Rad Reading: "We Are Not Slaves: Rethinking the Rise of Carceral States through the Lens of the Prisoners' Rights Movement"

Image with quote reading "The prisoners' rights movement developed a two-pronged strategy, using mass protest tactics alongside civil rights cases and class-action lawsuits to demand public visibility. The movement...reminded the public of prisoners' humanity and their constitutional rights." by Robert T. Chase

Image with quote reading "The prisoners' rights movement developed a two-pronged strategy, using mass protest tactics alongside civil rights cases and class-action lawsuits to demand public visibility. The movement...reminded the public of prisoners' humanity and their constitutional rights." by Robert T. Chase

by Abaki Beck 

Our rad reading this week is We Are Not Slaves: Rethinking the Rise of Carceral States through the Lens of the Prisoners' Rights Movement by Robert T. Chase. Starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s, prisoners were becoming more politicized and active in speaking out about the injustices committed against them. In this essay, Robert T. Chase explores the often forgotten prison rights movement that continued into the 1970s and 1980s, and went beyond rioting, expanding additionally to class action law suits and other civil rights legal cases. In addition, it highlights how geographic location shaped prison movement rhetoric - in the south for example, prisoners compared their status as an extension of slavery, and in the southwest prisoners took note from the Chicano movement active at the time.

This essay specifically focuses on the agency of prisoners against the overcrowding of prisons and state sanctioned physical and sexual violence. Indeed, Chase argues that analyses of prisoners’ rights and mass incarceration must focus on grassroots organizing, as opposed to top-down political action. This is an important reading because it humanizes prisoners by recognizing them as activists and advocates for their own rights - not merely victims of mass incarceration. It is also interesting because it provides examples from lesser known prisoners’ rights organizing. 

Though an academic article, it is a pretty accessible read (with limited jargon/theory). Read the full article HERE!

POC Online Classroom celebrates the intellectual tradition and knowledge production of marginalized communities. Rad Reading is a series that highlights texts to read, writers to support, and ideas to discuss. We post every Tuesday!