Abolition and Illness

Tim called yesterday with the news that he is coughing, has a sore throat, and body aches—and everyone else in the adjacent cells is in the same or worse condition. There is no more space to quarantine the people who are sick in the “Hole,” so any attempts to stop the spread of the virus seem to have ended.

Despite not feeling well, however, Tim did not call to talk about the virus or his own ill health. Instead, he wanted to talk about the uprisings and calls for abolition and justice that are resonating around the country— which brought protestors to gather at the gates of San Quentin even as we spoke by phone. In the over 20 years he has been incarcerated, wrongly convicted of a crime which he did not commit, Tim said, he’s never heard so many people talking about abolition. And yet, according to Tim, abolition is the logical conclusion to the systemic racism of the criminal justice system. “With racism impacting all aspects of not only policing but also how the courts mete out their judgments and sentences,” Tim asked, “how could justice be found within the same systems constructed around the discrimination of Black people, people of color, indigenous people, and the poor?…Abolition would give us a blank state, and should be part of the reparations that are past due in the United States.”

The phone call with Tim ended abruptly, as always, disconnected when the time was up, before we could talk more about his health or express hopes for his wellbeing. However, as Tim well knows, when we talk about abolition, we are talking about his health and wellbeing—and the undoing of the rampant sickness at the heart of the nation.

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