vital to the community that you were in and how how does that impact because before, let’s let’s say this too, before, the folks that were fighting fires inside that were incarcerated, they weren’t even allowed to come back out here and pursue that job, right?
Ra 32:26 Right.
Lee 32:26 Until, until recently, they weren’t even allowed to come out here and become firefighters because you have to be an EMT, you have to be able to
Brian Kaneda 32:34 Yeah.
Lee 32:34 You know, perform life saving responsibilities. And so Ra, how was that affecting the folks that were inside knowing that they were doing a job that they weren’t even going to be able to parlay or transition out here to do?
Ra 32:46 Oh, well, you know, honestly, I think one of the more distressing things to me inside was that the women don’t seem to know that. So a lot of people tell them over and over again in different ways that they’ll be able to so they and again, this goes back to that unique experience between women’s prisons and men’s prison. Taking a man who has maybe never exercised in his life and giving him a few months of training to become a firefighter does one thing to a body. Taking a woman who to Brian’s point probably just came out of either a domestic violence situation or a lot of incarcerated women are mothers, new mothers in fact, and so you take somebody whose body has given birth in the last year and maybe they’ve never exercised in their life and you drag them through this program for a few months and that has you know, that has consequences on a woman’s body. It’s it’s shaped differently on the inside and I know for myself both the diet and the exercise lead to infertility and of course through the program itself I got a disability a disability a hip problem you know, I walk with a cane. So the programs are not safe as it is but honestly, the women inside really they push themselves through that because a lot believe that there will be something for them when they come home and even this is not it’s not true at all and this new legislation, I don’t want to be a debbie downer about things it’s not an expression and you know
Brian Kaneda 34:06 No, please do because people think that it’s it’s a good people think that it’s good and they don’t understand why it’s not.
Ra 34:12 Yeah, like this legislation that says that we can now go ahead and you know, apply to be a firefighter, I just think it’s important to remember that the likelihood that a woman would be the person selected to be part of this already limited crowd of people is very slim. Like this, this legislation did not open anything for women. As it is, women on the outs without a criminal record who want to be firefighters and have worked for years and years and their parents are firefighters, they often don’t get placements. Like how are you going to say that somebody and again, something we talk about a lot here is, you know, in carceral systems is where you find a lot of the most marginalized people with English as a second language, maybe just GED’s, if that’s and particularly in women’s prisons where the literacy rate is even lower than it is in men’s prisons, partially because so many of these women have dedicated their lives to raising families and raising the children and, and working several jobs. I have never met so many, like so many people who can casually tell you the five jobs they were working at the same time, you know. And it’s all of those things together. Again, if you were just choosing candidates to be a firefighter, you’re probably not going to pick the woman with the criminal conviction and the lowest education levels, which means there really is no future in this for women who go through this program, even with this recent legislation.
Brian Kaneda 35:40 Thank thank you so much for naming that because that’s that’s the that’s the impression that people in fact, do have this opportunity, and it’s illusory, that that’s in fact, not the case that that there’s very, very low rates, especially for women, for folks who are able to transition into, you know, a, quote, unquote, real career as a firefighter in the free world, not to mention the fact like, this is really dangerous.
Lee 36:06 Yeah.
Brian Kaneda 36:06 Like, Are you telling me that every single person that would be doing this wants to do that, that? Or really, is it just an opportunity to get time off your sentence while doing something, you know, that is actually super helpful and having that kind of purpose is also really important to folks inside, but they’re also making, what, eight cents an hour? Maybe it’s a
Lee 36:28 A little a little bit better during the fire season for firefighting. But also Brian, I was, I was dealing with a lot of folks that wanted to go into firefighting, just so they can touch a tree, like literally just
Ra 36:41 Yes.
Lee 36:41 so they could actually touch a tree.
Ra 36:43 Yes, yes.
Brian Kaneda 36:43 Exactly, exactly. And also, like just also naming that, like, there’s not really such thing as voluntary servitude inside.
Ra 36:53 Absolutely.
Brian Kaneda 36:54 So like, actually, it’s all coercive.
Ra 36:57 Of course.
Brian Kaneda 36:58 People are in fact, coerced into taking these jobs. So that’s not at all to like, diminish the work of the incredible incarcerated,
Brian Kaneda 37:06 firefighters who are keeping us all safe, just to just to underline everything that you said Ra, that, you know, this isn’t as rosy as people, people think.
Ra 37:06 Of course.
Ra 37:15 No, and consent is such a bizarre illusion that people have for the prison system. I feel like with the Me Too movement, the entire world got this crash course education on what consent means. And I’m like, if you take those basic principles that we learned, collectively, hopefully, a lot of us already knew it, but I know we had some big collective educational jumps in recent years, thanks to thanks to organizers, as always.
Brian Kaneda 37:40 Right.
Ra 37:40 But if you’re in a system that controls everything about what you can do, the power dynamic is so extreme that there is no possibility for anything to be truly free of light to be of consent, it’s not possible. You cannot be in a system that can remove your right to wear clothing, right to eat food, when you eat food, change what you eat and call that consent. And in women’s prisons, unlike men’s prisons, because I actually don’t know the reasons but our firefighting programs for the record are not voluntary. You can volunteer to be in the program, but if you are able bodied, and pass the medical, you are slated for that program, and the only way to get out is is a tangle. So yeah, in fact, it’s such a thing.
Ra 38:23 I’m sorry, go ahead.
Brian Kaneda 38:24 No, no, please, please.
Ra 38:25 I was just saying it’s such a thing that women actually, people injure themselves to get out of the program. They literally take locks and break their ankles and and such things.
Brian Kaneda 38:34 Jesus.
Ra 38:34 So it’s if you don’t want to be there, there’s no safe way to get out other than some kind of injury like like like that.
Brian Kaneda 38:42 This is so important for people to hear. And, and it’s honestly why these prisons have to close. You know, because they’re these are really serious sites of harm. And I think that when we say prison closure, what’s been frustrating is that we so many parts that have been frustrating. I think that there’s a real need to discuss what prison closure means because right now, you know, the governor has announced some prison closures less than what we would like but it’s also a huge community victory. It’s the result of decades of organizing around this issue and we should all celebrate that, we should celebrate any potential prison closing but you know, one is being held up by a lawsuit and that’s in Susanville, and DDI, he prison in Tracy, isn’t really shutting down. What’s happening on September 30th, is that the prison is going into a warm shutdown, which means that there’s still a crew there, the lights are still on and it’s sort of like adjusting case, right? And our experiences is that, you know, if cages are empty, people will try to fill them. There’s also been no releases announced connected to these prisons closing so you know, we’re trying to address all of these issues and some of these plans aren’t serious, but a serious plan for prison closure means that closed prisons stay closed, that prison populations are reduced to releases, not transfers to other unsafe facilities, which means we need legislation that focuses on getting people out or legislature and signed by the governor, no more excuses from him, it’s time to get back to work. The recall elections over he has to make good on his promises to his constituents, it means that corrections budgets are slashed and it means that investments in reentry and other services are prioritized. It means that the voices of justice impacted people are heard, and what we’ve been discussing that there’s labor solutions for displaced prison staff that needs to be front and center, displaced police that can be front and center. We don’t need these people to become social workers, right, because they’ve done a lot of harm. But there’s plenty of other economies that are that needs support, and, and making sure that we’re doing all this stuff with the intent to create racial justice. And that was something that you all were touching on earlier, sometimes it gets lost because we’re talking so much about economy. Prison closure is really complicated and has a lot of moving parts and the economic piece, and the spending piece is a huge part of it, but something that gets ignored consistently is the reason why we have to close the prisons in the first place. And it’s because of the abusive conditions that Ra was just talking about, and in the interests of racial justice and public health. And, you know, that’s, that’s unfortunate that so many people are reliant on carceral economies, but this is 2021, that’s not healthy. And we need to evolve our way of thinking, if that’s the best we can do, if that’s the best vision that folks can come up with for our future, we’re in real trouble. And the reality is, is not and that communities have great ideas about how to spend money and how to invest in the things that they know that matter. And that’s why they need to be resourced and empowered to be able to actualize these dreams for for their own communities and that looks a lot like something like participatory budgeting, right? So it’s not just like saying the county is going to get all of this money to help people well, thank you very much. We don’t necessarily need that money in the county, we need it sent to community and the community has to have real power about deciding where the money is invested.
Lee 42:26 And how do we do that? That’s a really good point, right is because we often think about, hey, we, and there’s a lot of eyes on Measure J and and how how it’s kind of working out because it is really, whether I think they like it or not, it’s becoming the poster child or it’s becoming the flagship, it’s becoming the spearhead of this movement and how the community, you talk about a participatory participatory budget or a participatory community and how they’re actually going to step up and say, listen, this is where our community needs the most help. This is where we need the most attention. And where is where are you finding this type of attention within the community of where the money is, is like going and how we can continue to build on that and improve that as we move forward and let that be like the shining light for everybody else to say, oh, okay, when you talk about defending the police, are you talking about abolishing prisons? And our number one question is what what are you going to do? Well, this is what we’re going to do and this is a proven concept that is working.
Brian Kaneda 43:35 God no pressure, right? No pressure LA County. But yeah, everything that you’re saying is right. There’s what’s the expression as California there goes the nation is that the expression? Just that California is, you know, so often looked at as creating exportable models, especially with criminal legal reform and kind of setting the tone and we’re experiencing that same thing in LA County. And yeah, there are a lot of eyes on Measure J and we’re calling the funding stream now in LA County is Care First, the Care First Initiative because Measure J was found unconstitutional And this is something that we’re fighting legally in court. But I think there’s a lot of lessons there. One thing is that the community has already done the work. We created this incredible in partnership with the county, this this incredible set of recommendations. I think it’s 114 recommendations in the alternatives to incarceration report, which is a groundbreaking report on how we can start creating care first, jails last, community. Right now in LA County, we have an all woman, progressive Board of Supervisors, a lot of whom I respect a lot for the work that they’ve done in other in other areas and and as supervisors and they’ve shown a lot of leadership and yet this freedom, freeing up resources is a constant struggle. So I think it’s super important that we continue to build power because no matter how, how aligned a politician says that they are with us, and I believe some folks are, you know, moving with good faith, especially in LA County, people who work at the county are moving in good faith toward the shared goals. But unless the will of the people demands it, politicians, you know, have their finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. And that’s why movement building is so necessary organizing is so necessary, because the reality is, is whenever this stuff comes up for a vote, people agree with our shit. People agree with criminal legal reform, whenever we’re looking at, you know, Prop. 47, or 57, or basically any of the major legislation or policy shifts in the past decade, the vast majority of them have been focused toward decriminalization, decarceration, and an understanding that used to not be a left right issue, that there’s too many people in prisons and jails. And so really, I think our focus has to be building power, empowering communities, making sure that our communities know when the budget cycle happens, you know, know when it’s possible for us to make public comment, know, when we have opportunities to advocate for the things that we want, and we believe in, and people aren’t making it easy, especially during COVID, there’s no in person meetings, we’ve had to get really creative as organizers to figure out how to get our voices heard at these nexuses of power and how to move folks both through their hearts and minds, but also forced them to, to listen to us because we have too much power for them not to
Lee 46:56 Yeah, and I think this is where you know, IJ has like really starting to like come into art, we’re coming up into our fifth birthday that we’re gonna be celebrating.
Brian Kaneda 47:05 Yay!
Lee 47:05 And it’s really about power building and making sure that our inside folks are have a seat at the table we’re talking about, you’re talking about, you know, having seats at the table at these nexuses of where these decisions are actually being made and, and how when they need us. They want us to show up at the polls it to be able to like keep them in office
Lee 47:25 Exactly.
Lee 47:26 or put them into office and I think more and more as this community continues to swell and be educated, that it is starting to show in the folks that they’re they’re actually electing and the progressiveness, you know if we’re going to put titles on folks and where they need to bend, when it comes to social justice reform, and when it comes to social justice issues. And I think I think that they’re starting to realize more and more about the strength of the community. And I want to like blend that into, not only is there a strength in the community, when we’re trying to put folks in a position to be able to represent us and represent our words, our thoughts, our ideologies, our beliefs, our morals, our principles, but also it shows in the resiliency of the communities, and then to be able to take on this responsibility to be able to interact with our community members, when there are things that go against what they’ve deemed against the social norms of our community, dealing with mental health issues, dealing with substance abuse issues, dealing with issues that need to be that need to be addressed, people need to be responsible and held accountable for for their their actions and how they show up with their community members, and who’s better to actually address those things than the community members that they actually live in. And not necessarily some system that has been built around oppression. And it’s been built around, you know, the continuance of earning money off of the off of the folks in the communities that they’re not even a part of.
Brian Kaneda 48:55 Yeah, absolutely. And I think that that’s what’s so vital. And we’re talking about wealth transfer in a meaningful way, or should be, and I think we’re talking about this resource shift. And you know, we’re saying, look, we’re not here, our organization is called Californians United for a Responsible Budget and a Responsible Budget doesn’t look like saving money. It looks like spending money. We’re not asking the state to save money, we’re asking them to capture the cost savings from shrinking carceral systems, and invest that money and more into community and community based resources. So we’re talking about health care, mental health care, substance use housing, permanent supportive housing, especially all of the things that we know, you know, it sounds it sounds kind of mean, but it’s not rocket science, like most people know what communities need to stay safe. And I think a piece that gets lost, you know, not necessarily amongst the people doing the work, but maybe people who are from the outside who are hearing about abolition for the first time, we’re trying to understand abolition as an organizing strategy, really understanding that we’re talking about building, that’s what abolition is, abolition isn’t just tearing down. It’s about building, you know, it’s a generative process. Abolition is a generative process. Our intent is to build and building requires investment.
Ra 50:26 I love that.
Brian Kaneda 50:26 And they keep telling us there’s no money, you know, maybe it would be a different conversation, probably when it maybe would be a different conversation if they were like, sure there’s money for everything, that wouldn’t be a different conversation, because there’s still too many people in prisons and jails. But, you know, one of their big arguments is that there’s no money, we’re trying to provide a really clear solution for one of the first funding streams that could be applied to the things that we know communities need and that’s by shifting out of these punitive systems that we know don’t actually help people or keep everyone safe.
Brian Kaneda 51:02 You know, it’s it’s a it’s a breath of fresh air when you actually come on and you talk about these things. And, and I think it isn’t about, you know, changing folks minds, it’s just about in enhancing and expanding their minds, to be able to think about things in another way or to be able to open themselves up and more to be more accepting more. And like you said before, it’s just more loving, and how we actually treat people and how we kind of show up and for ourselves and for our community members. And I think that you exude that in it’s it’s a you’re a great ambassador for that for that pathway.
Brian Kaneda 51:40 That’s sweet, and you know, people aren’t disposable. And that’s, I think that’s what we’re all here to say.
Ra 51:46 To our listeners out there, thank you. This concludes Season One of Abolition is for Everybody. Stay tuned for Season Two, which we’ll be launching soon. We are excited to continue discussing all things abolition with you. On Season Two, Abolition Addresses Violence, we will dive into the more difficult topics surrounding abolition, like sexual assault, murder, crimes against children, state violence and others. Until then, take care of you