‘Chipping Away At The System’: Maya Schenwar on Alternatives to Our ‘Justice’ System

George Lavender

Maya Schenwar, author of Locked Down, Locked Out

Writ­ing about Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Does­n’t Work and How We Can Do Bet­ter, Michelle Alexan­der says, This book has the pow­er to trans­form hearts and minds, open­ing us to new ways of imag­in­ing what jus­tice can mean for indi­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ties, and our nation as a whole.” (To read a chap­ter from the book, click here). The Prison Com­plex spoke with the book’s author, Truthout Edi­tor-in-Chief Maya Schen­war, about how writ­ing the book changed her own per­spec­tives on prison abo­li­tion and alter­na­tive forms of justice.

To start with, why did you first decide to write this book?

Giv­en my expe­ri­ence with hav­ing a fam­i­ly mem­ber incar­cer­at­ed and also my cor­re­spon­dence with peo­ple in prison over the years, my hope was to intro­duce into this con­ver­sa­tion this ele­ment of con­nec­tion and dis­con­nec­tion. These sta­tis­tics get repeat­ed again and again: We have 2.3 or 2.5 mil­lion peo­ple behind bars, we’re the most incar­cer­at­ed coun­try in the world, the drug war … Those are all real­ly impor­tant to hear and talk about, but a lot of times those mil­lions and mil­lions of oth­er peo­ple who are affect­ed by incar­cer­a­tion but not incar­cer­at­ed them­selves aren’t dis­cussed. The fam­i­lies, and loved ones, and com­mu­ni­ties of peo­ple who are behind bars are often affect­ed in real­ly dam­ag­ing ways and that affects the rest of us. Every sin­gle per­son in soci­ety is affect­ed by incar­cer­a­tion, so I def­i­nite­ly want­ed to bring that into the fore­front of the con­ver­sa­tion. The oth­er thing I want­ed to do was talk about how prison dis­con­nects and iso­lates and tears peo­ple apart — and what are things we can do to bring peo­ple togeth­er in a way that can address harm and vio­lence with­out prison. It’s always tricky to talk about that, but I think it’s real­ly nec­es­sary because oth­er­wise all of our dis­cus­sions about mass incar­cer­a­tion or incar­cer­a­tion in gen­er­al come down to, Well we always have to have prison, whether or not we incar­cer­ate a lot of peo­ple it always has to be there to pro­tect us.” I think if you chal­lenge the idea that prison pro­tects peo­ple and talk about the way prison dam­ages peo­ple you have to be able to also talk about ways to do things dif­fer­ent­ly. So I want to try to begin address­ing that.

Who did you imag­ine read­ing your book?

It’s fun­ny because that’s one of the things you have to put in a book pro­pos­al and I kind of faked it when I wrote my pro­pos­al. I was like, Oh well I think the peo­ple I’m tar­get­ing are peo­ple con­cerned about social jus­tice, like the peo­ple who read Truthout but don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly know a lot about the prison-indus­tri­al com­plex. But in writ­ing this book, I kind of shift­ed a lit­tle bit in my head, because a lot of time the peo­ple I was writ­ing about were not peo­ple who would nec­es­sar­i­ly be read­ing Truthout or iden­ti­fy as pro­gres­sive. So I think that one of the chal­lenges with writ­ing about the prison-indus­tri­al com­plex that demon­strates how it affects every­one is try­ing to write with the feel­ing that you’re not just speak­ing to left­ists or pro­gres­sives or peo­ple who iden­ti­fy a cer­tain way ide­o­log­i­cal­ly, but to peo­ple who are affect­ed by the sys­tem nonethe­less. I hope when peo­ple read the book, they gain a lit­tle bit of under­stand­ing of how they might be affected.

Before this inter­view, The Prison Com­plex asked for ques­tions on Twit­ter. @AliceOllstein asked:

@MayaSchenwar @GeorgeLavender What do u say to peo­ple par­a­lyzed by the enor­mi­ty of the task of end mass incar­cer­a­tion & its many cruelties?

 — Alice Oll­stein (@AliceOllstein) Novem­ber 252014

I think that the answer to that is you can nev­er have some huge mono­lith­ic cam­paign to end mass incar­cer­a­tion. It would­n’t be fea­si­ble, and it would also be counter to the kind of action that’s actu­al­ly effec­tive. I think that the point of think­ing about abo­li­tion or decarcer­a­tion as a goal is to think about chip­ping away at the sys­tem from var­i­ous sides, so you’re not say­ing, I’m going to end mass incar­cer­a­tion now,” but, There is this prison near me, how can I think about a cam­paign to close that prison or reduce the pop­u­la­tion?” And do that with the con­scious­ness of spread­ing the word about mass incar­cer­a­tion. So edu­cat­ing peo­ple about why the whole sys­tem is bad while you’re chip­ping away at parts of it and help­ing to shrink it at the same time. I also think build­ing alter­na­tives — well, I don’t even like the word alter­na­tives—but build­ing oth­er ways to deal with prob­lems and ways to pre­vent vio­lence from hap­pen­ing are real­ly moti­vat­ing ways to work towards abo­li­tion. So if you talk about it in terms of mass incar­cer­a­tion, that’s this tow­er­ing thing that’s very abstract. What I try to do in the book, and what a lot of orga­niz­ers are doing, is to say, Okay, mass incar­cer­a­tion is mil­lions of indi­vid­ual peo­ple, so how do we start iden­ti­fy­ing those indi­vid­ual peo­ple or com­mu­ni­ties or groups and start think­ing about what they real­ly need.” I think chip­ping away at the sys­tem from var­i­ous sides means fig­ur­ing out in your role and in your posi­tion in life what can you do to con­tribute towards shrink­ing the sys­tem. That’s a lot more manageable. 

On that note, in the course of writ­ing this book and speak­ing to orga­niz­ers how did your own views change on the idea of prison abolition?

I think that I def­i­nite­ly solid­i­fied around the idea of abo­li­tion through the writ­ing of this book. Going in, it was some­thing I believed in, but I believed in it as this kind of lofty goal that could­n’t real­ly be addressed in the present moment. Kind of, Okay, that’s a dream.” And real­ly what I learned by inter­view­ing orga­niz­ers and gain­ing insights from peo­ple in prison is that peo­ple are find­ing ways to do abo­li­tion every day. So for some peo­ple that might mean not call­ing the police and fig­ur­ing out ways to deal with prob­lems or fears or threats in ways that don’t involve that pipeline to the sys­tem. For oth­er peo­ple it might mean work­ing for the clos­ing of a prison or work­ing on bail reform or work­ing to end manda­to­ry min­i­mums with the idea in mind that this is a step toward abo­li­tion — toward both shrink­ing the sys­tem and demon­strat­ing that the sys­tem isn’t effec­tive in serv­ing human­i­ty. I talk in the book about how I had per­son­al con­flict around my feel­ings towards the sys­tem because my sis­ter’s drug prob­lem was real­ly cre­at­ing issues for my fam­i­ly and it seemed like it would be eas­i­er if she went to prison — one part of me thought that. And actu­al­ly when she did go back to prison, it became very evi­dent that that was not help­ful for her life or any of our lives, and that it fur­ther dam­aged our fam­i­ly struc­ture. I now def­i­nite­ly call myself an abo­li­tion­ist, but I also feel that one of the most impor­tant parts of that is think­ing about how I’m car­ry­ing that through in my actions. So it’s not just about sub­scrib­ing to a par­tic­u­lar ide­ol­o­gy or plat­form, but what does that plat­form mean in my life. It’s messy. It’s one thing to think a cer­tain way or buy into a phi­los­o­phy and its dif­fer­ent to think about how you’re act­ing on that phi­los­o­phy. I think that’s changed my view not just in my per­son­al life, but also in terms of my job as a jour­nal­ist, and that’s been inter­est­ing as well.

Are you con­cerned that the abo­li­tion­ist label shuts down con­ver­sa­tion about alter­na­tives to incarceration?

You kind of have to use it strate­gi­cal­ly. I don’t start con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple who dis­agree with me by say­ing, You have to call your­self an abo­li­tion­ist.” I think some­times when you start a con­ver­sa­tion with that word, it can shape the con­ver­sa­tion in ways that aren’t help­ful. It’s real­ly cru­cial to think about who you are talk­ing to, and how does prison or the prison-indus­tri­al com­plex relate to them, and how can you make it per­son­al and real. It’s been inter­est­ing at Q&As at my read­ings, because peo­ple raise their hands and want to get into a debate. I’m not par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in try­ing to con­vince peo­ple to think exact­ly what I think, but I think ques­tion­ing is actu­al­ly real­ly pro­duc­tive. I def­i­nite­ly had to do that in my per­son­al jour­ney on this sub­ject. A lot time peo­ple will say, What are you going to do if some­one breaks into your house?” They’ll bring up these sce­nar­ios, and I’ll ask a ques­tion in response. Instead of throw­ing the word abo­li­tion at them I’ll say, What would hap­pen?” I’ll play out this sit­u­a­tion of this per­son going to prison, what is that going to do for them, and more impor­tant­ly what is that going to do for you, the vic­tim or the hypo­thet­i­cal vic­tim? Start­ing those con­ver­sa­tions has been fas­ci­nat­ing. Watch­ing peo­ple think through what is prison doing for them or to them.

The sec­ond part of your book is about alter­na­tives to the prison sys­tem. We’re hear­ing a lot late­ly about pro­grams that are labelled as alter­na­tives.” You’ve writ­ten about prob­lems you see with manda­to­ry drug treat­ment, oth­ers have crit­i­cized manda­to­ry psy­chi­atric treat­ment. Talk about the dan­gers you see with some alter­na­tives”?

A real­ly impor­tant ques­tion to ask every time an alter­na­tive is pro­posed is does this alter­na­tive” per­pet­u­ate the prison-indus­tri­al com­plex? And not just does this alter­na­tive put more peo­ple in prison specif­i­cal­ly (although some of the alter­na­tives actu­al­ly do ulti­mate­ly incar­cer­ate more peo­ple), but does it per­pet­u­ate a sys­tem of social con­trol, par­tic­u­lar­ly racist social con­trol? Does it con­fine and iso­late peo­ple? Does it cut peo­ple’s ties with their fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties? And does it embed the state more in peo­ple’s lives? Some­times those ques­tions are dif­fi­cult to answer but actu­al­ly my expe­ri­ence of look­ing at these alter­na­tives is that they’re actu­al­ly not that dif­fi­cult to answer.

For exam­ple, I’ve writ­ten about manda­to­ry drug treat­ment. So with manda­to­ry treat­ment, often­times what hap­pens is some­one is arrest­ed. That’s already putting them in the com­plex, and then when they’re con­vict­ed they’re then tak­en to sen­tenc­ing. So all of this stuff has already hap­pened that has entrenched them in the sys­tem. When they go to sen­tenc­ing, the idea is that the drug treat­ment is pro­posed as an alter­na­tive to send­ing them to prison, but some­times that treat­ment itself is hap­pen­ing in a facil­i­ty that looks very much like a prison. It’s locked down, you aren’t allowed to leave, they’re sep­a­rat­ed from their fam­i­lies, usu­al­ly they’re not allowed to have their kids there with them. It also per­pet­u­ates this idea of the state hav­ing con­trol of their their bod­ies. Most of the time, peo­ple man­dat­ed to treat­ment aren’t depen­dent on drugs, but they might have com­mit­ted a drug crime. So it’s this force, the state exert­ing con­trol on peo­ples bod­ies and very dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly tar­get­ing black peo­ple and oth­er peo­ple of col­or and manip­u­lat­ing and con­fin­ing their bod­ies. That’s an exam­ple I come back to a lot because par­tic­u­lar­ly lib­er­als seem to like the idea of help­ing peo­ple instead of hurt­ing them. But I think we real­ly need to dig beneath the rhetoric. A lot of these alter­na­tives and things pro­posed instead of mass incar­cer­a­tion are things called tar­get­ed polic­ing” or tar­get­ed crime hotspots.” It sounds real­ly good in a way, Oh, we’re just going to zero in on vio­lent crime and peo­ple killing each oth­er.” but real­ly what it means is tar­get­ing com­mu­ni­ties of col­or. So that means height­en­ing polic­ing in cer­tain places where peo­ple are already mar­gin­al­ized. As we’ve seen, espe­cial­ly over the past few months, there has been a lot of ener­gy around resist­ing police vio­lence. Obvi­ous­ly police vio­lence has been a prob­lem for a very long time, and police vio­lence is essen­tial­ly one of the things being pro­posed as an alter­na­tive.”

On Twit­ter @JoshGravensTX asked:

@GeorgeLavender @MayaSchenwar ? as the #WarOn­Drugs comes to an end what will take its place? @inthesetimesmag @Piper @AliceOllstein

 — Josh Gravens (@JoshGravensTX) Novem­ber 242014

First of all, the War on Drugs” is sad­ly not end­ing, although the rhetoric of the War on Drugs is end­ing. which is excit­ing. Oba­ma now puts the war on drugs in quotes, so, yay, that’s good! But large num­bers of black peo­ple are still get­ting arrest­ed for mar­i­jua­na despite the fact that white and black peo­ple use mar­i­jua­na at sim­i­lar rates. There’s been a big scare around hero­in over the last year and a real ramp­ing up of law enforce­ment atten­tion and prison-based and incar­cer­a­tion-based atten­tion <on> hero­in and of course black and brown com­mu­ni­ties are the ones tar­get­ed in that case as well. So I think a) the War on Drugs not over and b) I think we also have to think about what else is being demo­nized beside drugs and how that is fuel­ing the pipeline to prison. I think there’s an eter­nal focus on send­ing black and brown peo­ple to prison, so no mat­ter what the fad is that’s what the state likes to do. We have to keep that in mind no mat­ter what crim­i­nal charges we’re look­ing at. Anoth­er thing is, there are cer­tain crimes that we’re just not allowed to talk about and that’s some­thing we should be think­ing crit­i­cal­ly about. One thing that’s been real­ly allowed to accel­er­ate over the last few years is the sex offend­er reg­istries. Peo­ple get on these reg­istries for all kinds of rea­sons. One of my pen­pals that I write about in my book was 21 and had sex with a 15 year old, and that got her on the reg­istry for 25 years, in addi­tion to going to prison for a few years. She’s not allowed to see her chil­dren. We have to ask: Is this just some­thing that’s off lim­its to ques­tion? Cer­tain­ly peo­ple in pow­er are not allowed to ques­tion it. Sex crimes are always the crimes that are off the table in terms of reform. What are the effects that’s actu­al­ly hav­ing both in terms of jus­tice and in terms of safe­ty and in terms of civ­il rights and civ­il lib­er­ties. I think that if we’re real­ly going to talk about reform, and cer­tain­ly if we’re going to talk about decarcer­a­tion, we have to talk about how prison is being used and how the prison-indus­tri­al com­plex is being used in all cas­es. That’s real­ly uncom­fort­able for peo­ple. Talk­ing about the War on Drugs has become real­ly safe and com­fort­able, even amongst con­ser­v­a­tives, but ques­tion­ing prison as a whole is a whole dif­fer­ent subject.

And on that sub­ject, there’s been a lot writ­ten, includ­ing here on The Prison Com­plex, about a cross-par­ty” con­sen­sus on reform­ing the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, what are your feel­ings about about that?

I think that the prob­lem with that gets back to some of the issues we’ve been talk­ing about with alter­na­tives and with the prob­lem of chang­ing the sys­tem instead of let­ting it incar­nate itself in anoth­er form. Con­ser­v­a­tive groups like Right on Crime” are advo­cat­ing for reduc­ing the num­ber of peo­ple in prison for cer­tain non-vio­lent offens­es like drug pos­ses­sion for some­one who has no pri­or con­vic­tions, and while they’re advo­cat­ing for that they’re also advo­cat­ing for increased sur­veil­lance and increased polic­ing in com­mu­ni­ties of col­or. They’re doing it through this insid­i­ous rhetoric of, We want to be smart on crime.” The ques­tion is: How are you defin­ing real dan­gers and how are you address­ing them? Those are cru­cial ques­tions, but often those are being over­looked in favor of this idea that it’s very excit­ing to have a bipar­ti­san con­sen­sus. I think it’s real­ly hope­ful that peo­ple are get­ting more unit­ed on the idea that we’re incar­cer­at­ing too many peo­ple, and ide­al­ly, this would be a moment to have real­ly impor­tant con­ver­sa­tions about what we are say­ing will actu­al­ly address harm in our soci­eties and what are real­ly the prob­lems. Now I think there are spaces to have some of these con­ver­sa­tions but politi­cians are real­ly anx­ious about touch­ing them. One thing that I’m also con­cerned about is we like the idea of releas­ing peo­ple for non-vio­lent crimes with no pri­or offens­es, but there’s always this lan­guage of focus­ing on the peo­ple who deserve to be incar­cer­at­ed and strength­en­ing those penal­ties or enhanc­ing those penal­ties. That’s unfor­tu­nate­ly throw­ing very large num­bers of peo­ple under the bus. In fact, it’s throw­ing most peo­ple under the bus. I even feel that way about Propo­si­tion 47 in Cal­i­for­nia. It’s great that it’s going to reduce the prison pop­u­la­tion, but all the PR around it that evoked that tough on crime” mes­sage? It kept com­ing back to we want to lock up peo­ple who deserve to be locked up.” I think it’s real­ly sad that that’s the direc­tion advo­cates had to go.

You write that Amer­i­cans like hap­py end­ings. It feels like you’re search­ing for some opti­mism or hope in the book, to what extent did you find it?

I think that I found a lit­tle bit of the hap­py part with­out the end­ing part. There are all these projects going on around the coun­try focus­ing on decarcer­a­tion that are becom­ing very suc­cess­ful. Real­ly clos­ing jails and pris­ons and bring­ing impor­tant issues to the fore­front. Also there are projects that are intro­duc­ing new ways or dif­fer­ent ways of deal­ing with harm and vio­lence in com­mu­ni­ties and that’s very hope­ful. So through­out my inter­views with orga­niz­ers and peo­ple who are involved in car­ry­ing out those projects, I did get a real sense of opti­mism about the future and a lit­tle bit about the present. The rea­son I say there are no end­ings is that I could­n’t pos­si­bly make any pre­dic­tions. I tried to empha­size that while this stuff is going on in the present we’re dream­ing of a dif­fer­ent future and work­ing towards a dif­fer­ent future, but we can’t say what that future will be. It’s been dis­ap­point­ing to me to see that as con­scious­ness has been ris­ing about mass incar­cer­a­tion and the dam­age it caus­es, that a lot of peo­ple are assum­ing that prison pop­u­la­tions are going way down and this mass incar­cer­a­tion is going to be over. But when you look a lit­tle clos­er under the micro­scope you see all these insid­i­ous trends towards scary alter­na­tives, and you start see­ing that prison pop­u­la­tions were decreas­ing for a cou­ple of years, but in 2013 they actu­al­ly increased, because while there was some reform on a fed­er­al lev­el there was more incar­cer­a­tion on a state lev­el. So it’s going to be a trudge, and I think all we can do is put one foot in front of anoth­er and keep get­ting involved in ways that are pos­si­ble for us indi­vid­u­al­ly. Part of what I want­ed to get across with the idea that there is no real end­ing. When peo­ple get out of prison it’s often framed as a hap­py end­ing, and under the cur­rent sys­tem that’s just not the case. It’s about get­ting out and grap­pling with a world where the dom­i­nant cul­ture does­n’t want you and also it’s about grap­pling with the fact that so many peo­ple get stuck in that cycle of prison. There is no end­ing there. The title of the epi­logue is Not An End­ing” and I was think­ing, Is that a cop-out”?! I do think just because you can’t see the light at the end of the tun­nel, or what­ev­er metaphor you want to use, does­n’t mean we should­n’t be putting one foot in front of the oth­er and think­ing about what we can do every day.

I want to push you a lit­tle more on the cop-out crit­i­cism. You quote Beth Richie, which per­haps could be applied to all these alter­na­tives who says of one alter­na­tive that it’s still an exper­i­ment a way of think­ing, and a call to devel­op some­thing new.” Were you con­cerned that peo­ple might read about these alter­na­tives and feel like they were too vague?

That was a con­cern for sure. I rewrote the sec­ond part of the book quite a bit for that rea­son. And that’s because the sub­ti­tle of my book which I’m still not total­ly crazy about is why prison does­n’t work and how we can do bet­ter.” Peo­ple are look­ing for the answer to end incar­cer­a­tion and do some­thing dif­fer­ent­ly and I think what I real­ized, through talk­ing to orga­niz­ers and activists and oth­er writ­ers, is you can’t pro­pose the mono­lith­ic alter­na­tive to prison. Any kind of mono­lith­ic solu­tion is going to be ulti­mate­ly a fail­ure that’s going to per­pet­u­ate a lot of the ground­ing of the prison-indus­tri­al com­plex. Huge mono­lith­ic state insti­tu­tions come along with racism, ableism, trans­pho­bia, clas­sism, all these things that are built into these struc­tures. Also you can’t real­ly imag­ine into exis­tence what every sin­gle per­son in the coun­try engag­ing in trans­for­ma­tive jus­tice would look like because trans­for­ma­tive jus­tice is spe­cif­ic to sit­u­a­tions, and peo­ple, and com­mu­ni­ties and indi­vid­ual prob­lems. You can’t come in from the top down and say ok guys here’s your solu­tion” because that’s not trans­for­ma­tive. So I think ulti­mate­ly I do think the alter­na­tives that are being pro­posed that are mass scale solu­tions are all dan­ger­ous. My idea was to go around and look at what are indi­vid­ual com­mu­ni­ties or indi­vid­ual groups doing, and how can I bring those to light and demon­strate that stuff is being done out­side the cur­rent system.

Pick­ing up on that, here’s anoth­er ques­tion from @AliceOllstein. She asks:

@MayaSchenwar @GeorgeLavender @inthesetimesmag How do we ensure decarcer­a­tion movements/​models are led bot­tom-up instead of top-down?

 — Alice Oll­stein (@AliceOllstein) Novem­ber 252014

You can’t ensure that. If we’re the ones doing the move­ments, we have to check our­selves at every turn. We have to make sure that peo­ple who are actu­al­ly entan­gled in the sys­tem are the ones lead­ing it, because it’s very easy to advo­cate for peo­ple and not actu­al­ly advo­cate things that will help them. I think that’s the trap that many of these alter­na­tives that are being pushed for by law­mak­ers are falling into. They’re advo­cat­ing things that look good on paper and sound good rhetor­i­cal­ly but would­n’t actu­al­ly fit in with what most peo­ple in prison are look­ing for and most fam­i­ly mem­bers and most vic­tims. So that kind of lit­mus test I was talk­ing about ear­li­er for alter­na­tives can also be used to look at ini­tia­tives you’re involved in. Are we advo­cat­ing for things that are going to per­pet­u­ate the sys­tem? Are we per­pet­u­at­ing the sys­tem through our actions, not just goals, but how are we doing this advo­ca­cy and are we mak­ing deci­sions that are ulti­mate­ly going to impact peo­ple in destruc­tive ways? That’s def­i­nite­ly dif­fi­cult. I’ve strug­gled with that myself. The eter­nal dilem­ma is how do you advo­cate on the leg­isla­tive lev­el for things that will help peo­ple in the imme­di­ate term because peo­ple are in prison right now so how do you advo­cate on the lev­el of condi­itons and that kind of thing and also push towards decarceration.

And final­ly, what are your plans for the future?

I think at this par­tic­u­lar moment if some­one told me I had to write anoth­er book I would run away to anoth­er plan­et because that was real­ly hard! But I do feel like my work on this book has shift­ed my approach to the work I do at Truthout. I said this process had shift­ed me as a jour­nal­ist and an edi­tor and that’s def­i­nite­ly true. Truthout cov­ers these issues quite a bit. My approach is not to try and main­tain some kind of objec­tive façade but to think about try­ing to move the con­ver­sa­tion for­ward. If I want to be part of the move­ment, what part does the media play in that? Media plays a huge part. Media per­pet­u­at­ed all the myths about tough on crime” and how we need­ed to fight crime and fight drugs. Media per­pet­u­ates myths every time a sto­ry hap­pens in which some­one goes to prison. And how does the media por­tray peo­ple who have been accused of crimes? How does the media por­tray mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties who have been tar­get­ed by police? These are ques­tions that I need to ask not just as a crit­ic or as some­one stand­ing out­side look­ing in, but as some­one who’s inside of it, and I need to make those deci­sions as an edi­tor. How do we make the world a bet­ter place through the media? And that’s not just about cov­er­ing cer­tain sto­ries or cer­tain top­ics it’s also about our meth­ods and what words we choose and who we ask peo­ple to inter­view and how we frame sit­u­a­tions. There are a whole lot of tricky ques­tions there. So I think in the most imme­di­ate sense I see my work as try­ing to infuse the media I do with those larg­er goals and think about how the media can move us towards a world beyond prisons.

This inter­view was edit­ed for clarity.

George Laven­der is an award-win­ning radio and print jour­nal­ist based in Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @GeorgeLavender.
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