David George and Prison Abolition

May 14, 2018 · 6 min read

A white boy from the upper-middle class suburb of Brightwaters NY, became a conscious

social worker, possessed to end the morally bankrupt prison system as we know it. David George is always Active In His Dream for prison and societal transformation.

“I grew up in a place where that could be the epitome of segregation. Growing up in a neighborhood that might have had 1 black kid in it; who happened to be my cousin, Brightwaters is a hyper-segregated white enclave”.

With that said, there was something unique about that hyper segregated enclave. It was right next to a diverse group of people in Bay Shore, NY. Of all socioeconomic, racial and gender backgrounds. “I got to see a multitude of different worlds — my friends were vastly different; all unique. It was a blessing having created the many relationships I did”.

At a young age George experienced the sharp edge of racism for the first time. “I was about 6 years-old in the driveway playing basketball with my cousin. The neighbors came over and started to make fun of him. Laughing at his features and skin complexion. They were talking amongst themselves before my folks went over to ingratiate them; completely ignorant”. It was clear to George at that moment despite having very little knowledge of what racism was, something wasn’t right.

“Race plays a big part in things on Long Island. I think it’s bigger component than most of us, especially white people care to realize. People are disillusioned thinking people of color are fundamentally different than them, it’s deep-seeded ignorance and centuries worth of conditioning.”

I’d be remised not to address the elephant in the room. David George is a 26-year-old white male that grew up in confines of a two-parent household in the upper middleclass neighborhood of Brightwaters; who some call “Whitewater’s”. What in the hell does he know about, systematic racism, white supremacy and mass incarceration?

“Some people are skeptical of what a white kid coming from an upper-middle class town in Long island has to say about being an anti-racist and abolitionist; rightfully so. I hope that people judge me by my actions and work. Once they do I hope they become more receptive to what I do. But I can totally understand the skepticism on me and my positions.”

“I’ve benefited from the privileges of a tremendous upbringing. My dad was in the world of finance for 25+ years. I understand that side of things. I also understand what it’s like being able to walk down the street in my area and not be harassed by neighborhood police”.

“I made meaningful relationships with people that didn’t have the same privileges I did”. George saw things first hand that have had made a lasting impression on him. “The current legal system treats people differently based on race, I started to recognize this during my adolescence.

When I was in different neighborhoods cops would come up to me and ask if I was okay — if I needed a ride home. I was with friends, loved ones that happened to be black. At the same time, they would harass, arrest the same people they were (protecting me) from. It was despicable”.

George was encouraged to embrace the anti-racism movement, and some don’t understand. “It didn’t feel like a choice after developing the relationships I did. This isn’t a burden to me, it’s an opportunity to help create a morally just system”. George’s immediate family supports his community ventures but the external and the less immediate family hasn’t been as supportive or understanding.

“Some don’t try to understand the issues to the degree that my folks in my immediate family do. The class component of it defiantly disillusions them into thinking that what I’m doing isn’t a lucrative enough field to be putting my life into. People are misguided thinking I can’t be happy without a certain standard of living”.

George’s focus remains to get people convicted of violence who have served large portions of time released. George believes people shouldn’t be judged on their worst moments, forever. “It’s about relationships; I’ve built relationships with human beings. When I started to develop these relationships, I started to question why some of these people are still incarcerated. Despite showing meaningful transformation and ready for life outside of prison”.

“I believe we shouldn’t judge a person on the worst thing they have done. Incarcerated older people that have served decades in prison should be afforded a real opportunity to be released. Not only because they are a low risk to public safety, but because they have a lot to offer the public from their experiences”.

George isn’t naïve, he understands the resistance that some have upon hearing what he does. “I understand people’s reservations about releasing people from prison, I do. I just ask that more people take time to build relationships with these folks”.

George believes that if people took the time to build relationships and have discourse with people who have caused violent harm, their opinions might change. “Have you ever had a meaningful relationship with someone convicted of a serious crime? Majority of people haven’t. In my experience, almost everyone who has; doesn’t believe in the lock’em up and throw away the key approach. It’s amazing how a meaningful relationship can change a person’s viewpoint”.

George works as the Associate Director of the Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) Campaign, which seeks to end mass incarceration and promote racial justice through the release of older people in prison. New York State houses more than 10,000 incarcerated elders in its state prison system, thousands of whom have already served decades and been repeatedly denied parole release. RAPP works to demand the NYS Parole Board release older people instead of contributing to their death and despair behind bars, even if they were convicted of violence.

“I believe we shouldn’t judge a person on the worst thing they have done. Incarcerated older people that have served decades in prison should be afforded a real opportunity to be released. Not only because they are a low risk to public safety, but because they have a lot to offer the public from their experiences”.

“I realized my whole idea of what violence is wrong. It’s not that a person is totally pathological and evil beyond repair. It’s that a person’s circumstances, trauma, shame, and difficulties, systematic and otherwise, create a perfect storm that can lead them down a path to do something harmful. Despite that harm, even if serious, people can fundamentally change”.

George has had a childhood friends fall victim to the very system he fights against daily. Understanding that good people find themselves in situations where they make bad decisions. Decisions that you can argue were made for them due to conditions that were beyond their reproach.

With that said someone convicted of violence has permanently changed and harmed peoples’

lives. No matter how long you spend in jail that doesn’t change. George is understanding and sympathetic of the pain that crime survivors and victims endure but doesn’t think that permanent punishment brings reall healing or justice to them.

“I think a lot of people rationalize reform and change for people convicted of non-violent crimes. Saying, ‘at least they didn’t kill anybody’. I think when we do that we are making a huge mistake. We are only reinforcing what’s at the root of the system; which is that people of color and black people in-particular are ‘violent’ and or ‘criminal’. That is the biggest falsity of them all and at the foundation of all of this”.

Building community power is something that George thinks is necessary. “Building community power that can adequately influence the powers that be, so they realize we don’t need prisons, jails and punishment to the degree in which we have it”.

The ideas and causes that Dave George fights for are an uphill battle. The system is infested with hate and ignorance that has invested the core of this very nation from it’s very birth.

“The deeper I dive into the work the more I realize how deeply entrenched we are. How white supremacy and punishment have manifested themselves in this infinitely multi-pronged way that hurts so many people.

Even in the process of trying to change such a morally corrupt system, the system continues to evolve in a way where there’s just new forms of systematic and institutional oppression. I want to be on the right side of the life or death in this struggle for peace and justice”.

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