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PART 3: Police, Prisons, and Abolition: A Resource Guide for Families Conversing Critically with Kid

This is the third in a three-part series in which Families for Justice hopes to provide relevant resources, thought pieces, and conversation starters curated for those parenting, caring for, and supporting children as we critically examine the institution and function of police and policing, systems of incarceration, and abolitionist alternatives that further models of safety, community care, and repair of harm deeply rooted in racial and transformative justice. (You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here).

While a wealth of resources has emerged in the past year to explore these topics with intellectual vigor for adults, these resources are rarely directed towards parents, families, or those in caring and supportive roles who would like to critically engage with young people. At Families for Justice, we hope to provide an antidote to that by sharing out resources that can support you and the young ones in your life in furthering learning, dialogue, critical reflection and engagement around these important issues as we collectively – with love and vigor - work towards greater justice.

Part 3: Abolition is the Alternative

Part one and part two of our Critically Conversing Guide offered resources for talking and engaging with young people as we looked closely at our policing and imprisonment systems as sites of racialized harm. Part 3 tackles talking about (and taking) the next step: abolishing them.

At its core, abolition is about both dismantling harmful systems of policing and imprisonment AND building thriving, healthy, racially just communities with models of safety, and community care that transform, rather than perpetuate, harm. This guide is divided into five sections to help parents, caregivers and folks with young people in their lives reflect upon and explore abolition with their kids, answer doubts and common questions, imagine alternatives, and build abolitionist practices into our everyday lives.

Section 1 is geared towards reflection for parents as you approach conversations with your young people with several articles about just that: talking with kiddos about abolition and integrating abolition into our own daily lives.

Section 2 gets straight to the point: “what is abolition?!” with resources for kids, and resources to explore together with young people, from toddlers to teens. New to abolition yourself? Lean along with your young folks with these resources!

Section 3 highlights the common questions/concerns/doubts that are raised about abolition and both debunks these misgivings and gives strategies to reframe and articulate the core issues.

Section 4 features resources to engage with young folks in the imaginative, creative work abolition entails by thinking beyond prison and policing.

Finally, Sections 5 shares a few resources to think about restorative justice practices in our own homes and with our own families as well as what transformative justice and repair of harm can look like for teens in their own lives.

Talking, engaging, and dialoguing with young people about abolition can be exciting, empowering and dynamic. Shifting away from the fear that underpins our current reliance on state violence towards a practical and visionary politics where nobody is disposable is challenging, necessary, and life-affirming work.

Young people have the imagination, the heart, the insight, and the intelligence to be part of building this transformed world. Let’s talk abolition so that we can get to work alongside them.

1. Reflecting on abolition as parents

The three articles in this section explore abolition not as an intellectual project but as a lived practice, and a practice we must talk about, act on, and embody with the young people in our lives. The first two articles are written by parents reflecting as parents, urging us to have conversations about abolition with our kids and stay alert to the opportunities all around us for discussing why abolition matters, what it can look like, and how we are part of bringing more justice, collective care, and healing into the world. The third asks us to consider how we can integrate abolitionist practices into our everyday life, including how we parent.

  • Talking to my white kids about Abolition” – Parent Shannon Cofrin Gaggero explores how her commitment to abolition is a continuation of her anti-racist parenting journey and challenging the workings of white supremacy in her own family and community. Gaggero highlights a conversation with her 9 year old son about the fight to close the city jail in Atlanta. As she engages with his questions and doubts she points to the capacity of our young people to both grapple with complexity while reminding us of the possibility of a transformed world.

  • “Watch “Paddington 2’ to teach your kids about prison abolition. Seriously.” - Journalist and parent, David Dennis Jr., argues that a seemingly light-hearted kid’s movie can inspire much deeper conversations, and critiques, about the criminal (in)justice system and the possibilities of collective care contrasted with the dehumanization of carceral solutions – such as imprisonment. A reminder that the fodder for conversations with our kids about both state violence, and its abolition, is everywhere around us - even in children’s movies featuring teddy bears - we just need to have the gumption to start.

  • Practicing everyday abolition” - Sarah Lamble explores abolition not as an event but as an ongoing practice and investigates what it means in the everyday, from our parenting, to relationships with partners, how we respond to harm, nurture community, and build alternatives to punitive systems. While a bit more academic, Lamble highlights four strategies for integrating an abolitionist lens into how we do life, making it a great article for sparking reflection for those of us parenting and in caring relationships with young people to think about the ways we both are complicit with the system and the ways we can seek to forge a different approach, even in the simplest of ways.

2. What is abolition?

The following resources are accessible introductions to share and work through together with young folks in your lives about what abolition is, what it looks like, and why it is necessary. Some resources are geared towards the littlest of folks, others towards teens but most of them can be adapted to explore together as a family.

  • Kid’s are wondering, “what is abolition” - The Portland Childcare Collective delivers, again, with these 10 simple and effective slides for beginning to talk about abolition with young folks, exploring what abolition can, and does, look like in practice, and posing great questions for getting kid-centered conversations going.

  • Who’s left: Prison abolition comic – A comic by Flynn Nicholls featuring activist and educator, Mariame Kaba, serves as an excellent intro to prison abolition – great for exploring with middle and high schoolers and could be worked through together with elementary aged kids too.

  • 6 reasons why it’s time to defund the police - A wonderfully accessible and clear video by American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) about why defunding the police, one of the steps towards abolition, is necessary and reform will not work. The video narrative articulates the issue as one of racial justice and points to the need for “imagining a new system rooted in dignity and respect for all.” A great starter for conversations with young folks, “so, what could that new system look like? Let’s imagine together!”

  • Defunding vs. abolishing the police explained in 6 minutes – In this fast-paced buzzfeed video, activist and educator Joseph Capehart gives an accessible, clear and engaging overview of the difference between reforming, defunding, and abolishing the police, with a focus on why abolition is necessary. Great for middle and high schoolers, could be watched and talked about together with younger folks too.

  • What is abolition? – This one page introduction to abolition from Critical Resistance gives a clear and concise overview of abolition, tying into the legacy of the abolition movement to end slavery in the U.S., answering core questions, and outlining the current struggle. Useful for middle and high school ages.

  • What is the prison abolition movement” - While Teen Vogue no longer surprises with their quality social and racial justice content, we can still be impressed with this accessible and thorough introduction and overview of abolition that includes the history of the movement and brings us to the current moment. Great for teens (and you!)

* Looking for more learning on abolition geared towards adults? There are a wealth of excellent resources including study and reading you can check out including: a study guide from Abolition Journal, a reading list from Abolitionist Futures, an Indigenous Abolitionist Study Guide from the Yellow Head Institute and a Abolition 101 Syllabus from Transform Harm.

3. “But, what about…?” - Navigating the questions and doubts

Conversations about abolition are often cut short, upended, or dismissed entirely when questions and doubts are raised – often out of fear – about what a world without police and prisons would look like. The following resources take on the most common questions that arise when exploring abolition (and may come from you, your own kids or those in their lives, and most certainly will come from the outside world), so that you and your young folks can feel confident engaging these questions and deepening your own (and their) understanding of why abolition is necessary in the process.

  • Building a police-free future: frequently asked questions – In this pamphlet MPD150 takes on five of the most common questions/doubts/concerns raised when police abolition is discussed. Chances are your kids – or people in their worlds – will have or will have heard similar questions. A good resource for working through these questions together in your conversations.

  • Police abolition 101: messages when facing doubts – A visually engaging zine created by Project Nia and MPD 150 and illustrated and designed by Noah Jodice that both explores what abolition of the police would look like as well as the common doubts/concerns that are raised, using these questions to guide the conversation and explore the challenges and possibilities of abolition. Great for teens, your own learning, or to work through together with younger folks. A printable version is here.

  • Common question about police and prison abolition and responses – Compiled by Dean Spade with support from Mariame Kaba this simple six-question chart addresses common questions that arise in resistance to, and fear about, the consequences of prison abolition, with clear, concise and fact-based answers. While the resource is designed for adults, it is useful for you in your conversations with young people as these questions will inevitably arise.

4. Alternative visions of safety, care and accountability beyond cuffs and cages

As activist and educator Ruth Wilson Gilmore asserts, “abolition is about presence, not absence. It’s about building life-affirming institutions.” Abolition is about more than getting rid of the harmful systems of policing, incarceration and surveillance that exist; abolition is about building thriving, safe, and healthy communities where everyone’s basic needs are met. One of the biggest roadblocks to abolition is the limitations in our own ability and will, to imagine beyond the constraints of our current systems.

To do this building work, and to make space for young people to also engage, and lead, we must nurture creative, collaborative and critical thinking. The following resources are great tools for supporting that process from exploring what alternative abolitionist futures could look like, to reimagining models of public safety including practical strategies beyond reliance on police, to action guides for teens ready to take the next step.

Imagining what could be different

  • Police and prison as a thing of the past? - Poet Franny Choi shares a teaching guide for her poem, “A field trip to the Museum of Human History,” about children in the future visiting a museum and learning of a time when there were police, a disturbing relic of the past. Paired with her poem is a lesson plan with questions to use before and after the poem is read (or listened to), and follow up activities and exercises that denaturalize the idea of policing and prisons and other (oppressive) social structures/constructs and institutions that seems “normal” now, encouraging youth to imagine alternative worlds (and futures). Great activity for getting young people thinking about how these institutions are created by people and can also be dismantled by people.

  • Cosmic possibilities: An intergalactic youth guide to abolitionA dynamic, visually compelling publication made by young people for young people as a learning tool to explore (and imagine) what abolition is and can be and the kind of transformed and just worlds we can and must bring into being. Geared towards older teens, but some of the content, guiding questions, and activities could be pulled out, adapted and explored together with younger kids as well. The resource was created during the Abolitionist Youth Organizing Institute (AYO, NYC!).

Exploring models of public safety: Who keeps us safe? We do!

  • “Give the police departments to the grandmothers” – In this video, poet Junauda Petrus reads her poem written in the wake of the police killing of Mike Brown. Petrus offers a creative re-thinking of what a life-affirming community “watch” could look like, centering Black and Brown grandmother’s as real – and symbolic – community guardians, safety keepers, healers and repairers. A great opening for conversations with all ages about alternative models of community safety and what a world without police could, and should, look like.

  • Community safety looks like… - Check out this series of photos from a project in Chicago documenting community members’ visions of what “community safety looks like” to them writing succinctly on white boards. Make sure to navigate through the eight pages by clicking the “next” tab at the bottom of the page. While most participants are adults, many children and teens are also featured. Check all of the photos or pull out a few that resonate for your family to get conversations going with young people about their own vision of community safety: what it looks like, feels like and how it can be “safe” for everyone.

  • 10 action ideas for building a police-free future A great list of alternatives to over reliance, or any reliance, on police and policing developed by MPD150 to think through with your family about practices you already engage with, ones you would like to build and ways to participate in community driven solutions and structures of care.

  • Rolling Stone magazine published an article with a similar concept - “6 ideas for a cop free world” – that is more targeted at larger policy and structural solutions but also shares practical examples for on-the-ground alternatives to police and policing, making it another great resource for talking about, and exploring, alternatives (that often already exist) to our current models of state violence.

Taking action (with teens)!

  • Defund the police, rebuild our communities - Dream Defenders have an excellent guide for developing campaigns and organizing work aimed at shifting funding priorities away from models of policing and towards community needs (like education, housing, health care). The resource includes an engaging overview of what a transformed vision of community safety rooted in racial justice and community care could look like, takes on an abolitionist framework, and defines it in accessible, clear language, is visually pleasing and points to the possibility of change through engaged activism. Great for teens, and you!

  • Our communities, our solutions: Abolish the police toolkit – A guide from Critical Resistance exploring how to organize and campaign towards the goal of abolition with practical and strategic steps along the way. The guide features a wealth of resources (see table of contents) including sharpening how we talk about (and understand) the issues and their historical context – combining education and organizing tactics. While lengthy, it has excellent content and sections that could be worked through together with teens.

5. Restorative and transformative justice

A core part of abolition is reexamining how we address harm and build models of accountability that nurture repair and healing in our communities. Restorative and transformative justice – rooted in indigenous practices - both seek to shift the way we think about, and respond to harm, how we address accountability and matters of justice and, through transformative justice, the ways we must change the underlying conditions (and institutions) which made the harm and violence possible in the first place.

While schools and communities are places that these alternative models of justice are beginning to sprout (and we must all work to nurture these sprouts so they can flourish), the following resources – two for you to consider as parents and two for teens in their own process and learning – are geared towards how we think about the themes of transforming harm, and more restoratively relating and engaging, within our own families as we shift away from carceral mindsets in all parts of our lives.

Restorative practice at home

  • “Bringing the lessons of restorative justice home” – A brief, accessible article that explores some tips for integrating the principles and practices of a restorative approach into one’s own parenting. Highlighting how empowering restorative justice practices can be in schools, the article pulls out four core strategies that can be used at home to make important restorative shifts away from more punitive approaches and towards relationship centered practice that addresses conflict and harm differently.

  • Talking circles at home and parenting restoratively – A tool kit developed by Jennifer Viets in collaboration with project NIA designed for parents wanting to incorporate restorative practices into their family life. The resource includes practical tips and sample “plans” of how to hold circles with your own family, strategies for addressing harm and conflict in restorative ways, and other tools to bolster restorative rather than punitive models at home with a nod to using these spaces and strategies to nurture connection to issues of justice and activism in the larger community as well. In order to access the resource for free, Project NIA asks that you take a quick survey (takes less than a minute).

Attending to, and transforming, harm (for teens)

  • My unapologetic guide to interpersonal conflict - A zine created by Bria Royal using guiding restorative questions to explore how to address interpersonal conflict in a way that nurtures healing. A great resource for middle and high schoolers as they think about navigating conflict and attending to harm they have experienced (or caused).

  • My Transformative Justice work book - A zine style workbook that features definitions and discussion of transformative justice, a look at harm and how it can be transformed, and questions for self reflection and critical engagement about accountability. Could be used as is or portions of it (particularly the questions) could be used as an interactive guide for exploring transformative justice together with older teens.

*Interested in diving deeper into transformative justice and models of accountability that center the needs of all involved and questions of healing justice? Critical Resistance has compiled an excellent list that includes a wealth of tools kits, resources, and even step-by-step facilitation guides developed by activists, anti-violence organizers, and restorative and transformative justice practitioners to address harm and build accountability outside of punitive models that rely on police and prisons. While these resources are not geared towards young people and are for your own learning and practice, some of the processes highlighted are youth-focused and many of the tools could be worked through together with young people.

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