Reforms Are The Master’s Tools

Abolition for the People

The System Is Built for Power, Not Justice

Reforms don’t create more just societies — just ones where more people of color are in charge of the violence

Derecka Purnell
Published in
7 min readOct 19, 2020


This article is part of Abolition for the People, a series brought to you by a partnership between Kaepernick Publishing and LEVEL, a Medium publication for and about the lives of Black and Brown men. The series, which comprises 30 essays and conversations over four weeks, points to the crucial conclusion that policing and prisons are not solutions for the issues and people the state deems social problems — and calls for a future that puts justice and the needs of the community first.

Pocket change.

That was the difference between a cold bus ride or a freezing walk during Boston’s brutal winters. But my client travelled to his weekly group meeting any way that he could with the quarters in his worn brown wallet. We did not discuss what he said in the circle when he went. Or what any other man confessed or kept secret. Our conversations were mostly about whether he signed in for attendance. To finish his probation, we had to show the court that he completed the class.

The probation officer warned me that my client had violated the terms of probation and would be facing jail time. He would lose his weekly meetings, his part-time fast food job, his corner bunk at a shelter, and more. Completely shocked, I called the nonprofit where my client went for meetings and asked about his attendance. The person who answered explained that my client, in fact, rarely missed a class. But each session had a fee and my client only paid a fraction of the total cost. He owed a balance. Attendance wasn’t the issue. Money was.

A couple hundred dollars.

That’s about what I spent to get my locs retwisted and styled where I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A semester worth of Uber rides to nowhere. The tab at law firm recruitment lunches. Yet for my client, it was the difference between a bed in a jail and a corner bunk in a shelter.

The day of the hearing, I prepared to argue that my client had successfully completed each class, and that payment should be an arrangement between…