Interview with Angela Davis

How did the prison movement fit into the larger vision of the Black liberation struggle?


Well, virtually every Black person had some personal relationship to, ah, the prison system. In my family, ah, I had several cousins who had spent time in jails and prisons. And that was the case with virtually everyone. However we had not analyzed the prison system with a view towards integrating it into our overall conception of the function of racism in the society, of the function of, of class exploitation. We had talked about police brutality, the Black Panther Party talked about the police as an occupying force in the community but we had not, ah, really understood the extent to which the whole criminal justice system, the police, the, ah, courts, the, ah, prison system, ah, is very much intertwined with the economic, economic, ah, ah, oppression of Black people**. There are no jobs, ah, for certain, ah, ah, numbers of young people in our community. What happens to them? There's no recreation available. The schooling, ah, is, is, is not, ah, the kind of enlightening, ah, process that it should be. So, what happens to these young people? They might go out and get involved in, ah, petty criminal activity as a result of the lack of these facilities in the community. And then they end up, of course, spending, many of them, the rest of their lives in, in prison. George Jackson, ah, was charged with and convicted of a $70 robbery. He went to prison incredibly on a sentence which ranged from one year to life. He received an indeterminate sentence and had George Jackson not been assassinated, I'm convinced he would have spent the rest of his life in prison. So what does that mean? How does the prison system function to, ah, reinforce the, ah, economic, ah, ah, exploitation of, of our people? How does it function to prevent the kind of, ah, organizing, ah, challenging, ah, these injustices? These are questions that we had not, ah, ah, really explored, ah, until, ah, as a result of working around the case of the Soledad Brothers, we began to become acquainted with some of George Jackson's ideas on the relationship between prison and society, on the function that, ah, ah, the prison system, ah, has in relationship to the perpetuation of, of racism in a larger society.