At No Exceptions, there are core values that are foundational to our work . We want to share them with you here and offer a short elaboration on each:
- Restorative and Transformative Justice
The contemporary criminal legal (there is little to no justice in the current system, and so we refer to a criminal legal system instead of a criminal justice system) system conceptualizes “crime” as the breaking of the state’s laws and thus views the offender as accountable to the state for due consequences. It assumes justice is synonymous with distributing punishment, which is categorized by pain; vengeance; and exile for an arbitrarily assigned, mandatory number of years. Restorative justice holds that the primary offense of the “crime” entails a violation of human relationships, harm caused to another person, not to a state. The “state” does not grieve or bleed or have to recover from burying children, or having children permanently exiled. Families do. People do. Individuals are not accountable to states but to other individuals and the communities directly harmed. When we divorce harm from individuals and communities and perpetuate the illusion that non-human, political constructs are the victims, then we do not hear the cries, do not see the blood, do not hold the families, and therefore cannot heal the real physical bodies and minds of a community. We become deaf to the complexity of narratives, and we take shortcuts to justice, which results in no justice, no healing, and no possibility for redemption for either victims or those who committed harm. Restorative justice, therefore, entails addressing the harms done and the needs of all involved, naming the obligations of the one who inflicted injury, and providing a space to include the voices of all who have a stake in the offense – that is, survivors, the one who caused harm, and their communities. This process values collaboration, healing, safety, and social transformation. Restorative justice understands that crime itself is not as much a problem as a perceived solution to a problem. In other words, many who commit crimes do so because, at the time, the act may seem to remedy present problems. Thus, in recognizing that crime does not occur in a vacuum, restorative justice seeks to address the underlying issues of offenses, such as social inequalities, racism, capitalism, poverty, trauma, shame, mental illness, etc. Restorative justice posits that trauma which is not transformed is transferred: “Hurt people hurt people.” Essentially, restorative justice offers a new set of lenses for thinking about crime and punishment, ones that see the need for the transformation of individuals, relationships, and societies; ones that take into account people’s stories; and ones that believe justice should lead us closer to social healing and reconciliation, and not away from them. Restorative justice recognizes that exiling individuals from their communities for long periods of time – or for life – is not in the interest of the common good, nor is the practice of caging humans. Similarly, transformative justice recognizes that prisons and jails are not a solution to harm, nor do they prevent violence, indeed they create environments the guarantee more violence and more harm. Injuries require reparations, healing, and transformation. Not all transformative justice looks the same; accountability looks different under different circumstances. Police don’t keep us safe, and cages don’t keep us safe, we keep us safe. Health care, education, income, fresh food, mental healthcare, housing, all of these thing keep us safe. It is long past time that we divest from cops and cages, and reinvest in our communities.
Practicing and living transformative justice naturally entails abolition and co-liberation for us all. The Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) has enslaved our neighbors, family members, and loved ones; moreover, it has enslaved our imaginations and our minds and deceived society into thinking that the only response to harm is the caging of humans. The criminal punishment system has created cages we cannot even see. But abolition deals with more than just destroying what is; it seeks to build what can be, it seeks to transform. We think this quote from Captive Genders says it well:
“[Prison] abolition is not just about closing the doors to violent institutions, but also about building up and recovering institutions and practices and relationships that nurture wholeness, self-determination and transformation. Abolition is not some distant future but something we create in every moment when we say no to the traps of empire and yes to the nourishing possibilities dreamed of and practiced by our ancestors and friends. Every time we insist on accessible and affirming healthcare, safe and quality education, meaningful and secure employment, loving and healing relationships, and being our full and whole selves, we are doing abolition. Abolition is about breaking down things that oppress and building up things that nourish. Abolition is the practice of transformation in the here and now and the ever after… To claim our legacy of beautiful impossibility is to begin practicing ways of being with one another and making movement that sustain all life on this planet, without exception. It is to begin speaking what we have not yet had the words to wish for.” – Captive Genders, ed. Eric Stanley and Nat Smith, p 36-7 (emphasis added)
To transform is to create something new. When we say we look to transform the system and end carceral slavery, we mean just that: destroy the old and build a new paradigm for justice, as articulated above. But we also know that to abolish the prison system in this country requires transforming the system of justice, and therefore society; and with society, relationships; and with relationships, values and worldviews; and with those, language. We cannot talk about one without – at some point and to some degree – talking about all. Thus, we support any organization and movement dedicated to helping build a new world in the shell of the old, rooted in transformative justice, engaging social renewal by speaking truth to power and pursuing liberation through the ending of all forms of oppression. As we seek to transform our surroundings, we will find ourselves transformed, converted to new ways of thinking and speaking, living and loving, altered by the faces we’ve seen and the stories we’ve heard. For when one walks into the crisis of prison, one sees a reflection of the social crisis in which we all exist. Our liberation is bound together.
Enslavement in any form visited upon any group of people dehumanizes and enslaves the entire social order. Additionally, we recognize that an attitude of charity or moral superiority wherein freedom is brought down to those enslaved from on high continues the objectification and denial of agency to those in confinement. We believe that there is no liberation without co-liberation, and we therefore seek to liberate both the “free” and the “captive.” As Lilla Watson famously said, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” To that end, any work to abolish mass incarceration must be done in collaboration with, and indeed led by those who are currently and formerly caged. Leaders in the struggle must come from within. If we are to realize our goals, we must understand and practice mutual aid between and amongst insiders and outsiders, the loved ones of prisoners, and the diverse organizations who seek the common objective of ending mass incarceration. We recognize the strong opposition we face from those with a vested racist and economic interest in the continuation of the PIC, and the crippling power of the rhetoric of fear. Accordingly, those engaged in the struggle for liberation must recognize that even as we may be focused on challenging, disrupting, and abolishing this prison culture, our true strength lies in our unity and support of one another.
An Irish proverb says, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Reconciliation, from the Latin, means “to call together again.” It is the process of bringing together that which should not have been separated and should not remain separated. We want to reconcile the outside world of society and the invisible world of prison, a world society hopes will stay “out of sight, and out of mind.” We reject this reality and seek to break down the walls the Powers That Be use to separate us. Reconciliation is about learning to live together well. It is about empathy and grace, engaging division truthfully, building trust through encounter and collaboration, and embracing our interdependence. It’s the belief that mercy should triumph over vengeance. In short, reconciliation is learning to live in each other’s shelter. We also believe that reconciliation is not possible without truth, and there has been no truth and reconciliation in America regarding race and racist white systems of power and exploitation and centuries of enslavement. Truth is a necessary predicate to reconciliation, and reparations are absolutely necessary for healing and transformation. So understand, when we say reconciliation we mean truth, reconciliation, reparations.
We come together as people of diverse backgrounds, faith traditions, and secular humanists, and we are a people of faith. By faith we do not mean a passive, wishful hope of a future yet realized, but instead the deep and abiding belief that transformation is possible and that an end to the prison industrial complex is inevitable. Faith is not passive; it is action on fire. We are convicted by a faith that leads us to the realization that justice and a revolution in human rights will become reality through a way of being in the world that requires belief and practice. The foundation of our faith is the central value and human emotion of love. We fight for change because we love. We believe in “impossible dreams” because we love. We believe that we have a moral obligation to challenge and disrupt the powers and principalities because we love. Our faith calls us not to simply visit the prisoner, but to set the captives free, and thereby set ourselves free.