My research topic for this semester will be on prison reform and the issues with incarceration. In a piece written by Assata Shakur called “Women in Prison: How We Are,” (1978); a chapter from the African American Anthology, Let Nobody Turn Us Around, she describes what she saw during her time in prison.
Assata Shakur of the Black Panther Party and a leader of the Black Liberation Army, was tried seven different times for alleged crimes in her life, that never led to conviction. However, she was captured at the New Jersey State Turnpike after a shootout in 1977 and was convicted of murder by an all-white jury in a highly disputed trial, resulting in a life sentence; but escaped prison in 1979 to Cuba.
The prison cells of Riker’s Island where she was held, were called rooms by everybody. And many women were convinced that they were, somehow, “getting over” because they were not doing hard time, therefore not really in prison. Most of the guards were black, usually from working-class, upward bound, civil service oriented backgrounds, and hated and felt trapped by their jobs. But no matter how much they hated the military-style structure, the infighting, and ugliness of their tasks, they were very aware of how close they were to the welfare lines. If they were not working as guards, most would be underpaid or unemployed, while also missing the feeling of superiority and power. This meant that, for many, prison was not too much different from the streets, as it was a place to rest and recuperate from the stealing and hustling that was necessary for the survival of themselves or their children, as jobs were scarce and welfare was impossible to live on. This is a good example that American capitalism is in no way threatened by the women in prison on Riker’s Island. It is also still relevant to current times, as it is one of the big reasons why incarceration still happens, since people have no choice but to stay in prison due to their very unfavorable economic circumstances.
This article is a legitimate source because it is an excerpt from Assata: An Autobiography, which is referenced often by other respected and acknowledged scholars from this field.