Imagine there’s no prisons

Idil Ali performing her spoken word on stage. Photo Zack Ahmed.
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Idil Ali, a 22-year-old youth worker and grassroots activist, is part of a collective that advocates against a discriminatory prison system. Saredo Miguil reports.

Idil Ali started performing spoken word poems a year and-a-half ago and now uses it to express her activism.

“I talk about displacement of communities, identities, the patriarchy, the intersectionality of being an African woman… so many things,” she says.

Ms Ali, a 22-year-old youth worker and grassroots activist, is part of a collective that advocates for the abolition of a discriminatory prison system.

She and her colleagues raised $20,000 to pay for over 30 African, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Pacific youths to attend the Imagining Abolition conference held in Brisbane last November.

The conference, which was hosted by the independent community organisation Sister’s Inside, aimed to draw attention to the unfair incarceration rates of indigenous Australians and people of colour.

“Abolition is about believing that no one should be kept in prison conditions,” said Ms Ali. “Most prisoners were survivors of violence…I don’t believe that state-sanctioned violence promotes recovery.”

Photo by Saredo Miguil

Ms Ali, who is the first-generation child of refugees, was raised to embrace her Somali heritage and cites this as one of the reasons for her activism.

“Growing up, there was this sentiment that nobody wanted us (black people) to succeed and if we wanted to then… we’d have to work harder and support each other,” she said.

As a Muslim and a black woman, Idil Ali says she has faced prejudice such as racism and Islamophobia. “Sometimes people want to harm you for who you are,” she said.

“There’s intersections of my identity that make larger issues of another community important to me…so when I stand for myself, I automatically have to stand for everyone else.”

Sabrina Adem, Ms Ali’s colleague at Drummond street youth services said, “She’s good with young people and she switches easily between bantering with the kids and educating when necessary.”

“Idil is one of the first black people to join our community’s youth service and she’s been important in gaining the community’s trust,” Ms Adem said.

Ms Ali who is passionate on advocating for people of colour explained why she believed that there was a correlation between prisons and the unfair persecution of this demographic.

“Australia is following in America’s footsteps by increasing privatising and having privately-run prisons,” Ms Ali said. “And the result is more people of colour getting policed.”

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, despite making up only three per cent of the population, 27 per cent of prisoners in Australia are of Aboriginal and Torres Islander descent.

In Australia there are nine privately owned prisons. They profit off the number of inmates they house, and ultimately benefit from incarcerating more people.

“This is how impoverished people get exploited by the justice system,” said Ms Ali. “I believe in taking the money out of prisons and putting them into the community.”

Ms Ali is also working on releasing an album of her spoken word poems with collaborator and producer Yusuf Harare Jr with the hopes to inspire activism in her audience.