By Patrisse Cullors and Mike de la Rocha There was a lot of conversation happening about Trump’s endorsement of The FIRST STEP Act (H.R. 5682) prior to the bill being signed into law. Many progressive supporters of the Act were surprised that Trump would endorse political policy that they thought would ultimately get thousands of people out of prison. A closer look reveals the truth: The FIRST STEP Act is a flawed and extremely harmful law that was framed as a step forward for criminal justice reform, but in reality it’s a misguided attack on the movement to end mass incarceration. Our concerns with The FIRST STEP Act are based upon three fundamental premises: The belief in the humanity of every person impacted by the justice system; The belief that the Act does not go far enough in addressing the systemic issues that are the driving factors of mass incarceration,…
By Alice Kim, Erica Meiners, Audrey Petty, Jill Petty, Beth Richie, and Sarah Ross This is an excerpt from The Long Term: Resisting Life Sentences, Working Toward Freedom, Haymarket Books, 2018. Reprinted with permission. In 2011, when the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project (P+NAP)—a group of artists, scholars, organizers, and writers—started teaching arts and humanities classes at Stateville prison in Illinois, our work was organized by the prison administration under a program called “Long-Term Offenders.” The abbreviation LTO, casually written on institutional paperwork and used by prison guards, is the prison administration’s shorthand for people who are serving long-term sentences, meaning life without parole or virtual life sentences of fifty years or more. For the people we met in our classes at Stateville prison, the term “LTO” signals something profound: it represents the nation’s ideological and political commitments to the long-term removal of people from their communities into prisons, a…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qlozk7G-JYo Activist and journalist Victoria Law is the author of “Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women” (PM Press, 2009). While citing the important work of INCITE: Women of Color Against Violence, Law argues that “today, abuse is treated as an individual pathology rather than a broader social issue rooted in centuries of patriarchy and misogyny. Viewing abuse as an individual problem has meant that the solution becomes intervening in and punishing individual abusers without looking at the overall conditions that allow abuse to go unchallenged and also allows the state to begin to co-opt concerns about gendered violence.”
Black Perspectives On September 9, 2016, the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising, prisoners from at least twenty-one states began striking against what they called “modern-day slavery.” The strike stands as one of the largest in U.S. history (figures are difficult to verify and the California prison hunger strike in 2013 involved at least 30,000 people) and several prisoners have lost their lives in this struggle. Prison strikers’ language is not hyperbolic. As Ava DuVernay’s new documentary on the 13th Amendment highlights, the very amendment that abolished slavery and guaranteed the legal emancipation of nearly four million enslaved people also carved out space for the continuation of slavery “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” The current prison strike’s struggle to achieve visibility (organizers have alleged a “mainstream-media blackout”) has been a central obstacle since the origins of prison organizing. In light of the dangerous implications of…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQo-yYhExw0 In his October cover story, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores how mass incarceration has affected African American families. “There’s a long history in this country of dealing with problems in the African American community through the criminal justice system,” he says in this animated interview. “The enduring view of African Americans in this country is as a race of people who are prone to criminality.”
About 7:45 am on Tuesday, January 17, 2017, I muster the energy to get out of bed and walk the step to the sink from the bottom bunk and I hear it. Clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk. “Shit!” I say to myself as my cellmate and I look at each other wide-eyed. We know that sound anywhere. That’s three-foot-long, two-inch diameter solid wood batons hitting the steel bars as “Orange Crush” runs down the gallery clunking every bar along the way as they yell. Though it’s not our cell house, it’s E House right behind us. We’re able to hear them through the utility alley that the cell houses share behind the cells. They’re making their rounds due to an unauthorized pair of headphones found during a cell search in another cell house.
By Alice Kim Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project, Stateville Prison This course explores the freedom dreams of political thinkers, artists, writers, activists and ordinary people in the US and beyond. We will engage with multiple genres (personal narrative, graphic memoir, poetry, speeches) to explore the meaning of freedom. Using an intersectional lens, we will consider the ways in which race, class, gender, and historical/social/cultural context impact our understanding and dreams of freedom. We will also explore the power of imagination to transform individuals, communities, and society.
Course One: Sweet Hot Tea
In a recent conversation with one of his lawyers, Mohamedou said that he holds no grudges against any of the people he mentions in this book, that he appeals to them to read it and correct it if they think it contains any errors, and that he dreams to one day sit with all of them around a cup of tea, after having learned so much from one another.—Author’s Note from Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi
“Those who commit the murders write the reports.” — Ida B. Wells, Lynch Law In All Its Phases, 1893
In 2017, at least twenty-two people died at Chicago’s Cook County Jail (CCJ). This news is not readily available. Rather, multiple Freedom of Information (FOI) Requests filed by the Illinois Deaths in Custody Project (IDCP) with Cook County entities to confirm names and glean a few more institutionally produced “facts” produced the following: Clifford V. Nelson, 49, died while being transferred; Lopez House, 47, collapsed and died at the jail; Lindbert McIntosh, 57, died in his sleep; Jerome Monroe, 56, also died in his sleep at CCJ. By November of 2017, a few of these deaths, somewhat surprisingly, began to make local news.
Yet, the deaths are not actually that surprising. Death is business as usual in our nation’s prisons and jails.