Category: Uncategorized

Jan 20 2015

Raise Your Voice For Reparations NOW…

Last Thursday, on Martin Luther King’s birthday, about 50 people gathered at City Hall to sing for reparations.

As the Chicago Sun Times editorial page called yesterday for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to compensate survivors of Jon Burge’s torture, it’s clear that pressure is building on the Mayor to get on the right side of history. I’ve written briefly about why I think reparations for police torture survivors are important:

For me, the reparations ordinance is a memorial for the living. The ordinance’s stubborn insistence that people (no matter what they have done) should be compensated for torture is a little earthquake. It shakes up and re-configures the normalization of punishment. To say that the state needs to formally apologize for harm done is important too.

I’ve been heartened to see the recent interest that young people in particular have taken in this issue. Many of the people who have been supporters of the Burge torture survivors are older by virtue of the prolonged nature of the struggle. I hope to see many more young people join organizing efforts around the reparations ordinance and more. The fight needs their creativity, ideas and energy. We also need older people to participate too. We need everyone to win.

So this is another call to action. Please join us as we press forward to pass the reparations ordinance for Chicago police torture survivors. Here’s how you can help:

1. THIS Wednesday January 21st at 10 am is the Chicago City Council meeting and we would love a roll call of supporters who could attend in solidarity with survivors of police torture.If you can attend, please email by 5 pm today to let us know and for more information.


2. Please contact the alderpeople who have yet to support the ordinance and demand that they support it. Call, tweet, email them. You can find all of their names and contact information HERE.


3. Call Mayor Rahm Emanuel at 312-744-3300 & do it every day. Demand that he offer his full support for the reparations ordinance and that he tell the City Council to hold a hearing on it and VOTE.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (City Hall, Sing-in for Reparations, 1/15/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (City Hall, Sing-in for Reparations, 1/15/15)

4. If your alderperson is a supporter of the ordinance, call them and thank them.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

5. Follow the Chicago Torture – Justice Memorials on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest news and for information about upcoming actions.



Dec 02 2014

Giving Tuesday: Please Support These Organizations

There are many important and worthy causes and organizations to support on this Giving Tuesday and really every day. I’d like to share a few that I support personally with my own resources. I hope that you will choose one or all of them to support as you consider your end of the year giving.

Chicago Freedom School – please support here
Founded in 2007, the mission of the Chicago Freedom School (CFS) is to create new generations of critical and independent thinking young people who use their unique experiences and power to create a just world. CFS provides training and education opportunities for youth and adult allies to develop leadership skills through the lens of civic action and through the study of the history of social movements and their leaders. Our vision is in the spirit of the original freedom schools in Mississippi in the 1960s, with CFS serving as a catalyst for young people across Chicago to discover their own power to make change – not only for themselves, but also for their communities and the world. [This is an organization that I co-founded and we really do good work.]

Project NIA – please support online HERE or send a check HERE
Launched in 2009, Project NIA is an advocacy, organizing, popular education, research, and capacity-building center with the long-term goal of ending youth incarceration. We believe that several simultaneous approaches are necessary in order to develop and sustain community-based alternatives to the system of policing and incarceration. Our mission is to dramatically reduce the reliance on arrest, detention, and incarceration for addressing youth crime and to instead promote the use of restorative and transformative practices, a concept that relies on community-based alternatives. [I founded and currently direct Project NIA]

Chicago Books to Women in Prison - support their book drive on Amazon HERE
Chicago Books to Women in Prison is a volunteer collective that distributes paperback books free of charge to women prisons nationwide. We are dedicated to offering women behind bars the opportunity for self-empowerme​nt, education and entertainment that reading provides. This list highlights the books we need most, but are not frequently donated. Use it as a guide or buy books directly from the list. All books must be paperback. Used and new books are accepted.

Black Youth Project 100 – support their work HERE
Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100) is an activist member-based organization of Black 18-35 year olds, dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all Black people. We do this through building a collective focused on transformative leadership development, non-violent direct action organizing, advocacy and education.

Holiday Gift Drive for Children with Incarcerated Mothers - support the drive HERE
This project is a collaboration between Moms United and Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers. As we see the largest growing segment of the prison population is mothers, esp mothers of color, we see also a growing number of children on the other side of those bars, many entering the foster care system. It is so important to all moms to be able to give a gift to their children during the holidays. This program will allow mothers at Logan Prison in IL to choose a gift that YOU donated, and surprise their child/children​. Please help us make this a special holiday season for kids and moms who are experiencing the pain of separation, but who work so hard to maintain that critical bond throughout the year. Thanks in advance for anything you can do to help! Please share this wish list with friends and family too! One more thing: We would like to properly thank folks who donate, so if you would drop us a line at holly.krig@gma​, that would be additionally great! Thank you! *****Update***​**We have reached our goal for Logan, Decatur, Fox Valley, and Cook County Jail. Thank to the amazing generosity and commitment of those who donated and shared the event with their networks, we can now collect for Haymarket, a treatment center to which some moms from Cook County Jail are sentenced, as well as 2 additional transitional facilities in Chicago! Wonderfully unexpected, and let’s keep it going! Thank YOU!!!

Black and Pink – Please support them HERE
Black & Pink is an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies who support each other. Our work toward the abolition of the prison industrial complex is rooted in the experience of currently and formerly incarcerated people. We are outraged by the specific violence of the prison industrial complex against LGBTQ people, and respond through advocacy, education, direct service, and organizing.

Jun 09 2014

Standing on a Soapbox, Calling Out the Cops…

I stood on a soapbox Saturday. I mean a real one.

Me on a soapbox (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 6/7/14)

Me on a soapbox (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 6/7/14)

On an overcast afternoon, on a concrete island at the intersection of Ashland, Milwaukee and Division, I joined a couple dozen people (mostly young) who were reading/performing poetry in opposition to state violence.

I was invited to say a few words, so I did. I shared words written by Langston Hughes and AI. I added a few of my own too.

On Friday, Damo was laid to rest. I planned to attend the funeral but in the end I was unable due to a previous commitment. It’s just as well. I hate funerals. I despise them especially when the person being buried is in his early 20s.

So I stood on a real soapbox and in memory of Damo & others who are victims of state violence, I shared two poems. Here are a few lines from one by Langston Hughes:

Three kicks between the legs
That kill the kids
I’d make tomorrow.

I’ll admit to actively suppressing any thoughts of a young man being tased (twice) and hitting his head so hard that he was basically brain dead when he arrived at the hospital. How does this happen? Then I remember the disposability and un-humanness of black and brown people. I know how this happens. I am a witness but I’d rather not be.

Ethan spoke before me. No, that’s not actually true, Ethan bled before me. I watched with others transfixed by his words and his pain. I hoped that it was catharsis towards healing. But I don’t know how young black men can heal in the midst of continuing, continual, unrelenting violence. Is this possible?

The title of the gathering organized by members of the Chicago Revolutionary Poets Brigade was ‘No Knock’ An Artistic Speak-Out Against the ‘American Police State.’ The title is inspired by Gil Scott Heron’s poem “No Knock.”

No knocked on my brother Fred Hampton
Bullet holes all over the place
No knocked on my brother Michael Harris
And jammed a shotgun against his skull

It is as it ever was. No knocked on Damo who is now six feet under ground.

Passersby stopped to listen as various people read poems about Guantanamo, police violence, prisons, surveillance, and more. Audre was right: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” There is magic in hearing voices speaking out for justice over the din of a bustling city. You had to be there to understand what I mean. Gathering as a collective to recite poetry can’t end state violence but it does keep our spirits up so that we can demand and fight for more justice. It does help to “give name to the nameless so that it can be thought.” And now more than ever we need the words and we need to be able to think through that which cannot be thought. These are revolutionary acts in our time.

Over the next few weeks, I will be working with others to strategize and organize around the epidemic of police violence experienced by our young people of color in Chicago. I don’t know what will come of our discussions but I am sure that nothing will change unless we change it.

I stood on a soapbox Saturday. I mean a real one. I read some poems including “Endangered Species” by AI.

At some point, we will meet
at the tip of the bullet,
the blade, or the whip
as it draws blood,
but only one of us will change,
only one of us will slip
past the captain and crew of this ship
and the other submit to the chains
of a nation
that delivered rhetoric
in exchange for its promises.

I hope that you find your own soap box. I mean a real one and read some poems, calling out the cops…

Dec 29 2013

Prison Culture on (Short) Hiatus & Happy New Year…

It’s hard to believe that we’ve almost come to the end of 2013. This year has flown by & it’s also been incredibly busy. Regular readers know that I run my own organization and am also involved in many other projects in addition.

When I started blogging in mid-2010, I’ll admit that I had no idea how time consuming but also rewarding it would be. This blog began as a running journal for my ideas and rants. It’s now become a space where I am able to engage with others about issues that I care about. I am grateful for that and grateful to those of you who take the time to read and sometimes reach out directly.

Anyway, I start teaching again in January (in addition to running my organization and doing other work). I’m going to take two to three weeks away from blogging to prep for the new year. I of course reserve the right to post a rant should the need arise :) but I am not planning on it.

I wish all of you Happy Holidays and a very Happy New Year. I hope that 2014 brings us more justice and some peace. I leave you with the gift of this wonderful new music video by Climbing PoeTree. Onward!

Oct 25 2013

The Young Lords: A Brief Introduction with Some Illustrations…

I am surprised that my friend Billy hasn’t disowned me yet. For over a year, I’ve promised to write a few words about the Young Lords for a zine that ze has illustrated. I’ve been distracted, then swamped, then distracted again. So to push myself to work on this, I’m writing a post today. It’s very drafty but I need the kick in the butt…


There had of course been Puerto Rican nationalist organizations throughout the early to mid-20th century. But they mostly focused on the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. Meanwhile Puerto Ricans on the mainland were living in dire conditions. They experienced poverty, dilapidated housing, substandard schooling and terrible health care. Pedro Pietri gave voice to this marginalization and violence in his amazing spoken word poem titled “Puerto Rican Obituary” which appeared in the 1971 book “Palante.” Below is a short clip of Pietri sharing an excerpt from the piece:

In 1959, seven Puerto Rican young people formed (PDF) the Young Lords in Chicago. The group was initially created to protect its members against attacks from white ethnic, black and other latino ‘gangs.’ Jose “Cha Cha” Jimenez became the group’s chairman in the early 60s.

During the mid to late 60s, many black gangs in Chicago were transforming into political organizations very much influenced by the Black Power movement. Gang members joined the Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam, and other radical organizations. By 1967, the three largest gangs in Chicago, the Vice Lords, Blackstone Rangers, and the Gangster Disciples founded the LSD (Lords, Stones, and Disciples) peace treaty. This newly formed group ran local businesses (bookstores, cafes, clothing shops) and facilitated political education in their communities.

Puerto Rican gangs underwent a similar process of consciousness-raising and transformation. Cha Cha Jimenez and the Chicago Young Lords re-evaluated their mission & took on the name ‘Young Lords Organization.’ In 1967, they opened Uptight #2, a cafe where they discussed the issues of the day. The Lords established substance abuse programs, gave away food, and organized various community events. After spending time in prison in 1968, Jimenez became particularly interested revolutionary movement-building.

Fred Hampton, the deputy Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, approached Cha Cha Jimenez to discuss a revolutionary framework for liberation. Hampton believed that it was important to marry social service delivery with revolutionary politics. As Jimenez said: “Giving gifts wasn’t going to help their people. They had to deal with the system that was messing them over.”

Che Ja-Ja, Bronx Office, May 1970 Image by Billy Dee (inspired by Palante, photo by Michael Abramson)

Che Ja-Ja, Bronx Office, May 1970
Image by Billy Dee (inspired by Palante, photo by Michael Abramson)

Read more »

Sep 18 2013

The Drug War: Still Racist & Failed #24

According to ThinkProgress:

Drug offenses remained the single most common cause of arrest in 2012, mostly for offenses involving mere possession, according to newly released FBI estimates. Of the 12.2 million estimated arrests 1.55 million were for “drug abuse violations.” Some 82 percent of those were for possession offenses, and 42.4 percent for marijuana possession. That is the equivalent of a drug arrest every 20 seconds, and a marijuana arrest every 42 seconds, according to calculations by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of law enforcement officials who support the regulated legalization of drugs.


Also, North Country Public Radio produced a very interesting report discussing why some black leaders were initially supportive of the war on drugs. It worth listening to here.

Aug 18 2013

Bulldozing Dreams & Communities in Chicago Under Cover of Darkness…

I have watched for years now as Chicago bleeds black people and displaces the poor. This trend predates the current mayor Rahm Emanuel’s tenure. What the election of Emanuel has done is to super-charge a process of gentrification and urban removal that has been happening for years.

La Casita in 2011 (photo by Brett Jelinek)

La Casita in 2011 (photo by Brett Jelinek)

The latest betrayal of the brown and the poor came on Friday evening when parents and children were interrupted during an Atzec dance class by police officers and demolition trucks.

photo by Vivi Arrieta (8/16/13)

photo by Vivi Arrieta (8/16/13)

La Casita, a library and community center adjacent to Whittier elementary school, has been a contested site for years. In 2010, parents and community members staged a 43-day sit-in to save it from demolition. This protest predates the Occupy movement. Chicago Public School (CPS) officials wanted to replace La Casita with a soccer field that would serve Cristo Rey, a nearby private school.

The parents won their fight. CPS promised to keep the center open and leased the building to the parents for $1 a year. Alderman Danny Solis committed to securing funds to renovate the space. You can learn more about the 2010 struggle to save La Casita here.

Read more »

Aug 16 2013

Comic: American Justice by Matt Bors…

I really appreciated this comic by Matt Bors.

by Matt Bors

by Matt Bors

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.

May 24 2013

From My Collection #19: Free Joan Little

The following are some newswire photographs from my collection related to the trial of Joan (pronounced JoAnne) Little which I have previously written about here.

Picketers March in Front of Denver Federal Bldg in Support of Joanne Little (7/15/1975)

Picketers March in Front of Denver Federal Bldg in Support of Joan Little (From My Collection, 7/15/1975)

From My Collection

From My Collection

Demonstrators March From the North Carolina Women's Prison To the Little Trial (From My Collection, 7/14/1975)

Demonstrators March From the North Carolina Women’s Prison To the Little Trial (From My Collection, 7/14/1975)