Mariame Kaba

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Locked Down, Locked Out: An Interview with Maya Schenwar

By Alice Kim, Editor

“Prison is built on a logic of isolation and disconnection,” Maya Schenwar writes in her new book Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better. Deftly weaving her own personal experiences with her sister’s incarceration alongside the stories of prisoners who she has been writing to over the last eight years, Schenwar illustrates the devastating effects of prisons on those who are incarcerated, their families, and our communities. With her book, she not only offers a searing analysis of the prison industrial complex but also possibilities for creating alternatives to mass incarceration.

I asked the author about her own transformation as a journalist, activist and sister and what it means to be a prison abolitionist.

In the beginning of your book, you describe how you felt when your sister had been arrested for the seventh time in six years: “Sort of hoping she’ll stay there,” you wrote. You say that you questioned how you could reconcile your staunch opposition to the prison-industrial complex with your desire to see your own sister locked up, a desire that was born out of desperation. Can you talk more about this contradiction and how these tensions manifested in your activist work, your family, and your relationship with your sister?

One of the things I discovered when this all came up with my sister was that there’s a trap set for anyone who has an addiction and doesn’t necessarily want to get better right away.