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The Last One (Prison Reflection)

Joie Rose's picture

Prison Reflection


            In my saved files on my computer, I titled the post I wrote after that class (you know the one I’m talking about) ‘The Hardest One Yet”.

            And it was. It was a truly trying experience, but in the frustration and pain this particular class challenged us all with, there was a turning point. A liberation from everything that I had been trying to hold at bay, futilely, like trying to keep a wave from crashing onto shore by catching it with your hands, up until that point in the semester. I posted about this experience in a Sunday post, and Jody shared it with our class that next Tuesday. The class broke up into groups to discuss what I was saying in tandem with our reading for the class and both Sula and Han (the two other people in my group) turned to me to see if I had more to say. The thing is, I didn’t then, and I don’t now. Everything that I could have said, everything that I needed to say about that one class is in that post. This was the experience that stood out to me, this was the experience that I will take with me in anything I do after this 360, not just in abolition and prison work, but in my life as an individual, made up of all of the experiences and people and words and lessons and moments I have ever been part of. And so here it is again, the post that I would be remiss to add words to, something that I cannot explain anymore than the way I did that morning in Hot House.




I’m sitting here in Hot House, as I do every Sunday, attempting, as I do every Sunday, to put into eloquence an incredibly complex experience fraught with intense emotion, unwanted analysis that so often feels nothing less than disingenuous, and so many human lives that have no place in this coffee shop. I’m miles away from the prison, days removed from one of the hardest book groups we’ve had yet, and stratospheres away from the lives and experiences we try to fit into that classroom every week. And here I am, sitting in a coffee shop, as college students do, carrying out an assignment, as college students must, and enjoying a slightly overpriced Hot House breakfast that my multiple jobs allow my to indulge in. This analysis, or reflection, has no place in here. It doesn’t fit into this suddenly impossibly small little shop, filled with people pressing hands, mumbling and murmuring light conversations, sharing laughter and anecdotes and histories and human moments that simply don’t exist in the same way at the prison.

But then, isn’t that what was shared in the prison on Friday? An incredibly human experience, of failure and breakdown of structure, of raw, vibrant human emotion that we (or at least I) have been so wary of in that space? All of a sudden, the humanity that we have been trying to grapple with in class, attempting to impose and perhaps imagine into that classroom space, came crashing through that room in a way it hasn’t before. Clattering against chairs and tables were personal triumphs and failures, stories that needed to be shared and held, and tears shed, and hands grasped and tissues exchanged, and a chaos that was not at all chaos but unfettered human need at the crux of it all.

I too indulged my humanness this past week. Long held back emotions and fears and histories and harms came barreling at me so violently this Friday that there was nothing else for me to do but let it momentarily wash me away. Perhaps in defeat, perhaps in delayed triumph. For whatever reason, this was the week that I lost the control I had held so tightly to for so long. My front lines were obliterated and my defenses shattered and in the chaos and confusion of that moment I was allowed to be held. And the color returned to my whitened knuckles, and the fists I had clenched for so long relaxed and released in utter exhaustion and acceptance at the loss of the control I had clung to like a rope, dangling me over the abyss, hoping beyond hope that rope would hold and my grip would keep me from falling. But I did fall, or maybe I just let go. Maybe it was what I had needed all along.

Maybe the perceived chaos of this last class was what we needed to fully acknowledge what it is that we are doing. Not our purpose necessarily but the physical and practical aspects of the fact that we are going into a medium security prison and engaging in conversation on difficult topics with individuals that we would most likely never interact with in our daily lives. And in acknowledging our privilege, and in talking and talking and musing and analyzing and reflecting about the imbalances and injustices and structures and theorists and theories, we constructed a sense of control that we never really had or deserved. I think that illusion was broken this past week. And I think that’s okay.




            And now to make sense of this. I’m not going to explain the event, or try to analyze what I wrote about, because I can’t. I truly believe there is no more for me to say on the subject. But there are ideas in this account that can be abstracted, and analyzed through the lenses that have been made accessible to us through our three classes this semester.

            As a political science student, there are so many political actors and structures that could be used to look at why the prison industrial complex is the way it is. The educational structures that have become both products and catalysts of the racist sentiments that flood the political and social climate of United States, the foundations of collective nationalism that breed the concept of the ‘criminal other’ that the United States has been built upon, the culmination of so many isms (racism, classism, sexism, hetero-sexism, cis-sexism, ableism etc.) that intersect the varied and rich identities of people living in the U.S. and create a political and social desire to expand the PIC, and so, so much more that can be used to explain this current phenomenon. And so these ideas are always ideas that I walk into the prison with. Every time I look around the room at the faces of the people inside, I acknowledge the fact that my path would never organically cross paths with most, if not all of these individuals. I live a life separate and apart from the lives inside, and it is because of the space I occupy in my many privileged and marginalized identities within the structures in which I exist. And because of the spaces between us, as I sit and talk with the people inside, as they share their stories, or not, I hold back. And expand the space and fill it with false notions of non-judgment, humanization, acceptance, forgiveness, etc., when who am I claim that I have any of these things to give. We live in a space different from those inside, and so we began to construct an artificial space of coexistence when we were in the classroom. It was the idea that that construct could be organic, natural, not stale and synthetic that allowed us all to indulge in the illusion I spoke about in my post. The illusion that we have no business imagining into that space, because it would never allow us to acknowledge that that space was real. A real classroom, inside a real prison, filled with real people who have become imbibed in the prison industrial complex because of the structures working against them, because sometimes they did terrible things and often because of both. None of us exist in a vacuum, nor do our emotions, lived experiences, moments of triumph, moments of defeat, we are all the culmination of every moment we have ever lived. And by constructing a space where we suspend the reality of the individuals in that space to save ourselves and each other discomfort, we deny moments of our life must be heard.