Oct 30 2011

Do We Really Want More Policing in Communities of Color?

I work with members of a block club on the West side of Chicago. This group of mostly elderly black women is courageous, committed and a lot of fun to be around. Over the years, the “ladies” as I like to call them have consistently advocated for a more responsive police presence in their community.

By Art Hazelwood

Anyone who has ever organized in a low-income community of color has confronted this dilemma – how to address the reality of police violence and harassment while responding to community members’ demands for safety. I write often about the police on this blog. I believe that as the most visible gatekeepers of state power, I can’t write enough about the police.

On Friday, the Chicago Tribune reported on an ACLU suit alleging that the police respond more slowly to calls from minority neighborhoods than white ones:

On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city that alleged Chicago’s deployment of police officers results in slower response times to 911 calls in primarily black and Hispanic neighborhoods compared with service in largely white communities.

“Because of experiences such as this, many of our neighbors simply will not call the police,” Reid, who is black, told reporters at a news conference at the ACLU’s downtown offices.

The Central Austin Neighborhood Association in Chicago’s crime-plagued West Side also joined the lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court. Reid is its president.

The suit is based on recent news reports that found police districts that cover minority neighborhoods had disproportionately fewer officers than those covering white neighborhoods as measured by response times to emergency calls and rates of serious violent crime.

People who live in communities that are plagued with crime and violence understandably want to feel safe. They have that right. However, I have to wonder if it is a bad thing that community members living in Austin are not calling the police. For me, the question that we have to ask is:”Does an increased police presence in a community necessarily translate to more ‘safety’?” Instead of blanketing Austin with more police officers, can we instead find a way to provide jobs to all of the young men who are chronically unemployed? This is the best prescription for crime and violence.

Part of my work involves imagining (and then implementing) alternative ways of addressing community safety that do not rely on policing. The reality is that for many, many people, the police do not actually engender a sense of safety. Instead they can be the purveyors of violence. I read a good blog post about this very issue last week in Feministing.

“Folks who have grown up with the police serving and protecting them understandably think the police work for them. Folks who’ve grown up being harassed by the police – who’ve seen their family members pulled over for no reason, arrested for being in public space, or totally ignored or even charged when they were a victim of a crime – have a different image. When the cops work for you, it seems like a pretty good idea to trust them to serve and protect. When you’ve been a target of the police, you tend to see a different picture.”

Communities of color have always had a complicated relationship to law enforcement (at best). For example, Public Enemy’s 911 is a Joke is a commentary on the fact that emergency services neglect people who live in black and brown communities. While NWA’s F-the Police points to the hostility that young people of color feel towards their police aggressors. Most recently prominent figures like Cornel West have been publicly denouncing and protesting the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk Policy which is described as:

“a method the police department enforces in an effort to reduce crime in the city. Under the policy, officers may stop individuals who are suspected of criminal activity without clear cause. Once stopped, officers may ask for identification and conduct “pat downs” or “frisks” in which they search for illegal drugs or weapons.”

Stop and Frisk is a gross violation of our rights as citizens and seems designed to increase people of color’s mistrust of and anger towards the police. Next Saturday, a group of us are coming together to participate in a participatory action research project called Chain Reaction: Alternatives to Calling the Police. I will periodically update our progress on this project. I hope that it will provide us with some workable alternatives to relying on the police to address youth misbehavior. Stay tuned!

Oct 26 2011

Local Juvenile Justice Knowledge Quiz…

Please answer the following ten (10) questions to the best of your ability:

How many juvenile arrests were there in your city/state last year (2010)?

How many juveniles were referred to court in your city/state last year (2010)?

How many juvenile petitions were filed in your city/state last year (2010)?

How many juveniles were detained in your city/state last year?

How many juveniles were diverted from the juvenile justice system in your city/state last year?

How many juveniles were given probation/supervision last year?

How many juveniles were incarcerated in your city or state last year?

How many juvenile expungements of criminal records were granted in your city/state last year?

How much did it cost to incarcerate a juvenile in your city/state last year?

How much did it cost to offer community-based treatment for juveniles last year?

If you were unable to answer even one of the questions listed above correctly, don’t worry you are in good company. The vast majority of Americans have no clue about the scope or impact of the juvenile justice system in their local communities. Community members cannot be faulted for this. Local juvenile justice systems do not make the data readily accessible for the most part. This of course makes it very difficult to mobilize to hold the systems accountable for how they treat our children. Information properly deployed is power and I believe that the government tries to control and manage information so as to keep the public disempowered.

One exception that I just learned about is the state of Georgia which has launched a juvenile justice data clearinghouse as part of an effort to increase system transparency. I hope that every state in the country follows suit and expands this effort to include adult criminal legal data as well. It is critical for citizens to know what is being done in our name and to be able to hold public officials accountable for how they use our resources.

Here in Chicago (in a much more low budget and low tech way), my organization is also attempting to make juvenile justice data more transparent. This past weekend, I facilitated a training for over 30 community members about how to access and more importantly how to understand local juvenile justice data. The Chicago Youth Justice Data Project (CYJDP) is a grassroots attempt to mobilize community members to use data in organizing efforts to increase system accountability. I don’t think that it should be left to small community organizations to seek out relevant and accurate data. Our local governments need to do this work.

In the meantime, I encourage all citizens to get educated about how the juvenile justice system operates in your local community.

Oct 24 2011

Missing A Locked Up Parent…

I am in a reflective mood since celebrating a milestone birthday last week. I have been thinking about the fact that I am blessed to have the best parents on the planet. I assume that some of you might take issue with this characterization and want to put up your own parents as contestants in the “best on the planet” category. That’s OK, I give you permission.

As I have been reflecting on my childhood, I can’t help but think of the millions of children and youth in America who are living without a parent because of mass incarceration. A year ago, the Pew Charitable Trust published a report that found that 2.7 million children in the U.S. now have an incarcerated parent.

2.7 million is a number that is almost impossible to fathom. Yet here we are. I have a friend who runs a program that offers free transportation to children to visit their incarcerated mothers. She always mentions the resilience of the children. However she also underscores how sad they always are when they have to leave their mothers behind. I can’t even imagine the pain of that. We rarely hear the voices of these children in the public square. One exception to this can be found in the book "What Will Happen to Me?", a publication that I wrote about a few months ago. A young boy named Kevin is quoted in the book speaking about the losses that he experiences because his stepmother is behind bars:

If my stepmom were here, we would see her every day, and it would be happy and everything. She missed my honors assembly. Missed a lot of parent-teacher conferences — some parent things where they go to the school and talk to them about how good or bad we’ve been in school.

Years ago, I remember seeing Daniel Beaty perform this poem “Knock, Knock” at Def Poetry Jam. I could not stop watching this clip of his performance for several weeks. He does a terrific job drawing on his own experience to paint a picture of what a child loses when his parent is imprisoned. If you’ve never seen this performance, do yourself a favor and do so today.

So many children cannot articulate their feelings of longing for their incarcerated parent and so they keep their anger, sadness, and fear bottled up. This can sometimes lead to emotional implosions and explosions.

I am happy to announce that I am currently working on a project that will address (in part) the concept of what the children of incarcerated parents “miss” when their parent(s) is locked up. I can’t wait to share more about this in the coming months.

Oct 19 2011

“The Slaves of Turpentine:” A First Hand Account of Convict Leasing

As part of my ongoing interest in the history of prisons in the U.S. and especially in the convict leasing system, I am sharing excerpts from an article published in a magazine called “The Literary Digest” in June 1914. I came across this article as part of my research. I think that too few people truly understand the evolution of the criminalization and incarceration of black people in the U.S. As you read this account of a convict camp in Florida in the early 20th century, think about the parallels to what we see in many prisons today. Below are excerpts from the article:

“In the turpentine convict camps of Florida are human beings whose “degraded, debased, sordid” existence is “worse than any exile, worse than any slum district,” worse, even, “than Whitechapel, London.” So writes Marc N. Goodnow in the Continent (Presbyterian, Chicago, June 4), after a ten-days’ visit to one of these camps employing negro convicts — prisoners of the State. “No penitentiary in this country has ever equaled the sordidness of this or the other thirty camps in that State; no condition of servitude or savagery that I ever heard or read about has ever surpassed the state of inhumanity or hopelessness behind the whitewashed stockade of this camp.” The needs of the ignorant mountaineers of the South, declares Mr. Goodnow, “are as nothing compared to the oppression of these slaves; yet the former are aided in missions” and the latter receive no religious help and are “apparently unknown” to generous Christian givers. In the camp this writer particularly describes there are thirty-five negro men, “in all stages of human dilapidation.”

The State still reserves its “right to trade and barter” in their black bodies, “leasing them to an association for the sum of $281.60 a head per annum, and allowing that association to turn to lease them to individual camp contractors for the sum of $400 a head per annum.” The average profit on this transaction of $100 a head for 1,500 convicts is “easy money.” The convicts’ first sight of the “clump of low, white buildings, squatting under a blazing sun in a desert of sand and marsh, turns them sick.” And for many days they have to be closely guarded for fear of attempts to escape. In their embitterment and weariness, the one saving grace is their “irresponsible temperment,” which combines with a “mad desire to forget” to cause occasional evening and Sunday hours of merriment. But to let Mr. Goodnow describe a typical day in the camp:

The day’s work begins out in the turpentine forest by the time the sun strikes the hooded tops of the slender, swaying pines, which means that the convicts are astir in the fetid bunk- and mess-rooms of the stockade building some time before. A hurried “bait” of salt meat and biscuit or corn pone breaks their fast; they file out of the stockade, hatless, coatless, bootless, and take their places in separate squads of ten to fifteen each, according to their duties in the woods. Then they begin the tramp — which may be several miles to work — an armed guard or two on horseback and a couple of hound dogs trailing along behind.

“The squad dips fresh pine resin from boxes cut at the base of the trees or scrapes the hardened gum from the open face of the tree-trunks. The work carries the men through infested swamps and marshes up to their waists; it holds them through rain or shine, hot or cold. There is no protection for their bodies; the convict stripes are tattered flannel and are worn without underwear. The dew is not yet off the thick grass palmetto stubble when they go to work and it is cold and dank.

“But the day’s stint has already been set and the squad works rapidly and furiously, the men running back and forth, back and forth, between the trees and the barrels which hold the resinous gum and pitch.

“It is dark when these tired, silent, ghostlike wretches file back into the stockade — perhaps wet to the skin and muddy with feet and legs torn and bleeding from contact with the sharp blades of the palmetto. The stockade is a welcome sight after a day in the woods, for it means rest and sleep or perhaps an evening diversion. Even supper of cold baked beans, fat meat, and corn bread will stir life afresh within these creatures. The plank, plink, plank of the banjo is enough. It starts a shuffle of feet and the fancy evolutions of the buck and wing begin.

Sometimes on a Sunday, if prosperous-looking visitors make it seem worth while, a half dozen of the more talented convicts will put on a “show” or a dance.

And while this show is in progress, several guards and dogs, and at least one of the convicts are absent. The guards are following the baying hounds through the forest. The dogs are following the trail of a convict as he speeds through the stubble of the woods, dodging here and there to throw the hounds off the scent, or – when the pursuit grows too hot – “shinning” to the top branches of a tree.

This is the “nigger chase,” a weekly rehearsal to keep the dogs in training for the capture of some wretch who makes a break for liberty. Once.

Nine convicts escaped from the bunk-room one dark night while the guard slept. To lose $3,600 in one night is rather expensive, even for a camp where the profit from turpentine and resin the year before is said to have been $25,000. And then, on top of this, of the six dogs that gave chase through the woods in a futile effort to capture the fugitives, three died. This was even a greater loss than the convicts or the money, for a hound-dog with a good nose for scenting convicts is an object of no little pride and care in a turpentine camp.

by Billy Dee for the PIC IS Zine


There is no hope from within the camps, we are told. Magazines, books, and newspapers which Mr. Goodnow brought for the prisoners were kept by the guards. “There is supposed to be a library of some sort at each camp, but there is nothing of the sort.” It is said that nothing can be done for these convicts. “Florida has allowed this slavery system to grow and thrive for thirty-two years without turning a hand to better conditions.” But, declares Mr. Goodnow finally —

The fact that this inhuman system has been allowed to flourish not only in Florida but in Alabama and other States for so long is all the more reason why the church — some church at least — should attempt some systematic mission work. When society exiled these creatures to malarial swamps, fever-breeding bayous, insanitary, sleeping and eating quarters, inhuman practices, and the hardest kind of physical labor, it forgot that these men would one day reenter society. The question is: ‘What kind of men will they be?’

“There may be no complete regeneration ahead of these men, at least not while they are so utterly neglected by civilizing influences, but how immeasurably their mental, moral, and spiritual outlook could be improved by the kindly, human, sympathetic influence of the church? Where is the church that will accept this mission?

Oct 18 2011

Tookit: Involving Young Men as Allies to End Violence…

My work as an anti-violence against girls and women activist preceded my anti-prison organizing. I began addressing gender-based violence against girls and women as a teenager. It has been a life-long passion of mine.

Eight years ago, I co-founded the Rogers Park Young Women's Action Team (YWAT) with a group of local girls ages 14-16 at the time. I have previously written here about YWAT which was a youth-led, adult supported social change organization focused on helping young women to address issues of concern to them (namely violence). YWAT disbanded this summer. It ended on a good note for all involved.

I am pleased to share the final product of the girls’ work here today. They undertook a three-year campaign to engage young men as allies to end violence against girls (EYMA). The campaign had several components:

1. Creating a documentary, as part of our research process, that reflected the importance of engaging young men as allies in ending violence against girls and young women.
2. Creating a workbook/discussion guide to be used with the film.
3. Developing a workshop along with young men about how they can be allies in addressing sexism and male violence against girls.
4. Implementing a train the trainer session (2 days) to help allies address gender violence in their own communities.
5. Organizing a young men’s only conference to address the issue of misogyny and sexism (February 9, 2008).
6. Incubating a network of young men who will become allies in ending gender violence.
7. Documenting what we have learned and sharing our findings (2011 and beyond)

Today, the YWAT is releasing their “Engaging Young Men as Allies” toolkit. You can find it HERE. If you work with young men, I think that this resource will be helpful. It includes youth-led research, curriculum units, activities, as well as reflections on lessons learned. Special thanks to the young women of YWAT for all of their contributions to social justice!

Oct 17 2011

No, Let’s Not Jail the Bankers

This is an open letter to some of my progressive friends who keep talking about “jailing” the banksters. It may be unpopular.

Dear Friends,

For the past three years, I have ignored your comments about the need to put some of the bankers and Wall Street financiers in jail/prison for their role in destroying our economy. I felt that you needed to blow off some steam and that you were entitled to be hyperbolic in doing so. I too am incredibly angry over their actions. I too want some form of accountability.

Well we are now three years removed from the 2008 economic meltdown and the Occupy Wall Street movement is nascent. This is an exciting time and I feel so grateful that the national conversation has shifted to addressing economic justice. However in the midst of this mass mobilization of the dispossessed, I still hear you talking about jailing the robber barons of Wall Street. In fact, you are on the streets holding up signs to this effect:

The air is ripe with anxiety, anger, and demands for “justice.” Crusading documentarians declare that they hope their films will lead to the prosecution of bankers. When I turn on my television, I hear you suggesting that nonviolent protestors are being arrested while not a single banker has been.

I am with you on the fact that nonviolent protestors should be allowed to freely demonstrate. However, we part ways when you compare their treatment to that of criminal bankers. My reason: I don’t think that we will get “justice” because one banker finds him or herself locked up in a cell. I guess that our definitions of “justice” differ.

I hear you insisting that if bankers were jailed, we would have more fairness in our economy. I don’t believe you when you make this case. I don’t think that you really believe this to be true either. It is capitalism that breeds inequality and we have to dismantle it to bring more fairness.

I want to share a few words about prison with you. Prison is a terrible place. I know that you already know this and you may not care. You may think that criminal bankers deserve to spend time in hell for their actions. Yet somehow because I know that most progressives are particularly concerned with humaneness, I cannot accept that the knowledge that prisons are torture chambers will leave you unmoved. Prisons do not deter or rehabilitate; they make people worse.

We agree on so many other issues. But on this one, the jailing of bankers, we part company. I do not want to further extend the reach of the prison industrial complex. The solution to injustice is not to heap more injustice on top of it. There is a quote by Buckminster Fuller making the rounds on Facebook over the last few days and it is relevant to our discussion today:

In other words, what I want is a new model for addressing all forms of harm. The current legal system is oppressive, inhumane, corrupt and irreparably broken. I think that forcing criminal bankers to make restitution for their harms by paying back money that they stole would provide more accountability for their actions than prison ever will. I believe that a “sentence” of spending three years figuring out how to develop truly affordable housing for the poor would provide accountability. There are dozens of other creative ways that we could insist that bankers contribute to the commons without incarcerating them. I don’t want anyone locked in cages and this includes odious banksters.

I want to bring up another point of contention with you. True economic justice also involves dismantling the prison industrial complex. Many prisoners are exploited for cheap labor. Our unemployment rate is held artificially low by locking people up and taking them out of the labor market. Finally as the National Prison Industry Divestment Campaign makes clear, Wall Street profits through its investment in the prison industrial complex too.

I want to stand in solidarity with you, my progressive friends, who are calling out corporate greed and advocating for economic justice. I desperately want to do this but I am asking that all of us reject the viscerally reflexive calls for more incarceration. We already have a national policy of mass incarceration. Let’s not play into this by criminalizing more people. Instead how about we imagine and build a world without prisons where we can still get accountability for harm done? Let’s expand on the positive vision of a country free of the plague of mass incarceration. What we need in these times is a mass movement that also calls for decarceration. Progressives need to be in the forefront of this movement which should be linked to our calls for economic and social justice. See you at the next rally, I’ll be the one carrying the sign marked: “Don’t Jail the Bankers, Occupy Prisons Instead.”

Peace to you all.

Signed Your Friend, Prison Culture.

Oct 15 2011

Image for the Day: Prisons and Occupy Everything…

I really like this poster created by Josh MacPhee over at Justseeds Artists' Cooperative.

By Josh MacPhee

Here’s what he wrote about this print:

Been working on this for a couple days now, a poster connecting the Occupy! movement to the struggle to free political prisoners and end prison injustice. The quote is from a beautiful poem by Assata Shakur. If you don’t know who she is, PLEASE run out and read her autobiography today. I’m not kidding, just do it!

Oct 14 2011

I Want Lil’ Wayne to Become a Prison Abolitionist…

I am pissed off at Lil Wayne and it isn’t even his fault…

When he was incarcerated at Rikers Island, I started a blog series titled “Prison is NOT a Country Club (Contra Lil’ Wayne).” This was my humble attempt to push back against the media coverage (which he contributed to) depicting Wayne as somehow living “the good life” in jail.

When Wayne was released from jail, I penned a post underscoring the reasons that I did not want to write about his release.

Today I find myself irrationally pissed off at Wayne. Why? Because he has barely discussed his incarceration in a public forum since his release in late 2010. The appropriate question to throw back at me is: “Why the hell should he have to do this?” and it would also be right to ask: “Do you expect this from other formerly incarcerated individuals who are not named Lil Wayne?

The correct answers to both questions are: 1. He should in fact not have to speak about his incarceration in a public forum; 2. No, I do not expect other formerly incarcerated individuals not named Lil Wayne to take to the airwaves discussing their jail or prison experiences. I would add that I also don’t demand that all formerly incarcerated people come back into the community with a fully formed analysis of the prison industrial complex.

So the question remains: “Why am I pissed off at Lil Wayne?” I told you that my frustration with him is not rational. I want something from him and he is under no requirement to deliver. I want him to be doing more… He is considered an artist by some. Perhaps I hoped that he would create art that could be used in the fight against mass incarceration. It is my ongoing lament that hip hop artists in particular (who are so targeted by the PIC) aren’t doing more to bring attention to the ravages of incarceration. It’s unfair, I know. A few months ago, I wrote about banality of incarceration in hip hop culture. Here is a bit of what I had to say:

A number of rappers offer prison as a setting for their lyrics, album covers and videos. Yet how often have you heard these performers actually talking about prison abolition or even reform? The answer is simple… very rarely. Why is this?

I have a theory that it is because incarceration among young black men has been and is naturalized in actuality and in representation. I think that hip hop artists don’t talk about reform or abolition because to them prison has been and is a part of the experience of being young and black in America. It is a black boy’s rite of passage so to speak. I have no empirical evidence of the truth of this claim. I am just making an assumption based on very limited knowledge. This will no doubt prove to be problematic when it is shown that I am completely wrong.

So I want Lil Wayne to become an anti-prison organizer. Again, I am not being rational. I just want him to do more… Maybe you will too after you read this excerpt from an interview that he gave back in March. In Interview magazine, he and former inmate Paris Hilton discussed his time in solitary confinement:

EHRLICH: I was reading that during your last month in prison, they put you in solitary confinement for having an iPod or something like that. I’ve heard that being in solitary is the most torturous thing in the world. What was that like for you?

WAYNE: For me it was okay, because it just meant that I was alone with my thoughts. There were times when it was pretty tough to be by yourself, and to have no television, no sort of nothing. That was kind of tough. But I didn’t have to be in there long. It was just a month. I was okay. I did fine.

EHRLICH: So literally a month without talking to any human beings except the guards. You’re totally isolated?

WAYNE: Nah. There were guys next to me and things like that. You could speak through the walls and stuff. It wasn’t totally silent like you would think it is.

EHRLICH: Can you still work out when you’re in solitary? Do you get time in the yard?

WAYNE: Yeah, yeah. I got an hour in the yard every day, so I was able to do all those things.

HILTON: I had to do 24 nights in solitary. [Hilton was held in a separate cell as a safety precaution.]

WAYNE: Oh, so you know how it is.

HILTON: Yeah, I know how it is.

EHRLICH: Wayne, did anybody try to fight with you at all in prison? Or did everyone just kind of respect you?

WAYNE: You know, we are men and we argue about things. That’s the aggression in us. So, yeah, I got into arguments. But there wasn’t ever anything too bad.

HILTON: How happy are you to have your freedom now?

WAYNE: Words cannot explain.

HILTON: Yeah, I know how you feel. [laughs] It’s the best feeling in the world when you come out.

EHRLICH: Does it make you feel almost like you appreciate every little thing in a different way now-like you have a new lease on life?

WAYNE: Exactly. You’re definitely more in tune to what you’re doing. You’re definitely more humble. I think that most people who come out of that situation just want to make the most of life afterwards. Honestly it was just one big humbling experience.

HILTON: I agree. So you’ve been all around the world. What is your favorite place in the world to go?

I just can’t bring myself to comment on this. For information about the torture that is solitary confinement, I recommend that folks read the excellent blog Solitary Watch. I wish that Lil Wayne would read it too. I want him to become a prison abolitionist or at the very least perhaps he could take a stab at producing art in the tradition of the amazing Rebel Diaz. Is that too much to ask? Don’t answer that.

I just want Lil Wayne to do more…

Oct 13 2011

Tears in Murphysboro…But Not For the Imprisoned Youth

This is going to be an angry post. It is unapologetically so.

I challenge anyone who has one iota of compassion for children to watch this news report and not feel sick to your stomach.

This feels to me like the Roman Colosseum — the incarcerated youth of Murphysboro hardly figure into these proceedings. They are merely pawns in a high stakes game waiting to be thrown to the lions. Meanwhile the politicians are arguing to keep a youth prison open because community members will lose their jobs. It is too much. Profiting off others’ misery is disgusting.

In the midst of my rage, I am trying to muster some sympathy today for the community members who are going to be losing their jobs. But honestly, how can you advocate to keep a prison that houses CHILDREN open at all costs? It is sick and selfish. The Governor has made promises to relocate workers to other state facilities for God’s sake. I am throwing an emotional tantrum but somebody has to. By the way, I do not want these young people shuffled to another prison. We need to DECARCERATE this state. Let’s shift just 10% of the $140,000 a year that it costs to lock these children up to community-based alternatives instead. It will be more humane, efficient and cost-effective.

These are OUR children locked up in these prisons. We should all be screaming bloody murder about this. We should all remember that the Mayor of Murphysboro, Ron Williams, had this to say about the value of the young prisoners to the town:

“They do everything we ask, whether it be trimming shrubs, sweeping gutters, cleaning up sidewalks, picking up trash out of the street. They do it willingly and a smile on their face,” says Williams.

Are you F’ing kidding me? Doesn’t this make you think of Little Black Sambo? This should make it crystal clear what some of the the townfolks think of the majority black and brown youth prisoners at IYC-Murphysboro.

Let me also make it crystal clear that I DO NOT want to transfer a youth prison for an adult prison either. The point should be to close the facility PERIOD. Not to replace youth bodies with adult bodies. Enough!

The people who are advocating that IYC-Murphysboro remain open are condoning this:

by Steve Liss

If you live in Illinois and are at all concerned about these issues, I invite you to a TEACH IN about Closing Youth Prisons that is taking place on Saturday October 29th from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. I can only hope that the teach-in is as packed as the hearing room in Murphysboro was. We need to rally a base equal in size at least to the people who support the status quo.

You can visit the "Closing Illinois Youth Prisons" blog for more background on the failures of juvenile incarceration.

Oct 11 2011

No More Shame in Having Prison Connections by Jean Butler

By Colin Matthes

No More Shame in Having Prison Connections
by Jean Butler

For those of you who forget that the incarcerated humans in this country
are indeed just that – human – I’d like you to think on this
the next time you talk about “inmates, criminals, convicts, etc.”
These humans have families and those who love them, despite whatever they did.
Look around you and wonder, because this is who we are:
We take care of your children and grandchildren in nursery school.
We give them shots in the doctor’s office.
We’re dental assistants, school teachers and Sunday school teachers.
We stand behind you in the grocery line.
We prepare your medicine in the drugstore.
We work in banks, approve your loans and service your insurance claims.
We work for newspapers and television and radio stations.
We read your electric meters and water meters.
We are your landlords and your neighbors.
We take care of your elderly parents in nursing homes.
We’re nurses, lab technicians and Wry technicians.
We own beauty shops, flower shops and printing shops.
We’re welders, plumbers and tree trimmers.
We work for the Internal Revenue Service, the State Department, the courthouse, schools, churches, drugstores and toy stores.
We’re lawyers, legal secretaries, school board members and school-bus drivers.
We prepare meals for your children in school.
We’re city council members and bank tellers.
We process your checking account and savings account.
We work at your Social Security office and your insurance company.
We take care of your IRA, stocks and bonds.
We sell your children bikes, school supplies, clothes, shoes, and eyeglasses.
We repair your cars.
We’re real-estate agents, car dealers, college professors, safety engineers and ranchers.
We work at Wal-Mart and Kmart and sell Avon products.
We’re not all “on welfare,” no matter what the government would like you to think.
There are 2 million people in prison in America, and twice that many are on parole and probation.
Add in mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends, and you’re touching about 16 million people affected by the prison system in the United States.
We’re tired of letting ourselves feel humiliated or embarrassed because our loved one is in prison.
We did nothing wrong.
We’re tired of fearing the loss of our jobs or evictions from our housing should anyone find out we have a loved one in prison.
We’re tired of being made to feel inferior or unwelcome in churches, clubs, organizations or society in general simply because we refuse to abandon our loved ones.
We’re ready to unite, to come out of hiding and openly support each other and our loved ones.
We’re ready to speak out against the “they deserve what they get” attitude we hear you talk about in stores, lines and restaurants.
We number in the millions. We’re everywhere. in every state, county, city and town.
We may even live next door to you.
Sixteen million (or more).