This book is dedicated to the many people in prisons, sent home from prisons, or on their way to visit prisons who gave their time to speak with me and whose struggle inside inspires me to struggle outside. I want especially to acknowledge my friend James Perez, who has spent more than two decades in solitary confinement at the supermax penitentiaries in Pelican Bay and Corcoran in California.
I want to thank my mother, Jane Story, who is always quick to remind me that “problematic” is not a noun and who put the first book into my greedy little hands. Her love of reading and commitment to social justice were passed on to me at an early age and have shaped the course of my life. Thank you also to too many dear friends to name, but especially to my friend John Hodgins, the smartest human being I know. He long ago assured me that resenting rich people can, in fact, be a starting point for struggle, and for that and more, I have endless thanks. James Cairns believed I could do this from the start and diligently read many, many drafts. My political education was honed out of many years of conversations and direct actions taken alongside good friends and devoted comrades in the three main cities of my adult life: Montreal, Toronto, and New York. I want to thank all of the antipoverty and antiracism activists and radical media makers I’ve had the privilege of working with in those places who continue to do the work, to refuse despair, and who fight to win.
This book began as a PhD dissertation completed while a student in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto. While there, I was lucky to meet some of the most wonderful colleagues and friends, including the incomparably brilliant Shiri Pasternak and the absurdly talented Alexis Mitchell. Thanks especially to my reading group companions, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working through many dense texts while also taking care to gossip and eat well: Katie Mazer, Patrick Vitale, Laura Pitkanen, Prasad Khanolkar, Caitlin Henry, Martin Danyluk, Martine August, and Kanishka Goonewardena. Sue Ruddick, Scott Prudham, Phil Goodman, Matt Farish, Judy Han, Victor Lorentz, James Nugent, Lisa Freeman, Lia Frederiksen, and David Seitz at the University of Toronto have read drafts, shown up at talks to ask hard questions, and proven themselves to be fabulous colleagues along this journey.
Thank you to my graduate committee, Matt Farish, Kanishka Goonewardena, Emily Gilbert, Phil Goodman, and Deb Cowen, and to my external examiners, Michelle Brown and Eric Cazdyn, for their careful reading and generous support. This work has also benefited enormously from the friendship and feedback of Judah Schept, Jack Norton, Orisanmi Burton, Lisa Guenther, Sarah Armstrong, Anne Bonds, Micol Seigel, Annie Spencer, Pascal Emmer, and Jenna Loyd, and many others from whom I continue to learn so much about abolitionist scholarship and practice.
I am very grateful to have participated in the legendary Center for Place, Culture, and Politics Seminar at the City of New York Graduate Center during a postdoctoral fellowship. The lively weekly discussions and engaged research and writing of the seminar’s participants consistently challenged me to think harder and better about the work, and also reminded me why it matters.
Thank you especially to Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who generously supported my work as a postgraduate scholar and a filmmaker but even more important demonstrates a model of all that politically engaged scholarship can and should be. To say that her work has been enormously influential to my own is a gross understatement. She is one of the most brilliant and politically committed thinkers I have ever had the privilege to learn from and call a friend.
Thank you to the anonymous readers who did such diligent work to point out the flaws, omissions, and elisions that pervaded the first draft of this book. I also owe much thanks to the University of Minnesota Press, in particular to my editor, Pieter Martin, who has been an unflinching champion of this book, and editorial assistant Anne Carter. My experience with them has been nothing but rewarding throughout this process. I also thank my research assistant Jen Atalla, who helped manage the chaos of putting this book together, and Colin Beckett, who so skillfully edited a version of this manuscript.
I had the enormous pleasure and the privilege of workshopping this book in its final stages as part of the New Directions in American Studies Manuscript Workshop at Barnard College. I thank Christina Heatherton, Jordan T. Camp, Don Mitchell, and Manu Vimalassery for reading its pages so generously and holding its arguments and evidence to account politically and intellectually. I am enormously grateful and humbled to have had the opportunity to learn from such sharp scholars and interlocutors.
This book may not have been completed if Jason Fox had not provisioned my life with morning coffees and endless snacks. His loving companionship and political incisiveness have made my thinking sharper and my days better. I, too, believe love and struggle are necessarily bound together.
Finally, I thank my friend and graduate supervisor Deb Cowen. Any attempt to express how much her support has meant throughout this process will fall short. Suffice it to say that I have never met a better teacher: rigorous and encouraging, politically uncompromising in action as well as ideas, and generous beyond all measure.