strength in courage- grassroots abolitionism in barcelona, spain

by anekdotales

abolitionist |ˌabəˈli sh ənist| noun-a person who favors the abolition of a practice or institution, esp. capital punishment or (formerly) slavery, prisons.

la biblioteca de la evasion is a grassroots abolitionist response to the isolating effects of the prison industrial complex.  the group was created by individuals with loved ones currently incarcerated in various different catalan prisons.  after years of visiting those on the inside, the impotence had reached unbearable levels.  the weekends spent in prison visiting areas had become normalized, it had become part of their everyday life.  there was no space to resist, nor to reject this reality- and the only option they encountered was accept the unacceptable.  shut up, and watch the time pass, watch their loved ones age, and surrender to the daily injustices they would suffer.   sentenced to the same years as the prisoners, they suffered the arbitrary logic and violence of the prison and its guards.  they faced the prejudices of a society that would rather forget about its prisoners than ask the hard questions, and find the even harder answers.  why are these men and women in jail?  who benefits from their incarceration?  what does growing prison recidivism mean?  why are prisons dominated by just a few faces, when those faces represent a fraction of the population?  what is justice?  who gets to define it, and how do we change that definition? are prisons the best we can do? for this group, the prison industrial complex wasn’t working, and standing by and accepting that there was nothing to do was a death sentence.  and trying to do something seemed so overwhelming it was hard find the starting point.

first they found strength in each other, their individual stories reinforcing each other.  they found strength in their collective conviction that prisons are not only unnecessary but in-just.  and they found more strength in the histories of resistance to the prison industrial complex.  this strength led them to action. it was a proactive step closer to defining for themselves their interaction with the prisons they were sentenced to visiting.  the first attempt was the handing out of flyers regarding the exploitation of prison labor in CIRE (centres per l’inciatives per la reinsercio’)* on the bus that transports prison visitors from barcelona to cuatro caminos penitentiary in granollers.  the text of the flyer was written by amadeu casellas, an anarchist recently released after nearly two decades of imprisonment. amadeu detailed the exploitation he’d witnessed as a prisoner with a comprehensive analysis of the for profit enterprise and its affect on the prison environment.   on the bus the response was positive.  most of the passengers were interested. they read the text and nodded their heads.  but when they asked those passing out the flyer  “this is good, but i already knew this… what do we do now?”  there was no prepared answer.  the collective hadn’t thought much beyond doing something.  they had been looking for anything to interrupt the everyday normal-ness of going to see a loved one caged like an animal, that it had been hard to think much further.  but this question was important, and it deserved more attention.

in the months following this first action there was a lot of discussion and research. what was the next step?  it was obvious that the overwhelming majority of those visiting the prisons felt the same impotence, the same prejudices, the same powerlessness, the same rage with no channel for expression. all were witness to the same violent, seemingly uninterruptible cycle.   yet with the imprisonment of their loved ones, the agency of those on the outside was imprisoned too. their resistance was constantly reduced to anecdotal, disjointed and individual bursts of desperation in the face of an adversary so monolithic and institutional as is the prison industrial complex.  so the question was “how to thread the anecdotal and disjointed into something larger, something more continued and yet not lose the individual anger that could make that something radical.”    friends from italy brought an interesting idea- la biblioteca de la evasion.  in turin a small collective had created quite an extensive library for prisoners.  the library had a catalogue and prisoners and their friends and family could request specific literature to read while inside.  it was envisioned as a bridge that connected the world inside the cage with the world outside.  the literature could carry a prisoner away from the monotonous passing of time that is incarceration, and the collection and distribution of books could bring together those on the outside most affected- family and friends of prisoners.   in barcelona the idea was welcomed with enthusiasm. and the collective that had handed out flyers now collected books to begin creating a small library of their own.  and the following week they went to their normal saturday morning visit, but this time it was different.  they brought with them a small table and the library that they’d created. they hung a banner on the front of the table- biblioteca de la evasion free books for prisoners.  at first they seemed more like a spectacle than anything else, a visual interruption to the greys and whites of the prison ground. the clown act at a very depressing circus. but a person or two came nearer, most likely out of curiosity more than anything else and the biblioteca found more strength.

in the six months since the first visit the project has grown, the library is more comprehensive, and the number of prisoners in contact with the project continues to increase. and the project has transformed from a spectacle into part of the saturday morning landscape (for better or worse). and the idea and vision has continued to develop.  la biblioteca has come to think of the books as political tools for building a local abolitionist base.  the long term goal is clear- an abolition of all incarceration facilities.  the short term goals are even clearer- increased participation by those most affected by prisons and continued visual presence outside cuatro caminos. today the collective is looking for the next step in their project’s development toward it’s goals. there has been talk of a publication of works by prisoners and their family/friends and the fuller development of propaganda campaigns.  but the base of the project continues- saturday mornings la biblioteca de la evasion is outside cuatro camino prison.   and the group continues to find strength in each other and their vision of a world without prisons.  fortunately time is always on the side of the abolitionist.

*CIRE is a public-private company that manages prison labor both in the production of merchandising and in construction.  the company is sold as a civilized alternative to long prison sentences, engaging prisoners in career building experiences.  what they fail to mention is the exploitative way in which work in CIRE is linked with the granting of a prisoners release- converting voluntary labor into defacto obligatory.

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