Episode 42 - Prisons Ban Books on Liberation and Freedom

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Transcript, Web links and Credits below.


Yesterday it was discovered that a prison in Illinois has banned over 200 books in their library. And guess what they are mainly about – race, justice, freedom, and liberation. We’re not talking about books on how to make bombs, they literally banned Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington.

We’ve seen this happening all over the country, but this might be the worst case I’ve seen. Today I’m going to unpack and explain how and why this is happening. I’ll give us some historical context.

And we’ll end with some serious action steps to fix the problem.

Let’s dig in.

This is Shaun King and you are listening to (The Breakdown)!


The United States not only has more people in prison than any country in the world, the United States has more people in prison, right here, right now, than any country in the entire history of the world. And to help arm you with facts, when I say this, I mean we incarcerate more people per year than any country in the world — that number is nearing 11 million people. We have more people in prison right now than any country in the world – that number is about 2.5 million. And we have more people in prison, per capita, than any country in the world. On every metric, the United States is the incarceration nation.

We don’t lead the world in education, we don’t lead the world in health, we don’t lead the world in happiness, we don’t lead the world in safety, we don’t lead the world on any metric of equality.

But we do lead the world in incarceration. And it’s not even close. We’re the champions, undisputed, undefeated, greatest of all time. When it comes to incarceration, the United States has no peer.

And what I need you to understand is this system was built on purpose. It was designed on purpose. And it’s primary function is not rehabilitation. It’s primary function is white power and white control. That was the primary function of slavery. And it’s the primary function of America’s justice system. It’s not about safety, it’s about power, profit, and domination. The so-called “war on drugs” was never about drugs, it was always about white power, profit, and domination.

And so when we learn that the Danville Correctional Center in Danville, Illinois — a prison that incarcerates around 2,000 men — when we learn that they have recently banned over 200 books — including classics like “Up From Slavery” by Booker T. Washington, basic history books on Black history from Henry Louis Gates and Cornel West — when we see these things, they only shock you if you forget to remember what these jails and prisons are really for. They aren’t designed for rehabilitation, they are designed for oppression.

And when you want to incarcerate millions of Black folk, the next thing you do is try to keep them bound in their minds. And that’s all this is — this isn’t about prison safety. This isn’t about security, or public health, when you ban 200 books — and most of them are on race, racism, freedom, and liberation — your mission is very, very clear.

And this isn’t just happening in Illinois. We’ve seen it New Jersey, in Maryland, in Pennsylvania, in Arizona. They are banning books that even describe mass incarceration, that even describe the justice system. They banned a sweet children’s book that just tells the story of a child visiting her father in prison.

Again, their purpose in all of this is very clear.

And I’d like for us to begin fighting back. In a moment we’ll have action steps, but first I want to play you a short clip of Rebecca Ginsburg, of the Education Justice Project. The interview is done by the brilliant journalist, Lee Gaines, for the Illinois Newsroom. Here she asks Ginsburg to read an excerpt from the children’s book that was just banned. And you’ll notice just how upset Ginsburg is by what this prison has done.

(Audio Clip)

None of this is OK. But unless we fight back, it will continue to happen. Let me give us some action steps.

(Action Steps Music)

First, we are going to let the staff at the Danville Correctional Center know how we feel. Then I have some homework for you.

Let’s them give a call at (217) 446-0441 and ask to speak to the warden’s office. And let them know how you feel about them taking away hundreds of books from the prison and that you’d like to see them restored immediately. Then call the Illinois Department of Corrections. You can call them now at (217) 558-2200.

And then I need you to make one more call to the Governor’s Office. That’s Illinois Governor JB Pritzker at (217) 782-0244.

And then tweet him @GovPritzker.

Lastly, I want you to do some homework, ok? I want you to find the nearest prison to where you live, and I want you to contact them, and ask them for their list of banned books. And email that to us at: TheBreakdown@TheNorthStar.com.


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Produced by Willis Polk II

Additional Production by Christian “Idrys” Shannon

Additional Instrumentation by Christian “Idrys” Shannon & Lance "Lance Fury" Powlis

Additional Engineering by Amond “AJ” Jackson for Salem Psalms Library

Additional Vocals by Garnett “Natti” Bush & Jason Coffey

Scratches by Kenny “DJ FlipFlop” Vanderberg

Contains samples from:

“Ascension II” by The Off Daze