Evan Hazelett

MUP

Cultivating Abolition: Resisting Carceral and Capitalist Logics in the (Un)Sustainable Prison Garden

Advised by Lily Song

The US carceral system, which generates the highest rates of in incarceration in the world, is the legacy of several centuries of racial capitalism culminating in a robust penal institution that feeds on the criminalization of the poor and communities of color. Today, in an otherwise violent and securitized carceral environment, prison gardens, at an individual level, present moments of resistance to carceral logics through humanized encounters that build on therapeutic activity, skill development, socializing, fresh food, community and employment connections, and critical pedagogy. Prison gardens, however, are limited by various forms of structural oppression: “prison sustainability” initiatives, rhetorically akin to city sustainability projects, that operate both as racialized accumulation and as a socioecological fix to a crisis of legitimacy, mediated by symbolic (sustainability) capital; the institution itself, permeated with oppressive logics of discipline and control; and a racialized, individualizing recidivism framework. Drawing from critical literatures in political economy, geography, planning, and sociology, I explore these possibilities and limitations in depth, opening up theoretical and empirical insights into a severely underexplored topic. Finally, I ask what role prison gardens play in prison abolition, the “unsustainability of prison,” which seeks the long-term abolition of mass incarceration and a reimagining of “justice,” all while supporting those currently caged. How do, and can, prison gardens amplify the survival tools, and the humanization, of incarcerated people by resisting carceral logics while simultaneously contesting the legitimacy of the institution? I conclude with numerous avenues for further research and a hopeful note on social change.

Evan Hazelett, MUP. A photograph of incarcerated men planting flowers.
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