[intro music begins] Abolition is for Everybody is a podcast that tackles the sometimes difficult conversations around prison abolition. I’m Crystal.
And I’m Adam.
In this season of Abolition is for Everybody, we talk about harm.
What creates it, what recycles it, and how we could find our way to meaningful means of repair.
Just a reminder friends, in this episode, and every episode, we dive into very sensitive issues. This season is frameworked around violence, and though the title of this episode may give you some warning, remember that harm itself tends to create situations of alternate harms. There will probably be other painful topics brought up too. Take care of you. [outro music ends]
I guess we get started on season two. This season is all about harm, specifically. And whenever we can get to them, specific harms. It’s about violence and how we repair it, and how we see it and how we identify it. And my name is Ra. I was a co host in season one. And we have two new co hosts with us this season. I will let them introduce themselves.
Hi everyone. My name is Crystal, pronouns she/her. I am one of the new co-hosts. And I have an older brother who is incarcerated. That’s what brought me into this abolition work. And I also grew up in the San Fernando Valley. And if you know anything about the San Fernando Valley, one of the main things is that we are very, very heavily policed. So I grew up with, you know, the police walking up and down the neighborhood a lot. A lot of, you know, the men and women that I grew up with, are currently incarcerated and when my brother was incarcerated, two years ago, that-that is how I joined, joined the abolition movement.
Hello my name is Adam Cain, pronouns he/him/his. I’m formerly incarcerated. I served fourteen and a half years for manslaughter, and a gang enhancement. And I got introduced to Initiate Justice when I was incarcerated, back in 2016. And I started doing volunteer work and continue to stay with Initiate Justice. And soon after that, I started learning more about what it is to become an abolitionist and what abolition is, and that’s how I am now an abolitionist, prison abolitionist.
So, it’s hard to start with, like, harm as a concept. Like when, when do you first consciously remember experiencing harm or violence? And yeah, I mean, do you guys have any thought that comes straight to mind right away?
Yeah. So, for me, after many years of thinking about life, and thinking about how my family got to where we are. You know, with incarceration, and you know, family members struggling with addiction, I’ve thought a lot about how we got here. And, I can pinpoint it back to one incident, back when I was younger and my family lived in Mexico, and that was, the rape of a loved one. So, even though I didn’t know it at the time, because my family didn’t really talk about it, I found out until I was much, much older, that was the incident that caused the domino effect or the ripple effect, with what’s happening in my family. So that specific kind of violence and that specific kind of harm, caused everything that’s happening in my family. I remember, one of the first times I visited my brother at the county jail, he told me and this is ten, fifteen years after it happened, he told me that that’s where his anger began. And that is the first time we ever openly talked about it. And I didn’t know that my brother carried anger because of that. But as I thought about the way he would act, you know overprotective of the family, it-it kind of made sense. So, I can definitely pinpoint the first harm and violence that created a big effect in my life and the life of everyone in my family.
Thank you for sharing that Crystal. I too, can relate to starting witnessing harm at a young age. I remember one of the first things at home that I seen, not directly towards me, but it had an impact on my life was during the riots. The Rodney King riots back in 1995. And I just remember seeing it on TV, right. I remember stepping outside, once on my porch and seeing a lot of different things in the neighborhood, like stuff on fire, people arguing. Fighting with each other. And years later, I was introduced to harm right, well, harm was done to me. You know in my household, being young, getting in trouble, and having a belief that whipping children is a way to discipline your kids. And so that was my first interaction with harm. And from there it progressed. It, it didn’t necessarily progress in the household it kind of just stayed, you know, right there. Like I said, getting in trouble, getting spankings, right, getting sent to your room. Different things like that. But, years later, I began to take some of that-that harm that was caused to me, and I started to, you know, I guess you can say I started to put that onto others, because it was okay. You know, it was being done to me, so I felt like it was okay for it to be done to others. And years later, I-I really started to understand and learn what hurt people, hurt people really mean. So that was some of the first stages of-of me being introduced to harm, psychologically, right? And physically.
Yeah, that makes, that makes sense, unfortunately. There’s a quote by Daniel Thread, about how, no one first enters violence by committing it. You know, it-it starts is something you experience. And, all the examples are, there are just so many examples, you know. Little later in the podcast, we’ll be talking about fate violence. And, you know, what it looks like. I mean, Rodney King is such a great example, because there are interpersonal interactions at play, and also state actions, you know, and what we all learned from that time period. And, yeah, I don’t know. I, I grew up in a fairly non violent household. I did, I did grow up on a farm. So, there is a certain element of violence that’s inherent to American farming, I would say. And, a sort of tolerance to the things that you’re expected to destroy, or keep in line with carceral systems, you know, electric fences, and barbed wire and punishment zones, and things like that. So, I-I definitely remember understanding these things, but I don’t remember like really directly, experiencing violence, till much older. And it’s interesting too, because we talk a lot about, in abolition work, community care, and what that looks like. And I just think about how having that brief respite in my childhood, without active violence cases, really makes the big difference going forward in life. You know? I don’t know, is there anything that, you know…The, the heart of this episode I guess, is of the season, is about what we could have done, you know, what we should be doing. Is there something that you guys can think about that should have been in place? I mean, I would have loved to have little versions of you guys over at my house growing up with my parents, and the safety of that neighborhood. But since, since we can’t go back where it’s, you know, what could have been done, though, in your universe?
I think for me, it’s almost not what we could have done differently. I mean, one of the things that as family we could have done differently is talk about it, and be open with each other and communicate with each other, you know, the harm that was caused. But, it’s also about where we could have gone for help. Where we could have gone for services. I don’t even think I can pinpoint to anything that was there to help my loved one, and the family deal with the rape and what happened. No mental health services, nothing of that sort. One time, I took a poetry workshop class with Ra. And my poem was about going back in time and thinking where I could have intervened to prevent everything that was happening with my family; my brother’s incarceration, my loved ones addiction, and you know, experiencing homelessness and domestic abuse. And it started very little, moving back a couple of months with my brother, and then it started a year, and then it started interconnecting with everybody in the family. And there is nothing ever in place that could have helped us. It’s almost like we never had a chance. And we’re still experiencing that with-with my fourteen year old nephew constantly getting stopped by the police. So whenever I think of violence, and safety, I often think about what I would like to put in place for the next person. So, I-I don’t I don’t think I have an answer for you Ra, with what my family could have done differently. Because growing up in my time, there was no systems that could have helped my family to actually do different. To see what, like what we could have done, to help my loved one and one another, in-in those circumstances.
Right. I totally agree. I totally agree. I think looking back and seeing what could have been done, as far as me witnessing harm, that was when we go back to the, to the Rodney King riots, and what took place at that time politically and just everything that was going on in Los Angeles, everybody was affected by that, right? And me being about five years old, I’m not really cognizant of what’s taking place. All I remember was just stepping outside and seeing so much stuff being done to a city that we supposed to love. Right? This is, this is, it’s a belief system, right? We supposed to love the city, but yet it was kind of the oxyn-oxymoron, kind of way of seeing it, because it’s like we supposed to love this. But when I step outside, I’m seeing a lot of violence, I’m seeing a lot of things that’s going on. So I’m, I’m confused. And as I started to get older and harm started to be done to me in my household, it goes back to a belief system. Growing up in a two parent home, a Christian devoted to the word, and not pushing my beliefs or anything that I believe in on to everyone that’s gonna be listening to this podcast, but in the word, it talks about sparing the rod. Right, and the rod representing, you know, spanking your children. So it says, if you know, if you spare a rod, then you’re sparing your children, right. And you’re supposed to discipline your children with the rod, so they will learn from that. So that was a belief that I grew up under like, that was something that-that took place in my household. So that was the norm for me, if-if I did anything wrong, then I get a spanking from that. So looking back, if we can change that, I-I believe it’s changing the way I was disciplined, right. The way a lot of us was disciplined. Even with, even with the way my brother’s disciplining now it’s completely different than the way we was disciplined, because of the harm that happened. And he doesn’t want to pass that on to his kids. And that kind of creates that cycle of violence, because what we are saying is, it’s okay for me to-to whip or spank my children, and it’s okay for me to harm ’em, when I feel like they did something wrong. So bringing it back to myself when that was done to me, if anybody did something that I felt was wrong, according to a belief system that I grew up in, then I feel like it’s okay for me to cause harm to others. And it may not necessarily be violent, where it’s physical, but it can be verbal, it can be physical, you know, and I think that’s what could have been-been done different was believing that it’s okay to spank a five, six year old child with a leather belt, and then sit them down and have them think about it. Right. So it’s not only is the just harm physically, but it’s perpetuated on to, from physically, to mentally to being isolated. And so that’s what I think could have been done is, is having a different belief system of discipline,
That’s a really good point. And I think both of you kind of touched on the idea of naming the harms, and naming the violences and learning how to define them and find them in our own lives. Because I think that’s, even when I was like replaying back what I said about not really having experienced violence as a kid, you know, I’m brown, and I was sick, you know, I my dad was really dark skinned and kind of a scary looking dude. And a really, a really nice one to me, but a scary looking dude. So, and my mom, you know, has an accent. And we grew up in San Antonio, where it was pretty, pretty obvious that she was from Mexico is a familiar, familiar transition to the people there and then, you know, my dad from India, so there’s like a exoticism there and, and, and what that leads to, and how how people treat you and the things you know the words, but you don’t, you don’t learn words for that until much, much older, you just are aware of it, you’re kind of like just painfully aware that something is different, or somethings changed. You know, Crystal in your story about like, just, you know, being aware that something changed in your family, and, you know, you probably sensed it in your brother, but if you don’t name it, if no one actually says it, it’s hard to see it. It’s impossible to treat it. It’s impossible to even build resources for those things. And I don’t know just one other stray thought I wanted to say is, I didn’t mean what your family could have done differently, because I really do believe that people do the best they can with the things they have. And the-the, the education they have, the neighborhood they have, the resources they have. Humans are so resilient, and so absorbant of the world around them. I do, I do put the onus of care on our community. And in a bigger perspective on the state. So, I didn’t mean in terms of services, I didn’t want to- just want to clarify.
Right, right. Uhm, talking about when you, when you say community care and doing the best that we could with what we had. I often think that, you know, some of my loved ones, really have a chance with the violence that we experienced, personal violence. And then, as we’ll talk about later in the season, violence from the state. But you’re absolutely right, Ra. Because, we grew up very, very poor. Like six of us living in a studio apartment. Uh, paycheck-paycheck to paycheck, kind of poor life. We didn’t even have a door to a bathroom, it was like a curtain. And one thing is that we grew up-my family, if you meet my family, we’re all kind people. We work hard. And living- growing up in Mexico and growing up here in the valley, because we are so heavily policed, we try our best to keep each other safe. So whenever my family needed anything, whenever the neighbors needed anything, we were there for each other. So even though a lot of resources weren’t provided, we kept each other safe. We were there for each other. And some things, you know, we did need, you know, probably a mental health expert, to help a little bit more. And that could have prevented some things, but we did the best we could. And, you know, I’m in this abolition work, because, you-you know, I was blessed enough to be able to, quote, unquote, make it. My younger sister as well, is in this abolition work, and hopefully, we can change things for-for future generations and do provide communities of care for one another.
I-I am so, I am so in agreements with you. You said, you said it so accurate and on point. And looking at it from-from an abolitionist perspective lens, it-it could have been, it could have been things different if we had, if my family had resources, right? To break that belief system, right? Because as abolition, abolitionists, I fully believe that the work that I do is to break down a system, but not just break it down, what can we replace that system with? So had my family had resources, then I think it would have been a different outcome, right. And this is not me saying that my-my family, my-my parents was, that it was something wrong with them. But this is, it was harm, and it was violence and different things passed on to them, because they was born in the south, right, in the 50s. So, they grew up coming through a certain, a whole different type of system, in itself; being African American, coming from the south, relocating, migrating to California, and being introduced to a different way of living as an African American, but at the same time, still having that belief. So, the resources is-is, is probably what could of had really, really helped that. And I think that’s what, that’s what led me to this work is knowing that, you know, I can be the one to make the change. But how do I make that change? I started seeking, you know, knowledge and learning how I was affected, how I was passing that same kind of harm on to others, which led up ultimately, into a cycle of violence. And I-I can share a-a quick story, if you don’t mind. With one of my first interactions in the fifth grade of how, how I started to harm others. It was a very derogatory word, that some of the kids used to say, right, because we learn from each other. And I’m not going to say because it’s very, very, you know, disrespectful. But it was a term that I was saying to somebody that was of another race, and Asian specific, specifically speaking. But I had friends where we used to clown like this, but I’m not knowing that this word is very, very offensive, because I used to clown with my Asian friends and we would say things because he’s, childhood friends. And what happened is I said it to, to-to a person. And, he didn’t take it lightly. And because, I said this word verbally and I har-harmed him and I offended him. In return, he turned around and kicked me, and once he kicked me, it went from me saying that verbal word, to him physically kicking me, to now me punching him. And that’s how we became hurt people, hurt people. So as I got into this, this world of abolition and understanding, you know, what I’ve been through and how can I change and how can I replace a certain belief system? That was one of the first things that really came to mind. Sometimes it can be hard and difficult, to really acknowledge harm or things that was done to you, because it takes you back to that place. Right. But as-as I continue to explore and continue to say, okay, my work is a abolitionist, what can I do? You know, how can I change? How can I help? I think that’s what it boils down to, is being able to say, hey, even if I can’t get the resources, how can I-how can I go that extra mile to either start the resource?And I think that’s- I think that’s what it boils down to for me, is being able to help and continue to help. Help myself first and foremost, and be able to help others with my experience, but being able to have resources to, to do that.
I have, I have many thoughts about what both of y’all said. The-the least related to anything we’re talking about, is how you said your parents migrated to California. And I love that language, because we don’t use that in the United States too often. Because the states are, you know, part of the same country. But it’s so true. As someone who has lived in other states, you definitely migrated. It’s a new culture. It’s a new language. Flip- flops everywhere. I still, like I still get used to it. I’m still getting used to it, and I’ve been here a minute. And then actually related to things, I definitely agree with the resources concept. And, one thing I learned from studying and learning about disability justice, is this kind of habit of always looking for who’s not in the room, you know? And it’s something that for Initiate Justice, you know, I’m the comms manager, and that’s something I’m always, always thinking about. Who is not interacting? Who is not showing up to this? and why? You know, it’s, and it’s kind of something that’s so in my brain now that I just, I never- turns off really. I live in Long Beach, which is a really, really diverse city. And when I walk into a restaurant and I see one of, any specific type of person, I just ask myself; How? You almost have to go out of your way to create the scenario in such a diverse and complicated city. So, and-and let’s assume benefit of doubt that they,they didn’t, they didn’t do that. So, how are they not serving the communities around them? What language are they not using, that brings people in? And I think, a lot of the resources we mentioned today. I know we’re all brown people, so, I’m going to assume that our parents would have struggled even if someone did knock on the door and say, “Hi, I’m a mental health expert. Let me get in your family’s business,” you know? That already would have been a problem. And my parents have, you know, I’m old, they’re old, they-they got, they got there, eventually. But, it was- it was a slow process. There’s six kids, and it-it took a lot of us pushing and nagging to-to start to kind of break down that generational trauma. Particularly those of us whose families originate from elsewhere, or carry generational trauma. So, I don’t know. Do you guys, how do you feel about that? Do you think your parents would react differently than mine?
No. Definitely. I know, right now, I don’t know if y’all experienced this but by my-my nephew’s being in LA, LAUSD schools, they come knocking and asking whether or not we have gotten this, not everybody, the kids have gotten the vaccine? And there is a distrust, that has been created over time between social workers and people who are trying to help, because they’re almost always connected to the police. You know, if my nephew who is fourteen years old, who is struggling, goes and talks to a counselor, he knows that he can’t fully express everything he might be thinking, feeling, happening at home, even if it’s like, because of cultural differences, because we know that the first people that that counselor is going to call and pick up the phone and call, it’s not going to be my parents, to see how they can help further, it’s going to be the cops. And it has happened already. So, we do have generational mistrust of, of people, of experts trying to help us. So, definitely Ra, same as your parents. If they were to knock on my door and say we’re here to help. Right away, we’d be like, Why? Who are you? What about you, Adam?
Yeah, I-I think like, once again, a belief system, you know, coming from my-my, my family moving from the south, right? Our-our health was, was the church, right? It was the word. But the reality of it is, is that it was certain things that took place that still cost far. Right? So, my family was okay with talking to the pastor, right? They was okay with talking to other ministers and other missionary workers at the church. But when it comes to actually reaching out for that help, or like, like Ra said, a psychiatrist comes to the door, like, “Hey, you know, we need to have therapy.” You know, first thing that’s going to be said is, “ain’t nothing going on in my house.” You know, I can hear my dad saying it right now, “Everything’s good here.” You know, I can actually hear that, you know. But the reality of it is, it is things going on in the house. But more importantly, is things that’s going on personally, right? Because my father was affected, and things was passed on to him. My mother was affected and things was passed on to her. So, together, you know, it’s-it’s a lot of personal, personal childhood trauma that wasn’t directly handled. And so, you know, they-they grow up, they start having kids and, and this is the norm. So, I think that it probably would have been a little standoffish, right? Because, me speaking for, I can’t speak for my culture just because I’m an African American, but I can speak at least for the majority, is against therapy, is against help, right? We come from urban communities where it’s like, “nah, we don’t- we don’t do that,” because of what Crystal just said, like, you know, the-the authorities would get involved. But if we can create a space where we can have that, then I think that would, that would have been the key changer. Like, tha-that would have really changed it, changed the game, so to speak, on the way our family would have really interacted with us than just going to the, “Hey, you did this wrong in school, so I have to, you know, I have to whip you. I have to get the rod out, I have to whip you.” Versus having a conversation. I noticed when my-when my mother used to talk to me, as I got older, the-the-the, I started getting big, so you can’t just put your hands on me no more, because I’m gonna be ready to, to fight, because I’m experiencing things in school. I’m experiencing things at the bus stop. Just being, growing up, being a kid, right? In an urban city. But, every time my mother had a conversation with me, it used to really, really challenge me, and it had more of an effect speaking to me, then it did actually physically harming me. Because when I used to get physically harmed, that would make me, be so mad. And I’m sure y’all can agree with being so mad where you got so much resentment. And it’s like, the only thing that’s going to soothe or ease that pain is pretty much getting in more trouble. Right? And that’s how this, that’s how the cycle is created for me. So, having, having the ability to have access to a variety of resources to get to help, I feel like it’s something, would have been, would have been cool. But, it would have been like, “oh, yeah, just come in, like, come on in. Let’s have a cup of coffee. You know, let’s, let’s talk about this.” Because, what happens in my house stays in my house, right? Once again, this is a belief system that I grew up, you know, and to me, it should, it shouldn’t have been like that, although I do get, I get what that means, it shouldn’t been used, especially when it became violent, right? You know, a belt, striking something that’s, that’s violent, you know? Seeing cows getting pushed a certain way and getting hit with a stick or whatever, that’s violent, right? It could have been used a certain way. You know? I-quick example, I-I could talk to my dog, my dog is Poppy. I say, “Hey, Poppy go in the bed, I’m not going to hit him on the back of the, on the back of his head, like, hey, get into bed”, right? But if this is me, maybe 15 years ago, I’m like, okay, because that was, that was how you trained a dog to listen to you. Now, I can just get up and say, okay, let me take a different approach, “Poppy, stand right here, go to bed.” He’ll look and then eventually he’ll walk. So I think it’s just, you know, breaking- breaking down a different approach to handling situations to, to end harm, which leads up to different cycles of violence, right? Cycles of abuse, and the different cycles within abuse environments.
So I’m, I’m curious with both of you, and-and you touched upon this a little bit, Adam, you talk a lot about violence you experienced as as a child, but when did it click for you? And as-as you got older, when did it click for you that, you know, things need to change? The way that we build communities of care and safety needs to change with like what we’ve been accustomed to. And you know my older brother who’s incarcerated, now dealing with the system, which, you know, we’ll talk about later in the season, but dealing with the system is the most violence I’ve ever experienced. So I can’t imagine what he goes through. Doesn’t share very much with me. But I-I witness it, I see it and when I go visit him, I see the way he acts. I see sometimes some bruises, or sometimes his mental health declining. And I-I received the phone calls, back when he was able to call multiple times a day, I would receive phone calls where there was yelling and crying and hanging up the phone on one another. I’m curious on how your perspective on violence changed, if at all, being formerly incarcerated?
Yes, thank you. Great question. And, you know, my love and most upmost respect to, to your brother and what he’s having to encounter on an everyday basis, right? Having harm and pain inflicted on him every day being incarcerated, and everyone else that’s incarcerated. My perspective started to change prior to me getting incarcerated, because, you know, I had a collective group of friends and we would talk about the change that we wanted to see and different things like that. We would daydream, it’s kind of like sitting on a porch. And it’s like, you know, you see a car pass by like, “oh, that’s gonna be my car”, you know? And, you know, we started talking about, you know, “what would you do? and how you’re going to do, to get the car?”, and different things like that. So using that, as an analogy, I believe was when I was introduced to the idea of, you know, it has to be a better way. Going through the actual system and seeing how everything was done on the-the, the first hand of being in the system, is what, is what really like had me open up. And the reason why I say that is because, you have jail, county jail, and then you have the prison system. So, the violence that’s taking place in a county jail is completely different than the violence that’s taking place in-in, in prison system, right? But it’s, it’s still all related, not to make it seem like one is better than other, because it’s still, it’s still violence is violence. But for me, what really changed was knowing that I-I was a former active gang member, and it would be dudes that seemed like they was cool, I mean, just like down to earth. But, because this person was from the other side, I used to be forced to fight every single day. In my first, like my first like, year, I used to fight a lot. I wouldn’t say everyday, that’s probably a little exaggerated, but I used to fight a lot. And what changed was, I got tired of just having to fight, because this is where I’m from, or this is what I’m repping. And I started to, it started to affect me. And I didn’t like that feeling, right? Because it took me back to a place when I was a child, how I used to feel, especially when sometimes people used to get the best of me, or when I used to get the best of them. And as-as I went from being in the county jail, Los Angeles County Jail, to this, to-to state prison, I had more resources. I had more, it was more positive influences that already was locked up for about four years, right. One of my, one of my coolest friends, we called him Pops, his name was Victor Green, and I love him to death. He taught me so much work about abolition. I didn’t know at the time that, “yo, this is what he was doing.” You know, and he- and I think that’s when my perspective changed, right? Going through the system, and actually the growth. And seeing that I don’t have to be, I don’t have to psychologically and emotionally be incarcerated, because of something that derives from my childhood, and being able to be vulnerable enough to speak about harm, right? Before, it was if you said something disrespectful to me, and I was, I was when I was incarcerated, right? I would just go to fight me. However now, and- through the growth, and now understand, hey, I can open up and share and say, “Hey, man, that wasn’t cool. The way you spoke to me was very, very disrespectful. And it really hurt my feelings,” right? I think-think that’s, that’s what really, that’s, that’s where my perspective changed was, I’m understanding that I do have a voice and just how I used to talk about it with my bros prior to getting incarcerated, I can do that now. But except I can, I can really take the initiative, like literally take the initiative, to speak about different things, right? And to learn from, from, you know, past experiences and past things.
I am going to echo Adam here and say that it was also when I was inside. There’s a story I tell a lot, considering it doesn’t strike people, I think as a as much of a focal point from the outside. But one day, on A-yard, there was a fight on the yard. And they sat us all down as, as it happens. You know, you shut down the yard and everybody gets the ground. And, no one was talking about who was actually fighting. So the COs knew somebody was in a fight., but when they call down the yard, we all sat down so quickly that, you really couldn’t tell, and none of us had any interest in talking to the cops about what happened. So they went around and checked our knuckles. And, I don’t know why on earth. I mean, I do the answers privilege, why would think they would just skip me. But they didn’t skip me. You know, he looked really carefully at my knuckles and looked at my face and then looked at my knuckles again. And I remember thinking, of course, I wasn’t the one fighting on A-yard, of course. And then I realized that I’m just wrong. Like yes, I could have hit someone on a yard there isn’t the type of person who creates harm. And if you don’t acknowledge that you have caused harm, and you probably ongoingly cause harm as a human is world, then you certainly can’t move to the point of resolving any harm that has been caused to you or or even imagining, you know, which is such a big part of this abolitionist work. Coming up with not as Mariame Kaba says not finding an alternative to the police because that system is just we’re not looking for an alternative. We’re looking for a brand new horizon, you know, a new frontier, something where we if someone knocks on the door and says, “let me help you”, our families open the door, you know, and part of that is education to them. Sure. But a large part of it is knowing that the system was set up in a way that can hold us and really understand it. When I was in county jail and in prison, I, I was lucky, like Adam to be in the presence of people who had really developed a deep sense of self. And it’s funny, because if you met these people anywhere else in the world, anywhere I’ve traveled to people would tell you, well, they’re a guru, they’re a leader there this but because you meet them in prison, you know, you get a prison nickname. And really, that’s it, you know, and you always have to disclose where you met this person, like, like, it makes a fundamental difference. But as someone who has traveled the world, and as someone who has gone to elite schools, I tell you, in full honesty, some of the most important leaders in my life have been met, that were met in prison. And one of the things they talked a lot about was violence, you know, recognizing the baseline was something a woman in county jail, said to me, she’s like, just listen to the stories and think about the baseline of violence that they’re experiencing when they talk about these stories. The first story heard in county jail was a woman talking about her husband and how one time he, he pulled her by the hair across the street and I was the only one in that entire tank of women horrified by that story. Everybody else was like, yeah, sometimes that happens. And I was just like, no, actually, it doesn’t ever need to happen. There’s not a single reason for that to happen. But if you don’t start to understand that different communities experience different violences, and that different eras, generations experience different violences, then you’re never going to find a solution to walking them through alternatives, you know, alternatives to just recreating that generational, gendered, privileged class, whatever harm, you know, whatever group you happen to be part of. Yeah, how you continue it. So I think that, I hope that answered what you were asking.
It did it, it re-really did. That is something that I, I often think about with this abolitionist work is, like you said Ra, why that harm happens. And, it baffles me that we never talk about why a harm happens and how we can prevent it from happening again. And how prisons don’t really address that you have somebody who causes harm. And our immediate thought is, we are going to throw them in a cage for X amount of years, and that’s good enough for us. Nobody addresses why somebody might have, you know, sold drugs. Why somebody drags somebody on the street by their hair. And how come nobody helped them? How come nobody helped the person being dragged by the hair? And that is something that I often try and tell tho-those around me who are, who are not quite abolitionists yet, is that, we grabbed this person, took them away from their family, and started creating more generational trauma. Adam, as-as you were talking to the trauma, or you know, the struggles that are passed on to you by your parents, I see that with my fourteen and eight year old nephews, and with my brother’s daughter, who is now four. She was like one and a half when my brother was incarcerated. And you know, the system not really caring, that they’re continuing that violence, and that generational trauma. And not addressing the harm that my brother cost. The harm that he was going through and how it affects future generations. So, you know, to, to end this with a, with a little bit more hope, wha-what is something that you all think we can do, collectively or individually, to make, make a better future for, for our community and our loved ones?
To me, I think it would be empathy, I think it-it, it, when we look at the system, the system don’t care what happens or took place. The night that someone lost a life, in my situation, all they cared about was, “hey, you broke a law and as my job I have to, you know, I have to throw you into prison for X amount of time,” and that’s it. I think that would be, I think that will be the change, in fact is empathy. Empathy, right? Hearing people’s stories and-nd, and realizing where we have connections and where the harm comes from. Where is the harm stemming from and, you know, how can we, how can we be able to prevent that?
Yeah, I mean, you think around with more empathy. I think that’s important. Because I’m a numbers brain, I-I think good data and good language are probably what I would, I would go for first, because we really don’t know. Right now it’s still anecdotes. It’s still stories we share over the table, and in community with just each other. But, at some point, we as a community, nation need to sit down and think, what do we need that really serves our people? And in order for that to be identified, I think we need to know the language, our people need to have the language. And when I say our people, I mean, every marginalized community in this entire nation, even one of the largest minority groups, which is women. Which is a weird marginalization to have when I think we’re, we’re more of the population. Women and non binary folks make up, I think, more of the population than men. But, even that, learning the words, what kind of violence is do we create to each other? Like Crystal, you just really, recently mentioned the, like bystander violence. You know, the people who watched this down the street, and it’s not a term people use, but it’s a real, it’s a real thing. And, I think part of the reason we don’t want to own up to harms, is that we think every harm has to be addressed with the carceral punishment. So, people don’t want to say bystander violence is violence, because then what is their punishment? And, you know, again, that goes back to language, good language. What can we put in place instead of punishment? So, yeah, I think my vote would be some good numbers and some good words. What about you, Crystal?
Definitely what you both mentioned. And, you know, I encourage our listeners to have an open mind. And whenever, when harm does happen, who we have decided, you know, decides to go to prison who we have decided, deserves help, deserves healing. So I really want listeners to-to have an open mind and think about, you know, what the media or what, what a person is saying, who is deserving of healing? Because I believe we all deserve healing. And how come we aren’t addressing the root of the harm and why this harm happened, and why we aren’t addressing the root so that it doesn’t happen again.[outro music begins] So leaving, leaving listeners to, to think about that next time they read an-an article where they try and scare the audience of you know, because of the harm that was that was caused.
This isn’t the full story of the full humans involved in these experiences, or every complete community or person who has gone through experiences that parallel. We have walked this gently, so as not to diminish the story, but to highlight and amplify the hearts involved. For a safe discussion that goes further in a larger , but more community based space, please join us at Abolition Corner. For more information visit, InitiateJustice.org/AbolitionCorner
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