In Episode 19 of Beyond Prisons, hosts Brian Sonenstein and Kim Wilson catch up with activist, writer, and educator Mariame Kaba.
Mariame shares her experiences advocating on behalf of Bresha Meadows, a teenage girl who killed her abusive father and was detained while facing the possibility of trial as an adult and a lifetime of incarceration. She recount’s Bresha’s story and explains how activists worked to make sure the family’s needs were met and help them navigate the collateral consequences of detention, including an enormous financial burden and the shame and stigma that makes people internalize their struggle.
Mariame explains how children who are abused face limited options and harsh punishment for trying to escape their abusers and even harsher punishment for defending themselves. She talks about the racialized aspect of this arrangement, and how black children are dehumanized and not seen as children but as criminals in training.
She discusses the work that Survived and Punished put into assembling a tool kit to help people who are victims of abuse and are criminalized for survival actions. The tool kit has information on what the group thinks works for supporting immigrant survivors, trans survivors, how to engage with the media and legal teams, how to raise money and build a base of support, and more. Their website also has interviews and videos that provide more information.
Mariame reacts to a common question asked of abolitionists, which is what to do about people who have caused serious harm to others. She talks about the fear of criminals in society and the severe misperceptions among the public of who is incarcerated and what it means to be in prison. The effectiveness of prison as a tool to fight sexual violence, murder, and other serious crimes is questioned.
The conversation continues with Mariame’s view of abolition as a collective project that embraces people who sense there is a problem with American institutions and are interested in figuring out what to do about it. She explains what she means when she says hope is a discipline, not an emotion or sense of optimism, and how this informs her organizing. Self care is examined as a community project. Finally, Mariame shares what books are on her shelf and what she’s reading right now.
Mariame Kaba is an organizer, educator, and curator. Her work focuses on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex, transformative justice, and supporting youth leadership development. She is the founder and director of Project NIA, a grassroots organization with a vision to end youth incarceration. She was a member of the editorial board for Violence Against Women: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal from January 2003 to December 2008. She was a founding advisory board member of the Chicago Community Bond Fund and she’s a member of the Critical Resistance community advisory board. Kaba currently organizes with the Survived and Punished collective and, in addition to organizing and serving many other organizations, she is an educator and also runs the blog Prison Culture.
Follow Mariame Kaba on Twitter: @prisonculture
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Music & Production: Jared Ware