Social Justice Vol. 30, No. 2 (2003)
In April 2002, we organized the “Imprisoned Intellectuals: A Dialogue with Scholars, Activists and (Former) U.S. Political Prisoners on War, Dissent, and Social Justice,” which was held at Brown University. Preparation of the conference proceedings for publication received invaluable assistance from Brady Heiner, Christopher Muller, and Hana Tauber, as well as Brown University's UTRA (University Teaching and Research Assistance) program.
The April 13 through 14 “Imprisoned Intellectuals” conference was originally conceived as a forum on the contributions of incarcerated, progressive authors and theorists to critical thinking and social justice. Their collected writings (some 700 manuscript pages, edited into the anthologies, Imprisoned Intellectuals: U.S. Political Prisoners and Social Justice and Abolitionists (forthcoming), established the foundation for the conference, although the major discussions during the conference weekend centered on incarceration politics, the conditions of prisoners, including political prisoners, and the levels of dissent and civil disobedience in opposition to U.S. military interventions. (Amnesty International has documented the existence of approximately 100 U.S. political prisoners, most imprisoned for anti-racist and anti-intervention or antiwar activism.)
The scope of this conference grew after September 11, 2001. In particular, two panels were redesigned in response to requests from activists that we address part of the aftermath of that tragedy: the “lockdown” of U.S. political prisoners and the expansion of domestic police.
On the first day (Saturday), panels were organized into five units that reflect the sections of this special issue of Social Justice: “Black Liberationists,” “Internationalists and Anti-Imperialists,” “Prison Reform and Abolition,” “Human Rights Activism and the ‘War on Terrorism,'” and “Cyberspace in Prison: Communication, Community, and Human Rights.” The event was constructed around the writings and work of U.S. political prisoners and their advocates. The foci of the last two panels departed somewhat from the “imprisoned intellectual” theme. This first examined war, activism, and human rights in the post-September 11 period, while the second covered cyber advocacy and education for the human rights of prisoners, and the use of technology to restore diminishing communication rights and communities.
To facilitate intellectual and political discourse, we organized a space for a dialogue. Papers were presented along with commentators' observations. The gathering was designed to encourage discussions on complex and controversial political/ethical issues. Recent Brown University graduates who had conducted research on, or organized around, the “prison-industrial complex” and prisoners' rights were commentators for the various panels. Panels reflected diverse voices from various ethnic backgrounds and progressive political ideologies: scholars, activists, former political prisoners, women, men, and youth. Young scholars and activists constituted a strong presence on panels.
This special issue is dedicated to Safiya Bukhari, a former Black Panther Party leader who was incarcerated for eight years and co-founded the Jericho Movement for the freedom of political prisoners. Safiya's contributions have benefited many in struggle for justice and liberation.
Joy James, Brown University, 2003
JOY JAMES, Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University (Providence, RI 02912; e-mail: email@example.com), holds a Ph.D. in Political Philosophy from Fordham University and a post-doctorate degree in religious ethics from the Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University. She is a specialist in African-American social and political thought, black feminist thought, critical race theory, urban politics, and the prison-industrial complex. She is the author of Resisting State Violence, Transcending the Talented Tenth, and Shadowboxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics. Her edited works include: States of Confinement and Imprisoned Intellectuals: America's Political Prisoners Write on Life, Liberation, and Rebellion (which was the basis for the April 2002 Brown conference), as well as the forthcoming The New Abolitionists. She works with the Tubman Literary Circle in upstate New York.
Citation: James, Joy. (2003). "Preface." Social Justice Vol. 30, No. 2: 1-2. Copyright © 2003 by Social Justice, ISSN 1043-1578. SocialJust@aol.com.