A case for prison abolition:
Coal Country to a Carceral State: Letcher County, KY Faced with a Tough Decision
Warning: This case will contain content that may be triggering including discussions of violence, torture, and sexual assault.
Imagine waking up in a cage built of concrete walls, no windows, and scorching temperatures rising to 145 degrees. Without AC or any way to find relief from the extreme heat, your body will struggle to maintain homeostasis, and slowly, your vital organs will begin to shut down as you are burned alive in a confined oven. This oven in which you find yourself is situated on a mountain top that has been torn apart in search of coal. Mutilated, the scars remaining are filled with contaminants, remnants from extraction. As you try to breathe deeply, you know that the dust in the air is toxic and only makes you sicker. If you survive this night you know that respiratory issues and chronic illness will eventually catch up to you. This horrific reality described is something that incarcerated people are faced with regularly. In fact, Kentucky, along with 12 of the hottest states in the U.S., is not air-conditioned, and with temperatures rising due to climate change, incarcerated people will become more vulnerable to extreme heat and climate change impacts.
Letcher County, KY is faced with a decision - to allow for the construction of a federal maximum security prison built upon a toxic landscape poisoned by a former mountaintop removal mine (again). This case explores how the two veins of injustices that seem unrelated, coal mining and the prison industrial complex are actually intricately linked and compound one another. We use the resource curse theory to explore how these legacies of injustices are derived from resource extraction and the potential for that legacy to continue through the prison industrial complex by using the pillars of Critical Environmental Justice. Lastly, we will discuss potential remedies to this dilemma through an abolitionist lens.
With the help of abolitionist, social justice advocate, grassroots organizer, and founder of SawariMedia, Amani Sawari, we will use letters written by incarcerated subscribers to SawariMedia's newsletters. SawariMedia is an organization focused on amplifying marginalized voices, particularly those impacted by mass incarceration, to promote new narratives that positively contribute to improving the conditions of state and private facilities as well as with advocating for more effective state policies to better serve incarcerated citizens and their families. These newsletters include "the Right2Vote Report" and more recently "Prisonality", which are distributed to prisons in 33 states. Throughout the module these artifacts will appear in efforts to demonstrate their experiences and elevate their voices.