Book Review

We Do This ‘Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba

hope is a discipline, and I am undisciplined

We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kaba, edited by Tamara K. Nopper, foreword by Naomi Murakawa; Haymarket Books, 2021

cw: prison, police brutality, racism, mental illness, depression, suicide ideation, anhedonia

The video artwork installation select important things, which I recently saw at a gallery in Venice, features a moment where the artist/ performer 😍jane frances dunlop😍 discusses the potency and power of the phrase, “hope is a discipline”. This is not something I had encountered before, but it stuck with me.

“Hope is a discipline” is a phrase and an idea popularised by Mariame Kaba, a highly regarded prison abolitionist and organiser (note: not activist, never activist), whose impressive career advocating for and – significantly – actually enacting restorative justice and prison industrial complex (PIC) abolitionist practices spans several decades. Although widely published, interviewed and quoted, Kaba has been a crucial thinker and speaker in her field without ever – until We Do This ‘Til We Free Us (Haymarket, 2021) – having published a book of her own writing. As an ideological and practical expert in her field, this book is a significant publication.

Mariame Kaba has been blogging on the topic of PIC abolition for many years (not that prolonged blogging is a guarantee of expertise – (this website) is “celebrating” its 10th birthday this year), she has written for serious and famous publications, appeared in interviews, been a cited expert and a foundational figure in contemporary struggles against police brutality, the carceral state and institutionalised state racism, but despite all of this, Kaba recurringly explores in her writing a previous discomfort with becoming a “name”.

There are never any pointed attacks on individuals who are famous as activists (without being “active”, ultimately, where it matters), and there is a real warmth and care towards others that comes from Kaba’s hesitancy towards self -promotion.

Another line she repeats is “everything that is worth doing is worth doing together”, and though the first couple of times I encountered this phrase I responded in a knee jerk, reactionary “that’s not true”, thinking of all of the joyful/tolerable moments I’ve had on my own, as I read more Kaba, I came to understand the fundamental truth of this idea: that anything meaningful, anything serious, anything worthwhile must, by its nature, be collaborative.

Relaxing, feeling ok, not being too depressed to move, is not worthiness, right(?); having a relaxing bath or watching a film or whatever is not worthwhile, and Kabe’s statement is not criticising or meant to criticise the recreational activities that one does outside of hours of connection, but is instead a serious and pointed and meaningful critique of the vacuity, the emptiness, the morally unforgivable complicity we sink ourselves into when the only moments we are not miserable are when we are reduced, when we are outside of our societies.

This is a biting critique of all of the things that make my life so fucking empty, and these are things that deserve to be critiqued.

The fact that the only times I am content, am approaching happiness, am not feeling battered down and useless and pointless and purposeless, are when I’m directly distracting myself from the quotidian shows that the reason why I feel like I don’t really exist is because I don’t really exist.

Art, arts, are important for fostering empathy and understanding and human connectedness, sure, ok, whatever, but if that human connectedness is unused, if it is denied and unapplied, then it’s basically fucking worthless.

Hope is a discipline; one must commit to hope in order to act.

I fucking wish I felt hope: for myself, for others, for the wider world and its disgusting, normalised, iniquities that every second we are not fighting we are permitting.

My lack of action, your lack of action, not only fails to make our lives more enjoyable, but it actively permits the continued pain and misery of others.

It’s guilt, that hollow feeling that’s always there but doesn’t really register as a feeling when you’re as old and disconnected as I am…

it is guilt we feel for not being real, meaningful, collaborative communities of people.

Most of us – certainly most of the people who I imagine read this blog (I imagine my handful of readers as being even uglier, yet less sexually repressed, than I am) – aren’t really existing.

We have our habits, our hobbies, our routines and our direct debits and our cycles of meaningless, vapid, pointless days where the only moments of joy are those in which we can pretend the rest of the moments don’t exist.

I felt injured by being told that the non-collaborative is without value because the non-collaborative is all I have.

I do not have community, I do not have peers, I do not have anyone in my life with whom I share the passionate contempt and disapproval of the world as it currently exists.

I am not fighting for the destruction of the carceral state, for the abolition of capitalism, of policing, of the false promise of representative democracy, of of of of of of of

I just started crying.

Hope is a discipline and it is one I need to work at. I need to. I need to convince myself that something better is possible or nothing better will ever be.

I need to find people who are hopeful, not cyncical, I need to escape this horrible horrible little island where the culture is to see hope as naiveté.

I can’t stand it. I can’t do this. I can’t be this mess. I cannot find truth and knowledge and righteousness in my writing and in my mind and then continue living as if I haven’t.

I cannot live if the only way I’m not constantly weeping is to be constantly so medicated and/or distracted that I simultaneously feel no joy.


It’s hard. It’s hard to hope. It’s harder to hope when you don’t ever see or feel or interact with people who hope.

I don’t know if I will ever find happiness. I’m coming off my meds and it was so nice to feel something for a few days, but now the horror has come back and it’s just… it’s too hard. The hope is too hard. The future is too hard. The profound loneliness is too hard. I’ve never found people who are actively doing good, who are working, who are organising, not doing activism.

I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know if I want to.

I would like to kill myself and I think I probably should.

If the options for me are apathy and boredom on the medication or misery and nothing off them, then I then I then I

I need to learn hope. I need to learn radical hope and I need to enact it. I need to not feel anything I feel. I need to not live as if by rote. I need to feel that tomorrow will be different to today.

That’s hard and I am soft.

I think this book would be really affirming, really positive, and really nice for someone who has a life, for someone who is doing right and working hard and being a version of themselves they can be proud of. That isn’t me. I have never been that. Every day I am ashamed that I am back in England. Every day I have less self-respect.

I should get to the top of a tall building and throw myself off, but I don’t even have the hope that I can manage that.

Hope is a discipline.

And I am and I am and I am undisciplined, unconnected and unable to persist

Sorry is 10 years old! Celebrate by sharing this post – or others – with friends (if you have any), family (if you have any), lovers (which I presume you have because this website isn’t for children), or by donating to the site via the below link so that I can maybe take a day off work some time and enjoy being alive for a few hours.

4 comments on “We Do This ‘Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba

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