We Do This 'Til We Free Us - Mariame Kaba's Special Book


WE DO THIS ‘TIL WE FREE US – by: Mariame Kaba is a special book!1.

Prison-industrial complex abolition is a political vision, a structural analysis of oppression, and a practical organizing strategy.  While some people might think of abolition as primarily a negative project – “Let’s tear everything down tomorrow and hope for the best” – PIC abolition is a vision of a restructured society in a world where we have everything we need: food, shelter, education, health, art, beauty, clean water, and more things that are foundational to our personal community safety. (p.2)

Kaba describes something that is both very clear in its vision, and also confusing in seeing as a new evolving reality.  She tells us that we must:

1.    Build necessary radical societal changes which will require us to radically change ourselves,

2.    Learn from revolutionary movements how to create collective less hierarchical, reducing violence and harm,

3.    Change things so there is less contact between the criminal justice system and people, and

4.    Build changes in our others systems dealing with education, capitalist exploitation of workers, how we interact with people with disabilities and much more.

The book spends much detail describing how Black and other BIPOC (People) are victimized and criminalized by the carceral prison system.   Kaba notes how the various isms combine to trap those we should be supporting.

The author aptly describes how we need to both ease the burdens systemically oppressing helping free many, while not accepting reform efforts that perpetuate the oppression.   Only radical change will help move us towards eventual equality and justice.

Kaba does not shy away from extremes in her writing.   She mentions the horrible things that Dr. Larry Nassar did to many female gymnasts, while clearly stating that punishing him through keeping him in jail for the rest of his life is 100% wrong!    She notes that she, herself, is an abuse survivor, and that she needs to deal with her own desires for revenge.   

Kaba talks of the needs for the victims and survivors to have their needs supported (including therapy).  She tells us that those who hurt and kill need to learn from their victims’ pain. 

I don’t believe the state has the right to kill in my name, any time ever.  And then something happens to a close friend of mine, and my feeling is they should kill this person.  (p.152-3) …

And I also don’t think punishment is going to get us there. And I also don’t think that using extreme violence ever works.  I think that’s just vengeance. (p.153)

I was killed by a visitor from a place called Earth who couldn’t believe that there were no prisons in SP.  Mine was the second murder ever in our community, and it fell to my parents as chief peace-holders to ensure that the harm caused was addressed.   For days, members of SP told stories about my life through tears, anger, and laughter.   There was, however, no talk of punishment or vengeance.  Neither would bring me back.  … After she killed me, she turned herself in to my parents.  Her first words to them were: “Where will you put me?”

They responded in unison: “In circle.”  And so it was that EV came to understand the impact of her actions on an entire community.  And so it was that she experienced remorse for her actions and sought to make amends.  And so it was that my community held EV in her humanity while seeking to hold her accountable for her actions.  (p.161)

While I very much appreciate this book, I’m left with lingering doubts.   Let’s presume, for example that Dr. Larry Nassar was treated in a way, faintly, distantly related to the imaginary world of SP.    He listened to his victims as well as others who loved them tell their stories of the impacts of his abuse.    They asked him to acknowledge and atone for what he did.

If, he cooperated fully, I could easily imagine him causing additional harm in similar or different ways.   He did not learn to be who he was through a brief process, and unlearning much of it would probably be a lifelong process, similar to the alcoholic who needs to avoid all consumption of his poison.   How would he be held accountable?   While the current system, wouldn’t help him, it also seemingly protects others from being victimized by him, as well as helping most probably, survivors from feeling a present and future danger from him.

Perhaps more problematic is my question, of what would be done with him if he either denied what he did, or refused to cooperate in some or all of the processes others tried to work out with him. 

I don’t hear these issues being discussed in the book.

The book is (still) well worth reading!




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