I’ve shared seven pieces that my penpal Lacino Hamilton wrote and sent me (this is the one I typed out in the middle of last month) over the past year and a half, and this piece, fully titled “My ‘Brand’ Is A Brand New World” focuses on how he wants to educate those outside about the horrors of incarceration and why we need to create a society that’s just for all people. He and I agree on essentially every issue, so if you want to read more of his published work, this is a link to his articles on Truthout. As always, I have not edited or changed any of his writing for this post.
I was recently asked how I plan to “brand” myself as a writer. I do not know much about personal branding. It wasn’t a thing 25 years ago before I entered the Michigan prison system. However, having been asked the question, and now having given it some serious thought, let me start by saying that despite many requests to “play up my individual story,” I have generally shied away from the autobiographical thing because I think of the gentrification to prison pipeline as a relatively common social experience. I do not find that autobiographical thing useful. What I have done instead is laid claim to an “insider” perspective.
Of the utmost importance for the prison movement is a cogent analysis of the situation those of us on the inside find ourselves in. Not the typical academic, research, so-called scientific objectivity, but rather the insights engendered by going through it, and being “up against it all.” That adds color, context, and contour to findings and analyses, which is generally missing in the pantheon of prison literature. That has been the primary focal point of my writings.
Simply put, I believe being on the inside provides me an opportunity to add to the prison movement in ways people on the outside cannot. It permits me to speak with an authority that trumps better funding, better libraries, better teams of editors, and all that. My brand is, as rapper Yo Gotti says, “I’ve been thru it all,” and I am going thru it right now. That is, expected passive compliance to the demands of administrators and guards; expected passive acceptance of severely restricted acts of daily living; and the expectation of internalized acceptance of severe restrictions on honest self-expression of thoughts and feelings.
The literary world lauds research, particularly statistics and quoting people who have little direct experience (if any at all) with prisons and prisoners. Quoting people who have little or no direct experience with always having to chase after something, always having to hide something, and always having to hold one’s ground against something or someone. That is my brand—intimate experiences with the struggles I write about.
I did not pursue writing because I wanted to change laws, policies, practices or opportunities that did not exist. I pursued writing because I was in search of language to critically understand the ruses for managing inequality and criminalizing poverty. I pursued writing as a form of subversion and insurgency, to challenge conceptually social arrangements and processes that thwart human development and prevent human needs from being met. What I discovered int eh process was abolition. Not as the elimination of anything but abolition as the founding of a new society.
I realized that it is in the interests of imprisoned men and women to work for change throughout America, not just tastier prison food, longer and more frequent showers, and more parole hearings—all of which are immediately necessary. I realized that what is supposed to be broken cannot be repaired because the prison system is not really broken. It is working as designed, and ruthlessly effective. I realized that the only thing we can do is completely dismantle and build something new. For it is only if the total society is changed that the possibility of finally dealing with prison can be realized.
As I sit here and write it just occurred to me that my “brand” is synonymous with the wiping out the kind of education that trains people to be dependent on the analyses and opinions of others; synonymous with the wiping out of poverty; synonymous with elimination of bad housing, sometimes no housing. My brand is synonymous with the realization that we can no longer rely on pressuring and cajoling social planners and policy makers toward desired actions. We must be in a position of power, a position to change political dynamics when social planners and policy makers are not responsive.
My brand might not get me a shoe deal or a gazillion social media followers, but in solidarity with others it could lead to the creation of a new people centered society. The critical question is who, or more specifically, are you willing to help legitimize and expand this brand until such time as conditions develop that will make possible a brand new world?