RedBird was asked to speak on prison abolition and how it relates rape culture and sexual assault. Here's the reading.
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Hi, I'm Kate and I'm part of a group called RedBird Prison Abolition here in Columbus. We support prisoners in Ohio. And I'm here because I love taking things back. I wanna take this night back. I wanna take it back to my mom and grandma and say look at this bad ass shit we're doing, (except I wouldn't swear, because they don't like that.) I wanna keep having nights like this, and I want to hold them up to rapists as a threat and as an example of the power that us here have to not only defend ourselves but take the offensive against a culture that's been steeped in rape for so long that some of us are way past bitter. Because we deserve a hell of a lot better, and you bet we can get it.
The first step being that we ‘get it’. All around us it's like we're standing in the middle of a big connect the dots drawing where the dots are things like the justice system, crime, education, prisons, the war on drugs, rape culture, the military... and the lines connecting them all are colored white for supremacy, are exclusively straight and cis in their direction and happen to be drawn by primarily male and able bodied men. It's despicable. And I hope you all wanna smudge up this drawing as much as I do. (Am I in the right place for this? Yeah? Alright.)
I'm also here as a prison abolitionist because prison is an integral part of keeping those dots connected, of upholding patriarchy and white supremacy. Now you might be like, prison, Abolition, isn't that kind of at odds with halting sexual assault? I mean, what about all the rapists who are in prison? And that is an excellent question cuz the prison and justice system do as much to halt or even diminish sexual assault as a fraternity. What about those rapists? They're coming right back into our communities with less stability and fewer opportunities to do much else than what gets people sent back to prison. And this is of course if they even went to prison in the first place. Often times people, especially white money men aren't even convicted.
Courts deal with rape and sexual assault on an individual level, which is not without it's benefits, though the state daintily steps over acknowledging systemic problems which often result in the severe detriment of survivors. There is the case Marissa Alexander, who in 2010 after giving birth nine days previously to her son defended herself against assault that, from previous experience, she feared may be deadly. She fired a warning shot into her ceiling. The court thought she didn't need to. It also thought her assaulter's history of convictions and testimonies from others were inadmissible. The prosecutor asked for a 20 year sentence, minimum, for Marissa and got it.
There is also the recent case of CeCe McDonald who's assault wasn't specifically sexual assault, but an assault where in court, the assailant's swastika tattoo and three previous convictions for violent assault were ruled inadmissible as evidence that attacks against her were motivated by her race and gender identity. (CeCe is a Trans woman of color.)
To hell with this justice system, police and prisons. We can do better than this.
Cuz here's where it stands now. The criminal court process has a penchant for re-traumatizing people who choose to go that route, and many do not for that very reason. The threat of conviction makes it less likely that a ‘perpetrator’ will get past denial and own up to what they did, which is often what one needs as a survivor to begin moving on.
This increases rates of PTSD and even sometimes ends up incarcerating the survivor themselves.
The prison system does not rehabilitate people, it traumatizes them, presents a sparse few opportunities upon release, save the opportunity to do something that'll put you back in prison. All the administration has to do is sit back and wait. It's quite the racket. Or rather, industry. Ohio is one of the only states left with “rehabilitation” still in its name. Most everybody else has dropped it.
And just a quick fact on prisons and female prisons, nearly 80% of people inside are mothers. Just think of what an effect this has on families. In some states, women give birth to their children while restrained in shackles. Talk about abuse. Women, men and people who prefer neither of those genders get thrown in female prisons for all kinds of reasons, but the fastest growing segment of the prison population is women of color.
When someone first asked me to take a guess at this percentage (of growth) I failed utterly. The number of women of color have increased in prisons by over 80, no, sorry, 800% in the last 36 years. That's from 1977. And this is NOT because black or latina women commit more crimes than say white women. In fact, studies have shown that with regard to drugs, whites have more of a habit. Communities of color are intentionally targeted (by police and law enforcement) for incarceration-- making them basically shit otta luck when it comes to expecting anything but slow torture from the justice system.
This is the system we're working with now. And I don't want these things to stop us from doing the very best that we can with it when we do use it. Especially when it benefits the survivor and is what they want. But I want us to see it for what it is, as a system that makes money off of actively destroying people's lives. And not just other peoples'. It effects all of us.
And, just to be clear, good riddance to rapists who get locked up per survivors wishes, because this is an accountability. But let's strive to do better than relying on prisons, police and prosecutors that support the very things we're fighting against. People have done better in the past using practices like restorative justice, talking circles, and even societies that utilize vigilante justice deal with harm more satisfactorily than the pervasive violence the prison system wreaks on our communities today. Let's work toward accountability on our own terms and that meets survivors’ needs. Let’s learn to trust one another, as much as we can anyway and take back our night.