Conversations Toward Abolition

Calvin John Smiley

Haymarket Books (21 May 2024)

Trade paper • ISBN-13: 9798888900963 • US $19.99 • 5.5 in x 8.5 in • 208 pgs.


A collection of illuminating interviews with leading abolitionist organizers and thinkers, reflecting on the uprisings of summer 2020, the rise of #defund, and the work ahead of bridging the divide between reform and abolition. 

The 2020 uprisings against police violence launched a nation conversation about defunding the police and prisons, propelling the #defund movement into the spotlight. The backlash has been swift, beating back efforts to reallocate public funds away from police and other punitive carceral systems and into social welfare programs that provide care, stability, and community. 

But as Calvin John Smiley reveals through pointed conversations with academics, activists, and system-impacted individuals, #defund was always more than a brief moment; it is part of an ongoing struggle against white supremacy, capitalism, police state-sanctioned violence, and mass incarceration.

Through interviews with Marisol LeBrón, Dan Berger, Zellie Imani, and Olayemi Olurin, among others, Smiley considers how #defund can bridge the divide between reform and abolition, becoming a catalyst to help organizers realize abolitionist visions. Along the way, these rich conversations illuminate the long histories of systems of repression and protests against them; how policing serves as a colonial project in Puerto Rico and beyond; why creativity and music-making are essential to movement-building; and much more. 

Giving voice to those committed to abolitionist praxis, Defund is an essential tool for organizers as we imagine how defund goes from a hashtag to a movement to a reality. 


“These conversations offer us an opportunity to interrogate the promise and process of defunding the police from a variety of perspectives. A new world is possible, but this volume reminds us that we have a lot of thinking and organizing to do to achieve it.”

Alex S. Vitale, author of The End of Policing

Praise for Purgatory Citizenship

“Smiley’s new book Purgatory Citizenship is a much-needed exploration of postincarceration reentry from the point of view of the people experiencing it firsthand, offering important insights into this often ignored and misunderstood part of our carceral system. This is an important addition to the growing canon of works trying to understand and dismantle the prison industrial complex.”

Hugh Ryan, author of The Women’s House of Detention: A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison 

Purgatory Citizenship powerfully juxtaposes the humanity of people navigating reentry with the inhumanity of the varying parts of the criminal legal system (e.g., police, courts, halfway houses). The narratives of individuals ‘doing’ reentry poignantly describe their lives prior to, during, and after incarceration, while placing them squarely in historical, legal, political, and psychological contexts and legacies. The multiple, overlapping, and often insurmountable quagmires Smiley documents explain to any reader why reentry is so difficult. Smiley closes with a detailed description of what abolition requires and would mean. This is ethnography at its best, addressing the harrowing, complicated, significant, and timely problem of reentry with stunningly beautiful writing.”

Joanne Belknap, author of The Invisible Woman: Gender, Crime, and Justice


Calvin John Smiley is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Hunter College-City University of New York (CUNY). Smiley is the author of Purgatory Citizenship, published by University of California Press. His writing has appeared in the Journal of Human Behavior in the Social EnvironmentThe Prison Journal, and Punishment & Society, and his research has been featured in the Washington Post, the GuardianToronto Star, and Le Monde. Outside of writing, Smiley works with incarcerated youth and young men in New York City. He lives in Queens, New York. 


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