The Creative Destruction of the US Prison Industrial Complex: We Can Do It!
Despite the state of Wisconsin’s longstanding traditions of progressive and cooperative action, the capital city of Madison reveals stark examples of the United States’ brutal and racist prison-industrial complex as well as its school-to-prison pipeline. The city’s identity is torn -- consistently lauded as a #1 city on multiple lifestyle ranking systems, yet one of the worst places in the country to raise black children.
Since 2006 the authors of this paper have collaborated with multiple partners to build and run timebanking-supported restorative justice youth courts through the Dane County TimeBank (DCTB). Timebanking, a mutual credit system where people exchange time and talents, earning hours of credit for time spent helping other members, is particularly well-suited to community economy building. The approach is egalitarian – one hour's work always earns one hour of credit, whatever the service and whoever performs it – and it is also a culture of abundance. An hour of credit is created any time an exchange occurs, debiting one account and crediting the other. Members are welcome to 'spend' as many credits as they need to, and encouraged to be comfortable with negative balances in their accounts. Together, these qualities make timebanking an excellent tool for exchanging abundant resources like caregiving, creativity, civic engagement, and the work of community-building.
The basic philosophy connecting timebanking, a cooperative economic tool, with efforts to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline is this: with the process of bringing together resources and training to create the diversion program itself, a myriad of economic, educational and recreational opportunities simultaneously evolve for community members. Young people serve as jurors, community members take on mentoring and administrative roles, and timebank members provide many ways to “sentence” the subjects to skill-building opportunities -- and all these activities earn ‘hours,’ which build TimeBank assets. With their timebank hours all of the participants can access other resources from each other or any other timebank member, including art, music or language lessons, tutoring, mentoring, home chores, repair, gardens and gardening, and much more. Along with enhanced social cohesion, these types of resources and skill-building opportunities are all recognized as healthy and effective ways of keeping youth out of trouble. In a very basic sense, a solution arises from the problem itself. The DCTB restorative justice youth courts have an ability to build leadership, accountability, and new opportunities for participating youth, as well as addressing the relationship between young people and the penal system.
We contend that creating a complementary economy, explicitly designed to replace the current economy of exploitation, can provide opportunities to shift peaceably away from the current crises of massive mistrust, discrimination, exploitation and over-incarceration.
Now a project of DCTB, Mutual Aid Networks, is positioned to develop and test this thesis further. A new type of cooperative, a Mutual Aid Network (MAN) brings people together around a common vision to build community savings pools, along with timebanking, other forms of mutual credit, and resource sharing, in order to meet the needs of members and their projects. All this is in service to the mission of 'creating means for everyone to discover and succeed in work they want to do, with the support of their community.'
Mutual Aid Networks offer the legal, social, and financial framework to re-design our approach to work. Instead of getting a job in order to afford to live, members support each other in meeting needs by developing resource-sharing (i.e. business-to-business mutual credit, makerspaces, money pools, tool libraries, etc.).
The MAN structure and processes build capacity of participants to create enterprises that can become gainful, robust employment and community capacity generators. For example, the first vision for what would become Mutual Aid Networks was Allied Community Coop’s PowerTime II project, which was designed to use timebanking to compensate a team to do door-to-door outreach for Coop and timebank participation, and to offer home energy conservation consultations. Some of the savings on energy bills would be invested into a community savings pool, collectively managed to maintain a van used to bring food into the neighborhood, which is a food desert. From there the intention was to create weatherization and solar panel installation projects, again facilitated with timebank hours, that could become income-generating engines that could increasingly provide support for Coop members’ material needs.
Creating community development opportunities begins to address root causes of antisocial behavior while building an economy that incentivizes mutual support, skill- and trust-building, and collaboration. Building this functioning economy helps to relieve some of the pressure to participate in destructive and illicit markets, thus disrupting the influx into the prison industrial complex. On a social level, people become both more self-sufficient and effectively inter-dependent. Skill-building and mutual technical assistance in project facilitation, peacemaking, effective co-working, and advocacy are intrinsic to Mutual Aid Networks and help to create the capacity for these projects to build political power and policy change.
This paper creates a seed for a strategy paper which we have already begun to implement in Mutual Aid Network pilot sites including Madison and St. Louis. Now that we have laid out the framework for the creative destruction of the US prison industrial complex, we begin the “We can do it!” part of the process.
Based in Madison, Wisconsin, Stephanie Rearick is founder and Co-Director of the Dane County TimeBank (DCTB) - a 2800+-member timebank devoted to building a just and inclusive economy - and Project Coordinator of Mutual Aid Networks. In addition to her work in timebanking and promoting grassroots-up economic and community regeneration, she is co-owner of Mother Fool’s Coffee House.
Stephanie worked for Greenpeace for six years of young adulthood, helped launch Madison Hours local currency in 1995 and served for several years on the steering committee of independent local political party Progressive Dane.
Stephanie also works as a musician, performing since 1993. Her solo work is keyboard-based classical/cabaret/pop (piano, Casio, trumpet and loops). She also plays drums and shares vocal duties in Ladyscissors, a jangly guitar, 3-girl-singers 4-piece rock n roll band.
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