Are Prisons Obsolete?

A Lecture by ANGELA Y. DAVIS
Speaking at the First Congregational Church of Oakland 26jul03
Transcribed by Paul Goettlich from a recording by KPFA (Berkeley, CA)

Thank you.

Well, thank you Van for the introduction. And I’m really surprised to see so many people out this evening, on a Saturday evening.

First, I want to say that, echoing some of the remarks made by Bob early on, that as a longtime supporter of the Cuban revolution, I want to acknowledge the importance of this date—July 26th.

[Audience applauds]

And, as many as you know, it marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution. The 50th anniversary of the attack on the army barracks at the Moncada in Santiago de Cuba. Fidel Castro led a group of revolutionaries, including of Juan Almeida, Melba Hernandez, Haydee Santamaria. This was the act that launched in the Cuban revolution, and led to death and imprisonment for the revolutionaries.

During the Fidel’s trial, he delivered in his momentous closing statement, “History will absolve me.” And I think that message of that moment, 50 years ago, is important for us to reflect upon this evening. I know Fidel said that “imprisonment will be harder for me that it has ever been for anyone filled with cowardly threats and hideous cruelty. But I do not fear prison, as I did not fear the fury of the miserable tyrant who took the lives of 70 of my comrades. Condemn me,” he said, “it does not matter. History will absolve me.”

Today, there are celebrations, and I want you to think about this, throughout the island of Cuba. But the people of Cuba are also reflecting on the dire consequences of the Bush administration’s global war on terror, as they try to strengthen their own ability to exist and prosper in a world that has been invaded by the juggernaut of global capital. And especially now by the United States government’s drive to establish economic, and political, and cultural, and religious, and military supremacy in the world.

The Bush administration is also determined to break ties of solidarity that link many people in this country with their Cuban friends and comrades by, once again, declaring travel to Cuba illegal. It is up to us, it seems to me, to read to our efforts to end the embargo on Cuba, and to support efforts of Global Exchange and KPFA to keep opened the lives of communication and solidarity between progressive people in the United States and the people of Cuba.

[Audience applauds loudly]

Moreover, since we’ve gathered here this evening to talk about the prison crisis, and specifically to reflect on what we can do to promote strategies to abolish jails and prisons, I want us to remember that the Cuban 5, since their interest in 1998, have been serving sentences of anywhere from 17 years to life. As a matter of fact, some of them received two life sentences.

What is that supposed to mean?

And they are in federal prisons across the country—in Wisconsin, in Colorado, in South Carolina, in Texas, and here, in California. Although they were convicted of espionage, they were not spying on the government. They were trying to monitor potential terrorist plots against Cuba organized by Cuban counterrevolutionaries in the Miami area.

How many CIA agents are there around the world?

But I want to suggest that we join Mumia Abu-Jamal and the many others who are calling for the freedom of the Cuban 5. Free the Cuban 5.

[Audience applauds]

I also want to thank the First Congregational Church for hosting this event. This Church has been the venue of so many progressive gatherings over the years, that if I tried to remember all of them it would probably take couple of hours just to list the offense that has happened in this space. So, it seems to me that this venue off to remind us of our strength, especially here, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Those of us live here are fortunate to live in the Bay Area, where radical activism has been such an important part of our history.

So, before I began talking about the challenges to history and the challenges of building a movement to abolish prisons, and there are probably more prison abolitionists in the Bay Area than in any other part of the country. Two of the major prison abolitionists organizations—Critical Resistance and Justice Now—are headquartered right here in Oakland, as a matter of fact.

[Audience applauds]

But, I want us to take note of some of the successful organizing efforts around the Bay Area, and in northern California, in general to defeat the USA Patriot Act. Resolutions have been passed in 27 states, including three state-wide resolutions; one in Alaska, one in Hawaii, and one in Vermont. Probably if northern California were a state, there would be a state-wide resolution here as well, because Berkeley, and Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Sebastopol, Union City, Fairfax, Davis, Point Arena, Arcata, Richmond, Cotati, Sonoma, El Cerrito, Los Gatos, Watsonville, Ukiah, Pinole, Mill Valley, Sausalito, Salinas, Palo Alto, and Hayward have all passed resolutions against USA Patriot Act!

[Audience applauds wildly with shouting and whistling. Many standing while doing so]

Also the counties of Mendocino, Santa Cruz, Marin, San Mateo, and Contra Costa.

[Audience applauds]

It’s important that we remind ourselves where we are, and that we remind ourselves that we are privileged to live in an area where it is possible to raise radical questions like IS THE PRISON OBSOLETE? ARE PRISONS OBSOLETE?

Many of you here this evening have been able to chart the development of the contemporary campaign to abolish the prison system. I suspect that many of you either attended or her about the 1998 conference in Berkeley, Critical Resistance Beyond the Prison-Industrial Complex, where there were over 3000 scholars, advocates, former prisoners, [and] community activists. And you may remember that there was, at that time, this environment, and environment of palpable excitement about the prospect of radically shifting the way people think about the impact of imprisonment.

Since then, it’s been five years, the movement against the prison-industrial complex has grown substantially. Critical Resistance held conferences in New York, and most recently, just a few months ago, and the South, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Critical Resistance is helping to establish an enormous community of people, not only in this country, but throughout the world, who are fighting against the global prison-industrial complex. As a matter fact, some of you may have seen the flyer that says, “Stop the Delano II Prison.”

The next event is on August 11th [2003] in Sacramento, when the appeal will be heard. It is important to present that prison from being constructed. I don’t know if you heard news on the radio that because of the budget crisis in the state, the new campus of the University of California may not open, that the opening of UC Merced may be postponed yet another year as a result of the crisis. At the same time, they’re trying to build prisons.

But let’s reflect for a moment on the many things that have changed over the last five years or so. Over the last two years. . .a war in Iraq that millions of people all over the world tried desperately to stop. It’s important for us to remember that many of us were one of many millions of people all over the world on all contents to simultaneously demanded that the Bush administration stay out of Iraq. But…

Don’t let me start talking about George W. Bush because we may not get to the question and answer period.

[Both Angela and audience laugh]

We have witnessed the legitimization of cowboy diplomacy, enacted by President whose every single move is choreographed against the backdrop mobile props and stage sets. Since then, we’ve seen the passage of the USA Patriot Act in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on September 11th; the creation of a Department of Homeland Security, and we should not allow ourselves to grow comfortable with those words.

And of course, the former INS has been folded into this so-called Department of Homeland Security. We seen the arbitrary arrest of vast numbers of immigrants of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent. We’re witnessing a renewed buildup of a military apparatus that was supposed to be put to rest in the aftermath of the Cold War. And now, we’re seeing the rise of the ominous nuclear component of that military apparatus began—weapons of mass destruction.

We also see a more graphically explicit relationship between the military-industrial complex and the prison-industrial complex. And perhaps I can summarize that by pointing out that many of the young men and women who are, at this moment, in Iraq wearing military uniforms and carrying guns, decided to join the military because they had no prospect for jobs. Many of them, as a matter of fact, turned to the military as the only existing alternative to a prison sentence.

[Audience applauds with confirming voices]

And of course, we have regular revelations about violence against women within and by the U.S. military. And of course, in this short period of time we’ve also witnessed the emergence of a new nation—a new multicultural, multiracial nation, whose price of admission is seen a phobia and homophobia.

And we’ve even seen official acknowledgments of the imprisonment binge, including presidential concern for the children of captives—you remember Bush’s last State of the Union address. But, we should remind ourselves that over the last five years or so, we’ve experienced and astonishing upsurge of efforts to make visible the workings of, what we referred to as, the prison-industrial complex. This upsurge can be detected in the work of activists throughout the country, in the work of prisoners, in the coalitions among artists and prisoners and students, in the work of scholars, especially outside of the traditional field of criminology.

Just as in the 1970s, in the aftermath of the Attica rebellion over 30 years ago, just as the 1970s witnessed the production of numerous radical scholarly and popular writings on the prison system, so over the last period, there has been a remarkable increase in critical engagements with the institutions of the prison. Popular articles have appeared in all kinds of magazines—Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Newsweek, in the Wall Street Journal, whatever. And this is the source of a dismay that persists.

The previous absence of critical positions on prison expansion has now given way to proposals for prison reform. How easily those words roll from our tongues. Prison reform. If something is wrong with the prison system, then what do we need?

[Angela asks the audience] What does everybody say we need?

[Many respond, but inaudible]

Prison reform.

That was this means is that while public discussions, public discourse has become more flexible, the emphasis, almost inevitably, is on generating the changes that will produce a better prison system. In other words, the same increased flexibility that has allowed for critical discussion of the problems associated with the expansion of prisons, nevertheless restricts this discussion to the question of prison reform.

In the spring of 2000, a research group I’m involved with, began a series of prison visits. Some of the members are here. [Pointing into the audience] I see Ruthie Gilmore sitting there. Gina Dent is sitting there. Cassandra Shaylor went with us on one of these visits.
We went to Calipatria. We went to the California Institute for Women, the Northern California Women’s Facility, and the Medical Facility in Vacaville. Interestingly enough, the visit to Calipatria was the very first time I, personally, had been allowed to visit any California state prison since I was released from jail in 1972!

Now, as a matter of fact, when I was in jail I was allowed to go to San Quentin for a brief visit with George Jackson, John Cluchette, and Fleeta Drumgo to assist with a the preparations of the trial of the Soledad Brothers. But, since then, I have been literally locked out of California prisons.

[Angela and audience laughs]

But what was so remarkable about the we visits with the welcome we received as professors from the University of California! As a matter of fact, the red carpet was rolled out for us. In one instance, we were allowed to sit in a highly confidential classification hearing, during which determinations were being made regarding the appropriate security level for the prisoners scheduled to be heard—whether it would be a 180 degree pen…those of you who have been inside do exactly what I’m talking about-180 degrees or 240 degree facility. In other words, a regular maximum security unit, or something a Security Housing Unit, a SHU, or Super Max.

I make mention of this visit because when we, ourselves, the research group… when we debrief…when we participated in our own debriefing, we agree that by our very presence in these hearings we were helping to legitimize the so-called due process. The prison said it was accorded to prisoners even in a facility that had official permission to divest prisoners of their civil and human rights.

We realized at that moment that we had been made a part of the project of prison reform.

As some academics say, we had been interpolated…[Audience laughs]…into this historical moment of prison reform.

So, the question I want to raise this evening is whether there’s a way out of this conundrum. Is it possible to generate activists and popular and scholarly interests, perhaps second were either third time, in the abolition of the prison?

What are the conditions of possibility for radically shifting the debate around the prison crisis in a way that does not ultimately strengthen the stranglehold of this institution on the future?

I think it is worth an attempt to make an intervention into this historical swing of the pendulum that has constantly moved from reform to retrenchment, and then back to prison reform, and then back to retrenchment.

As they try to point out, as Van [Johnson] said, in this little book [referring to her new book entitled Are Prisons Obsolete? < this is a free download]… As a matter of fact, a friend of mine calls these books “candy books” because they are at the counter when you’re getting ready to pay for the books that you’ve already bought at the bookstore, like the candy in the grocery stores.

What I try to point out in this book that we are watching this evening is that this concern with the conditions of possibility for the abolition…[repeated with more intensity] for the abolition…[repeated again with yet more volume] for the abolition of entrenched institutions is not new! This is why it makes sense to think about other historical movements that have operated under the rubric of abolition; the anti-slavery abolitionists’ struggle—the historical and contemporary; anti-death-penalty abolitionists’ campaign.

The major question I think we’re facing is how can we discover ways of encouraging people to imagine [said by accentuating each syllable as “e-ma’-gine”] a world without prisons. [Repeated as audience applauds] To imagine! a world without prisons. And as the pamphlet that Justice Now has produced, and its outside on the table…it says “What will it take to build a world without prisons?” There’s another pamphlet too, on abolition from Critical Resistance, I should point out. “What will it take encourage people to imagine a world without prisons?”

I want to begin with a few comments on death penalty abolitionism, which is currently the focus of great deal of activism, especially in the aftermath of the Illinois moratorium and the evacuation of death row in that state by former Republican Gov. George Ryan.

Perhaps if Gray Davis had followed the lead of Ryan!.. [audience applauds loudly and Angela must repeated herself] if Gray Davis had followed the lead Ryan he might not have the facing Arnold Schwarzenegger and Total Recall today!

[Audience continues to applauds loudly with whistles and shouts]

But, what I want to point out is that much of the activism around the death penalty, recently, has focused on the issue of innocence. Innocence projects have proliferated all over the country. And since 1973, 108 people in 25 states have been released from death row on the basis of irrefutable evidence of their innocence. The most recent release, I think, occurred on May 9th of this year.

And as a matter of fact, the innocence movement had such a profound impact on George Ryan that he issued the moratorium in 2000, and before he left office this past January, he issued pardons for four prisoners and commutations for the remaining 167 on Illinois’ death row.

Now, I want us to think critically about this focus on innocence. I don’t want to criticize that movement per se, because you save lives of many of our…I was going to say sisters and brothers, but I’m not sure how many women have been released on the basis of, what is legally called, actual innocence. And you know, actual innocence has nothing to do with whether your innocence are not. It’s a legal category [pronounced slowly as cat-a-gory] that is, in most instances, bolstered by DNA. Right? Think about that.

What I do want to criticize is the tendency of the innocence movement to colonize too much of the space of opposition to capital punishment, and thus to minimize the project of comprehensive abolition. The focus on innocence also produces the assumption that guilty might be deserving of death at the hands of the state. And it seems to me that this is the logic with which saved innocent lives then affirm the validity, not only of the death penalty, but also of prevailing policies of mass imprisonment.

In this constricted and constricting framework for death penalty opposition, which constructs innocence as the dominant grounds of released from the highest penalty, the abolition of the death penalty, per se, is only conceivable as a strategy of embracing a new capital penalty—life in prison without the possibility of parole, which strangely recapitulates the history of prison as an alternative to corporeal death. That is, life without parole as the proper equivalent to death requires the permanence of the prison, and is thus a major barrier to the development of popular discourse on the abolition of the prison.

Does that make sense?

[Audience applauds]

I evoke these problems surrounding the innocence movement because I think that this notion of the innocent deserving to be released from death row, leaving the guilty behind, this has a major impact on the way we think about the future of imprisonment.

And it seems to me that it is crucially important, especially now, to link death penalty abolitionism with anti-prison abolitionism. It means that we support efforts to release wrongfully convicted men and women. But we also point out that the very existence of the death penalty, regardless of whether its victims are innocent—legally innocent or legally guilty—is a major problem.

And as a matter of fact, the death penalty itself is a relic of slavery. The death penalty is a relic of slavery. And if slavery had been comprehensively abolished then the death penalty would have disappeared with all of the other legal institutions that comprised and supported slavery.

The penitentiary was invented around the time of the American Revolution. And it was promised as an alternative to capital punishment. That’s what the prison was supposed to be—an alternative to the death penalty. And as a matter of fact, the capital punishment was abolished for most crimes. That is to say, most crimes committed by white people.

Slavery became a haven for capital punishment. Frederick Douglass pointed out that there were states in which white people could only be sentenced to death for one offense, but slaves for 20 or 30 or 40. And in the state of Virginia, a white person could only be sentenced to death for murder. But slaves could be sentenced to death for 71 offenses.

The persistence of capital punishment, it seems to me, is a measure of the extent to which the history of slavery is very much present in the laws that pride themselves on their race neutrality. There is this hidden and sedimented history of slavery. And this holdover from slavery—capital punishment—while it disproportionately affects Black people—people of color—it targets white people as well.

It seems to me that the very first point on an agenda of reparation for slavery should be the abolition of the death penalty. The abolition of capital punishment.

[Audience applauds]

And it also seems to me that death penalty abolitionism needs to be linked to anti-prison abolition, unless you want to create another capital punishment, which is a life without possibility of parole, which is civil death. As a matter of fact, we have three kinds of death here; the social death of slavery, the civil death of imprisonment, and the corporeal death of the death penalty.

[Unknown quantity of words missing in this recording by KPFA]

…of the existing capital punishment. But we’re confronted with the possibility of another capital punishment.

Now, in the late ’60s and the early ’70s, which some of you here remember, has some of you can think about this history…

[Angela and audience laugh]

… to the emergence of a discourse on prison abolition was associated with the cases of well-known political prisoners, and the anti-prison movement that emerged 30 years ago. As a matter of fact, debate over the indeterminate sentence was in part a catalyst for the prison crises of the late ’60s and ’70s.

George Jackson, to invoke a well-known example, received, as a youth convicted of robbery, a sentence of from one year to life. During the eleven years that he spent in various California prisons, before he was killed by San Quentin guards in 1971, George Jackson emerged as the most celebrated prison radical, both within the prison system and outside, in what prisoners call the free world(?)

Let’s see. I think I’ve been talking too long.

[Some one in audience responds by saying “no”]

Let me see if I can speed up a little bit. I was going to talk a little bit about the Attica rebellion. And I’ll just summarize that by saying that will sell important about the Attica rebellion in 1971 was the way in which the demands were framed within an abolitionist strategy. They were demands for better food, and demands for reading material. But the prisoners, it seemed to me, understood the distinction between transforming living and working conditions for prisoners as human beings, and reforming the prison for the sake of creating a superior and more effective apparatus of punishment.

And as we chart a course toward anti-prison abolitionism, we have to keep that distinction in mind. It does not mean that if we are prison abolitionists that we are not concerned, deeply concerned, for the people who are forced to live their lives inside these horrendous institutions—over 2 million people. And we have to make demands that will make life more livable for them while there inside. But those demands don’t have to be linked to a project to create better prisons. They can be linked to a project to abolish prisons.

[Audience responds loudly]

As a matter of fact, out of the Attica demands came a very radical demand to create unions, to create labor unions within and among prisons. As a matter of fact, in 1974, prisoners in the state of North Carolina organized within a very short period of time a prisoners’ labor union. And indicated in their incorporation papers the intention to create a union, and I’m quoting, “at every prison and jail in North Carolina to seek, through collective bargaining, to improve working conditions.” Within a short period of time they had 2,000 members in 40 different prison units throughout the state. That, of course, the state of North Carolina, which is still a right-to-work state.

Right? In the Free World…

So, the state of North Carolina moved to crush their efforts. But since then, one of the most radical demands that has emerged among prisoners is the demand for collective bargaining. And I don’t know how many trade unionists there are in the house this evening…

[Audience applauds]


It seems to me that those of us who are members of unions have to demand that our unions think very seriously about the importance of supporting the organization of labor unions among prisoners. Thirty years later, this is still one of the most radical abolitionist demands.

Now, I want to move on to talk about what it means to, for those of us who do call ourselves abolitionists, what does it mean to be an anti-prison abolitionist?

And, first of all, as I try to say in this little book [Are Prisons Obsolete?], if we only think about the institution of the prison itself as that which is to be abolished, we find ourselves at an impasse, because we try to figure out what is going to replace this institution. And we cannot imagine anything that will actually fit in the footprint of the prison.

So, it seems to me that we need to draw upon the work of the dedicated activists who have pushed us to think about a prison-industrial complex. Because a prison-industrial complex…some people think the prison-industrial complex is a complex of buildings. But we know that when of we talk about the prison-industrial complex, we’re talking about relationships. We’re talking about relationships among governments. And we’re talking about the media. And we’re talking about the corporations—global corporations. And we’re talking about politicians.

So what I want to say this evening is that when we think about abolition, we have to think about abolishing those relationships. It’s not just about tearing down the buildings of the prison. It’s about dismantling those relationships. It seems to me that we can draw some inspiration from the anti-slavery abolitionist movement. And particularly about the failure to abolish slavery.

And if we think about the inadequacies of some versions of death penalty abolition, then a more complicated framework might yield more options than if we simply tried to figure out a single substitute for the prison system. And that’s what everybody wants to know. Right? What are you going to put in its place?…in its place? Right?…imagining that something has to literally be put in its place.

The first step is to let go of this desire to discover one single alternative system of punishment that would occupy the same footprint as the prison system. Since the 1980s, the prison system has been an increasingly ensconced in the economic and political and ideological life of the United States, and the transnational trafficking in U.S. commodities and culture and ideas.

Thus the prison-industrial complex is much more than the sum of all jails and prisons in this country. It is a set of symbiotic relationships among correctional communities, transnational corporations, media conglomerates, guards’ unions, legislative and court agendas.

Of the increasing transnational incarnations of the prison-industrial complex, the most dramatic is the insinuation of U.S. style anti-crime rhetoric into the new democracy of South Africa. The erection of a U.S. style super-maximum-security prison in South Africa and the spread of private prisons owned and operated by U.S. corporations in South Africa—in the South Africa that is attempting to build an anti-racist, an anti-sexist, an anti-homophobic society.

Turkey has established U.S. style—they call them, in Turkey, F-type prisons—as a way of meeting conditions created by the European Union. So they have to upgrade their prisons in order to become a part of Europe. Right? And the model is the prison in the United States of America. Over 100 Turkish prisoners have died in the hunger strike organized to protest these new prisons.

If the contemporary…and I’m almost done…

If the contemporary meaning of punishment is fashioned through these relationships, then the most effective abolitionist strategies will contest these relationships, and propose alternatives that pull these relationships apart.

What than what it mean to imagine a system in which punishment is not allowed to become the source of corporate profit?

[Audience applauds]

How can we imagine a society in which race and class are not primary determinants of punishment?

[Audience applauds]

How can we imagine a society in which punishment itself is no longer the central concerned in the making of justice?

[Audience applauds loudly with shouts and whistles]

An abolitionist approach that seeks to answer questions such as the us would require us to imagine a constellation of alternative strategies in institutions, with the ultimate aim of removing the prison from the social and ideological, and indeed, also psychic landscapes of our society. In other words, we would not be looking for prison-like substitutes for the prison, such as house arrests safeguarded by electronic surveillance bracelets.

Rather, if we posit decarceration as our overarching strategy, we would try to envision a continuum of alternatives to imprisonment. Demilitarization of the schools, for example. Revitalization of education at all levels. A health system that provides free physical and mental health care to all. Social services, especially for women, who are the fastest-growing sector of the prison population, especially in the aftermath of the dismantling of the welfare system. And a justice system based on…we might say, reconciliation, transformation, preparation, rather than on retribution and vengeance.

[Audience applauds]

A more radical abolition of slavery would have entailed the creation of new institutions that could lay claim to this space occupied by slavery. So, today, new institutions are needed that can eventually began to condense prison space so that it and habits increasingly smaller areas of our social and psychic landscapes.

Education, therefore, can be seen as the most compelling alternative to imprisonment. Unless the current structures of violence are eliminated from schools in impoverished communities of color, including the presence of armed security guards and police, and unless schools become places that encourage the joy of learning, these schools will remain the major conduits to youth and then adult prisons. The alternative would be to transform schools into vehicles [ve-hi-cles] for decarceration [de-car-cer-ation].

To reiterate, rather than try to imagine a single alternative to the existing system of incarceration, we might envision an array of alternatives that will require radical transformations of many aspects of our society. Alternatives that failed to address racism, male dominance, homophobia, class bias, and other structures of domination will not, in the final analysis, lead to decarceration, and will not advance the goal of abolition.

And finally, there is the question, which is on everybody’s mind; Well, what do we do with the murderers? Right? What do we do with the rapists? What do we do with the rapists and the murderers? Okay. That is the question.

[Someone in the audience shouts out, “What about Bush?” Others applaud and laugh at this question.]

OK. I’m not moving into another hour-long lecture here, but I want to conclude with a case. I think it’s the conclusion of this book, as well. Instead of rehearsing all of the debates around how to build new justice systems, I want to conclude with a story of one of the most dramatic successes in these experiments in reconciliatory justice. And I refer to a case-the case of Amy Biehl, the white, Fulbright scholar from Southern California, from Newport Beach, who was killed by young South Africa men in Guguletu in 1993. Guguletu is a black township in Cape Town.

In 1993, when South Africa was on the cusp of its transition, Amy Biehl was devoting a significant amount of her time, as a foreign student, to the work of rebuilding South Africa. Nelson Mandela had been freed in 1990, but he had not yet been elected president. On August 25th, 1993, Biehl was driving several black friends to their home in Guguletu when a crowd, shouting anti-white slogans, confronted her. And some of them stoned and stabbed her to death.

Four of the men participating in the act were convicted of her murder and sentenced to 18 years in prison. In 1997, Linda and Peter Biehl, Amy’s mother and father, decided to support the amnesty petition the men presented at the truth and reconciliation commission.

The four men apologized to the Biehls and were released in July of 1998.

Two of them, Easy Nofemela, and Ntobecko Peni later met with the Biehls, who despite much pressure to the contrary, did agree to see them. According to Nofemela, he wanted to say more about his own sorrow for killing their daughter than what had been possible during the brief truth and reconciliation hearings in a period [Angela reads each word very carefully and slowly] “I…know…you…lost…a…person…you…love,” he told them during that meeting. “I…want…you…to…forgive…me…and…take…me…as…your…child.”

The Biehls, who had established a the Amy Biehl Foundation in the aftermath of their daughter’s death, asked Nofemela and Peni to work at the Guguletu branch of the foundation. Nofemela became an instructor in an after-school sports program, and Peni became an administrator.

In June of last year [2002], they accompanied Linda Biehl to New York, where they all spoke before the American Family Therapy Academy on reconciliation and restorative justice.

In a Boston Globe interview, Linda Biehl, when she was asked how she now feels about the men who killed her daughter, said, “I have a lot of love for them.” Her husband, Peter Biehl, died last year, in 2002. She bought two plots of land for her daughters killers in memory of her husband, so that Nofemela and Peni can build their own homes.

A few days earlier, after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Biehls had been asked to speak at a synagogue in Newport Beach. According to Peter Biehl, “We tried to explain that sometimes it pays to shut up and listen to what other people have to say, to ask; why do these terrible things happen, instead of simply reacting.

Thank you.

[Audience applauds very loudly and very long.]

Download the book Are Prisons Obsolete?

Angela Davis on Facebook

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: