Nov 30 2012

Help Us to Close TAMMS & IYCs in Illinois…

Illinois Residents, We need your HELP!

Just a couple of days ago, Governor Pat Quinn’s vetoes of funding for several correctional facilities in Illinois were overridden in the Illinois Senate.

Now advocates are pressing hard to prevent an override in the House. We would ask that you contact as many House members as you can over the next three business days (11/30, 12/3, 12/4) and ask them to vote NO on an override.

Here is a fact sheet on the facility closures for you to share with legislators. The basic argument is that these facilities are underutilized and empty. For instance, Murphysboro contains no youth, and Tamms only contains 200 inmates. Existing facilities can absorb and manage these populations. Keeping these facilities open will result in the layoff of 530 DCFS employees, while all Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice employees affected by the closures have been, or will be offered, positions at existing facilities.

Additionally, keeping these facilities open harms vulnerable children by unnecessarily separating them from their families during a period of critical growth and development. We need the money from these facilities to prevent more children from entering into costly State foster care, protect at-risk children from abuse and neglect, and provide adoption assistance necessary to place children in safe and loving homes. Cuts in critical programs at DCFS harm children throughout the entire State.

Ultimately, we cannot afford to keep underutilized, empty facilities open at the expense of vulnerable children. In this time of budgetary crisis, it does not make sense to keep these facilities open when cost-effective alternatives exist.

Please contact your House representative. District telephone numbers can be found here. Make sure to ask them to vote NO on the override of SB 2474. Please email your House representative’s response to Laurie Jo Reynolds at each day before the conclusion of business on 11/30, 12/3, and 12/4.

For some inspiration, please watch this fun video which is meant to encourage everyone to call your legislators about this important issue.

Nov 29 2012

Speaking the Names of Our Dead Prisoners…

One of the most poignant (unexpectedly so I’ll admit) parts of our Black/Inside exhibition is a panel that lists the names of prisoners who died between 1902 and 1904 in Alabama prisons. When we discussed including this in the exhbition, I don’t think that we fully appreciated the power of the statement that we were making. We wanted to make the point that the convict lease system in Alabama and other southern states was brutal and destructive. We wanted to insure that this part of our history was not sanitized. We wanted visitors of the exhibition to understand that real people died in the convict camps and in the mines of Alabama. The fact that I found a document at a library used book sale that listed ACTUAL names of prisoners was serendipitous. The report allowed us to re-embody the prisoners who had previously been anonymous, even forgotten by history.

Below are just a couple of pages from the Fifth Bienniel Report of the Board of Inspectors of Convicts in Alabama (from September 1, 1902 to August 21, 1904).

Fifth Biennial Report of the Alabama Board of Inspectors of Convicts (1902-1904)

I’d like to believe that this can be the beginning of a reclamation project of sorts. One where we can re-insert the names of the people who have been relegated to the dustbins of history simply because they were convicted of crime.

Nov 28 2012

Richard Wright on White Supremacy

Silhouette by Jabob Lawrence (1948)

I’ve previously referenced Richard Wright’s brilliant photo essay12 Million Black Voices” on this blog. The essay includes Depression-era photographs from the Farm Security Administration, selected by Edwin Rosskam. They are haunting, moving and beautiful.

Richard Wright is one of my favorite writers. I admire his gorgeous prose, his ability to distill complicated ideas, and his uncompromising politics. In “12 Million Black Voices,” he does a good job describing how white supremacy plays out in the lives of African Americans. I am currently in the beginning stages of a project about lynching and so I am re-reading some of Wright’s work.

Read more »

Nov 27 2012

Image for the Day: Robert Williams

Robert Williams by Billy Dee (for Black/Inside, 2012)

For information about Robert Williams, click here.

Nov 26 2012

Birth of A Nation: “Just Some Crazy White People on Horses…”

It never gets old. Working with youth produces a never-ending series of unique, poignant, hilarious, and frustrating experiences. Several weeks ago, a young man who I read books with asked me for some suggestions of historical films that depict the roots of American racism. Of course, I suggested THE classic American racist film, D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation.” After he watched the film (and I doubt that he sat through the whole thing), I received the following text: “That’s some bogus shit; it’s just some crazy white people on horses.” I burst into fits of laughter when I read what he wrote.

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Nov 25 2012

Musical Interlude: “Revolution” by Rebel Diaz

The terrific Rebel Diaz have a terrific new video based on their song “Revolution.” You’ll hear them sampling the Black Panther chant in the song.

Nov 24 2012

R.I.P. Lawrence Guyot

I was saddened to learn that the great Lawrence Guyot died on Friday. If you don’t recognize his name, it’s a real shame because he had a HUGE impact on securing voting rights and was a critical leader in the Black freedom movement.

I learned about Mr. Guyot in reading about the 1964 Freedom Summer. He was considered one of the “Big Eight” in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Mississippi. Others in that group included Bob Moses, James Forman, Lafayette Surney, Willie Peacock, among others. After joining SNCC in 1962, Lawrence Guyot became director of the 1964 Freedom Summer Project in Hattiesburg, Miss. He was also the founding chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

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Nov 23 2012

Coretta Scott King, Cesar Chavez, and Solidarity with Walmart Workers

by Lalo Alcaraz

I’ve written before about Coretta Scott King and argued that she should be considered as a consequential activist in her own right. Continuing with that theme today, I want to highlight her solidarity work with Cesar Chavez and her support for union organizing. This is particularly relevant as workers in Walmarts across the country are on strike today during “Black Friday.”

In December 1970, Coretta Scott King visited Cesar Chavez while he was jailed in Salinas, California. He had been incarcerated for refusing to end a strike against Bud Antle lettuce. He spent 20 days in jail. After her visit with Chavez, Mrs. King addressed two thousand farm workers in a speech. Below is an excerpt that remains relevant today (in light of stories like the Twinkies bankrupcy and Walmart):

“Those who control the billion dollar economy have said Blacks and Chicanos do not have the right to a decent life or to human dignity. They must live on the crumbs from the tables groaning with food.

Coretta King and Cesar Chavez in 1972

For more than thirty years farm workers were thought to be unorganizable and so powerless they could not demand and achieve security and dignity. But Cesar Chavez challenged the tyrants, organized the working poor and became a threat, so they have jailed him. But as my husband so often said, “You cannot keep truth in a jail cell.” Truth and justice leap barriers, and in their own way, reach the conscience of the people. The men of power thought my husband was a powerless man with grandiose ideas. He had nothing but an idea that people at the bottom could be aroused to fight for dignity and equality.

The power structure became alarmed when his ideas were transformed into marching millions and the right to vote, the right to use facilities, the right to jobs, and the right to private dignity were won.

Read more »

Nov 22 2012

Hungry for Food… and Attention

Sometimes a crumb falls
From the tables of joy,
Sometimes a bone
Is flung.

To some people
Love is given,
To others
Only heaven

Luck by Langston Hughes

by Richard Ross (for Juvenile-in-Justice)

On this Thanksgiving day, I am thinking again about the truth that all humanity is interconnected. I am also thinking today of the millions of people across the U.S. who are locked behind bars.

I am cooking this morning for about 20 people. I have taken a short break to write. A young prisoner who I correspond with sent me a letter a couple of weeks ago. In it, he mentioned that he is “always hungry” in prison. He can’t get filled up. He meant this literally and metaphorically. The food in prison, as I have written about before, is mostly terrible. So prisoners are in fact often physically hungry. But that is only one type of hunger. The young man wrote of his hunger for attention too. He had frayed relations with his family prior to being incarcerated. Those ties have only become more tenuous now that he finds himself in prison. He is profoundly lonely.

On this Thanksgiving day, I hope that you will spare a thought for the millions of people imprisoned across the U.S. I hope that you will send them positive energy. I hope that you will recognize that their fate is inextricably linked to yours.

On this day of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the knowledge that my humanity is inexorably bound to that of prisoners across the world. When they are harmed or dehumanized, so am I and so too are those who are carrying out that harm. I make sure to remind myself and others of this every day.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Nov 21 2012

A Map of (Some) Connections: Black Political Prisoners…

I am still trying to get back into the flow of life since I went down with pneumonia for over two weeks. As such, my posting will be more sporadic in the coming days.

Today, I wanted to share a terrific “map of connections” that my friend and Black/Inside exhibition collaborator Billy Dee just finished. It features a set of black political prisoners that we present in some way or another in the Black/Inside exhibition. I hope that you find it informative. Once again, my profound gratitude goes out to Billy who continues to speak to me even after a set of recent collaborations 🙂 You are welcome to share this map with others but please make sure to credit Billy and Black/Inside. You can click on the image itself to view it in a larger format.

by Billy Dee for Black/Inside (2012)