By Stephen Wilson
Whenever you conceptualize social justice struggles, you will always defeat your own purposes if you cannot imagine the people around whom you are struggling as equal partners. Therefore if, and this is one of the problems with all reform movements, if you think of prisoners simply as objects of the charity of others, you defeat the very purpose of anti prison work… It may not always be easy to guarantee the participation of prisoners, but without their participation, we are bound to fail.
If you are serious about developing egalitarian relations, you will figure out how to make these connections. How to stay in touch with people behind bars. How to allow their voices to be heard.
–Dr. Angela Y. Davis, Freedom is a Constant Struggle pp. 26-7
I don’t know if Garrett Felber has ever read these words before, but I do know that he embodies the serious commitment Angela Davis writes about. In this work, we are all debtors and creditors. But my debt to Garrett defies calculation. He has consistently created opportunities for prisoners’ voices to be heard. When others would not provide a seat at the table for us, Garrett brought the table to us. As founder and facilitator of study groups behind the walls, I know the necessity of connections. When we need materials, Garrett has assisted us. When we need support with research, Garrett has assisted us. When we need connections to people outside, Garrett has assisted us. He has shown solidarity. Moreover, he has been a friend.
In the middle of 2019, I received a letter from Garrett. He extended an invitation to write an essay for the Black Perspectives blog. I was floored. Prisoners rarely get opportunities like that. We had never spoken or written to each other. When I responded and proposed a round-table on the Imprisoned Black Radical Tradition, a project that would require much more time and energy, Garrett enthusiastically signed on. He shepherded the project, keeping all participants informed and connected. The result was a project that introduced and reintroduced many people to the long history of struggle and resistance behind the walls.
As a historian, his work has uncovered and highlighted the contributions of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in the Black Freedom Struggle. His book uncovered and centered the forgotten work and sacrifices of the Nation Of Islam, especially their work behind the walls, work that today under-girds every prisoner’s right to freedom of religion and access to the courts. His efforts to spotlight the life and work of Martin Sostre have provided me and many others with an amazing example of fearless activism. We are grateful.
Garrett has arranged for me and other incarcerated people to participate in panel discussions and conferences. He enabled my “appearance” at the Making and Unmaking Mass Incarceration Conference, exposing my work and struggles to many others. He has connected me to other scholars/activists. Without connections, there is no way for this work to be done. The Study and Struggle Series has connected people on both sides of the walls, deepening our commitment to a world without cages , a world we can all breathe in.
When COVID19 struck, his level of commitment never slackened. Not only did he continue to provide materials, connections and opportunities, he also raised funds to enable people behind the walls to purchase cleaning supplies and toiletries. As I said earlier, my debt to Garrett defies calculation. I could write pages outlining the many ways he has demonstrated solidarity and friendship. But I will summarize by saying he has been indispensable and critical to the success of our study groups and our mutual aid efforts behind the walls. He is truly an example of someone committed to abolition, to freedom and to egalitarian relations.