They Banned Dictionaries Because They See Their Knowledge As A "Threat"

michigan department of corrections officer in uniform
Zain Murdock
June 15, 2022

Prisons in Michigan are banning several non-English language dictionaries – specifically in Spanish and Swahili. Why? Because staff have literally argued that learning a new language is a threat!

Their spokesperson said this: "If certain prisoners all decided to learn a very obscure language, they would be able to then speak freely in front of staff and others about introducing contraband or assaulting staff.” 

Since when are two of the most spoken languages in the WORLD “very obscure?”

These bans are an attempt to stop incarcerated people from organizing for their rights, educating themselves, and connecting with their culture. 

Kwesi Osundar, for example, has been trying to research more about the African diaspora in Swahili since 2009. Spanish-speaker Rodolfo Rodriguez has been trying to learn English to navigate his legal process since 1993!

“They are telling you that … you don't need to learn [languages] because you'll just stay here [in prison],” Rodriguez said. 

And it all goes back to 1989, when the Supreme Court said prisons could ban any book "in the interest of safety.” But whose safety?

Prisons attack every part of a Black person they can think of: from our bodies to our mental state to our spirituality; now it’s our knowledge. But from prison cells to plantations, we have ALWAYS educated ourselves when it's outlawed – and that will never stop.

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