Category: Prison

Sep 25 2014

October 16: Lessons in Self-Defense: Women’s Prisons, Gendered Violence, and Antiracist Feminisms in the 1970s & ’80s

I am excited to co-organize and participate in an upcoming event. Historian Emily Thuma will present a talk titled “Lessons in Self-Defense: Women’s Prisons, Gendered Violence and Anti-Racist Feminisms in the 1970s and 80s.” Her talk will explore the relationships between U.S-based anti-violence against women activism and the expansion of the prison nation in the early neoliberal era.

Emily is an assistant professor in the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Irvine. Her teaching and research focus broadly on the cultural and political histories of gender, race, sexuality, and empire in the United States. She is currently completing a book about feminist activism against violence in the context of the politics of crime control, policing, and imprisonment in the U.S. in the 1970s and ’80s.She has also long been active in LGBTQ and feminist anti-violence and prison organizing efforts.

After her talk, Emily and I will engage in a conversation that will seek to link the past to our present era when carceral feminism is ascendant. I am excited for this conversation because it connects to the “No Selves to Defend” exhibition that I co-curated and to the anthology about the criminalization of women of color who invoke self-defense that I edited. It’s fitting that this event will take place during domestic violence awareness month and the month of resistance to mass incarceration, police terror, repression and the criminalization of a generation.

RSVP for the event on Facebook. If you are in Chicago on October 16th, I hope to see you at the event.

You can read Emily’s latest essay ‘Against the ‘Prison/Psychiatric State’: Anti-violence Feminisms and the Politics of Confinement in the 1970sHERE (PDF).

Lessons in Self Defense Poster FINAL

Sep 23 2014

Irrational Exuberance: Mass Incarceration is STILL An Epidemic…

I’ve been saying for a while that the rhetoric about the “end of mass incarceration” doesn’t match up with the reality that so many people in the U.S. continue to be locked up. Today, James Kilgore published an article on the topic where I am quoted. It’s worth reading (not because I am quoted but because he raises important points).

Ultimately, the report along with events like those in Ferguson, Missouri, reinforced the concerns of many anti-mass incarceration campaigners that current changes were not digging deep enough to yield long lasting results. Peter Wagner, Director of the Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative, highlighted the need for states “to decide whether the people they are sending to prison really need to be there” and the corresponding issue of deciding which people “currently in prison can go home.” Instead, he lamented, states are continuing to hike “the number of people they send to prison for new offenses and violations of parole and decreasing the number of people they let out.”

Author and activist Ruthie Gilmore, who currently is associate director of the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at CUNY, argued that the BOJ statistics have exposed the shortcomings of “opportunists” who have “blown up real solidarity.” She maintains that moderate reforms have promoted “the delusion that it’s possible to cherry pick some people from the prison machine” rather than undertake a broad restructuring of the communities which have been devastated by mass incarceration. Mariame Kaba, head of Project NIA which practices transformative justice as a foil to youth incarceration in Chicago communities, concurred with Gilmore, stressing that “the rationale for and logic of punishment is unchanged. The targets of our punishment mindset also remain overwhelmingly black and poor.”

Kaba points out that the discourse has altered but policy seems to have lagged behind. “Talk and actions are not the same thing,” she said, “there is a need to move beyond awareness and take steps to address mass incarceration in real ways.”

"Lets not forget that people incarcerated in prison are just a portion of the people under control of the correctional system. There are jails, juvenile prisons, military prisons, immigration detention, Indian Country jails, territorial prisons, civil commitment, plus probation and parole of which there are 3,981,090 adults on probation, and 851,662 adults on parole."

“Lets not forget that people incarcerated in prison are just a portion of the people under control of the correctional system. There are jails, juvenile prisons, military prisons, immigration detention, Indian Country jails, territorial prisons, civil commitment, plus probation and parole of which there are 3,981,090 adults on probation, and 851,662 adults on parole.”

Sep 21 2014

Happy Birthday Marissa!

Last Sunday, I organized a gathering to celebrate Marissa Alexander‘s Birthday. My friend Debbie made a short video that captured some statements of support and solidarity offered to Marissa. You should watch it! It’s profoundly moving.

Don’t forget to support Marissa’s legal defense fund. You can also support her by purchasing items at the Free Marissa Store.

Sep 20 2014

Catching Up: Some Odds and Ends

I’ve been going non-stop since last week and I still have to work this weekend. As such, I am afraid that I haven’t had any time to blog. Next week continues to be slammed so I anticipate sporadic posting for the next couple of weeks.

A few PIC stories caught my attention this week. First, the Bureau of Justice released a report (PDF) on the number of prisoners in the U.S. in 2013 (excluding people in jail). The Prison Policy Initiative offered a good summary of the report. They key takeaway is that:

“Overall, the state and federal prison population increased slightly between 2012 and 2013. Although this is the first overall increase since 2009, the overall prison population has held fairly steady compared to the rapid rise of earlier decades.”

I’d like to write more about this in the near future. I have been consistently saying that we need to be cautious and not get caught up in the smoke and mirrors of current prison “reform” talk. I hope that the fact the state prison population is rising again will temper some of the irrational exuberance in some quarters about decarceration. There is so much to do to make decarceration real and to sustain it. We need a real movement to coalesce to significantly decrease the numbers of people incarcerated in this country. We are far from that point right now.

Amidst all of the noise and consternation about Ray Rice’s abuse of his now wife Janay, I appreciated reading this article by Vikki Law titled “How Many Women are in Prison for Defending Themselves Against Domestic Violence?.” The article reminds us of the danger posed to victims of domestic violence by their abusers and too often by the state itself. Vikki writes:

“But in all this discussion about the realities of domestic violence, one perspective was clearly left out: the people who are imprisoned for defending themselves against abusers. Where are the stories about how the legal system often punishes abuse survivors for defending themselves, usually after the legal system itself failed to ensure their safety?”

She features Marissa Alexander’s case and also discusses her interviews with other women who have been criminalized for defending themselves against abuse. It’s an article worth reading. Marissa turned 34 years old last Sunday and I organized a birthday celebration for her which included a panel discussion about blackness. violence and self defense.

cake for Marissa's birthday (9/14/14)

cake for Marissa’s birthday (9/14/14)

This Friday is the closing reception of the No Selves to Defend exhibition at Art in these Times in which Marissa’s case is prominently featured. I hope that you will join us.

My friend Yasmin Nair wrote a very good post about Daniele Watts that I invite everyone to read. She writes:”The problem with the Watts story is that it was, from the start, bound up in notions of sexual respectability and did little to actually further a conversation about the real issues at stake.” I could not agree more. It’s why I didn’t write anything about the incident and mostly refrained from any comment on social media. Yasmin ends her post with this sound advice:

“Neither Watts nor Lucas come off well. Rather than focus on their innocence and express horror at their respectability being denied to them, we might critique our own investment in and insistence upon such. Let’s not turn them into either heroes against the state or craven capitulators to the same and, instead, use such instances to have more complicated conversations about the role of the state and capitalism in regulating sexuality and our bodies.”

I’d like more people to know about Eisha Love‘s plight and to support her as she fights for her freedom:

“On the morning of March 28, 2012, while stopping at a gas station, Eisha Love and a friend were accosted at a gas station with a barrage of anti-trans epithets which led to an altercation. The men called for reinforcements while the two women fled in a car. They were being chased by men on foot and in a vehicle when Eisha lost control of the car and struck one of the men leading to a severe leg injury.

Eisha went to the police station to report the attack, but instead of investigating, the police booked her on aggravated assault. The charges against her have since been upgraded to attempted murder.”

You can sign a petition calling for her to be freed. You can also share her story with others.

This week, I enjoyed an essay by Jonah Birch and Paul Heideman titled “The Poverty of Culture.” I highly recommend reading it. They write:

“Take, for example, the claim that black youth inhabit a culture that venerates criminality, in which having been incarcerated is a matter of pride. This particular trope has seen heavy circulation in the last few years, trotted out to rationalize every death of a young black man at the hands of the police or vigilantes. Constructed out of a conglomeration of supposedly “thuggish” photos, snatches of rap lyrics, or social media ephemera, it works to make respectable the narrative that, in every case, it was the black teenager who threw himself in a fury at the men with guns. Confronted with such deep-seated criminality, the pundits innocently ask, what else were the police supposed to do?

Ethnographies of returned prisoners and their families reveal a very different world, one that coincides more with the commonsense notion that people who already face discrimination in the labor market would hardly celebrate events, like incarceration, that will make their lives even harder. Donald Braman spent four years conducting interviews with prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families in the Washington DC area, and found that black families regarded incarceration with anything but pride.”

Last Saturday, my organization co-sponsored a talk in Evanston by Nell Bernstein about her new book “Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prisons.” I then impromptu moderated a panel of youth in conflict with the law after her lecture. This week, Sara Mayeux published a good interview with Bernstein who reiterates the case that she made on Saturday for abolishing juvenile prisons.

I don’t know what to say or to write about the atrocious story of Oklahoma City Police officer Daniel Holtzclaw. I recommend reading this harrowing article by Jessica Testa in Buzzfeed. Let me warn you that it is a really horrible story. I don’t have the bandwith to do any organizing around this story but @FeministaJones has been doing a lot to keep the story in people’s minds on Twitter.

I spent many hours this week working on a campaign to send six young organizers to Geneva to present a report about Chicago Police Department abuse against young people of color to the UN. This is part of a project called We Charge Genocide that I wrote about on Monday. After five days, the campaign has raised $9,000 out of a goal of $15,000. The outpouring has been moving and overwhelming. We still need to raise more money. You can contribute here and also spread the word to others too.

On a more uplifting note, the trauma center coalition hosted a “Sing for a Trauma Center” event on Thursday. Take a couple of minutes to watch the video below:

I have another weekend of work ahead and a long week to follow that. I hope to be back to more regular blogging in a couple of weeks.

Sep 13 2014

Video: Sesame Street Addresses Impact of Incarceration

Sep 12 2014

Image of the Day: Prisons Break Apart Families

The following is an image made by Meredith Stern which is available for purchase at Just Seeds Cooperative for $10. Stern explains why she created the image:

This is a redo of an image I made over ten years ago when the incarceration rate had already skyrocketed and the trend has tragically continued as a direct result of harsh and disproportionate racial profiling, targeting and sentencing of communities of color for non-violent drug related behavior. For starters, we must end mass incarceration, the criminalization of undocumented migrants, and the war on drugs. It is incredibly damaging for families, for communities, and our entire society to be putting such a large portion of our population in detention centers for non-violent behavior.

The Sentencing Project has incredibly eye opening data on the current state of affairs.

For anyone interested in learning more about the current state of affairs:
“This House I Live In” is a documentary about the “War on Drugs” in the US which I highly recommend.

For book readers I recommend “Race to Incarcerate” and “The New Jim Crow.”

I purchased a couple of the prints.

by Meredith Stern

by Meredith Stern

Sep 09 2014

Upcoming Event Series: Creative Resistance in a Prison Nation

creativeresistance

A monthly forum on Chicago-based cultural projects that confront, agitate, and work to dismantle the prison nation.

In the last decade, a growing number of artists, organizations and activists in the Chicago area have created artwork and developed responses to what is now termed a prison nation The U.S. locks up more people than any other nation in the world and exhausts more resources on confinement and punishment each year. One in 99 adults in the US is incarcerated; the financial and social costs to tax payers and communities is staggering. Conservatives, liberals and members of the left have all called for policy changes, yet when violence and poverty rage in Chicago neighborhoods, the common response is a call to lock more people away for longer prison terms.

Creative culture has been at the forefront of changing the public perception about the realities of social segregation, poverty, violence, and incarceration. Chicago-area artists have staged performances and exhibitions, created organizations and developed long-term projects to alter entrenched thinking and unsettle business-as-usual.

What kinds of projects are happening that create a culture of change? Can art decarcerate? Change the law? Liberate communities from violence? Envision and enact new futures?

Read more »

Sep 06 2014

Cece McDonald Teaches About the PIC (with video)

William C. Anderson wrote a short essay about CeCe McDonald for the No Selves to Defend anthology which I share below.

by Micah Bazant

by Micah Bazant

Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald is a trans woman whose bravery in the face of injustice has changed lives and perceptions in the United States. On the night of June 5, 2011, CeCe was out with friends when she was attacked. Three people began harassing her and her friends outside a bar by deriding them with racist and transphobic slurs, before attacking them physically.

CeCe fought for her life; when the dust settled one of her attackers lay dead. CeCe survived the attack, but was arrested by the police. After receiving 11 stitches to her cheek, she was interrogated without counsel and placed in solitary confinement. CeCe was charged with second-degree murder for defending herself. Rather than face trial by a jury that would not likely sympathize with her, she accepted a plea deal to the lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter.

Read more »

Sep 05 2014

Video: The Real Crime

This is a good video by the Black Alliance For Just Immigration. It makes the case that mass criminalization (incarceration and deportation) negatively impacts people of color. It’s worth watching.

Aug 29 2014

Shanesha Taylor Regains Custody of Her Children…

I am happy to share that Shanesha Taylor regained custody of her three children yesterday.

Last week, I wrote about the criminalization of black mothers with a particular focus on Shanesha’s case in the Nation Magazine.

In the United States, the ‘bad mother’ is usually poor and almost always black. Popular representations of black women are shaped by our ideas about race, gender, sexuality, class and more. Black women exist in the culture as hypersexual, unfeminine, angry, potentially criminal, depraved things. We have been excluded from ideologies of domesticity and our families are pathologized. We are preternaturally “strong” and feel no pain therefore justifying harsh and punitive treatment by the state.

It’s a small miracle then that some people were able to overcome our collective socialization to express compassion for Shanesha Taylor and for her children. But it isn’t nearly enough for us to care about black mothers and their children or to simply acknowledge their suffering; we must change policies that are destroying their lives. We must end the war on drugs. We must provide free or low-cost childcare options. We must create living wage jobs. And we must end racist mass criminalization.

I am very happy for Shanesha who I know loves her children dearly.