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Breaking it Down

Rachel Herzing
Date Published: 
October 01, 2008

I have been locked by the lawless.

Handcuffed by the haters.

Gagged by the greedy.

And, if I know anything at all,

it's that a wall is just a wall

and nothing more at all.

It can be broken down

--from "Affirmation" by Assata Shakur


This section concludes a year-long, three-part series examining the prison-industrial complex (PIC), as we head into Critical Resistance's tenth anniversary gathering (CR10). The series has spanned community policing in Mexico, youth organizing in Chicago, and the decades-long struggle to free the Angola 3. Through it we have seen the breadth and depth of the PIC's reach and scope. We have also seen, following the wisdom of Assata Shakur, that a wall is just a wall and that the persistent repression and isolation the PIC creates around us can be broken down. They are being broken down every day.

The series has demonstrated that the PIC is so much more expansive than imprisonment, but that it tangles and grabs at us from the realms of education, health care, immigration and migration, gender expression, age, ability, and so on. When we understand the variety of ways cages are being constructed around our liberation, we are better positioned to attack them with sledgehammers, fists, minds, and collective action. We thank the authors and people profiled in this series for their inspiring examples.

The section that follows continues to examine the PIC and the enduring challenges to its existence. From a look at organizing efforts with the New Jersey 4, to statements from organizers and organizations preparing to participate in CR10, we see the ways in which violence, surveillance, policing, imprisonment, and death have become the logic through which we are disciplined and made to accept continued state repression.

We stand at a precipice. With more than 1 in 100 adults imprisoned in the US, plans to expand the policing and physical barricading at US borders, a transition to "boutique" prisons, increased surveillance of young people, continual state violence enacted upon queer and transgender people, the ongoing use of state-sponsored executions - all within a parallel context of US war mongering abroad - we have a unique opportunity to put the brakes on the influence of the PIC rather than jump over the edge into the abyss.

When we honor experiments in collective accountability in addressing situations of harm, or support genuine alternatives to imprisonment, we actively engage in creating the world we want to live in. When we provide opportunities for people with felony convictions to participate in the formal economy through efforts such as banning the box on job applications that asks for conviction history, we affirm that people should not have to serve sentences outside of prisons as well as within them.

All over the US and worldwide, people are engaging in projects and activities that allow us to imagine a world free of policing and imprisonment. We hope that the examples laid out in this series signal a change toward collective action that rejects the idea that it is possible to use the PIC to keep us safe and healthy. Similarly, we hope they have provided moments of insight and inspiration that will push our work together forward.

To read the articles commpiled for this special section on the Prison Industrial Complex:

-Dismantle, Change, Build

-Re-Thinking "The Norm" In Police/Prison Violence & Gender Violence: Critical Lessons from the New Jersey 7

-Too Legit To Quit: On the NJ4

-Winning the Fight of Our Lives: Immigrant Rights and Prison-Industrial Complex