Jun 30 2013

Three Years Ago, I Launched Prison Culture…

by Katy Groves

by Katy Groves

It hardly seems possible that I started blogging three years ago. It feels both much longer and shorter than that. I started Prison Culture three years ago when I knew less than nothing about wordpress, blogging, etc… I am actually a technophobe who still has a cell phone circa 2000 and doesn’t text. So it is hugely funny to my friends and family that I would have launched my own blog.

Over the past three years, I have taught myself to become more proficient on social media and have greatly enjoyed the new connections that I have been able to forge through tools like Twitter, for example.

I didn’t know if I would be able to sustain a regular blogging schedule. It’s turned out that I have (with a few strategic breaks). I plan to continue to post as regularly as I can over the next year.

If you even read this blog semi-regularly, then you know that I am incredibly curious. It’s my main claim to fame. I love to learn new things. I love history, black history in particular. I love to share what I learn with others. This blog indulges these passions of mine. I am grateful for the space and that other people care even a little about what I care about.

So here’s to three years of Prison Culture and thank you for reading.

Jun 30 2013

Image of the Day

by Jan Sabach

by Jan Sabach

Runner up for the ADPSR prison campaign poster contest:

…One of the ways for me as a designer is to promote or help other organizations that already do that. I didn’t know anything about the prison problem before reading about it on your web site and other sources that cover the topic. I knew right away I wanted to be part of ADPSR’s campaign. By employing standard emotionless symbols often used in design and architecture combined with a very tight poster layout and limited color palette I tried to communicate some basic human emotions such a anxiety, fear, loneliness and sadness.

Jun 29 2013

Prison Architecture #7

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Jun 28 2013

“We Are All Prisoners” by Fleeta Drumgo

Boxed girl copy
In doing some research recently, I re-read the April-May 1971 issue of the Black Scholar which was focused on the theme of the “Black Prisoner.” I can’t think of a current publication that might devote an entire issue to the topic. It would be important to have at least a few “mainstream: publications that regularly focus on the plight and privilege the voices of prisoners.

Anyway, in the 1971 Black Scholar issue, Fleeta Drumgo (one of the Soledad Brothers, pens a letter that I wanted to reprint here. It provides a window into the times and offers some critiques that are still relevant today.

Dear Brothers and Sisters

The Department of Corrections doesn’t exist! All institutions under such titles are barbaric, oppressive, racist and murderous institutions. This system of government is designed to oppress, exploit and intimidate, all that are not classified as white Anglo-Saxon bourgeois ruling clique. The hatred, violence and destruction imbedded in the system is the same fascist repression that is destroying the people in general, black people in particular. In realizing this it is difficult to understand that America is prison. As Brother Huey P. Newton stated, the only difference is one is maximum and the other one minimum security.

It seems at times that the oppression and violence inflicted upon us here in the maximum security is more intense than that inflicted upon us in the minimum security, but really it’s utterly impossible for me or any of us here to distinguish the oppression and violence we are all victimized by. I am constantly thinking about unemployment, under-employment, poverty and malnutrition that are the basic facts of our existence; it’s this which sends persons to these concentration camps; it’s this which causes so-called crime in general.

I like to express that there’s a growing awareness behind the walls; we’re seeing through the madness of capitalism, class interest, surplus value and imperialism, which this gestapo system perpetuates. It’s this which we have to look at and understand in order to recognize the inhumanity inflicted upon the masses of people here in Amerika and abroad. As brother Malcolm X once said, “We as people, as human beings have the basic human right to eliminate the conditions that have and are continuously destroying us.”

The decadence and corruption in the present day society and in these concentration camps much be dealt with by the people, and the only way we can deal with it us uniting, becoming as one! Because people who are oppressed, exploited and deprived are one. What I am trying to relay is the fact we are all prisoners, and under the yoke of fascist enslavement. Anyone who can deny this fact isn’t really concerned about liberation; he considers himself free and that attitude relates directly to the petty-bourgeois class of society.

In conclusion let me say on behalf of all of us in the maximum, please don’t reject or forget us, because this allows the monster to brutalize, murder and treat us inhumanly. We are of you, we love you and struggle with you.

Power to the people — Liberation in our time!

Fleeta Drumgo

Jun 27 2013

Rachel Jeantel: Through A Glass Darkly…

On February 26 2012, 19 year-old Rachel Jeantel was talking to a friend on the phone. He told her that he was being followed by a creepy man. A while later, she heard his phone drop and then a scuffle. She was cut off and tried to call him back. Two days later, she heard that her friend, 17 year-old Trayvon Martin had been shot and killed. Her voice was the last friendly one that he would hear.

Yesterday, I was listening to Rachel’s testimony at George Zimmerman’s trial. She was billed as the prosecution’s ‘star witness.’ Zimmerman is on trial for killing Martin; he says in self-defense. I was doing other work but I also had an eye on my Twitter feed. In the background, I could hear Rachel’s voice as she recounted her conversations with her friend on the last day of his life. I could hear her cadence (halting) and her tone (irritated). She spoke black english. The judge and the lawyers made it clear they wished that they had a foreign language translator on site.

I smiled a couple of times as she audibly sighed when questions that she didn’t appreciate were asked of her. I was smiling in recognition of the dozens of young women just like Rachel who I have known and worked with over the years. I switched tabs on my computer to actually watch her as she spoke. I saw a young, dark-skinned, thick, black woman fighting to hold it together. I heard her explain that she ‘was not an emotional person’ and that she lied about not attending Trayvon’s wake because she ‘didn’t want to see the body.’

I SAW her…

Rachel is an around-the-way girl. Her hair done. Big hoop earrings. ‘Attitude’ for miles. Awesome nails. She was doing her. I smiled because I loved Rachel’s bluntness and forthrightness. Her demeanor was unapologetic even while her voice was low. She seemed to be just who she wanted to be. She didn’t code-switch. I found her endearing, compelling and brave.

I FEARED for her…

My opinion and assessment of Rachel were sure to be in the minority. I knew. A few years ago, a study by MEE Productions about relationships and sexuality among black youth found that:

“Black females are dissed by almost everyone. Young African American females hold little status within their communities, reflected in the name-calling and devaluing of young girls.”

When I glanced over at my Twitter feed, I saw how Rachel Jeantel was being discussed. She was already on her way to becoming memefied. On social media, Rachel was called “ghetto.” Her intelligence was questioned. Some wondered if she had a “mental setback.” @DeanRains suggested: “If you’re questioning how important education is for your children, re-watch Rachel Jeantel on the stand from today. #ZimmermanTrial”

Predictably, the racists came out of the woodwork. @ThomasTRiddle wrote: “My favorite part of the Zimmerman trial? Watching Rachel Jeantel grab that fried chicken and run out without paying.” The sexists got in on the act. She was attacked for her “massive neck” and for being “fat.” She was called “ugly” and some nicknamed her Precious, a character from a book titled ‘Push’ written by Sapphire.



Read more »

Jun 26 2013

Poem of the Day…

by Teen Boy

Sitting in my cell
Thinking hard about the stuff I’ve done
Thinking harder on the “why”
Wasting time thinking
About what I’m gonna do on the outs
So numb to the feeling
Don’t know what freedom’s about
I hurt quite a few people
With more than just words
I have lots of talent
Skills for the masses
Stop the construction on the streets
And apply it to some classes

Source: Please Brave Me, Dry These Tears – Writing by Teenagers at Denney Juvenile Justice Center (Published by The Blanche Miller Art Exhibit Program)

Jun 25 2013

The Drug War: Still Failed and Racist #20

I’ve already mentioned the excellent new ACLU report on the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws. However it’s worth highlighting again…


White youth use pot at a slightly higher rate than black youth do.


The Economist sees an opportunity to leverage the racism of the enforcement of marijuana laws to change policy.

Jun 24 2013

Rotten to the Core: Sexual Violence & Youth Incarceration in Illinois

In Illinois, like in every other state of the union, we cage children as young as 10 years old. They are locked in jails and prisons for transgressions that we’ve deemed must be ‘punished.’ We are told that those imprisoned are among “the worst offenders.” But a new study released last week finds that as of 2010:

“almost 60 percent of confined youth in the U.S. (41,877) were still detained and imprisoned for offenses that do not pose substantial threats to public safety. These include misdemeanors, drug use, non-criminal or status offenses (e.g., curfew violations, truancy, running away), failure to show up for parole meetings, and breaking school rules. Arguably, those 42,000 or so low-risk youth, who pose minimal public safety risks, face a fairly high risk of recidivating and losing their futures as productive citizens due to their incarceration experiences.”


Read more »

Jun 23 2013

Image of the Day: Texas Death Row Last Words


(Texas Death Row Prisoners –Click here for a larger image)

Jun 22 2013

Prison Architecture #6

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