What Other Possibilities Could We Create for Community Development, Beyond Economic Dependence on Carceral Institutions?

Courtesy of: Alex Friedmann

Alex Friedmann doesn’t need to use his imagination to understand the private prison problem: he spent six years in a CCA prison in the 1990s. Today, as associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center and managing editor of Prison Legal News, Friedmann fights to hold CCA accountable and to protect prisoners’ rights. He even bought CCA stock so that he could attend their shareholder meetings, where he asks executives questions like, “Why do your employees keep raping prisoners?”1

In addition to Alex Friedmann’s advocacy work, a number of organizations in Tennessee are dedicated to ending mass incarceration and supporting prisoners and their families. No Exceptions Prison Collective, Tennessee’s only abolitionist organization, aims to improve prison conditions, eliminate 51-year life sentences, and reform the parole board. Gideon’s Army and the Children’s Defense Fund Nashville team work to dismantle the cradle-to-prison pipeline. Project Return provides pre-release educational and job services to inmates. REACH Coalition amplifies the voices of people on Tennessee’s death row. Democracy Nashville has led a successful campaign to Ban the Box for Metro government jobs. And NOAH (Nashville Organizing for Action and Hope) works with community leaders to address economic inequality, affordable housing, and criminal justice.

For the formerly incarcerated, however, it’s not all about economic opportunity; it’s about reclaiming personhood and returning to the community. As one formerly incarcerated Cayce Homes public housing resident said, “For years I was a problem in this community, and now I want to bring it back to life.”2 Another Cayce Homes resident, Marilyn Greer, describes the activist group Cayce United as “residents organizing residents.”3 To be truly effective, we need to support the leadership of those who are directly impacted by mass incarceration to empower themselves and others to live happy, healthy, and meaningful lives beyond the Prison Industrial Complex.

1 Keegan Hamilton, “An Ex-Con Takes Aim at Multibillion-Dollar Private Prisons,” Vice, March 22, 2014, accessed Oct. 15, 2015, https://news.vice.com/article/an-ex-con-takes-aim-at-multibillion-dollar....
2 “Who We Are,” Cayce United, accessed Dec. 3, 2015, http://www.cayceunited.org/who-we-are/#our-context.
3 Ibid.