Reducing the harms that prisons do while working to abolish them

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Reducing the harms that prisons do while working to abolish them

Rowan Moyes is a member of Bar None Winnipeg. Scott Neigh interviews Moyes about Bar None's prison rideshare project, about their prison abolitionist politics, and about the other ways that Bar None and its members are working towards a world without prisons.

In Manitoba, just like in a lot of other places, most of the jails and prisons are hard to get to. There is the Winnipeg Remand Centre in Winnipeg itself, but other than that, most of the facilities in which people are incarcerated are in rural areas with few or no options for getting there unless you have a car.

In 2015, Bar None Winnipeg started the rideshare project to enable people to get from the city to where their family member or loved one is incarcerated, so they can visit and maintain relationships in the face of how incredibly isolating prison can be. The group had originally come together in 2013 to engage in actions in solidarity with federal inmates who were then on strike in response to a decision to make a 30% cut in the already very low wages they get paid for working while in prison, but had not stayed active after the strike was over.

Both the original solidarity work and the current rideshare project are informed by the group's prison abolitionist politics. Such politics understand prisons as fundamentally harmful institutions that do particular damage to Black, Indigenous, and racialized people, to poor and working-class people, to trans and gender non-conforming people, to sex workers, and to people who exist at the various intersections of those categories. Prisons do not deal with the root causes of social problems, and in fact are often part of what is done instead of dealing with root causes. And even if you focus on the specific incident which is the basis for sending someone to prison, as an institution it generally does little to respond directly to whatever harm might have been done, to heal people or communities, or to move situations towards a more holistic understanding of justice. Prison abolitionists imagine and work towards a world without prisons, where we have developed more humane and effective forms of justice, and not only that have transformed society such that human dignity and justice are at its centre.

Part of prison abolitionist politics means working to reduce the harms caused by police and prisons in the present, on the way to this longer term vision. The rideshare is meant to be a small measure to recognize the ways that prisons harm families and communities and to mitigate those harms by keeping people more connected.

People who want to visit a loved one in jail can be in touch with Bar None, and then the group will work to organize a ride. The rides are free of charge to passengers. Drivers volunteer their time but are reimbursed for gas. The group is very clear that they are not a social service but a grassroots initiative, so they are not able to guarantee that they'll be able to provide a ride on any particular day to any particular destination. But four years into operation, it's common to have rides going from Winnipeg to the various surrounding jails five or six days a week.

In addition to this core activity, the members of Bar None are involved in a range of other kinds of grassroots political work related to policing and prisons, sometimes under the banner of Bar None, but more often in other contexts and with other people. Today's guest, for example, has been very involved in a campaign to seek justice for Errol Greene, a man who died while in custody in 2016. They have also been part of developing and delivering a workshop on alternatives to calling the police. Other members of Bar None have been involved in the challenge to new draconian security measures at the city's main library. The group has also been part of a campaign related to phone costs for prisoners. And they are in the beginning stages of working with the family of a man killed earlier this year by the Winnipeg police.

Image: Used with permission of Bar None Winnipeg.

Theme music: "It Is the Hour (Get Up)" by Snowflake, via CCMixter

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Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on Facebook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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