Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What Penal Abolition means to me

Hal Pepinsky, pepinsky@indiana.edu, pepinsky.blogspot.com
June 29, 2010
Yesterday on blogspot, I passed on a copy of response to the 13th International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA) organized by Queens University Belfast. In this essay, I want to address what that post meant to me when I did it. I haven’t checked email today, but as of yesterday the silence in response to my post was deafening. I can imagine quite a range of private reactions to why I posted as I did. I took up significant cyberspace to post essentially a letter I had written to Billy Brown reporting on ICOPA, and expressing gratitude for greeting me when I returned home from Belfast. How do I justify sending y’all that message?
I’m human.
I wanted first and foremost to let it be known that Billy the first person I reported on ICOPA to, in words that did not did not compromise him in the likely case that our correspondence is monitored. If indeed my mail is read before Billy receives it, maybe readers will learn something useful. I wanted to illustrate how a letter can be written openly and with honor and dignity to any reader. Notice in the letter that anything pejorative about Billy was about what was done to him rather than about him himself. I meant in my post to convey that in my own life, daily encounters with (ex-)prisoners continue to (re-)frame my daily interactions.
Being labeled a penal abolitionist carries a professional risk. I was just privileged and lucky enough to be able to move on to a third US research I university and overturn a denial of tenure there. I’m an academic survivor as an avowed penal abolitionist. Since I am as free to proclaim abolitionism as anyone else I know, I’m here to tell you that my own moral road down abolitionism is messy.
I am at risk of exploiting Billy Brown when I name him and share my letter to him. I tell myself that I am doing Billy honor, and revealing how little and grudgingly gave that trickled into transforming Billy’s life, by telling you about him and about how I try to help spread word among prisoners that there is freeworld understanding outside their walls. I am also revealing myself to be a pontificating, patronizing white male jerk. Bottom line: I really truly feel no superior knowledge to Billy’s.
I am curious to see other ICOPA 13 participants’ reactions to our time together.
Today I got my Ohio driver’s license…huge for me to get away still without glasses—love and peace

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