Read with me: mass incarceration, prison abolition, criminal justice and intersections

Tiny Letter email archive

Hi everyone,

I haven’t posted anything in the last month because I went through a phase of personal existential crisis, and then what’s been happening to the US and the rest of the world recently have been making me unable to focus on engaging with activities I usually do.

With this post, I want to share a reading list of resources I’ve found very helpful, or things I’m planning on reading now. I don’t mean to say this is the best curated list of all the most important information to know — I just want to do more than reposting 100 resources on social media but not reading any of them.

If you want to read with me and share honest thoughts and questions with me (I seriously mean this. I don’t want to make it so PC that it actually turns people away from learning), let me know!

Before I continue with the list, if you have suggestions for good places to donate, please also let me know. I feel like some of the major donation destinations have gained tremendous support already, and I want to support important initiatives that are not receiving enough attention yet.

Here's the list:

Mass Incarceration

1. 13th [documentary, 2016]

I've watched this documentary three times. Please watch it! It gives a very good introduction to mass incarceration -- its origin and evolution. It reveals a lot of surprising facts about the US, especially when you don't have a good understanding of the scale at which mass incarceration operates. Even when I watched it for the third time after three years, I still realized I'd forgotten some really important facts and found myself saying "wtf" multiple times... If for some reason you only have 2 hours to spare (which really is a short time), you should watch this documentary. Netflix recently made it available to the public on YouTube.

2. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow [book, pdf available in the link, 2010]

I only started to read this book three days ago and I'm 1/4 way through. So far it feels like a very comprehensive source to support the general thesis of the documentary 13th. I'm definitely learning a lot!

3. Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner, Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2020 [article, 2020]

This article has a lot of graphs that gives a good & direct sense of the scale of mass incarceration. 

Prison Abolition

1. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind, New York Times [article, 2019]

This essay seems to have appeared in a lot of places and Ruth Wilson Gilmore seems to be a key figure to hear from on prison abolition.

2. Joshua Dubler and Vincent Lloyd, Think prison abolition in America is impossible? It once felt inevitable, The Guardian [article, 2018]

This was a really eye-opening read for me. Just look at the titles.

3. Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? [book, pdf available in the link, 2003]

I haven't read this one yet, but I'm going to focus on Chapters 4-6: "How Gender Structures the Prison System," "The Prison Industrial Complex," and "Abolitionist Alternatives."

Police Abolition

1 .Kristian Williams, Our Enemies in Blue [book, pdf available in the link, 2007]

Haven't read this. I think I'm going to focus on the last few chapters on "riot police or police riots," your friendly neighborhood police state" and "making police obsolete."

Criminal Justice, and Intersections

1. Bryan Stevenson & Equal Justice Institute (EJI)

When Bryan Stevenson came to my high school to speak for the MLK day assembly keynote 5 years ago, he made so many people in the audience cry, it was surreal. The stories he told were so powerful that the standing ovation at the end probably was several minutes long... Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer, social justice activist, and the founder of EJI. He's done a LOT of really important work so please check out the links below.

1. Bryan Stevenson’s TED talk [Video, 2012]
2. Just Mercy [Book, 2014]
3. Just Mercy [Film, 2019]
4. reports by EJI on slavery, lynching, and segregation in America
5. MASS Design & EJI ’s collaboration on The National Memorial for Peace and Justice(Including this link just because I love this collaboration so much. I LOVE MASS Design Group. The founder's TED talk on "designing architecture to heal" was the single thing that turned my hate for architecture into love. I find so much meaning and purpose in what MASS does as an architecture studio! I really hope I could help them with their work one day...)

2. Matthew Desmond, In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation,
New York Times [article, 2019]

from the 1619 project (an ongoing project at NYT magazine on reexamining the legacy of slavery in the US)

3. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth [book, pdf available in the link, 1961]

This book is about the psychological analysis of the dehumanizing effects of colonization. All sections of the book look very interesting to me, but I think I'll start with reading the chapter on national consciousness first.

4. Michelle Alexander, The Newest Jim Crow, New York Times [article, 2018]


5. Brett Story and Seth J. Prins, A Green New Deal for Decarceration, Jacobin [article, 2019]

intersection of climate issues and prisons

6. Ruth Wilson Gilmore and James Kilgore, Some reflections on prison labor, The Brooklyn Rain [article, 2019]

complications in the prison labor system

7. Kay Whitlock and Nancy A. Heitzeg, Billionaire-Funded Criminal Justice Reform Actually Expands the Carceral System, truthout [article, 2019]

complications in reform

Here are the two curated reading lists that I picked my readings from. There are WAY more readings in these lists than what I included above. Please take a look and you might find something interesting that I didn't include!
1. reading list by Micah Herskind'19, former president of SPEAR (Students for Prison Education and Reform, a club at Princeton)
2. reading list by Lauren Johnson'21 and Ashley Hodeges'21 from SPEAR

Thinking about June 4 of 1989 in China--exactly 31 years ago today, and how similar but perhaps worse 2020 is comparing to 1969 for the US...

Hope you are all staying safe. Hope we hear more good news this month.

With love,