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.
Category: Juvenile Justice
The photo below was one taken by famous photographer Lewis Hine. It was part of a series commissioned by the government to underscore the problem of child labor. It’s interesting to note how the idea of delinquency is also raised.
The caption reads:
Richard Pierce, Western Union Telegraph Co. Messenger No. 2. 14 years of age. 9 months in service, works from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Smokes and visits houses of prostitution. Wilmington, Del., 05/1910
My organization was invited to speak to students (K-7th grade) at Village Leadership Academy about our work. One of our volunteers, Bianca Diaz who is an artist, kindly agreed to speak to the students. She incorporated art in her presentation by asking students to respond to the following question visually: “What do you think it would be like to be in jail or prison?” Bianca uploaded some of the student created art HERE. I’ve included a few examples of their art below. If you are in Chicago on November 9, join us for a conversation about how to explain prison & jail to children with incarcerated loved ones. Details are HERE.
This week is the National Week of Action against School Pushout and my organization has been actively involved.
We co-organized, along with our comrades at the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance and the Chicago Freedom School, a wonderful event that took place on Monday evening. The event “Stand Up/Speak Out About School Pushout: A Youth Panel & Town Hall” drew an intergenerational packed house.
Sun Up to Sun Down
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.
Facility: St. Johns Juvenile Correctional Facility, St. Augustine, FL
This poem can be found in a new anthology titled “Words Unlocked.”
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.
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.
Real Life Superhero by Alice Kim — (cross-posted at Dancing the Dialectic soon)
I’m a sucker for super heroes and the endless stream of movie remakes that Hollywood supplies that offer me a thrilling escape where justice is always served. But this weekend — as torture survivor Mark Clements celebrated his four year homecoming anniversary, as Whittier parents stood their ground as the City of Chicago demolished the school’s field house turned community center, as the people of Egypt continued to face violence and repression to defend the democratic aims of the revolution they made — I was starkly reminded of our real life superheroes, the freedom fighters who struggle every day for a better world.
I believe it’s important to remember the moments that honor endurance and resilience. This day is one such moment. On this day, four years ago Mark Clements won his freedom from twenty-years of wrongful conviction. As a sixteen year old, he was tortured by Chicago police, forced into confessing to a crime he did not commit, and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). Behind bars, he worked relentlessly for his freedom. His superhero power was his sheer determination alongside his uncanny ability to maintain hope against hope. And his special weapon was the stacks of paper that he was known for carrying around on the inside – papers that might convince “someone to listen.”
Last week, I sat down with Mark and Bernardine Dohrn, a long-time freedom fighter who met Mark in her efforts to abolish juvenile LWOP. I’ve known Mark and Bernardine for years – I’m proud to call them my good friends – and they have an amazing story that I wanted to capture in their own words. Here’s a glimpse of our conversation – my questions merely act as a catalyst to illuminate the forging of a beautiful friendship and a shared commitment against the criminalization of Black and Brown youth.
AK: Who were you at sixteen years old?
MARK: When I was sixteen years old, I was an uneducated kid. I wouldn’t say misguided – but without education. I was a paperboy. I was just a kid. I was the skinniest kid you could ever imagine. My mother used drugs then, and I would go find her. My brother would be like, she’ll come home. But I’d go find her and bring her home. I would say that this put choices and responsibilities on us that should not have been on us as young children. But neither one of us made any irrational decisions that should have amounted to a prison sentences.
I didn’t see the violence of this world. I didn’t see the racism of this world. Even though I knew that racism existed, I always had a habit of treating people the way that I would want to be treated. Despite the fact that maybe their views may not be on my same level.
Do you think that people are born racist or want to be racist? No. So I always looked at that fact that perhaps it was their father or mother or their generation that kind of like caused them to be this way. But I personally never knew anything about Jon Burge or anything about torture upon African Americans until it happened to me. I haven’t made it a secret – but without Bernardine, I’d still be in prison.
BERNARDINE: I don’t think that’s true. My piece is such a small piece. I’ve never met anybody – and I’ve had a long life of knowing people who are prisoners and done a little bit of jail time myself – who worked as hard and as relentlessly at their own freedom and to prove their own innocence. He deserves 100% of the credit for his freedom. He wrote people relentlessly who would work for his freedom.
It’s a privilege to publish the following words written by a young man who is currently incarcerated. One of the founders of the Circles and Ciphers program shared the story. If you have any thoughts that you want to send to the young man, please feel free to leave a comment or to email at email@example.com.
Circles and Ciphers program participant (wished to remain anonymous)
(incarcerated at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center)
The Inside and Out Project
Once my friend and I were walking down the street. We were at Wood Street and 45th, and we had just come outside (it was 9am).
Then the cops came – deep, three cop cars. Because my phone had a weed plant on the screen they wanted my PIN number to unlock my phone. But I said, “I’m not going to give you my PIN.” So one of the white cops punched me in my stomach and put me inside the cop car. He told me, “You are going to give me the PIN number.” I said, “No.”
Then they let my friend go to his house and took me to my house and told my mom to unlock the phone. My mom said she didn’t know the code. So the white cop left me with my mom and gave my mom the phone. He left.
I went back to the block and saw my friend I had been with earlier and some other guys and told them what happened. I was so mad and my other friend told me to relax. He and I jumped in the car to pick up his baby girl at school. I was telling him the details of what happened, but then the same white cop that took me to my mom’s house stopped us and told me to step out of the car. He put me in his cop car and drove me into the territory of another rival gang, called La Raza. He dropped me off there. On my way trying to get home I got jumped and almost killed for being in La Raza territory. I ran fast as I could back to my house.
I called my friend that I had been in the car with and asked him, “What did the cops do to you?” He said they had let him go. Then I had to get off the phone because my baby brother needed my help, so I helped him with his homework. Later, when I was finished helping him with his homework, my friends came to my house and we smoked some weed.
Youth activists from Fearless Leading by the Youth (F.L.Y.) and their supporters held a rally and press conference this morning to demand that funds be re-directed from incarceration to restorative justice efforts and other positive youth interventions. The rally took place at the Cook County Offices downtown to coincide with the monthly board meeting. The rally marked the 6th year anniversary of FLY and the Audy Home Campaign.
Some of the youth dressed as prisoners to make the point that the $40 million spent by Cook County to jail youth at a cost of over $500 a day would be better & more effectively spent at the community level providing needed resources.
“Cook County Board members are failing our youth, incarcerating youth isn’t working, and it is wasting money,” said youth activist and former detainee of the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center Auntraney Carter. “We are outraged that that as our friends die the county’s only response is to increase spending on juvenile detention.” (Source)