All Our Trials

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 14 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

All Our Trials is a history of how the women’s anti-violence, anti-racism, feminism, and prison abolition came together in recognition of how these struggles are interdependent. Examples abound of women who have been sentenced to prison for defending themselves from rape and domestic violence. The story of two African American women, Joan Little and Cece McDonald bracket the book, Joan Little killed a prison guard who was raping her. McDonald shot into the ceiling to scare off her abusive ex. Both women were convicted and both have won release through activism demanding justice. On one hand, the power of organizing is demonstrated by their release. On the other hand, half a century separate their cases…and the same biases prevail.

I remember when I was in college, a local woman whose abusive husband kept her shackled to a ropeline to keep her from leaving their farm was convicted when she killed him. It was such an unspeakable injustice and All Our Trials is rife with injustices and the women and organizations in the struggle to right those wrongs.

Because prison and the criminal justice system is the purveyor of so much injustice, feminist anti-rape and domestic violence organizers are reluctant to look to the criminal justice system for help. Incarcerating more people in a system of violence is not the answer to violence. This has been a nexus of coalition-building and opportunity as well as division as many white feminists did not see the connection.


All Our Trials successfully connects contemporary anti-violence and anti-carceral organizing to the struggles of the Seventies. There is a through-line that connects generations of organizing. That is both empowering and discouraging as our nation has embraced locking people up as a solution for every social problem, including mental illness and student disruption. The carceral state remains a force of oppression. Rape and domestic violence also seem unimpeded, with an abuser in the White House. Nonetheless, no one has given up and the work continues – work that will be well-informed by this book.

I received an e-galley of All Our Trials from the publisher through NetGalley.

All Our Trials at University of Illinois Press
Emily L. Thuma faculty page
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Emily Thuma's All Our Trials details the history of activism for and by women in prison. It's a very inclusive study, focusing intensely on marginalized women, including women of color and queer women. It's very thorough, detailed, and covers a lot of information without feeling info-dumping or feeling extremely dry. This book importantly takes on how women have fought for their own rights while in prison or for other women in prison, and it doesn't shy away from the conflicts between women who should have been on the same side. Thuma's writing never feels detached and packs a lot of emotional punch.
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I'd like to thank Netgalley and the University of Illinois Press for giving me an ARC of All Our Trials. 

For starters, there are some trigger warnings in this book, including, but not limited to: sexual assault, and brutality (domestic and police). All Our Trials is essentially a history of modern feminist anti-violence and anticarceral movements within the United States. This book covers a lot of ground, but it is incredibly important material. Emily Thuma details the incredible importance of intersectional feminism and through this book shows the triumphs that women can accomplish when we choose to stand together fighting for and with those whom colonial systems have tried to strip voices from. I would encourage anyone to read this book.
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All our Trials explores the intersection between race, gender, sexual orientation and the American "justice" system. Although racialized people made inroads during the Civil Rights Movement of the '60s, systematic changes didn't begin until much later. Racialized people continued to remain active. This book is extremely detailed, citing prominent voices, movements and publications of the time. Women were being thrown into jail for acts of self-defense, for protecting their families and even for looking at someone the wrong way. Thanks to the efforts of these valiant women (and men), we have a more intersectional feminist movement that helped decriminalize homosexuality and other queer identities and helped ensure imprisoned racialized people have basic human rights. I'm rating the book 4/5 stars because although it's very good, it covers a LOT of ground and is pretty dry. Still worth the read if you want to learn more. 

Trigger warnings: domestic violence, police brutality, sexual assault
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