Talking to Kids About Prison

Interview with Siobhan

This interview initially aired on the Prison Radio Show as part of an ongoing series of interviews called ‘talking to kids about prison’ (archives online at All the interviews for this zine took place on stolen Kanien’kehá:ka territory.


What’s your name? 


My name is Siobhan. 


And how old are you? 


I’m ten. 


What do you think about prison? 


Well I also… I don’t really think they’re great either. I kind of think a little bit like my mom, but I have some other things to say also. I think you should help them instead of locking them up cause [prison is] like a cage, like when you go to the zoo. Its kind of like that. So I just think that, you know when people make mistakes, we’re just human, you know, we’re not perfect and stuff and also, you know, just because they did that doesn’t mean that they’re a bad person, you know, yeah. 


You have people in your life who have done time in prison. 




What have your relationships with them been like? 


Well, it’s like, my mom knew them before me obviously. They’re really nice. I know a bunch of people. All of them are really nice. None of them are bad people. I know that they’re all really nice.  


One of the things that people who are against prison talk about a lot is trying to figure out ways to solve conflicts amongst ourselves. Have you ever ended up in situations with friends where you try to solve conflicts together? 


Yeah, you know like, if I ever got in a fight or something, I start by saying, like “we’re best friends and stuff and I don’t know if we should be fighting.” But sometimes when you get in a fight, that’s hard sometimes when you get into a fight is a little bit hard, but what I just said to her was that like when I get into a fight sometimes, I mean, I just get really angry and you know the anger rushes to me and then, you know, it feels kind of upsetting, but also, I mean when I see people getting into a fight I try to help, but I don’t know if it’s the best thing to do right then,  like when they’re getting into a fight. 


So do you think that we should have prisons? 


No, but it’s kind of hard to imagine, you know? I think that instead you should have people that should help them, you know, and uh, yeah. 


Often when people talk about a world without prisons, they also mean a world without police. What do you think of the police? 


Well, the police? It’s kind of like um… I’m also against them cause they involve a lot with prison and stuff, but when somebody kills somebody or is involved with a killing or something, they get put in prison for like 30 years you know like, most of their life is spent there. And it’s kind of sad. But the police get to kill a whole bunch of people and they don’t get any consequences. It’s just like ‘oh I killed somebody, OK.’ 


So when you talk about being against prisons, you talk about wanting to help people instead of putting them in prisons, what do you mean when you say helping people? 


You know when they do something they should get help to stop doing it, or you know, they help to know what to do and instead of like bringing them there so they remember that, you know, you should just help them to stop doing it and you should help them in a way that’s nice and you should say like ‘OK this is real one thing, OK so to stop doing that, you have to…’ So yeah, that’s sort of helping them. 


Often when we talk about having a world without prison, it’s hard to imagine that existing cause our world is so different right now. Do you find that you have trouble imagining what things can be like? 


Yeah because you know like even though people can help, I mean like I don’t know. I’m still really, I’m only ten, but I mean like, it’s kind of hard to imagine it because our world has already started that so its hard to imagine them without police and prison because you know, but I mean, I’m only young, maybe adults can imagine it, but I dunno how to imagine it. 


What would you do if you have the power to change all these things? 

I would use it! I mean I would use it to change, a changing power or something? Yeah I would use it to change you know like prisons and change it with the helping idea like as I said and you know and instead of police, it’s the people helping them you know. It’s just that I don’t know how it will turn out. So if I had changing power and if it was working a lot worse, then I could change it back. 


Do you think you do have changing power? 

No! You know like I could go on a strike and stuff like that, but um, I mean you know, not everybody’s gonna follow me and so then it’s not gonna stop it. Cause I can’t go against… you know..yeah


So you said that your favourite subject is art? 



Do you ever draw prisons or draw things or draw worlds without prisons in them? 


I do draw worlds! (laughing). But I don’t think I draw a lot of other things. I think I draw a nice world where you know, there’s not a lot of construction and where there’s um… not a lot of bad things happening, like pollution or, I guess, that kind of relates to a world without prison? Yeah kinda. 


Can I ask you what you think? 


Yeah you can ask me what I think. 


What’s your name? 




And how old are you? 




And what do you think about prisons? 


I think they are pretty terrible places. I think they do exactly what they’re supposed to do, which is like, confine people who the government thinks are undesirable or shouldn’t be in the rest of society. I think prisons are colonial institutions. They come from canada’s history of confining and trying to repress Indigenous people. They’re pretty racist places too. I know that if you’re a Black person in canada, you’re something like eight times more likely to end up in prison than white people in canada. Yeah, I think prisons are pretty terrible. 


What do you think we should do instead of having prisons? 


So I think that’s a tricky question. I’m into this thing that’s called transformative justice. And these things that are called community accountability processes. Um, basically I think we need to figure out ways to deal with conflict and harm ourselves, so pushing ourselves to be more present in situations where we would tend to back away and call the cops, to push ourselves to intervene in those situations ourselves and see how that goes because often times people who are close to a conflict have ways that they can deescalate it that don’t involve the police and don’t involve prisons. I think we need to take power back into our own communities, in terms of dealing with conflict. I mean, the courts basically exist as a middle person between people who are having a conflict and I think we don’t need them. I think we can deal with conflict on our own. 


Have you ever been in a conflict and you know, what did you think about it? 


In terms of super physical conflicts, I think sometimes it can be really scary to approach people who are started to get really upset or physical with each other, but sometimes just standing with people and talking slowly can deescalate things a bit. I also think that giving people space to talk about some of the terrible things they’ve been through and supporting people to be able to tell their own stories is another way to deal with conflict. I think oftentimes people end up in conflicts because they are having trouble listening to each other and so creating spaces where people feel listened to can make conflict exist less in our world. 


Have you ever been a witness to a conflict? Did you do anything to help or what do you think you should do? 


I’ve definitely witnessed a lot of conflicts. A lot of them have been with police. It’s hard to deescalate with the police because they have guns and we don’t, most often. I’ve been pretty heavily ingrained with the idea that, like, if you see people having a fight and you don’t know them, you shouldn’t intervene, you should probably call the police, and yeah, I don’t want to. So it’s been good to be thinking alot about what I would do in those situations so that next time it happens, I can push myself to intervene more than I would otherwise. 


I mean, I just wanna ask you, just a little question. I just wanna ask you a little question here, I don’t know if it’s gonna be my last or not, but I know some people that were in for a long time, for most of their lives or for a little bit, I don’t know. But um, do you think that they’re nice? What do you think? 


Everyone I’ve met inside seems like they’re defying the stereotype that I’ve been taught for my whole life about who “criminals” are and what they’re like and “they’re bad people” and whatever, and then I meet these people inside and they’re really gracious and are curious about my life and wanna tell me the stories of the things they’ve been through and sometimes they’ve had really really rough times and they’re still willing to share those stories with me and I really appreciate that. 



Thanks Siobhan!

Thanks LF for helping transcribe this conversation!


Virginia did the interviews for this zine. Virginia is a white, queer, anarchist. When she was in her early 20s, she started to get to know some folks who had spent a lot of time in prison. She also started to get to know some young people whose parents would talk about prisons and police in a really different way than her parents had. She’s been really lucky to have all these awesome people in her life.