In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada
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There are many ways of "helping" prisoners. One is to impose what you think is "best" for them. This is the typical approach of well-meaning "experts" and "professionals" who are members of the criminal (in)justice bureaucracies.

Another way of "helping" prisoners is through charity. We use charity in prison to provide relief of suffering, and to express compassion. But there are problems with charity. Charity creates dependency. It communicates pity rather than shared outrage and can romanticize the prisoner. Charity can sometimes relieve the suffering of prisoners but it does not alter the basic conditions responsible for the sufferings.

A third way of helping prisoners is to become their ally. The following are some of the qualities of a prisoner ally as compared to those of the "charitable" person:

The Charitable Person...   The Prisoner Ally...

...does not think of altering the prisoner's persistent need for help. The prisoner must always depend on the good will of the charitable.

  ...helps the oppressed prisoner become empowered to change his /her situations.
...often acts out of guilt and pities the prisoner who is often seen as a "poor soul".   ...treats the prisoner as an ally in change, sharing anger about prison oppression.
...might think the prisoner's situation comes from some fault within the prisoner.   ...identifies social and cultural forces that contribute to the cause of the prisoner's oppression.
...often has a plan for the prisoner, who is not regarded as a peer.   ...and the prisoner strategize together, mutually: no one must be "thanked".
...expects the prisoner alone to change. with the prisoner and takes mutual risks, experiencing change also.
...has his/her own view of what the prisoner must feel.   ...understands the prisoner's experiences through the prisoner's own words.
...has easy access to the criminal (in)justice bureaucracies.   ...often has a stormy relationship with the bureaucracies, because s/he is percieved as threatening to persons who hold power in the system.

Reprinted from INSTEAD OF PRISONS, A Handbook for Abolitionists.