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Order, Order

‘INQUESTS INTO THE DEATHS ARISING FROM THE FISHMONGERS’ HALL AND LONDON BRIDGE TERROR ATTACK CASE MANAGEMENT’1

 

with asides, insertions, questions

and other patterns repeating

 

Begin with the facts: A convicted terrorist attacked and killed Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt at Fishmongers’ Hall on 29 November, 2019. The attacker [ . . . ] was shot dead by police officers on London Bridge.

 

No: again.

 

A terrorist incarcerated in a high-security prison appeals his indeterminate sentence        He will now be released automatically, in a fixed number of years, without parole board assessment

 

December 2018. He is released. He is living halfway and then alone under myriad restrictions. He had counter-terrorism mentors        the government contract abruptly ended.        Months pass. No train stations, no trains        no internet access, no trips to London, no        level of security        stops what happens next. The oversight of Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (Mappa) probation, police, counter-terrorism, Prevent, Special Branch, MI5        who read creative writing, who read Cambridge University programme        (there was none, post release) and with bare discussion, and        the risk downgraded from very high        to high        and no one exactly gives permission        no one exactly assesses the risks

he takes the train to London for one day. 29 November, 2019.

 

Arrives at London Bridge to celebrate five years of Learning Together, a prison education programme.2 Taking university students into prisons to learn alongside incarcerated people. In minimum, medium and maximum facilities (call it high- security, Category A), learning Plato in Philosophy, the laws of probability, and creative writing.

 

The Justice asked the prison governor: did you consider the risks of putting people who were potentially violent, manipulative and predatory directly alongside potentially young students in a learning environment        yes        and the course began

 

No physical harm came to them there. The deep violence of the prison apparently held outside        the writing room. The meeting of writing together        considered low risk        the violence of the prison where he was known as emir. The concentration on him and his        masks        the violence of the prison,  the breaking        the drug        abuse, the harm        the many serving long and life there        the violence of the prison only seen in reflection        the emphasis on counter-narrative        on hope

 

He took part. He was enthusiastic, did more learning, became a mentor on the probability        course        he was released. He was welcomed / encouraged / writing / allowed to keep close to the education programme, it was considered a protective factor        (there were no others)        the only thing he had        apart from the gym.

 

He sits through the morning. After the break, he straps knives to his hands, wears a fake bomb vest        he made        and murders two people at the event. He injures more. He is apprehended by citizens        He is shot twenty times by police on London Bridge.

 

No: again.

 

A British youth,        who all the teachers liked, is bullied at school though tried to fit in. He is involved in racist incidents, and in violence        turns recluse3 and is done with the place by age 14. At 15, as his sister’s house is raided by police, they find jihadi leaflets, and so on        he faces local news cameras to say he aint no terrorist, that everyone around knows him. He goes to Pakistan for time and returns to gangs        he        never goes back to school and no one can corroborate        those lost years whether he was excluded / expelled / just didn’t show up        no one can state        the details        now ask        how is it that

 

He is radicalised        into violent ideology        by known hate preachers who emphasise education, (you know the immigrant drug).        He becomes part of a group        wants to prove        calls what he does just fundraising, or simply spreading the word. They plan to bomb the London Stock Exchange / under the guise of education        found a jihadi training camp in Pakistan some say Kashmir        the difference interchangeable in the press/ is redacted. He is 19

 

And sent to high-security prison. Spends eight years        some of it (accounts vary how much) deep inside the prison within a prison / some of it (though less than he claimed) in solitary / in proximity to violence / the killer of Fusilier Lee Rigby / Anwar al-Awlaki        wanting to impress        he begins to radicalise others / is dispersed / is dispersed / is a bully / is violent / hates criticism / denies harm or any culpability / wants learning / never finished school / takes a distance learning course/ creative writing / is dispersed to HMP Whitemoor / maximum / high / security.4        Built under the blades of a wind farm in a flat, waterlogged place called East Anglia. A one-hour drive from Cambridge University where some bright students gain admission to life in the once-drowned world        where waves of land mirror the long-receded sea        and those who taught him face to face        were not informed        he was categorised A: the highest risk possible in a Category A prison: among the most high-risk men in the country        inside the heart of violence there is a cell

 

Here is a question from the jagged edge: how far must we go back to find a beginning? We cannot ask why (the answer will break us), but only, hearts broken, ask how. He was released. No one agency gave him permission to go to London. No one denied it either. He said he enjoyed creative writing        this was given as evidence        of hope. The only speech possible is lament

 

Who will gather and hold these fragments? Who will, O who will?

 

Deradicalisation system untested / desistance as diffcult as staying off spice / or crack no parole board assessment / the forensic psychologist warned and warned that compliance was a danger sign / that isolation was a danger sign / that lack of employment / or a gang was a danger sign / he was        presenting positive behaviour the probation officer said, towards the end of his sentence / in the prison classroom / he was released

Straight into a town / no de-categorisation from A to B to C to open prison D / no slow acclimatisation / no re-socialisation / just some education courses while inside starting with creative writing it / coincided with a change/ He had a sense of self-importance / he told the gym he went to about his offence / he could not use the library computers when his mentors disappeared / could not search for a job / could not get one / would be on licence for 30 years.

 

I can write that the body can never be laid down. I can write the fact of its knives as hands, as I now suffer them in dreams. Its crimes are its legacy, its only title. Call it liar / reader / murderer/ monster / call it terrorism. (Now imagine – the first freedom of fiction – that terrorist as a body. What body do you see?) The question of what lies under the skin: silent, electric, potential; call it life        and the memory of listening, trying to learn

 

The forensic psychologist reported that he showed no sense he had committed any crime. No criticism ever allowed without resentment. He got a kick from learning, she said, from being highly regarded. That prison had exacerbated his risk.         And the prison is a violent place/ that can be believed

He goes on to        who read her report and took it in?

 

We wake to the thought every day: good people have been killed. We wake again and the dead cannot speak. Except through metaphor, memories, signifiers, sounds. All stories can be read as possible beginnings, as the event repeating

 

MI5 opens an investigation. This was not known to his probation. His category was downgraded from very high risk. They know        he was known as an emir        on the wing        for inciting disruption        writing violent poetry        throwing himself on the nets        between prison floors        in 2013.

 

He was a British Pakistani youth radicalised young. In 2009 he is photographed with a well-known extremist5 whose emphasis is on power and on education. Preying on the damage caused by Western political and military intervention. Playing on personal pride, the injuries of everyday        racism. This was not known by his brother.

 

He preaches in public        he boasts on a market stall        and under surveillance is caught        speaking        about funding and establishing a jihadi training camp in Pakistan-administered / Azad Kashmir – he is the son of a retired taxi driver – who told him his life after prison        was not harder        than his was when he first came to the UK – he the second youngest of seven – out of home / with a friend / in a gang / his sister – after leaving school at 14. He was married to a woman he never lived with or knew. He wants to be known. He says he wants to write – he has planned – is held in segregation        sometimes in isolation        in prison he says he is an avid reader of novels        in prison        rife with abuses, narratives, violent gangs, bullying, all the intensity of outside distilled to cells        kudos for recognition, praise, to be a leader, radicalising others        where more and more might succumb

 

He is violent as radical form – it is a way of gang life in the prison.6 He says he is mocked for watching pop music videos – he meets more violence inside – he attends the government’s deradicalisation programme7to make the choice every day, as an addict must want to abstain, must not choose harm or to harmthe harm is always latentand can only be prevented – he says he is celled next to ‘Britain’s most dangerous’ offender – a man named Charles Bronson        whose own life has been made into a film8 who tells him just do it or something like that – by which he means attack. He is still forcing others to convert as he        excels in the education programme he is in        he is made a mentor        a prolific writer

 

These details are not for juxtaposition or titillation        or to pathologise prison or people        but real. His prison is a divided place. His mind – doubled locked – a hall of dark mirrors reflecting the bias of whoever he was speaking to back to them        now again under decades of splitting the pressure to be someone he chooses

 

Probation visits him for eight minutes and registers nothing of concern. He takes cash out, goes to the market and buys knives. He takes apart his Xbox and makes a fake bomb vest out of a slimming belt. And kills two people at a celebration of education, the creative writing seminar / the poetry workshop        he kills two people and hurts more        he knew        he always pushed to be downgraded to a lower risk

 

We cannot ask why no one knew what they say they didn’t know. He was calm / pleasant / blank faced / always polite his handlers said though        he had been written up as deceptively compliant        We cannot think anymore: When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time9        We cannot ask why this happened, but only, hearts raging, ask how        He came to be

 

He was 19 when he was convicted a terrorist. He went to prison for eight years. Entered the subculture (the legal term for uncivilised, for not like us)        the spice. Glorifying high risk, terrorists and their crimes.        He nurtured these histories        political        excluding        what he would not admit        became, it seemed, towards his release        a model man. Some saw good change, extremism always present underneath.        He came out into a world that responded to his stories, to probation        and Prevent officers lacking enough experience        a world that had been, in the interim, carefully cultivated to become a full decade more hostile than the one he left.

He has forfeited the right to a full backstory, the fiction writer’s gas and air.

 

In 2013 he was found        in prison stockpiling chemicals for a bomb. They found a loose razor blade taped to the underside of his locker        in 2017        and the address of a prison governor        he took part in the government’s Healthy Identity Intervention (HII) deradicalisation scheme        while influencing inmates to kill and harm others        and Intelligence records, (though this was never seen)        that he was playing the system,        his tactic was false compliance        in reports inside        on the wing. Some of this was known        but never passed to his teachers        who had young students in a high-security room for hours        with others and with him.

 

Living alone, tagged by the state. Wearing new clothes. On-brand boots. Under many counter-terror restrictions he barely knows about. Alone.        In a post-industrial town. He never hides his index offence        is perfectly compliant        raises warnings when he might breach licence conditions        unwittingly for example        he was given an internet-capable mobile phone        he reported it        his mentors all underestimated him        little state help        ego demanding        ideology constant, playing Xbox all day and walking around town

 

The counter-terrorist probation guy        was concerned        that there was a celebration        that a terrorist offender had        changed his life        he didn’t want him to take on the identity of an ex-terrorist (speaking / writing and so on)        He was reassured when he was made aware of the creative writing aspect.        As if that was a symbol of something        and thought        not many with his background are fortunate to get into universities such as Cambridge        that this would be potentially positive for his sense of belonging to society.

 

Scant community support: the gym owner, the job centre, were kind. He was not allowed to go on a dump truck licence course.       Creative writing was considered a sign of hope        Those who should not have come into contact with him will never be the same again. After years of routine, inside, split        between praise and denigration, and the violence of it, no longer in the classes         where one could        prove something to oneself,        feel the respect of peers, and this is true.        Experts        around him hearing only his stories        his theological mentor called him a compelling storyteller        but did not know (because he was not officially told)        his offending history        preying on hope goes two ways        the horror is in the depth of intention, the intimate violence        the failures to read the signs        O my heart

 

In the heart of the citadel his image was featured as a story of achievement, the face of the prisoner education programme. He was far from it        writing a play about a knife attack        MI5        considered it simply rehabilitative (the rest will be redacted) as no one admits        that in retrospect anything could have been different

 

Language doubles and folds as a witness remembers him saying, minutes before he went to prepare, something like, he had been involved with a group of people who had been leading him down the wrong path, and he was essentially turning another way, or a different way        it was words to that effect10

 

I am looking for some responsibility. I need some accountability. I won’t be complicit in denial. Don’t be complicit in denial. Please don’t be complicit in denial. I am looking for some integrity        Or don’t say their names again

 

He was a radicaliser, a violent extremist. Passed around the maximum security prison estate to disperse his influence,        he landed at HMP Whitemoor, a place with a complicated history. Holding terror. Of abuse of solitary. More Muslims there since 9/11. Only a handful of terrorists        mixing with others        making them        in the search for peace inside, safety, community, brotherhood, meaning a life sentence – time is the punishment. There is also the epidemic        violation of dignity.        There was an extreme problem, it was reported, before he was sent there. There was a history of violence and unsettling need. Hope        that education can change

 

He was released straight into a world he was born into        helped to make        more bitter, more scared, more split, more racist since his incarceration. There was survival, and there was routine. There was no more education. There was nothing left.

 

Many who vouched for his release told the court later: he was driven by violent ideology        and a constant requirement for endorsement and praise        he always intended to do something, he was clever enough to game the system.11 Meaning everything he seemed was nothing but fiction        while everything he did gave the lie to his words

 

Former Guardian columnist Erwin James, ex-prisoner, convicted for murder, whose recounting of his own life story sometimes leaked into fiction, writes, Few people in prison are strong enough to be themselves. Everybody on a prison landing is a play actor,12 is it a question of survival – the attempt to control – under forces you cannot control. Others call taqiyya, the religious permission to dissemble (he denied it, and denied it and denied it)        and prison is a place of stories within stories: as currency        as at school        what you say about yourself and what you show is a way of        passing        time to live with yourself        find status        there was evidence from a prisoner        he would ‘return to his old ways’ upon his release        that he was ‘planning an attack’        the source considered ‘low grade’        MI5 knew he was going to London        they said they wanted        to test his mindset        the rest is redacted        the inquest evidence said.

 

He did not want to go / he changed his mind. He asked for a police escort, for his own pastoral care, so as not to break his licence conditions        he was wearing a tag        it would have been triggered underground.        The programme also made the request        I cannot justify two police the answer came, have a good day        He said he wanted to mentor others for deradicalisation        he prepared to attack while on the train

 

It was a bright winter day. A celebration planned of the hardest work done in the most diffcult conditions the atro-city can manifest        within its own borders. The purpose of prison is the underlying question

 

If you say punishment your sense of degradation must answer to this: how far are you prepared to go? How far        down inside        the places most people never see, hear from, want to think of, would you go?

 

He was tackled, he was wearing a coat. He said he had a bomb. He said he was waiting for police        He did not look particularly bothered or psyched up. He did not look particularly angry. He did not seem to have any particular expression on his face        the witness said

 

We cannot imagine that day. It should not be imagined. It began        as a marker of hope and trust: the longed for, most difficult of bonds, forged from fierce work in the meanest of worlds.

 

It is nine years since a report damns the treatment of Muslims in UK prisons, where 1 per cent of a rising 10,300 people are inside for terror-related offences, where risk of radicalisation or entrenching of views is high, where desist and disengage programmes are in process but have weak foundations and have never been tested: the accepted markers for radicalisation        easily deflected        by their opposite effect        and he was inside for that, with 14 warning signs of recidivism        he had hit them all        still no one sounded the alarm        by the time he got on the train

 

It was Friday, 29 November, 2019, twelve days before yet another bitter general election was scheduled,13 and in the dog days of a vicious, xenophobic Brexit campaign, a racist resurgence fed by those in power in government, their voices on the radio, the TV, the internet, their white cold patriotism their fantasy of an indivisible sovereignty returned ten-fold in violence as rhetoric that split        the country almost clean in half.

 

He was released straight from high-security, one of the 70 most dangerous men in the country. And this could have been known by the education programme, but the information was not asked for        instead there was        a lack of adequate oversight. A break of communication. People were inexperienced and they were overworked. And these are the statements given to the court. By August 2019, he had stopped writing. He was not prevented from going to London. He sat with others at circular tables in a fine old building at the heart of the city that morning. He did not take off his heavy coat

 

There were senior members of counter-terrorism and of the criminal justice system there. There were men and women, artists, teachers        there was a driving        ideology behind the Cambridge University programme        its prestige        its mission. There were academics and young volunteers; there were event staff. There was a creative writing and story-telling workshop. As a writer he had already experienced this rush: stories can make us feel free.

 

The activity (education) and where it took place within the prison was considered low risk. The prison governor was studying criminology at Cambridge University        there was        hope        as counternarrative to such harm        there were stories being taken        as research and relayed        We cannot ask why this happened. Only, hearts broken, ask how        he made a video with the education programme earlier that year, praising it, for impact.        A long research interview was also        conducted, the probation officer did not receive the notes        and would anything have changed?

 

There was no security check to enter Fishmongers’ Hall. A thing he could not have anticipated        the London Metropolitan Police did not know/ were not informed        he was there

 

Past noon. People on the terrace, upstairs, talking, making their way back inside. The conference, beginning again. He went to the ground floor toilets and readied himself with what he brought with him: a fake bomb vest he had made from Xbox cables, from empty plastic bottles. Two large kitchen knives, which he taped to his wrists.

 

Before police shot him 20 times on London Bridge, he was tackled by a group of men who were in the building but didn’t know each other.14 Their stories are in the muscles on their arms, the lines on their faces; their instincts tuned by long experience, their desire to protect those they knew. Some ex-incarcerated. One on day release. It is possible to be inside for murder and outside to save lives. The hero’s journey comes at bitter cost

 

By then, he had attacked. Screaming alerted those upstairs. They had worked with him for years. He critically injured some of them. Two of them, he killed.

 

Saskia Jones, 23, who battled to improve the lives of others [ . . . ] and was driven to make real changes in the world. She researched sexual violence and worked in a Rape Crisis Centre. She hoped to become a detective working in victim support.15

 

Jack Merritt, 25, who believed in the possibilities of shared community, and education, and rehabilitation. Who worked for social and racial justice. Kind, funny, compassionate, driven, a mentor to many, an excellent trainer of trainers. No writing could express the life of him. Everything you can read about him is true. Jack was the programme co-ordinator for Learning Together, for its creative writing course

 

The man who killed them        was prolific, showed off his reading knowledge        he craved recognition        He planned and prepared, and came to London        every system failed

 

When he came out of the bathroom, knives as hands, Jack was already bleeding out behind him. The witness in the cloakroom saw        her shock        made her think it was a theatrical re-enactment or something like that        the other gestured to her to keep quiet.16 He went towards Saskia.

 

He stabbed five people. He killed Saskia. He killed Jack. He made a bomb vest        it was a convincing fake

 

‘He’ was Usman Khan.

 

For twenty hours across a semester in Whitemoor prison in 2017, I taught him creative writing. The craft of fiction. And taught the course again for two years after that

 

I think he would have killed any person associated with prison that he could reach that day.

 

He told the men trying to stop him he was waiting for police. He wanted to die like that.17

 

Now go to bed awake. Now dream, eyes open as if on high alert.

 

Notes

 

1. All of this information can be found in the official transcripts for the inquests into the attacks: https:/fishmongershallinquests.independent.gov.uk/.

 

2. Learning Together is a national prisoner education programme based in the Institute of Criminology in the University of Cambridge. It was founded and run by Dr Ruth Armstrong and Dr Amy Ludlow. It brings university students into prisons across the UK to learn alongside incarcerated people.

 

3. ‘London Bridge Terrorist Preached with ISIS Flag After Being Bullied at School,’ Chris Caulfield, Metro, 30 November 2019, https:/metro.co.uk/2019/11/30/london-bridge-terrorist-preached-with-isis-flag-after-being- bullied-at-school-11247590/.

 

4. HMP Whitemoor is a high security prison for Category A and B adult male prisoners serving different kinds of sentences, of over four years. Category A is the highest risk an individual can be known as. See An exploration of staff-prisoner relationships at HMP Whitemoor: 12 years on, Alison Leibling, Helen Arnold and Christina Straub, Cambridge Institute of Criminology, Prisons Research Centre, November 2011.

 

5. ‘London Bridge Terror Picture Emerges of Attacker with Islamist Hate Preacher,’ Anjem Choudhary, Sky News, 3 December 2019, https:/news.sky.com/story/london-bridge-terror-picture-emerges-of-attacker-with-islamist-hate-preacher-anjem-choudary-11876967

 

6. Leibling et al, Ibid.

 

7. ‘Fact Sheet: Desistance and Disengagement Programme,’ UK Home Office, 5 November 2019, https:/homeofficemedia.blog.gov.uk/2019/11/05/fact-sheet- desistance-and-disengagement-programme/

 

8. ‘The Ultra-Ultra Violence,’ Erwin James, Guardian, 27 February 2009, https:/www.theguardian.com/film/2009/feb/27/charles-bronson-violence-criminal-justice

 

9. Maya Angelou, in the context of not judging people on preconceived ideas

 

10. FHI Day 2, 13 April 2021, https:/fishmongershallinquests.independent.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/FHI-Day-2-13-April-2021.pdf

 

11. ‘London Bridge Attack: Usman Khan’s Lawyer Admits He Could Have Been Deceived,’ Jonathan Ames, The Sunday Times, 2 December 2019.

 

12. ‘The Guardian and Erwin James, Ian Katz, Guardian, April 2009. Katz writes about the decision to give ‘James’ (real name Erwin James Monahan) the platform under a pseudonym, and how it was received, and what the impact was on James. ‘He seemed to be a walking, talking testimony to the power of redemption . . . But beyond his writing, James’s own life began to take on the quality of a modern parable. In the years since his release in 2004, James has continued his remarkable journey of rehabilitation.

‘At times, it has had an almost too-good-to-be-true quality about it, and perhaps no one should have been surprised that this extraordinary journey should take the odd disappointing turn. The fictionalised paragraphs in his pieces about his time in the Foreign Legion – as detailed in today’s corrections column – were, I am convinced, an isolated lapse by someone who has otherwise dedicated himself to, as he puts it, “being authentic”. What is clear to me is that this blot on his post-conviction copybook was somehow born of his struggle to keep his two lives apart’ (italics mine), https:/www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2009/ apr/24/erwin-james-monahan-guardian

 

13. The second in four years. UK general elections are usually held every five years. 20 John Crilly, Darryn Frost, Steven Gallant, Marc Conway and Lukasz Koczocik have become known worldwide for their actions that day. Polish Lukasz, who was first aid trained and was working as a kitchen porter in Fishmongers’ Hall, Marc ex-prisoner convicted of serious crime now employed at the UK charity, The Prison Reform Trust, John, managing heroin addiction and once wrongly convicted under the UK’s pernicious ‘joint enterprise’ law for murder – had spent 13 years in prison where he met Jack, and completed a Law degree via Learning Together. He is one of the rare people in the UK ever to have a JE conviction overturned, and is now a passionate campaigner for people in similar circumstances through the organisation JENGbA – Joint Enterprise, Not Guilty by Association, https:/jointenterprise.co/. Darryn – a civil servant in HM Prison and Probation Service, only at the event as a last minute fill-in for a colleague who could not make it – now campaigning through an organisation he set up, ‘Extinguish Hate’ https:/www.extinguishhate.co.uk/. Stephen Gallant was incarcerated for murder, but was on day release for the LT event; he eventually had his sentence reduced by order of the Queen, though his victim’s family suffered recurrent PTSD as this was in process. https:/www. thetimes.co.uk/article/steve-gallant-queen-steps-in-to-help-release-london- bridge-attack-hero-10-months-early-75mrq79r9 Steve, Marc, and John had participated in LT courses and knew Jack. Crilly recalls: ‘We was heroes at first, eh – then it found we was prisoners and it just went pmp.’ Prison Break, Episode 5: If Not This, Then What? BBC Radio 4, 21 May 2021.

 

14. Statement of the family of Saskia Jones to the inquest, 12 April 2021, p.23. The statement in full reads, ‘It is very important to the family that Saskia’s legacy should not solely be based on her work with Learning Together, as she was about so much more than just that. She should be defined as someone who battled to improve the lives of others in several spheres and was driven to make real changes in the world. Her incredible research in the field of sexual violence with Rape Crisis Cambridge more than shapes part of that legacy. Her passion in this area enabled her to finally find her career path, with the hope of becoming a detective in victim support with the police force.’ FHI-PR, April 12 2021 https:/fishmongershallinquests.independent.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/FHI-Day-1-12-April-2021.pdf

 

15. FHI-PR, 16 October 2020.

 

17. It is not the purpose or place of this book to speculate on what motivated Khan to commit this attack, or his relationship to, or his ideological position (or his personal thoughts) on suicide and how those connected to his decisions that day.

 

This is an extract from AFTERMATH, by Preti Taneja, out in April 2022 from And Other Stories in the UK/Europe (and available to pre-order). North American readers can order it now from Transit Books.


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ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

PRETI TANEJA is a writer and activist, and Professor of World Literature and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, UK. Her novel WE THAT ARE YOUNG (Galley Beggar Press) won the UK’s Desmond Elliott Prize, and was listed for awards including the Folio Prize, Republic of Consciousness Prize (UK), the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize (India) and Europe’s premier award for a work of world literature, the Prix Jan Michalski. It has been translated into several languages and is published in the USA by AA Knopf. Her new book, AFTERMATH on the language of trauma, terror, prison and abolition is part of the Undelivered Lecturers series from Transit Books USA, and will be published in the UK by And Other Stories in April 2022.


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