No More Prisons by William Upski Wimsatt

No More Prisons by William Upski Wimsatt

No More Prisons: Urban Life, Homeschooling, Hip-Hop Leadership, the Cool Rich Kids Movement, a Hitchhiker's Guide to Community Organizing, and Why Philanthropy Is the Greatest Art Form of the 21st Century! by William Upski Wimsatt

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The prison industry has grown 400% in the last 20 years, and a record 1.9 million people are now locked behind bars. America's fastest growing industries are the prisons and gated communities that thrive in this climate of fear. What does this say about us? What can those who don't yet live behind bars do? Is there hope? Hell yeah, this book contains stores, strategies, suggestions, straight talk, and conversations with maverick thinkers like Rha Goddess, Tracy Hewat, Myron Orfield, and Asiba Tupahache. Upski is an analytical thinker from the hip hop community as well as being a train hopper, hitch hiker, government fearing person. This book analyzes the world from that perspective and is very personal in a great way that you seldom see come across in a book


An author should be judged first and foremost on the effect he or she has on the reader.  By this measure, William Upski Wimsatt gets an A plus. Upski's latest book, No More Prisons, shows the reader a few places where the world goes wrong, and inspires the reader to do what they can to fix those problems. 

Having grown up break dancing and writing graffiti in Hyde Park, a racially, socially, and economically diverse neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, he has an uncommon perspective on race relations, hip-hop and urban life. As an activist who recently learned of a large sum of money he stands to inherit, he has an uncommon perspective on philanthropy, activism, and the place rich people hold in the world. Spending two years at Oberlin College before dropping out to attend "The University of Planet Earth" (his childhood hero, KRS-ONE, dropped out in middle school) give him an uncommon perspective on education.  And starting his own magazine, writing for the Chicago Tribune, The Source, and Vibe, along with publishing his own book at 21 years of age give him an uncommon perspective on youth journalism.

All of these things, along with his unreserved writing style, combine to make No More Prisons enjoyable, enlightening, and an all-around positive experience.  He does not edit his thoughts, revealing vulnerabilities and shortcomings most writers would not admit. He writes as you can imagine him speaking, with enough slang and curse words to show who he is but not so much as to cloud his meanings. The reader identifies with Upski, trusts him, and wants to know more about him. 

His first book, Bomb the Suburbs, was the synthesis of topics he wanted to write books on but lacked enough material to do so: hitchhiking and freighthopping in the 1990s; lies white people tell themselves; youth politics and journalism; graffiti; and cities vs. suburbs.  So, too, is No More Prisons: home-schooling and self-education; hip hop leadership; cool rich kids; urban life; "The hitchhikers guide to community organizing"; and "Why philanthropy is the greatest art form of the 21stcentury."  Despite the title, very little of the book is actually devoted to the expansion of the prison industry, although what he does cover is maddening.

Upski explains that the prison industry has expanded four times since 1980.  There are now nearly two million people in U.S. jails and prisons, compared to under than half a million in 1980, despite an 18% decrease in violent crime.  There are seven hundred more prisons today, spending on law enforcement has increased by five times, and there are seven times more women now in prison than there were in 1980. 

These facts are hard to believe, but Upski shows why it happens:

"The media needs higher ratings to sell more advertising, so they run more sensational crime shows that scare the public. The prison industry needs more people to boost profits so they lobby for more prison construction. Politicians need to create jobs for construction workers and prison guards, and they need to be seen as tough on crime.  They pass tougher crime laws and kill three birds with one stone: more low-skill jobs are created in the prison industry; campaign contributors in the prison industry are repaid; and the tough-on-crime image plays well with voters whipped into a false frenzy by the media over their fear of crime."

It all ties together neatly, and Upski's reasoning and factual evidence are hard to dispute.  The government finances the expansion by depleting funding for important social programs.

He puts together equally strong argument against suburban sprawl, claiming it is dividing and destroying the country.  Cookie-cutter housing expanding outward from the inner-cities dissolve cohesiveness and individuality, expanding the economic divide between the middle- and lower-classes.  Upski is a strong supporter of people developing relationships outside of their "comfort zones" (race, economic class, etc.), and he argues that suburbs are "not only an unfortunate location, but an unfortunate state of mind."

He shows how a handful of "cool rich kids" can change the world by giving their money to organizations that will make the most difference in the world, and invites even those without extra funds to encourage people with money to donate to distribute it the right way.  Did you know that one of every 50 households in America contains a millionaire?  That means most of us, even though we may not be in a position to use our finances to change the world, probably know three or four people who are in that position.

Upski has always been about doing difficult things, and doing them differently than they'd ever been done before.  When he set out to start his free newsletter Subway and Elevated, he did it because Upski knew of none which were written mainly by and for young people from the ghetto; not insulting to their intelligence; not boring; and widely distributed.  He created Subway and Elevated aiming to come as close as possible to satisfying those criteria. 

In the same way, it is very difficult to motivate over-privileged people to redistribute their wealth.  Even the wealthy who are open-minded, support their (and others') community, and donate a large quantity of money do generally contribute it to larger organizations that do not need it.  The organization that receives the largest quantity of funds nationwide each year is...Harvard University.  Harvard has 400 people in their fundraising department.  If each smaller, grassroots community organization had just one person fundraising for it full-, or even part-time, it would often make the difference whether that organization survives and dies. 

Upski strives to educate wealthy people interested in helping the world, letting them know what their options are.  He realizes that like it or not, a necessary component of a large-scale change in society is money, and lots of it.  He wants the rich to realize that, for many of them, the money they inherited was made off the backs of the people who need it most right now. "It's about folks like us who realize what we owe. This isn't our money."

Since 1994, Bomb the Suburbs has sold over 25,000 copies, without wide distribution or conventional publicity.  It is the best interest of the human race for many more to read, and most importantly act on, No More Prisons.

If you are interested in learning more about the No More Prisons project, check


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