“I Use My Love to Guide Me”: Conversations on Prison Abolition, Love, and Safety

Over the last few months, BCRW Activist Fellow Reina Gossett has hosted several discussions around the topic of prison abolition, especially as it relates to vulnerable communities, specifically queer and trans people. To provide context, research assistant Carly Crane offered useful definitions of the prison-industrial complex and prison abolition, and compiled links to resources, key figures, and organizations working towards prison abolition.

This coming Monday, April 21st, at “I Use My Love to Guide Me”: Surviving and Thriving in the Face of Impossible Situations, Reina and fellow abolitionist Dean Spade will be joined by CeCe McDonald to share pieces of their previous conversation and engage with the questions and comments of community members.

Reina and Dean spoke with BCRW first in a series of videos on prison abolition and its importance to trans and gender-nonconforming folks, followed by an online Q&A in which they answered questions on topics including trans women’s representation in Orange is the New Black, what justice for Islan Nettles could look like without relying on the state, and how to address critiques of restorative justice programs. Below is the online conversation in full:

Last month, CeCe McDonald joined Dean and Reina to further discuss prison abolition, love, safety, and surviving – especially in what Reina terms the “impossible situations … the violence of poverty and transphobia” put people into: from attackers on the street to prison systems.

These examples reflect CeCe’s own story: on January 13, 2014, CeCe was released after being imprisoned for 19 months for fatally stabbing a member of a group of racist and transphobic attackers in self-defense. Her experience inspired the Free CeCe campaign, rallying activists and supporters from all over the world to fight against racist and transphobic violence and stand in “solidarity with trans people targeted by the prison-industrial complex.”

As CeCe remarks, “prisons don’t help, the cops don’t help … we keep each other safe.” What CeCe highlights is a key fault in the logic of prisons and in what constitutes our ideas of “safety.” Safety necessitates a definition of what is unsafe, dangerous, or what is considered to be “crime”, but what happens when these definitions change case-by-case to serve those in power and harm those who are already oppressed and marginalized? CeCe compares the contradictory situations of being harassed by the police for a “noise ordinance” as she and her friends harmlessly passed by a bar versus the police’s refusal to intervene when her family actually faced physical violence – bottles being thrown at them by those who knew her attacker(s) – after she was arrested.

Dean has previously pointed out, in his Impossibility Now video, that the vigorous policing of communities of color and queer and trans communities subjects folks to greater harm, violence, and oppression, rather than protection. In its place, CeCe suggests building up communities as the crux for supporting and protecting each other.

Join us for a more in-depth conversation with CeCe, Reina, and Dean on Monday, April 21 (full event details here).

Nicci is the Post Baccalaureate Fellow at BCRW and a recent graduate of Barnard College.

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