Political Prisoners

There are many disputed definitions of who and what a political prisoner is. The anthologist of writings by revolutionary political prisoners, Joy James, argues against the idea that all prisoners are political prisoners, in an attempted “refusal to politically romanticize criminals.” However, this, for James, comes from a desire not to include the crimes of stockbrokers and statesmen in the category of political prisoner. This makes sense. But when we think about incarceration more broadly and especially about whom the state deems criminal (those whom the state makes a grand effort to lock away in cages for the ultimate profiteering of mass incarceration), we come back to this need to define all of those incarcerated as political prisoners. Yet, revolutionary enemies of the state (whom James refers to as political prisoners) are and must be distinguished as such to grasp their objectives: they seek to build entirely new structures and norms altogether—​​​​​​​they seek a total transformation for ultimate liberation. To articulate visions of insurrection and rebellion against the white-supremacist capitalist state, we must engage with the works of political prisoners.

Texts by Former and Current Political Prisoners

George Jackson, Soledad Brother: Prison Letters of George Jackson (1970)
Blood in My Eye
(1971)

Assata Shakur, Assata: A Autobiography (1987)

Angela Davis, If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance (1971)
– “Political Prisoners, Prisons, and Black Liberation” (1971)
Angela Davis: An Autobiography
(1974)
– “Race and Criminalization: Black Americans and the Punishment Industry(1997)
Women, Race & Class (1981)
– “Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex” (1998)– Are Prisons Obsolete? (2003)Abolition Democracy: Beyond Prisons, Torture, and Empire (2005)

Mumia Abu-Jamal, Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings (2015)
Have Black Lives Ever Mattered?
(2017)

Safiya Bukhari, The War Before (2010) 

Stevie Wilson, Abolitionist Study with Stevie Wilson

Rust Belt Radio

Jalil Muntaqim, On the Black Liberation Army (2002)    
Escaping the Prism…Fade to Black: Poetry and Essays (2015)
We Are Our Own Liberators: Selected Prison Writings (2010)

Huey P. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide (1973)
To die for the people: the Writings of Huey P Newton (1972)
The Genius of Huey P. Newton (1993)
War Against The Panthers: A Study Of Repression In America (1980)

On Political Prisoners

Dylan Rodriguez, Forced Passages: Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals and the U.S. Prison Regime (2005)

Joy James, Imprisoned Intellectuals: America’s Political Prisoners Write on Life, Liberation, and Rebellion​​​​​​​, (2003)

The Challenge of Prison Abolition: A Conversation Between Angela Davis and Dylan Rodriguez” (2000)

Critical Resistance, Abolition Now!: Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle Against the Prison Industrial Complex (2008)

Video: Joy James, “The Architects of Abolition

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