Sep 30 2013

Guest Post: A Letter to Marissa Alexander by T.F. Charlton (Grace)

marissaalexander I had initially thought to collect letters from black women to Marissa Alexander to post in October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I asked several amazing black women to contribute before the project eventually shifted focus to became #31forMARISSA, a campaign to engage men in addressing domestic violence and supporting Marissa.

In the meantime, the wonderful T.F. Charlton aka Grace was kind enough to write a letter to Marissa. I am really happy to share it with you today. It feels like the perfect kick off. You can read Grace’s work here among other places on the interwebs and in print.

Dear Marissa,

I read that you’ll be getting a new trial. That a court ruled that the jury that convicted you in 13 minutes received the wrong instructions. I was, like many, cautiously optimistic to hear this news. I can’t help but worry about the next jury, about whether they will really see you. About how they will weigh the letter of laws designed to erase you against your humanity.

I keep thinking about how perverse it is that the law that required you to be sentenced to two decades in prison was the doing of a white man who calls himself pro-life. How could a law that declares “use a gun and you’re done” – put away for 10 years, 20 years, the rest of a lifetime – be “pro-life?” Pro whose lives? Where were such defenders of life when your husband attacked you when you were five months pregnant? Where were they when you feared for your life days after giving birth?

The woman who prosecuted you and failed to successfully prosecute Trayvon’s murderer called the outcry about your incarceration a sign that “social media is going to be the destruction of the country.” As though your working to preserve your life – and the affirmation of so many people around the country that your life is worth preserving, you were worth defending – is destruction.

Far as I see it the only one who was pro-life for you, Marissa, for your children, was you. That you were incarcerated for defending your and your children’s right to life is heartbreaking, obscene evidence of the reality that mere survival as a Black woman and mother in this world is a radical act.

I am glad you are alive. You are worth defending. You are worth protecting. You deserve a whole and safe life. I fervently hope the jury sees this, sees you, and that you will be holding your babies again before too long.

In love and solidarity,

Sep 30 2013

Urgent Action Needed: Tell the State of Florida NOT to Re-Try Marissa Alexander

Below are actions that the Free Marissa Now! coalition has requested occur for the next 16 days. The goal is dissuade Angela Corey from retrying the case.


We are asking that you call, write letters (snail mail), fax AND email State Attorney Angela Corey, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Florida Governor Rick Scott to demand that they drop the case against Marissa Alexander now.

If each of us sends at least one letter & makes at least one phone call & sends one fax & sends one email, the outpouring will be significant. Do not allow Marissa, a domestic violence survivor and mother, to be subjected to another trial. She has already served three years.

Here is preliminary information about how to contact these officials. Please take action now and start spreading the word now!

Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi
State of Florida
The Capitol PL-01
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050
Phone: 850-414-3300
Email here

Angela Corey, State Attorney
4th Judicial Circuit
Jacksonville Office
1300 Riverplace Blvd., Suite 405
Jacksonville, FL 32207
Fax (904)348-2783

Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
(850) 717-9337
Email here

Drop the Charges – FREE MARISSA

Sep 29 2013

Image for the Day: Lynching…

They used to advertise…

Lynching announcements. (June 26, 1919) - NYPL Digital Collection - Source: The Crisis. / 1919-1921

Lynching announcements. (June 26, 1919) – NYPL Digital Collection – Source: The Crisis. / 1919-1921

Sep 29 2013

#31forMARISSA: An Invitation to Men…

A long time ago now, I knew a girl on the verge of becoming a woman. People sometimes say that certain smiles can light up rooms. In this girl’s case, it was true. She radiated light.

Then she died.
She was killed actually.

I was stunned. I didn’t know what to feel or how to be. The fact that I knew her killer made things all the more difficult. The fact that I loved him too was devastating. I’ve had different jobs in my life but my work has always been the same. I’ve been doggedly and consistently dedicated to understanding and then transforming violence. That work pre-dates the death of the girl I loved and it continues in her memory.

Marissa Alexander

Marissa Alexander

I’ve been thinking a lot about Marissa Alexander over the past few months. In January 2012, when I first heard of her case, I created a google alert to keep track of developments. I wanted to write something about Marissa and her plight but I couldn’t bring myself to it. It wasn’t until May 2012 that I finally briefly addressed her case here.

Her story hits too close to home and I haven’t wanted to write. I’ve been terrorized before. I’ve been scared out of my mind. I understand something about wanting and threatening to kill someone who has hurt you. I know what it feels like to be a black woman fearing that you might not survive. And so, I have avoided writing very much about Marissa or her case. Sometimes we need to practice self-care. It’s not always safe to implicate oneself through sharing personal stories. This is especially true if you are black and a woman living in this culture. We are not safe here. Many want us dead.

I’ve been pondering, like Audre did, “the mysterious connection between whom we murder and whom we mourn.” I’ve been thinking about the systematic violent erasure of the experiences of black women in this country. I’ve been considering the myriad daily soul-murders that we experience. I’ve been thinking about our premature deaths and our increasing cancers and autoimmune diseases which are physical manifestations of stress and struggle. I’ve been wondering if more men might begin to see anti gender-based violence as their primary site of activism. I’ve been asking what’s taking so long.

I’ve been thinking about solidarity with Marissa…

October is domestic violence awareness month and it is the perfect time to involve others (particularly men) in thinking about Marissa too. It’s the right time to develop new co-strugglers to transform violence. So I am co-organizing (with Esther Armah) a campaign titled “#31forMARISSA.”

#31forMARISSA is a month long national letter writing campaign starting October 1 2013, where ALL MEN – black, brown, white, asian, native – write a letter or a note, or a check or a quote in support of MARISSA ALEXANDER as part of October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month. On September 25th, a judge ordered a new trial for Marissa. The state of Florida has until October 16 to refile charges against her. However, prosecutor Angela Corey has already suggested that she plans to do so. We want to keep the spotlight on Marissa’s case throughout October particularly since it is Domestic Violence Awareness month.

For each day throughout October, we are inviting MEN ACROSS THE COUNTRY to write in support of MARISSA. The letters should highlight the experiences of women in their own circles who are survivors of domestic violence, they should talk about mens’ role, actions, feelings on those experiences.

In addition, #31forMARISSA asks men to invite, encourage, challenge other men to more actively engage in the domestic violence movement, to raise their voices and become active co-strugglers. Organizations like ‘Brothers Writing to Live’, ‘A Call To Men’ have already submitted their letters. Letters have also been written by men who are bishops, activists, scholars, artists. However, we invite more men, everywhere, to submit your letters, notes, and checks as well.

#31forMARISSA is a multi-media campaign; it has online, snail mail, social media components..

ONLINE: All the letters will be uploaded onto Tumblr – theSWAGspot, an emotional justice community of conversations with men for men. Using tumblr means the letters can be read by men all over the country.

SNAIL MAIL: Hard copies of the letters will also be gathered and sent to Marissa. Donations to her new trial can be made HERE. Quotes from the letters will be published daily throughout the October campaign by the campaign media partner,

SOCIAL MEDIA: #31forMARISSA will hold three TWITTER CHATS throughout October, targeting and engaging men, quoting from the letters, exploring their content, why they shared, how they would move forward, engaging them to actively connect to the domestic violence movement, and exploring how they can engage and challenge other men.


1: Men can write a letter in support of Marissa (not a comparison with Zimmerman or Trayvon, but in support of Marissa), you may use examples of violence towards women within your own circle, family, mama, sister, friend, niece to illustrate that support. This is about lifting her up, showing her she is not alone, that men are actively supporting her, so it would come from heart and spirit. We’re not asking for a history of society’s treatment of violence towards black women, nor about the over incarceration of people of color, no mention of the prison industrial complex – what we’re asking is for some love, compassion, some shared experience, some understanding. This also means men who may have been witness to violence suffered by women in their circle (family, mama, sister, friend, niece, spouse, daughter, etc) have an opportunity to share that story as an example of awareness. If a quote better illustrates what you want to say, use that, or a poem, use that. You may sign the letters as you choose.

2: Men can reach out to FIVE other men to write a letter too. The reach out needs to be a delivery of that letter to theSWAGspot in order that the campaign moves and keeps moving, growing expanding. At least one new letter per day will be uploaded to theSWAGspot for men all across the country to read, share, tweet, exchange, comment on, engage with.

3: Women can share information about this campaign with men in their lives and encourage them to participate. We would welcome this support and be grateful for the outreach help. We want to collect dozens of letters, notes, and quotes.

IMPORTANT: Please email all letters to throughout October but the sooner we get letters the better.

Here are the details re writing your letter:-

1. Write a letter, a note, a quote to Marissa
2. You may want to share, include or articulate the experience of violence of a woman or women you know (mamas, sisters, friends, etc) or as sons, brothers, friends) by their partners within your circle
3. It is a letter from heart, soul, spirit – it is not about the law, politics or history, the over incarceration of people of color (there will be much coverage across those issues during October and we’ll include a piece on this on theSWAGspot), there has been nothing like this campaign with letters written by men from heart and soul)
4. The aim is also for men to find their own voice, elevate their emotional consciousness, become more actively engaged in the campaign to end violence against women and girls and to engage a nation of men in active pursuit of freedom for a black woman.
5. You may sign the letter as you choose.
6. Send your letter to
7. Please also consider making a donation to cover the legal fees for a new trial HERE.

I hope that many of you who are reading this will support the campaign. For those who are moved to do something beyond letter-writing or donating to Marissa’s legal fund, everyone is invited to host a teach-in about her case during the month of October. If you are seeking resources for this, I facilitated a teach-in on Marissa’s birthday (9/14) and posted my curriculum here for use by others who might be interested.

The #31forMARISSA Campaign is co-sponsored by The Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women, Emotional Justice Unplugged, and Free Marissa Now!.

Sep 28 2013

Poem of the Day: Sun Up to Sun Down

Sun Up to Sun Down
by Timmy

From sun up to sun down I think about how I’m doing 8 to 9.
I sit in my cell and pray to God that I ignore negativity so I won’t catch time.
I think about the situation I put my parents through and all the money they spent when they could have spent the money on the loans they signed.
As day by day goes by I hear and see the same people eating nasty food and going to school all year round. I wish I could have changed my mind.
I sit in my cell and think of that one girl, the one that hugged and kissed me all the time.
I wish I could go back in time to realign my mind.
I sit in my cell and think about how my life would be like if I haven’t committed a crime.
So now you see, I’m doing 8 to 9.

Poet: Timmy
Facility: St. Johns Juvenile Correctional Facility, St. Augustine, FL

This poem can be found in a new anthology titled “Words Unlocked.”

Sep 27 2013

No Selves to Defend: A Curriculum for Marissa Alexander Teach-In

There was some good news yesterday… A Florida Appeals Court ruled that Marissa will get a new trial. You can read the Appeals Court’s opinion here. As Alisa Bierria points out, the key section in the ruling is this part:

By including the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt” when giving the instruction on the aggravated battery prong of the self-defense instruction, the trial court improperly transmuted the prosecution’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt into a burden on the appellant to prove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt, depriving her of a trial under the correct rule. The defendant’s burden is only to raise a reasonable doubt concerning self-defense. The defendant does not have the burden to prove the victim guilty of the aggression defended against beyond a reasonable doubt. “When a defendant claims self-defense, the State maintains the burden of proving the defendant committed the crime and did not act in self-defense.” Montijo v. State, 61 So. 3d 424, 427 (Fla. 5th DCA 2011). “The burden never shifts to the defendant to prove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, he must simply present enough evidence to support giving the instruction.”

You can read an article about the ruling here. You can sign a petition for clemency to Governor Scott here. Finally keep up with the campaign to free Marissa here.

On the same day that news broke about a new trial for Marissa, I posted a curriculum for those who want to offer teach-ins about her case and others like it.

From Project NIA (which is my organization):

marissaalexander On the occasion of Marissa Alexander’s 33rd birthday, we hosted a teach-in about her case in the context of others involving women of color who were criminalized for defending from violence.

Even before we facilitated the teach-in we were asked by others if we could share the curriculum and materials with them. A big part of our work at Project NIA is focused on making information readily available in the spirit of collaboration and a desire for a more just world.

As such, we are making the curriculum and materials that were developed by Mariame Kaba freely available. Please feel free to adapt the materials however you choose. We only ask that you make sure to credit Project NIA for the materials as you use them. In addition, please be aware that this curriculum was only offered once and is a work in progress. The feedback was very positive but we would definitely appreciate it if you would share any improvements you make to the curriculum. We would love to keep adding to it and sharing what you develop with others too. We will happily upload your materials here for others to use.



Marissa Alexander Case Study Final

Biderman’s Chart of Coercion (hand this out with the case study above)

The Violence Matrix by Dr. Beth Richie



VAW Prison Historical Timeline

APPENDIX (Additional Information)

You can hand out the following handout during the historical timeline activity to the small groups that might be discussing the cases of Inez Garcia, the New Jersey 7, Joan Little, and CeCe McDonald (in case they don’t have enough background on the cases). CASE STUDIES (Optional)

The following is a handout developed by the Free Marissa Now Campaign with a list of ACTIONS that folks can take to support her.

If you are going to facilitate this teach-in, I suggest that you read this STATEMENT ABOUT MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING (PDF) and its intersection with domestic violence and racism developed by the Free Marissa Now Campaign. It would also be a good resource for teach-in participants as well.

Facilitators might also want to read the statement of Incite! calling for the freedom of Marissa Alexander. The statement does a terrific job underscoring the social forces that led to her criminalization while also showing how to do intersectional analysis.

The National Coalition against Domestic Violence can also provide facilitators with background information that might be helpful (this is especially true if you don’t have a grounding in the dynamics of DV).

Finally, I encourage facilitators who are new to thinking about the Prison Industrial Complex to read through The PIC Is which is a zine that was developed by us and the Chicago PIC Teaching Collective. It’s a quick read and provides a brief intro to the PIC.

Good luck! If you have any questions, feel free to address them to Mariame at

Sep 26 2013

Silence and Suppression: The Mass Incarceration of Japanese Americans

Has the Gestapo come to America? Have we not risen in righteous anger at Hitler’s mistreatment of Jews? Then, is it not incongruous that citizens of Americans of Japanese descent should be similarly mistreated and persecuted? – James Omura, testimony before Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration, February 23, 1942

I’m inspired to write this post after a Twitter conversation with Dr. Tamara Nopper yesterday. I’ve spent a good chunk of this year reading and learning about the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Last year, I wrote briefly about my interest in educating myself about this chapter in U.S. history. I’ve been stunned at how little I actually know.

San Francisco, California. Many news photographers were present for the first contingent of evacuee 04/06/1942, photo by Dorothea Lange (NARA)

San Francisco, California. Many news photographers were present for the first contingent of evacuee 04/06/1942, photo by Dorothea Lange (NARA)

John Kwo Wei Tchen has described the imprisonment of over 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II as “vigilante Americanism.” This characterization rings true. As I’ve read, I’ve noticed the many silences in the telling and re-telling of this history. I’ve pondered the trauma and unspoken grief that permeate the accounts of this forced removal to American concentration camps. Yet it appears that most of the country remains largely unaware about this heinous chapter in American history. Why is this?

Thousands of people (70% of them native born citizens) were falsely accused and incarcerated for crimes that they didn’t commit under the guise of national security. As a Muslim American, I can’t help but find eerie similarities between 1942 and post-2011 America. By the end of the war, over 120,000 Japanese Americans had been uprooted and incarcerated in concentration camps located in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

Closing of the Jerome Relocation Center, Denson, Arkansas. A typical truck load of Jerome residents waiting to be put on the train for transfer to the Gila River Center. 06/13/1944 - Charles E. Mace, photographer (NARA)

Closing of the Jerome Relocation Center, Denson, Arkansas. A typical truck load of Jerome residents waiting to be put on the train for transfer to the Gila River Center. 06/13/1944 –
Charles E. Mace, photographer (NARA)

I have twice used the term “concentration camps” which is bound to make many uncomfortable. Yet this is what they were. Part of how the history of Japanese internment and incarceration in the U.S. has been disappeared is by the reliance on a language of euphemism. We call prisoners “evacuees” and concentration camps “relocation camps.” This obscures the truth and minimizes the horror. How can we address the magnitude of injustice by relying on language that suppresses reality? I believe in the importance of calling things what they actually are. After all, both Presidents Roosevelt and Truman referred to the “concentration camps” where Japanese Americans were incarcerated.

This photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt “touring” the Gila River jail (adjustment center) is one that I have seen many times. However, the more I read, the more obscene this photograph appears. It was taken exactly a year after her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, had issued one of the most vile executive orders in history.

Eleanor Roosevelt at Gila River, Arizona at Japanese,American Internment Center, 04/23/1943 (NARA)

Eleanor Roosevelt at Gila River, Arizona at Japanese,American Internment Center, 04/23/1943 (NARA)

The actual process of incarcerating thousands of people was complicated:

“It began even before the issuing of Executive Order 9066, immediately after Pearl Harbor was bombed, with the arrest of hundreds of Issei who were primarily community leaders. These Issei, along with selected German and Italian nationals, were arrested and detained in internment camps by the U.S Justice Department.

Executive Order 9066 mandated that people of Japanese ancestry living in areas designated by the military’s Western Defense Command, which essentially constituted America’s entire West Coast, were subjected to curfew and restriction of movement. They were forced to quickly dispose of their homes, businesses, and belongings and report to so-called assembly centers. These centers were hastily converted facilities such as fairgrounds and race tracks, where families were held from one to seven months. (source: Lost & Found: Reclaiming the Japanese American Incarceration by Karen L. Ishizuka, 2006, pp.70-71)”

Photograph of Baggage Belonging to Evacuees of Japanese Ancestry Ready to Be Loaded into Moving Vans, 05/06/1942 (NARA)

Photograph of Baggage Belonging to Evacuees of Japanese Ancestry Ready to Be Loaded into Moving Vans, 05/06/1942 (NARA)

After months in these “assembly” centers, over 100,000 men, women and children were then incarcerated in concentration camps for periods that lasted from months to years. Besides the emotional loss and physical violence, the Japanese American community is said to have suffered economic losses in excess of $250 million as a result of their incarceration.

The Civil Rights Act of 1988 compelled the government to make a formal apology for the violation of the rights of Japanese Americans and also awarded $20,000 each to more than 80,000 survivors of the concentration camps. I guess that for some people this means that we should close the books and move on. I think that we need to do more to educate Americans about this grave injustice and we need to be focused on the ways that we continue to criminalize entire groups of people today under the guise of national security threats.

Sep 24 2013

Expert Reports Filed in ACLU Settlement with Illinois Youth Prisons

From the ACLU:

“Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed a lawsuit (R.J. v. Bishop) against the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ), challenging conditions in the facilities across Illinois where juveniles are detained. Concurrent with filing the lawsuit, we filed an agreement with the IDJJ. That agreement called for the retention of three nationally-recognized, court-appointed experts to conduct an exhaustive analysis of IDJJ’s facilities, and make recommendations on how to move forward with improvements.

The three final expert reports now have been filed with the federal court in Chicago where the lawsuit was filed. These reports confirm the plaintiffs’ initial allegations of systemic deficiencies, especially in education, mental health, solitary confinement, and continued IDJJ confinement for lack of a community placement.

These reports now become a baseline for the ACLU of Illinois to work with the IDJJ in order to solve these problems and improve conditions for children detained by the State of Illinois. We will continue to post updates on this case.”

Read all three reports HERE.

by Rashid Johnson

by Rashid Johnson

In his overview of mental health services, Dr Krause stated: It is difficult to fully assess the workings of mental health treatment at the IDJJ, because: 1) they do not have a full complement of services, and 2) even with the groups they have right now, a number of the facilities cannot function because of the paucity of services, and essentially are not getting youth to groups or are getting them there significantly late so they cannot run the program.

A similar assessment was made of education with conclusion that there was “inadequate instruction and inadequate opportunities for students to learn” – in St Charles, the expert concluded that in a two month period (March through April of 2013) the students received the equivalent of six to eight full days of school.

Not surprisingly, the experts conclude more resources are needed – particularly more staff. However, Dr. Barry Krisberg concludes in part that two key issues are addressing the number of youth who stay past their discharge date (some just to complete programming), and addressing the need to provide “non-custodial sanctions” in the community and/or within their families for those youth who do not pose a serious threat to public safety.

Over 40% of the admissions in FY12 were of parole violators and over 10% were for misdemeanor offenses. Merely closing the door to parole readmissions and misdemeanors would decrease the population by half – freeing up resources and sufficient staff to address the education and treatment needs of the remaining youth.

Sep 23 2013

On Marissa, Tempering My Rage, & Naming Pain

This is an unapologetic rant…

I’m writing this in blood while stamping my feet and holding my breath. Someone set me off and he didn’t even know it. He has gone on with his day while I remain seething…

marissaalexander Can you imagine a black man anywhere in the U.S. who wasn’t on a first name basis with Trayvon Martin? When Trayvon’s name was mentioned, do you imagine that black men racked their brains to figure out who he was or what the details were of his case?

When I say Marissa, what image is conjured in the minds of some black men? I got my answer earlier today and I am livid. Based on this interaction, it’s not the 33-year old mother of three who is serving a 20 year mandatory sentence for protecting herself from an abusive husband. No, apparently Marissa Alexander is not a household name for some black men.

Here’s the unvarnished truth: My rage masks profound pain. It’s a pain that was perfectly expressed by @baddominicana weeks ago:

“being a black woman is being in the position where EVERYONE has to learn to see you as human. lovers and haters alike. its hell.”

I want to scream but have been taught to express my rage genteelly and gently particularly if it is directed at black men. It feels like betrayal to speak of my anger and most especially of my pain.

Marissa Alexander spends every day in a cage, falsely convicted for merely defending herself. For years now, I’ve stood with and worked for black men in the same predicament. I’ve done this because I too have inherited the indignities of being born black in this country. I’ve recognized that our fates are tied together and that I cannot be free while my brothers are captive. I affirm their humanity and their right to exist free from oppression. And yet for the most part, this has been a uni-directional relationship. There is little reciprocity.

I’ve held on to my unspoken grief. I’ve been walking around with untended scars. I want a new definition of black solidarity; one that doesn’t erase me. It isn’t just black manhood that has been criminalized by the state. Marissa Alexander and thousands of other black women’s lives attest to this fact.

I have retreated to denial and rationalization about the fact that my brothers are often late or absent to support my struggles. I am afraid that some mistake my skin for that of an enemy.I turn my rage at the “system” because I cannot articulate my hurt about the black men who fail to protect, commiserate, or console. My rationalization also keeps me from thinking about the black men who actually choose to act against me. And today, it was a seemingly innocuous question that set me off and has me seeing red.

I am writing this in my blood because I am bleeding out & I can’t find my pen…

Sep 22 2013

Image of the Day: Slave Boys

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture / Photographs and Prints Division (NYPL Digital Collection)

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture / Photographs and Prints Division (NYPL Digital Collection)