Interview with Angela Davis

Last question. I'm wondering if you can give us a concise statement of how it was that the prison movement expanded the notion of what a political prisoner was? How it went from someone explicitly in prison for political activity to understanding that that was lens through which to understand the whole society.


Well, initially as we began to organize on behalf of political prisoners like Huey Newton and Erica Huggins and Bobby Seale and the Los Angeles 18 and the New York 21 and the Soledad Brothers. We were not aware of the extent to which, ah, many, many more people who happened to be in prison were victims of a political system. We expanded the definition of political prisoners to include also those who had been in prison on non-political charges or whose imprisonment resulted from no political activity on their part but who became politicized while they were in prison and were subjected to long prison terms and other forms of repression as a result. We also recognized that, that we needed to understand the function of racism. And class exploitation within the prison system because of the fact that, a, a, a grossly disproportionate number of the prisoners, at that time, were Black, Puerto Rican, Chicano, Asian, Native American and virtually none were, ah, wealthy so that, ah, ah, you could almost, ah, ah, be sure that every single prisoner came from a working class or poor background. So that we had to talk about the political function of the prisons as well as political prisoners. And we began to see all of those who were in prison or the majority of those who were in prison as being affected in some way by the particular, ah, ah, political institutions which determine, ah, the, the nature of the prison, such as racism, ah, classism, et cetera.