Fay "Honey" Knopp,
by Judy Meikle
Fay Honey Knopp described herself as a Jewish-Quaker-feminist-activist. A believer in Gandhian non-violence, she was drawn to Friends and became a member of Wilton Quaker Meeting in 1962. Honey was a powerhouse of activism fueled by her sense of injustice in the world; the poverty and suffering that she witnessed on a visit to Cuba in 1940, Hitler’s actions in Europe, the treatment of Jews turned away from the U.S.A. In the 1960’s, she protested the effects of nuclear testing on children’s health and was involved in racial justice work in Mississippi. She accompanied survivors of Hiroshima on a tour of the U.S., supported peace efforts in Vietnam, and was also involved with the American Friends Service Committee in various capacities.
Honey’s prison work is well known among prison activists. During the Vietnam war, she visited conscientious objectors in federal prisons. She became a Quaker “minister of record,” which gave her access to visit incarcerated people throughout the federal system. In 1968, together with Bob Horton, she founded Prisoner Visitation and Support which to this day provides qualified visitors to visit in every federal and military prison across the country.
Visiting people in prison had a major impact on Honey. She became aware of conditions of confinement and deep systemic issues of injustice within the carceral system. She began to explore alternatives to punishment which led her to collaborate with others in writing Instead of Prisons: A Handbook for Abolitionists, published in 1976. In the epilog to this handbook, the authors write:
“Prison, we have been taught, is a necessary evil. This is wrong. Prison is an artificial, human invention, not a fact of life; a throwback to primitive times, and a blot upon the species. [...] We say, ‘No more.” Imprisonment is slavery. Like slavery, it was imposed on a class of people by those on top. Prisons will fall when their foundation is exposed.”
Honey believed that there was no way to abolish prisons unless effective alternatives were devised for all incarcerated people. In developing an abolitionist perspective, she began to focus on reconciliation and restorative justice approaches to the prevention and treatment of sexual violence. When asked to contemplate a world without prisons, many people’s knee jerk response is to ask ‘but what about punishing the rapists and the child molesters?’ Honey wrote that she was advocating for more appropriate responses than “warehousing the perpetrators (of sexual violence) in prisons, neglecting sexual assault victims, and abdicating our responsibility to prevent such assaults”. From this thinking emerged the Prisoner Research Education/Action Project (PREAP), originally founded under the care of the New York State Council of Churches. Honey believed in the treatment of people convicted of sex offences. She researched all 22 treatment programs inside and outside of prisons and published the first nationwide survey of such programs. She advocated for intervention and accountability, while also showing care and concern for the victims of abuse. The work of PREAP continues today as the Safer Society Foundation and is perhaps Honey’s major legacy.
I have often thought about Honey Knopp when I have worshipped at Wilton Meeting. My journey to identifying as a prison abolitionist also began when I went behind the walls and connected with the humanity of incarcerated people. It is powerful to be reminded that we stand on the shoulders of the people who came before us. Honey’s words about the challenges of being a social change agent resonate with me and comfort me:
The struggle for most of us has never been whether to continue or give up, but rather: how to lead a life of integrity with the fewest of contradictions in a culture that often devalues, inhibits, negates, or co-opts the principles we support; how to stay rooted in the spiritual while actively pursuing justice, while being oppositional and confrontational, while being outraged, while all the time trying to reduce the pain in pain-filled people and a pain-filled society. Oftentimes I tell myself that may be my only mission: to reduce pain, and not increase it.
(From ‘An article about Fay Honey Knopp’, Licence & Johnson, Peace Education Fund)