We mostly carry books and texts by/about people of color and feminist revolutionaries, fiction-writers, and historians, but we also carry more traditional materials such as dictionaries and books on getting your GED, self-help, health, art, trade-fiction, and anarchist/marxist/leftist theory. Our short-term goals are to encourage literacy, to make prison-life more endurable, and to support prisoner interests as much to our abilities. It is also a space where individuals can come to educate themselves and discuss with others about the prison industrial complex and prison-life. It hasn't been our place to necessarily "radicalize" prisoners, but instead to use our resources/privileges as the un-incarcerated to pass along materials on requested-subjects. Books to Prisoners finds it necessary to fight the prison industrial complex, and is one effort within the larger prison-abolition movement. |
Portland Books to Prisoners is located at 2362 SE 43rd Ave just north of Division. (downstairs in the back). Our worknights are 5-8pm every Monday and Wednesday. We could always use help and everyone is welcome! Even to just come read! We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (sorry no phone number yet). Donations are always appreciated: books (radical, feminist, people of color-centric, and dictionaries especially), stamps, packaging tape, wrapping materials (brown paper bags work!), and worthwhile magazines.
What is the prison industrial complex? "Over 2 million people are currently behind bars in the United States. This represents the highest per capita incarceration rate in the history of the world. In 1995 alone, 150 new U.S. prisons were built and filled." The prison industrial complex is a term used to define the interconnections between private business interests and government interests who use incarceration as a solution to social, political, and economic problems. It operates by convincing people public safety and security mean incarceration (and also through extreme police violence, media-induced fears about "random violence," and the displacement and colonization of people of color in this country). For example, according to the prison industrial complex, it is more publicly "safe" and "secure" to cage people than to invest in adequate housing and healthcare for everyone.
Private corporations such as Smith Barney, American Express, General Electric, the Correctional Corporation of America own prisons (and subsequently owns its prisoners) which provide extremely cheap, non-unionizing, non-striking laborers for Chevron data entry, TWA phone reservations, and lingerie-making for Victoria's Secret (for example) The cheaper the labor, the larger the profit. The PIC creates an economic incentive to build prisons and criminalize and incarcerate people.
Women of color and poor women represent the fastest growing prison population. Since 1980, the number of women in prison has risen by 400%-- 80% of whom report to have had incomes of less than $2000 a year, 92% of whom report to have had incomes less than $10,000 a year, 64% of whom are women of color.
The PIC is another instance of the institutionalized assault against people who don't have male privileges by a male-dominated economic and governmental system(s). 32% of women prisoners are convicted for killing their husbands, ex-husband, or boyfriend and serve twice as long sentences than men who kill their wives, ex-wives, or girlfriends.
1/3rd of women in the US report to have been physically or sexually assaulted by men. 92% of domestic violence are crimes committed by men against women. All of these statistics must be put into the contexts of the different experiences of women and everyone who doesn't experience male privileges within the US. For instance, transgendered folks often face the inability of being hired due to their gender, especially those of color. This leads many people to homelessness and/or to do streetwork which are both criminalized and bring upon police violence (and violence from individuals) and often times imprisonment. Instead of dealing with US's long history of and current use of the system of gender, institutional sexism and assault against all those who do not have male-privilege, or do not fit into the constructed gender binary of male and female, the PIC's answer is to incarcerate more and more trans people and women.
Instead of dealing with US's history of and current use of institutional racism and colonization of people of color, our entirely white-dominated economic and governmental system(s) chooses to criminalize people of color from the day they are born. While many prison activists point to the fact that violence occurs in less than 14% of all reported crime and that injury occurs in less than 3%, we must push further than that. We must understand that if our economic system chooses to exploit and to disallow access to it for people of color and the poor than continued violence, frustration, and disenfranchisement by many people can be considered understandable, if not justified.
While many prison activists point to the fact that the PIC is a racist institution just by looking at the statistics (while 1.6% of people in Oregon are African American, 10.24% of prisoners in Oregon are African American), we must go further. The PIC is a part of the colonization process of people of color in the US. For instance, the PIC works hand in hand with the processes of gentrification and policing. When wealthier, whiter people and their unaffordable new businesses feel welcome to move in, so do the police to protect them. Gentrification displaces residents by taking their neighborhoods and space and turning it into a white-centric space using the threat of the police and imprisonment against people of color. This is colonization in our neighborhoods and on our block. When people yell "bring the war home," they should be talking about actively fighting the process of colonization in our neighborhoods. One way to do this is to fight to abolish the prison industrial complex. What is Abolition? "Taking an abolitionist approach means radically shifting the way we think about providing for ourselves and living with each other. It means imagining social environments that provide all of us with basic necessities: a safe place to live, enough food, access to medical care for minds and bodies, access to information and the tools with which to understand and use that information, the resources to participate in whatever kind of economy we have, a means of expressing opinions/interests/concerns, and living free of bodily, psychological and emotional harm (both from individuals and from the state)."
"In order to figure out why people get locked up and under what circumstances, we need to look at what are sometimes called 'root causes'. This strategy requires looking at the competing priorities of the systems in which we live and understanding why they work well for some and horribly for others. The systems of race, class, gender, and sexuality, for instance, are commonly understood as privileging some people's needs and ideals over others. By exploring why and how those systems work for some and not for others, we can begin to develop a better understanding of how to include concrete steps in our work that deal with the negative effects of these systems on the people who are most often put in cages."
In short, abolition means changing and challenging how we relate to one another, and the concepts of public safety and security. For the anarchist/anti-authoritarian revolutionary movement to actively advocate abolition, we must listen to and take action based on the desires of those most effected by the prison industrial complex.
Prison-abolition is not single-issue; to fight for a life where human beings provide security for one another and without fear of imprisonment is to fundamentally advocate revolution. Taking actions and starting projects based on the desires of those most negatively effected by capitalism and other systems of domination must be at the forefront of all our political action if we mean to aid struggle instead of being in the way.
There are currently 12 prisons in Oregon with 4 more planned by 2008.