Writing Prompt: "Abolishing the Prison-Industrial Complex" by Wendy's Subway Staff

An exercise in imagination, guided by the principles of Critical Resistance

Wendy’s Community: We hope you are finding ways to channel your rage, to do the necessary work however you are able. We hope you have found strength and drawn from a sustaining community to take care of yourself and your loved ones. We hope you have maintained, or maybe now discovered, the belief in a better world: a world free of the prison industrial complex. 

Today’s prompt is an exercise in imagining the world we are all building, led by Black revolutionaries, right now, together. We hope in even the smallest way, it breathes into you, hope. We draw upon Black women abolitionist leaders, particularly some of the founders of Critical Resistance: Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

Thank you for envisioning a better world with us.

Via Critical Resistance:


PIC [Prison-Industrial Complex] abolition is a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment.

From where we are now, sometimes we can’t really imagine what abolition is going to look like. Abolition isn’t just about getting rid of buildings full of cages. It’s also about undoing the society we live in because the PIC both feeds on and maintains oppression and inequalities through punishment, violence, and controls millions of people. Because the PIC is not an isolated system, abolition is a broad strategy. An abolitionist vision means that we must build models today that can represent how we want to live in the future. It means developing practical strategies for taking small steps that move us toward making our dreams real and that lead us all to believe that things really could be different. It means living this vision in our daily lives.

Abolition is both a practical organizing tool and a long-term goal.

Via Ruth Wilson Gilmore, in conversation with Verso Books:

It’s true that Black Lives Matter has got people thinking about and using the word "abolition.” … The ensuing debates tend to be the obvious ones: insofar as abolition is imagined only to be absence — overnight erasure — the kneejerk response is “that's not possible." But the failure of imagination rests in missing the fact that abolition isn’t just absence; as W.E.B. Du Bois showed in Black Reconstruction in America abolition is a fleshly and material presence of social life lived differently. 

Focus on two specific terms: imagine and vision. Focus on, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore explains, the “fleshly and material presence of social life lived differently.” How do you imagine this life in a better world, a world free of the prison industrial complex? In trying to replace the often described "absence" of PIC abolition, what do you envision of the world in which our lives are lived differently? A world in which our society is undone, yes, but in which we have "buil[t] models today that can represent how we want to live in the future?" 

Detail it. Hone in on the feelings that the process of imagination brings you. Or write out what your journey to work, to your best friend's home, looks like as you walk the streets without the threat of policing, as you swipe into the subway or jump the turnstile without the threat of policing. Or envision no turnstile at all, because public transportation is free. Or even write out a conversation that could take place in this better world between a person who has been harmed and the person who has enacted the harm. 

Live in this better world. Draw strength from it. Imagine it to be real, imagine it to be what we are all collectively working towards right now, together, led by generations of Black revolutionaries paving our path.


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