Feb 14 2018

No Lady: A New Publication To Share with Incarcerated People

Many years ago, I read a poem written by a person incarcerated in an Illinois women’s prison. The untitled poem was written in the mid-70s by an anonymous prisoner and published in a now-defunct newspaper called the Chicago Seed in 1981. It really stayed with me when I read it and I decided to publish the poem on this blog in 2014.

No Lady
Prison didn’t improve me none.
There was ten of us girls in the county jail
five white, five black awaitin’ trial for sellin shit.
The white girls, they all on probation.
Us black girls, we all go to Dwight. Me, three months gone.

I’ve sometimes read the poem out loud when I’ve given talks about the evolution of the prison industrial complex. It’s an excellent text to use with young people to discuss what prison was like in the 1970s and what it’s still like today.

A couple of years ago, I decided that it would be wonderful to create a zine of the poem that could be shared with current incarcerated people and others who might be interested. Last year, Neta Bomani, a young artist who I connected with on Twitter, offered to help by making a zine.

Today, I’m happy to share “No Lady” with everyone who would like to make it available in their communities. I am particularly hopeful that those who have connections with people in women’s prisons will make copies to share with them. Both Neta and I hope that the zine will travel across the walls. This is why we produced this publication.

by Neta Bomani (2018)

Three things:

  1. If you share the zine online or elsewhere, please attribute it to Prison Culture and to Neta Bomani (designer).
  2. If you mail copies to prisoners, please let us know at jjinjustice1@gmail.com. We want to track the reach of the publication.
  3. I plan to make copies of this zine available to people incarcerated in New York State prisons. If you would like to help cover printing and mailing costs, you can contribute to my Paypal here. All support is appreciated.

You can download two versions of the zine below:

1. Printable Version
2. Web-Friendly Version to View Online

My sincere gratitude to Neta for their partnership and beautiful work. Please help that work reach incarcerated people. Also check out more of Neta’s work on their website and connect with Neta if you have paid work and commissions.

Dec 30 2017

It’s National #FreeThePeopleDay on New Year’s Eve…

As is my custom, I fired off a tweet this morning and then I was like, hey this might be a good idea :).

I’ve been supporting efforts to #EndMoneyBail and #EndPreTrialDetention for years. There is some progress being made on both fronts. I want to particularly lift up the efforts of the Chicago Community Bond Fund (full disclosure: I’m a founding advisory board member). You can read our end of year report here to learn more.

If you are interested in participating in National #FreeThePeople Day Bailout on New Year’s Eve, you can donate the cost of a drink (or more) to a community bail fund or effort. To help, I am sharing some local funds and efforts. I’ll begin by sharing the ones I’m actually familiar with and have donated to in 2017.

1. Chicago Community Bond Fund

2. Massachusetts Bail Fund (your donations are DOUBLED through 12/31)

3. National Bail Out (your donations are DOUBLED through 12/31)

4. Philadelphia Community Bail Fund 

The following are bail funds that I am familiar with but did not donate money to this year.

4. Brooklyn Community Bail Fund (your donations are DOUBLED through 12/31)

5. Bronx Freedom Fund

6. Richmond Community Bail Fund

7. Minnesota Freedom Fund

Here are some other local bail funds/efforts.

8. Memphis Community Bail Fund

9. Northwest Community Bail Fund

10.  Immigrant Bail Fund

11. Louisville Community Bail Fund

12. Tuscon Second Chance Community Bail Fund

13. Free the 350 Bail Fund (Wisconsin)

14. The Connecticut Bail Fund

15. Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project

16. Nashville Community Bail Fund  

17. Columbia County Bail Fund (NY)

Also there’s a great app called Appolition that will round up your small change and donate it to the National Bail Out.  More details about the app are in this recent article. You can sign up for Appolition here.

The New Inquiry has developed Bail Bloc which is a cryptocurrency project against bail. You have to download some software onto your computer. Don’t ask me how this works but it apparently does and it costs nothing but electricity to power your computer (?) to participate. Read more here.

Thank you for your interest in helping to free people from jails across the country. Let’s put this last day of 2017 to good use. If you donate, let others know through the #FreeThePeopleDay hashtag.

Nov 15 2017

Help Criminalized Survivors of Violence For the Holidays!

Last week, I shared an article in Salon Magazine about the plight of incarcerated and criminalized people in women’s prisons. One finding was particularly striking to those who read and circulated the article:

“According to a recent study, 86 percent of women who have spent time in jail report that they had been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. As well, while women represented just 13 percent of the jail population between 2009 and 2011, they represented 67 percent of the victims of staff-on-inmate sexual victimization.”

No one who has any contact and/or experience with jails and prisons would be surprised that they are filled to the brim with victims/survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Those of you who know my work know that I have spent many years supporting criminalized survivors of violence through various organizations and interventions. Most recently, I co-founded Survived and Punished with several comrades.

Every Holiday Season, I partner with various groups to support their efforts to give gifts and necessities to the people they support. This year is no different. To kick off, I am partnering with STEPS TO END FAMILY VIOLENCE to help them ensure that some women jailed at Rikers Island receive holiday gifts.

The Criminalized Survivors Program at STEPS to End Family Violence supports survivors of intimate partner violence, and other forms gender-based violence, who have been criminalized for their efforts to survive or resist abusive partner behavior. Hundreds of women, as well as trans men and gender non-conforming people, are currently detained at the Rose M Singer Center at Rikers Island–all survivors of the trauma of racist state violence–and the majority identifying as survivors of some form of relational trauma. The Criminalized Survivors team at Rikers provides emotional support to survivors facing criminal charges that are directly connected to their survival, opportunities to connect with other survivors through dynamic group work, and robust legal advocacy and court support in collaboration with defense teams.

Every year, STEPS holds several events at the RMSC Visit House for participants in the program, where survivors can enjoy good food, music and dancing, an open mic, and more. The upcoming Holiday Family Reunification event on December 12 is an opportunity for survivors to spend a day with their children and other family members. The Criminalized Survivors team supports approximately 60 women (including trans women) and TGNC people per year who are detained at Rikers or facing charges in the community.

All donations of items to the wishlist will go directly to criminalized survivors.

Here’s how you can help STEPS and the criminalized survivors currently incarcerated at the Rose M Singer Center at Rikers Island for the holidays:

1. Donate items from the Amazon Wish List. Please make sure items arrive by December 10. Select Julia Shaw as the address to mail items.

2. STEPS will be providing food for STEPS to End Family Violence 31st Annual Family Reunification Celebration on Rikers Island on December 12. Cash donations are very welcome. Donations can be made HERE. Please select “STEPS to End Family Violence” under Gift Designation, and in the notes section to write “STEPS Rikers Family Reunification Event 2017.” Any contribution will go directly to purchasing food, supplies, and gifts for this event, and any extra funds would go directly to supporting other events and activities with STEPS participants at Rikers (such as the Mother’s Day event).

3. If you live in NYC and would like to drop off items directly to STEPS, you can do so. Here’s what they need:

“We are always in need of soft cover journals, soft cover fiction and non-fiction in English and Spanish, soft cover puzzle books, pajamas in all sizes (they have to have patterns and are not supposed to have colors that could be considered gang colors, like red, blue, green. Sometimes we can get PJs in and sometimes not), underwear and socks. We are also always in need of court clothes in all adult sizes–slacks, blouses, jackets. Anyone who wants to donate items is welcome to connect directly about drop off/pick up. Our building in East Harlem closes at 6pm every day, which can make drop off challenging, but we’re always happy to make arrangements to meet people off site if that’s easier.” You should contact Julia Shaw (jshaw@egscf.org) and/or Nancy Diaz (ndiaz@egscf.org) if you want to make a direct drop off of items.

If you are interested and able, please donate from the wish list and also make cash donations to support criminalized survivors of violence at Rikers Island. Thank you so much.

Sep 20 2017

Host Teach-Ins about Bail and Pretrial Detention This Fall…

One of the most effective means to directly impact mass incarceration is to end cash bail and pretrial detention. There is a burgeoning local and national movement to do just this. Join in the movement by educating your communities about bail reform through organizing local teach-ins. Earlier this year, Several organizations partnered to create a curriculum resource about transformative bail reform. You can download that resource here.

If you are a college student, you are well positioned to contribute to the growing movement to end cash bail and pretrial detention. Take a first step by organizing a teach-in in your community this fall. Below are some tips and ideas for how to do this.

Teach-ins are educational, interactive forums where people come together to focus and discuss a topic. They are meant to be practical, participatory, empowering, and action-oriented. Lectures, forums, discussion panels, and free debates can all be part of teach-ins. Teach-ins are often held on college campuses, but can also be hosted at libraries, houses of worship, and community centers. Teach-ins are an important tactic for personally engaging people, and building an effective, responsive movement.


Gather your organizers. A small group of students or volunteers can organize the teach-in. Set a date for your first meeting, and start inviting people.

Educate yourselves about the issue. Watch this video discussion about bail reform from an abolitionist perspective hosted by Critical Resistance. Read the following one pager about key points in bail reform. Check the resources section in the transformative bail reform curriculum linked below.

Structure the program. First, determine what you want the teach-in to look like. Length of the teach-in can be an all-day Saturday event, a half-day week-day event, or an evening event of 2-3 hours. Weekend events may be preferable, as people can set aside more time and will be fresher than after a workday. Possibilities include speakers, panel discussions, films, and facilitated dialogue with a speaker. The first half could be devoted to discussing the issues, and the second half devoted to response, with a networking intermission in between. You can have several speakers or center your event on 1-2 speakers.

Outline the content. Use the following Transformative Bail Reform curriculum as the basis for mapping out your teach-in event. There are suggested activities and a list of resources included here.

Set a date. Set the date(s) well in advance—a 30-40 day planning horizon is suggested, to line up speakers and reserve a meeting space. Choose a date or dates that works well for your group, speakers, audience, and semester schedule.

Reserve a space well in advance.  Public spaces often are booked well in advance, so make this an early priority. Options include universities, colleges, libraries, houses of worship, union halls, and community centers. Choose a site with sufficient seating for the anticipated turnout, that is easy to find, readily accessible, and with proper sound / lighting systems. If the event is an all-day event, make sure there are restaurant options nearby or you will need to provide food. Many places will donate the space or offer a discount if you tell them it is a free public education event.

Arrange speakers well in advance. Look for speakers who can communicate the bail/pre-trial detention issue well in everyday language, not jargon. Possibilities include formerly incarcerated people & their families, professors at your local university’s law school or criminal justice program, local leaders taking a stand for criminal punishment reform, and anti-criminalization advocates with local organizations. Some speakers will charge fees – ask your school if it has funds reserved for invited speakers.

Find co-sponsors. Co-sponsors will help promote the event through their own networks, and can help with the organizing. Make sure responsibilities and time-lines are clearly defined for each party. Co-sponsoring organizations can set up tables in back to provide attendees with an opportunity for further engagement.

Handle various details. Arrange lunch if needed and / or snack table—ask local businesses to donate, or have organizations pick up costs. Arrange for facilitators, setup and cleanup crews, an AV/light person (they should confirm the system in advance), a photographer, a video person, someone to pass around sign-up sheets, tabling volunteers, and a coordinator to confirm volunteer commitments two days ahead. Create a sign-up sheet, a take-home follow-up action sheet, and a program schedule sheet if needed.

Publicize. Create posters, flyers, leaflets, sidewalk chalk, Facebook event page, and radio announcements. Post on website calendars. Personally invite key people (local leaders, government officials, professors), and remind them within a few days prior. Posters around campus should be placed within a week of the event, and may need to be stamped. Have tables in the student union in the days prior. Go door-to-door in the dorms. Hand out leaflets personally at key locations on campus. Ask professors of large classes if you can briefly announce the teach-in at the beginning of their class. Ask professors to give extra credit for attendance.

Cover your costs.  Make the event free, so that all can attend. If funding is not available to cover costs, a cosponsor that is a 501c3 nonprofit org can ask for donations. If you decide to provide lunch, then suggest a donation amount in an announcement.

Build future support and follow-through. Ideally, teach-ins should be part of a larger movement-building process, not a one-off event. Maybe this bail/pretrial detention teach in can be the basis of more organizing on the part of event organizers and your broader campus community. Capture the energy of participants who are eager to respond. Have a table with literature, and a letter-writing table. Pass around a sign-up list, asking for names and email addresses. Send a follow-up email to those who signed up thanking them for their attendance and desire to respond. Plan a fundraiser for your local bail/bond funds.

Aug 10 2017

#FreeKy #SurvivedAndPunished

Ky Peterson – Survived and Punished from BCRW Videos on Vimeo.

Ky Peterson should be free, but right now he is in prison for defending his life.

In 2011, on a fall evening in Americus, Georgia, Ky Peterson, a young Black trans man, was walking home from a convenience store when he was attacked and knocked unconscious. When he came to from the blows, he was being raped. Fearing for his life, Ky fought back. In the midst of the struggle, Ky shot his attacker, killing him.

Though he survived, Ky feared for his life again, knowing too well the police and criminal legal system’s brutal record on anti-Black racism, transphobia, and criminalizing survivors of sexual and physical violence. He was right.

Neither police nor prosecutors believed Ky was a victim.

Instead, he was charged with involuntary manslaughter with a twenty year sentence, fifteen of those years to be served in prison. Abused by the courts and neglected by the public defenders assigned to his case, Ky was coerced into signing a plea deal.

Ky’s community mobilized. They appealed to the court to reduce Ky’s sentence, which exceeded Georgia’s limits for involuntary manslaughter. Five years later, in 2017, Ky was granted a re-sentencing hearing, but the judge denied his request for parole. Instead, his sentence was changed from involuntary to voluntary manslaughter, providing the state of Georgia legal justification for the twenty-year sentence. In prison, Ky faces an isolation known for magnifying psychological torture and physical and sexual violence at the hands of corrections officers.

Ky has now been in prison for over five years with fifteen years left on his sentence. His community continues mobilizing in his defense.

by Micah Bezant

Free Ky, Free Them All

Ky is not alone. Prisons are filled with survivors of physical and sexual violence, as well as survivors of state violence. Black and Brown people, immigrants, low-income and no-income people, women, queer and trans people, and people with disabilities are routinely criminalized for daily acts of survival.

Take Action: Community Self-Defense

We know from the successful campaigns to free Joan Little in the 1970s to the more recent campaign to free Marissa Alexander that grassroots mass mobilizations work. That’s why the Ky Peterson Defense Committee, including support from organizations Freedom OvergroundSurvived and PunishedBlack and Pink, and Southerners on New Ground, are organizing to free Ky from prison.

NYC student activists are collaborating with Freedom Overground and Survived and Punished on a letter writing campaign to demand that Georgia Governor Nathan Deal pardon Ky and release him from prison.

If you live in New York City, you can join these activists at a letter writing party next Wednesday, August 16.

If you don’t live in NYC or you can’t make it next Wednesday, check out the Freeing Ky Support Guide from Freedom Overground to organize a letter writing party in your own community and learn about other ways to support Ky and others locked up in prison. You can also learn more by visiting the Freedom Overground website. Please use these resources and share them widely.

If you are on social media, you can help build momentum to support Ky’s freedom by posting a photo of yourself with a message of solidarity, using the hashtag #Justice4Ky and tagging @KyPeterson1 on Twitter and The Free Ky Project on Facebook.

Many people like Ky Peterson, Joan Little, and Marissa Alexander are in prison all over the United States, doing time for defending themselves and surviving.

Visit the Survived and Punished website to learn about ongoing campaigns for freedom and to support the work.

Download the Survived and Punished toolkit for resources on starting a defense campaign.

Aug 09 2017

Abolishing Bail…

A few weeks ago, I was the keynote speaker at a national gathering of community bail funds. I spoke about a number of things. Here’s an excerpt from my talk:

The National United Committee to Free Angela Davis framed bail as a political weapon that was being used against Black and poor people as a way to unjustly and illegally detain them. They write:

“In NYC, however, money bail is set in 85% of all felony cases – and well over half of these alleged felons are held because they can’t afford bail. But of these people, more than 1/3 are later acquitted of all charges, and another large percentage are convicted but given suspended sentences. Who ae these people who spend months and years behind bars despite their right to bail and freedom? In NY, there are poor Blacks and Puerto Ricans, for the most part – and they number in the tens of thousands ever year, jamming and overflowing the city’s ancient and dilapidated jails.

Most people have no idea of the larger number of brothers and sisters who languish behind bars because they can’t make bail. It’s generally thought that everyone has access to bail bondsmen whose activities are carefully regulated by law.”

Doesn’t this sound eerily familiar?

What is our current coherent political argument against the coercive use of bail/bond? What is our consistent argument that is being articulated across our movements?


The National United Committee to Free Angela Davis was clear-eyed in linking its fight to free Davis with a broader fight to free all prisoners:

“A political attack on the bail system as a racist system of pre-trial detention has to be mounted in all prominent political cases. But the attack, to be successful, must not only result in the freeing of a particular captive. It must also bring massive, organized pressure to bear on the whole oppressive bail system itself. Political activists are captured and incarcerated because their struggles point towards the liberation of all oppressed peoples. Only when the burden of oppression has been lifted from the shoulders of all their brothers and sisters will political prisoners be truly free.”

Recently, Critical Resistance hosted a discussion for donors about abolishing cash bond and ending pre-trial detention. You can hear the discussion below.

CR also produced a set of guidelines for considering bail reforms from an abolitionist perspective. You can download those guidelines here. You can find more resources that were shared on the webinar/call here.

Aug 08 2017

New Resource: Ending Child Sexual Abuse – A Transformative Justice Handbook

Ending Child Sexual Abuse: A Transformative Justice Handbook (PDF) is freely available online and features relevant information regarding child sexual abuse as well as an accessible introduction to transformative justice and concrete action steps for those seeking to prevent, heal, or transform the impact of child sexual abuse in their lives.

This handbook seeks to update and make more widely available the ideas first put forward ten years ago through generationFIVE’s document “Toward Transformative Justice.”

generationFIVE has spent the last decade, with allies across movements and across the country, developing Transformative Justice. Transformative Justice is an approach to respond to and prevent child sexual abuse and other forms of violence that puts transformation and liberation at the heart of the change. It is an approach the looks at the individual and community experiences as well as the social conditions, and looks to integrate both personal and social transformation.

Their aim was to develop intervention and prevention that aligned with:

  • our analysis of child sexual abuse as both one of the symptoms and perpetuators of oppression and violence
  • a politic committed to systemic change and liberation
  • our commitment to healing, agency, and accountability
  • the actual relationships and situations in which child sexual abuse happens
  • the oppression and limitations of state responses

More here.

Aug 07 2017

Invisible No More: First Comprehensive Book about Police Violence against Black Women & WOC

Since I’m currently on vacation for the next couple of people, I’ll try to post more regularly. I am excited to share a new book from my friend and comrade Andrea Ritchie that was just released last week. Invisible No More: Police Violence against Black Women and Women of Color explores how Black women, Indigenous women, and women of color experience racial profiling, police brutality, and immigration enforcement.

I am honored to have written a foreword for the book. Here are a few words from that:

“By centering the experiences of girls and young women of color Invisible No More extends and enlarges the carceral landscape, insisting that we consider the streets, schools and the home as sites of oppressive policing. Previously obscured, sexual and reproductive violence come into view. Invisible No More also argues that paying attention to these issues expands and transforms how we consider policing. As more people address the ever-expanding prison industrial complex (PIC), this book finds itself in dialogue with others addressing the history and impacts of mass incarceration on women of color (particularly Black women and girls). After all, the police are the gatekeepers of the PIC. But racialized gender violence doesn’t stop with police.

This book doesn’t just document police violence against women of color, nor does it simply offer policy prescriptions to reduce the harms of oppressive policing. Invisible No More is also an invitation to resistance to each of us, and will serve as a long overdue and invaluable resource to anchor and inform the efforts of young people organizing today against state violence in all its forms.”

I recommend reading this book. You should take care as you do read it because it is a lot to process. You can learn more about the book at its website.

You can listen to Andrea speaking about the book on the Lit Review podcast.

Jun 22 2017

Criminalizing Survivors of Violence: New Video Resources

I’m excited to share three new videos which are a collaboration between the Barnard Center for Research on Women and Survived & Punished (an organizing project that I co-founded). These very short videos tell part of the story of three criminalized survivors of violence. They are intended to provide a historical context for the criminalization of survival in the case of Joan Little, to highlight an example of a successful contemporary campaign to free a criminalized survivor in the case of Marissa Alexander and to introduce people to the case of a current criminalized survivor who needs community support and action in the case of Paris Knox.

I just got back from Detroit where I co-organized and participated in a national convening about the criminalization of survivors titled “No Perfect Victims.” I was overjoyed to finally meet Marissa Alexander in person. It was an amazing experience to see her free from prison and house arrest. She was grounded, smart and full of great ideas about how to support other women like her who were and continue to be punished for surviving. She has launched the Marissa Alexander Justice Project and I can’t wait to see what she does in the future.

Please watch the videos and share them with your networks. In particular, Paris Knox needs our support as she prepares to be retried. Paris Knox is a 38-year-old Black mother who, in 2007, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for killing her abusive ex-partner when he attacked her in her home in 2004. In early 2017, her conviction and 40-year sentence were vacated. Now, though presumed innocent and awaiting trial, her bail has been set at $500,000 with a $50,000 bond that she cannot afford. Today she remains in prison and separated from her mother, sister, and child, who is now 14 years old.

Like many other Black women, Paris is in prison for self-defense.

Expressing solidarity is an integral way to support survivors and reduce the isolation of prisons. Write Paris a letter of support and encouragement at the address below. For tips on letter writing to people in prison, check out the letter writing section in the #SurvivedAndPunished toolkit.

Paris Knox
Inmate No: 20170120230
P.O. Box 089002
Chicago, Illinois 60608

Criminalization of Survival and Defense Campaigns for Freedom:
From Joan Little to Marissa Alexander

In 1974, Joan Little was charged with first degree murder after she stabbed a prison guard who sexually assaulted her at Beaufort County jail. Joan’s case became a national cause for prison abolitionists, prisoners’ rights advocates, feminists, anti-violence activists, and people advocating against the death penalty and for racial justice. Protests in support of her case were widespread and global. After a five week trial, the jury, made up of both Black and white people, deliberated for less than 90 minutes before acquitting Little.

Joan Little was the first woman to be acquitted of murder on the grounds of of self-defense against sexual violence.

Marissa Alexander is a survivor of domestic violence who, in 2012, was sentenced to a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence for firing a single warning shot into the ceiling when her estranged abusive husband attacked her. Just over a year after Marissa was sentenced, George Zimmerman was on trial for the brutal, racist murder of Trayvon Marton and tried to invoke the stand-your-ground defense that Marissa was denied. After a one month trial, he was acquitted on self-defense. This put the workings of a racist criminal legal system on full display, and support for Marissa’s case surged.

Marissa’s supporters helped publicize her case, held protests and events, raised funds for her legal defense, and supported her through her probation. Eventually grassroots organizing and good legal defense led to Marissa’s case being overturned.

But State Attorney Angela Corey decided to retry her case, threatening Marissa with 60 years in prison for defending her life. In November 2014, Marissa accepted a plea deal for time served plus 65 more days in jail and 2 years of probation under house arrest. After serving a total of 5 years, Marissa Alexander was finally released on January 27, 2017.

I am grateful to Hope Dector, Dean Space, Cece McDonald and Lewis Wallace for their work in creating these terrific videos. Special thanks to all of the artists who contributed their work as well.

Jun 21 2017

New Assata Shakur Zine Available!

My latest collaboration with my friend artist & organizer Monica Trinidad is a zine about Assata Shakur. We are releasing this publication in time for Assata’s birthday in July. It includes an interview with Assata about her treatment by police and prison guards when she was arrested in 1973. The short zine features artwork by Billy Dee, Ariel Springfield, Rachel Marie-Crane Williams, and Monica.

You can view the zine online here. You can download a PDF version of the zine here.