Nov 30 2013

Musical Interlude…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted musical interludes but I learned about this song through a Twitter follower yesterday & wanted to share it. It’s called “Parole” by Immortal Technique.

Nov 29 2013

Image of the Day: N.C. Chain Gang

A group of negro prisoners showing stripes and chains. (1927) Source: The North Carolina chain gang; a study of county convict road work, by Jesse F. Steiner, and Roy M. Brown.

A group of negro prisoners showing stripes and chains. (1927)
Source: The North Carolina chain gang; a study of county convict road work, by Jesse F. Steiner, and Roy M. Brown.

Nov 28 2013

Marissa’s Home…

“I call for you
cultivation of victory Over
long blows that you want to give and blows you are going to get.

what wants to crumble you down, to sicken
you. I call for you
cultivation of strength to heal and enhance
in the non-cheering dark,
in the many many mornings-after;
in the chalk and choke.” – From: To Prisoners by Gwendolyn Brooks

I spent hours cooking today. I spent the rest of the time entertaining others. I’m actually a misanthrope so the mingling is always draining.

Around 3 p.m., I was hiding out in the bedroom reading when a friend burst in to tell me the news… Marissa’s home, she yelled. She’s home for Thanksgiving. I heard the words but I was silent because I couldn’t process them. What happened? I finally asked. She gave me her tablet and I read an article confirming that Marissa was released on bail shortly before midnight. She was home with conditions. She is under house arrest and electronic monitoring until her re-trial but she is with her family.


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Nov 27 2013

‘Defend Black Women & Die’: Racial Terrorism, Misogyny & Pregnant Silences

I think and write about terrorism against black people. As such, I’ve been very interested in the origins and history of the KKK. Below is an image from 1872 that I came across while doing research about the Klan. I like to examine it periodically. I did so again a few days ago after experiencing another deluge of casual and consistent misogynoir.

Visit of the Ku-Klux; A drawing by Frank Bellew in Harper's Weekly,(February 24 , 1872)

Visit of the Ku-Klux; A drawing by Frank Bellew in Harper’s Weekly, 24 February 1872. (February 24, 1872)

When you look at this image, what do you see? What or who stands out to you? My eyes are immediately drawn to the little girl and older woman who are facing the fire. They dominate the scene, targets of the klansman’s rifle. It appears that he has both of them in his sights. The adult man in the house looks to be seated, he is smaller than the older woman, perhaps she is shielding him from view with her body.

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Nov 26 2013



Press Contact: Turn Up the Heat CCJ Coalition 931-996-2865

As a prisoner at the Cook County Jail sat across from his visitor on Saturday, he told her that it was “so cold in his cell that he could see his breath.”

As temperatures in Chicago dipped down to 8 degrees last weekend, and have stayed below freezing, Cook County Jail (CCJ) is housing prisoners in cells with absolutely
no heat. A coalition of activists and grassroots organizations working on prison issues in Chicago are taking action. Last Thursday they launched a call in campaign to Sheriff Tom Dart’s office at the jail to get answers as to why prisoners awaiting trial at CCJ had no heat and inadequate blankets. They were repeatedly and consistently told the jail would look into it.

Advocates continued to call Tom Dart’s office, and soon jail personnel began to forward all calls regarding the lack of heat to the Public Relations Department. A representative told multiple callers that the heat was on, and had been on, in all divisions.

In the meantime, confirmed reports were coming from prisoners and their loved ones about a lack of heat particularly in Division 9 of the Jail. The claims made by jail officials were refuted. At this time, the heat is still off. Reports from prisoners confirmed that in Division 9 the inspectors came to the unit last Thursday, the heat was turned on until the weekend, and then the heat was turned off again, and has remained off despite the freezing temperatures. The jail claims that this is due to old and faulty equipment in another area of the jail, yet Division 9, a maximum security unit for male prisoners, was built in 1992.

“Jail officials say the heat has been off in only a small women’s tier for a few days, but they’re forgetting to mention the fact that they didn’t even bother turning the heat on until late November, and because of our campaign demanding they look into it,” a supporter named Michelle Day said. “Tom Dart and the media the jail is putting out to avoid attention on this issue only refers to issues in Division 4, but we are in contact with prisoners in Division 9 who have complained that they only had heat Thursday and Friday and can see their breath in their cells. This is clearly a way for the jail to attempt to save money, or be punitive toward prisoners, disregarding the fact that this is a clear human rights violation.”

One advocate, Mariame Kaba of Project NIA, began tweeting directly at Tom Dart’s
office and challenging jail officials claims. She got several responses that conflicted with the on-the-ground responses from prisoners and their visitors. Kaba documented the responses in a Storify. Asked about the response from Sheriff Dart’s Twitter account, Kaba said: “It’s important that CCJ be truthful and transparent with the public. Our taxes are used to maintain this facility & we expect humane treatment of all prisoners. I want CCJ to fix the heat situation immediately and to provide honest, non-conflicting responses as well.”

Jail advocates undertook a similar campaign last winter, when CCJ failed to turn on
the heat well into winter. The heat was turned on for a few weeks, only to be turned
off again when the pressure was off. The only time the heat was turned on again in Division 9 last winter, was when federal inspectors came in from the Dept. of Justice. As soon as they left, the heat was turned off again. So this year advocates have amped up for a broader campaign to put the heat on, and keep it on, as a campaign, and literally. They are encouraging people to call Tom Dart’s office, and to write letters to the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, the federal overseer of the jail, to ensure it complies with federal regulations at:

US Dept. of Justice Civil
Rights Division special litigation sec. 950
Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington DC 20530

fax: 202-514-0212

In 2008, Cook County Jail was under investigation by the DOJ for poor jail conditions including abuse by corrections officers, poor food quality, lack of access to medical care resulting in amputations, and prisoners having to sleep on the floor due to overcrowding.

The coalition says it will keep the heat on, until the heat is on for good for CCJ prisoners. A supporter named Stephanie stressed, “We’re ready to keep this campaign going, and get more advocacy organizations involved, to ensure Cook County Jail respects the human rights of its prisoners.”

For updates, find the call in campaign on Facebook.

Nov 24 2013

Image of the Day: Peonage

I found this interesting comic at the National Archives site.



For those who are interested in some background about peonage, I wrote briefly about it here.

Nov 23 2013

Crazy PIC Fact(s) of the Day: 11/23/13 Edition

I found this short video titled “US Prison System by the Numbers.” It’s informative and a good short primer on the scope of the PIC in the U.S. It was created by Patrick Kipper.

Nov 22 2013

Still Fighting for their Lives: Youth-Led Trauma Center Campaign Continues…

Far away from the Washington Beltway, where politicians are playing games with heath insurance coverage for millions of Americans & the media are focused on brinksmanship, a group of young activists in Chicago have been fighting for three years to establish a level 1 trauma center on the Southside. It’s been an uphill battle from the start but the young people have been persistent, patient, and pro-active. They belong to groups like Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY), Students for Health Equity (SHE), and Reclaiming Inner-City Streets and Elevating Chicago (RISE Chicago).

And they’ve been fighting for their lives and those of their peers…

Wednesday was a major turning point in the trauma center campaign. A hearing was called by Rep. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) “to look into whether people are dying on the South Side from gunshot wounds because the specialized care they need is all at hospitals on the North or West sides of the city or in the south suburbs.” Veronica Morris-Moore, a key leader of Fearless Leading By the Youth (FLY), summed up her feelings after the hearing in a Facebook post [thanks to Veronica for giving me permission to share her words]:

“Hearing meeting downtown at the State building was a step in the right direction for the Trauma Center Campaign. It felt good to be heard in that type of setting & also hear Senators, State Representatives, doctors, & other community members say a lot of things the youth have been saying, for years, about the lack of Trauma Care on the south side of Chicago & what needs to be done about it.”

Details about the hearing can be found in news reports here and here.

Following the state hearing, youth and their allies took part in a coffin protest marching to the University of Chicago hospital. Veronica reflected on the protest this way:

the protest at the University of Chicago Hospital was HELLA deee oooo peee eeee. A lot of committed youth leaders & allies used collective effort & selfless committment & to show that no matter what our communities endure nothing can diminish the fight in us. & seeing all those people holding signs demanding trauma care showed me that we are building that fight in the right direction. & the more they try to ignore us the louder we will be.

Today felt like progress & at the very very end of the day thats ALL we want.

I have nothing left to say except to express my profound gratitude and admiration for the young people and their comrades who continue this life and death struggle. Below are some photographs taken by the terrific Sarah Jane Rhee of the coffin protest.

by Sarah Jane Rhee (11-20-13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (11-20-13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (11-20-13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (11-20-13)

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Nov 19 2013

Photos & Video: Picturing A World Without Prisons Opening Reception

As regular readers know, for the past few months, I’ve been curating an exhibition titled “Picturing a World without Prisons” with my friends at the Free Write Jail Arts & Literacy Program. On Friday, we had an opening reception for the exhibition and it was packed. We had a great time and were were so excited to feature artwork by youth incarcerated at the JTDC and artists on the outside who submitted photographs depicting a world without prisons. Below are some photographs documenting the opening reception.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (11/15/13)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (11/15/13)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (11.15.13)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (11.15.13)

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Nov 18 2013

On ‘Justice’ & Renisha McBride

It turns out that Renisha McBride was actually shot in the face.

renisha When I read the words, they didn’t compute. I read them again. They still didn’t penetrate. Early reports suggested that she’d been shot in the back of the head. I had taken a perverse solace in believing that she was walking away from the stranger’s house when he shot her. I imagined that she didn’t know what hit her when the bullet tore through her skull. I convinced myself that she didn’t know what was coming. I’m sure that fear and perhaps disorientation led her to knock on several strangers’ doors that night. But I wanted to believe that in her final moments, she was taken by surprise & maybe even died instantly. No pain; just darkness. But this likely didn’t happen. Instead she was shot in the face through a closed screen door. Her parents had to have a closed casket funeral. She was probably terrified in those final moments before her assailant pulled the trigger. I am haunted by this image.

After Renisha’s death, we performed our well-rehearsed ritual of how to respond to the cold-blooded killing of black youth. Second degree murder and manslaughter charges were brought against her assailant on Friday, nearly two weeks after her tragic death. The charges came after calls by her family and community members for the Dearborn Heights police to arrest, for the prosecutor to file charges and bring the case to trial, and for a jury to convict. Amidst this organizing, the family repeatedly called for ‘justice’ and according to their attorney: “Only a conviction will result in justice for Renisha McBride, not just charges.”

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