Activist Angela Davis champions prison abolition

Controversial visiting professor passionately discusses feminism and the anti-prison movement Tuesday to a capacity crowd.

Scholar-activist Angela Davis delivered a passionate, thought-provoking lecture on prison abolition to a packed Watson Theater Tuesday evening.

Davis, a visiting professor of Women and Gender Studies and African-American Studies, titled her lecture “21st Century Abolition and the Challenge of Feminism.” It focused on anti-prison arguments, drawing from the works of sociologist Thomas Mathiesen and Fay Honey Knopp, a “Jewish, Quaker, Pacifist, feminist activist.”

“We tend to think of prisons as something that happens ‘over there,’ but it has affected the culture in profound ways.”
- Angela Davis

 “Both of these people make major contributions to our understandings of the possibility of a world without prisons, and both continue to be considered as theorists and activists who helped spawn a 20th century movement that is attempting to expand its reach and influence in the 21st century,” Davis said.

Drawing from Mathiesen’s work with “anti-prison” movements and Knopp’s feminist-inspired book, “Instead of Prisons: A Handbook for Abolitionists,” Davis attempted to answer what she viewed as the pressing question when exploring our country’s penitentiary system.

“The question is how to be attentive of to the conditions under which people are compelled to live and how to engage in struggles that are designed to transform those conditions without creating a better prison … without creating a prison that will be more likely to be perceived as permanent,” Davis said. She added that our country’s prisons are “the contradiction between rehabilitation and racialized violence.”

Davis pushed for Mathiesen’s concept of “non-reformist reform,” which she described as “a notion of reform that furthers abolition; a reform that does not help to entrench the institution it is attempting to reform.” For example, Mathiesen was in favor of the elimination of the concept of bail, not because he wanted to eliminate the possibility of prisoners being freed, but rather because he believed that “everyone should be able to get out on a recognizance,” not just those given the option of an affordable bail and those with access to funds.

Some found the technicalities of Davis’ lecture to be confusing, but enlightening. Sam Myers, a sophomore exercise science major, attended the lecture because she is in an introductory level Women and Gender Studies course.

“Honestly, it was over my head a bit. It took a lot of brainpower to understand, but she was brilliant,” Myers said.

Davis made parallels between imprisonment and our country’s schools.

“We tend to think of prisons as something that happens ‘over there,’ but it has affected the culture in profound ways,” she said. “There are elementary schools with armed security guards.”

“I would go so far as to say we need to abolish the current education system … it is so broken,” she said.

Jessica Bacon, a doctoral student in Special Education and Disability Studies, connected most with Davis’ remarks on the similarities between imprisonment and how we govern our schools.

“Surveillance is becoming more intense in schools, and reform isn’t the answer,” Bacon said.

Bringing the discussion even closer to home, Davis remarked on how the congregate model for prisons originated in nearby Auburn, N.Y.  

With 2.5 million people behind bars, the debate over the existence and reformation of prisons is relevant in this country. According to Davis, incarceration ties in to a fundamental value that our country is based on.

“Imprisonment is the quintessentially democratic form of punishment because it consists of divesting people of rights and liberties that they are only able to claim under democracy," Davis said.

Davis drew such a large crowd that students filled the floors and aisle of the theater. (Photo: Allie Hootnick)

teen age life without parole

Connino Moreland at age 16 years and one month killed his parents. this occured after years of being beaten as punishmnet along with verbal depreciation and threats of killing him. At 16 he was restricted from his car and seeing his girl friend made a sarcastic comment was pulled from the stairss he was ascending beatedn thrown under the dinning room talbe and kicked. Left crying in an uncontrable emotional state he went to his parents bedroom got their gun and went to his room to kill himself. He couldn't and charged to the living room and shot his father in the the power of the moment he emptyed his gun and his mother was also killed. He was sentanced to life without parole byy a judge after pleading guilty and had no trial. 16 years latter he is a fine mature man married and without rancor in his soul. So far the court system has turned a deaf ear on his appeals for help. My family has adopted him and seen to it that he has supplies and love in prison. Anyone who could not see this as a gross injustice. Can anyone help him?

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.