Category: Women in Prison

Mar 22 2015

This Week… Color of Violence 4

I am sorry that I have been unable to post here for most of this month. I am absolutely swamped with work. I have been giving presentations, organizing actions, facilitating workshops, writing reports and more.

This week brings the Color of Violence 4 gathering to Chicago. I am so excited and can’t wait to participate. You can find the schedule here. Registration is closed but if you are in town you can try to sign up onsite. No promises that you will actually be able to attend.

I am especially excited to be part of an exciting plenary on Thursday evening.

image-0001 (4)

Looking forward to seeing some of you at COV!

Feb 03 2015

Talking to Kids About Incarceration…

A month ago, I posted about my friend Bianca Diaz’s new children’s book “The Princess Who Went Quiet.”

princessquiet2

Along with several other people (from Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration and CLAIM), I co-organized an event last Tuesday to share Bianca’s book and to hear from formerly incarcerated mothers.

princessquiet

It was a moving and beautiful event. The women who bravely shared their stories with us were honest and reflective. They discussed the impact(s) of their incarceration on their children. They talked about the hopes they had and have for their children. They shared their mistakes and their triumphs. Many of us shed tears along with the women. These were tears of rage, pain, grief and love.

I was technically the moderator of the panel but I had nothing to do. I just invited each woman to speak, to share her story. I wasn’t needed; they were more than enough. As we closed out the event, I spoke briefly to the importance of telling children that they are not at fault for their loved one’s incarceration. I said these children also needed reassurance that even though their loved one was away, they were thinking of them and would always love them. These are lessons that I have learned in working with young people over the years. They are simple but essential.

One of my favorite things about Bianca’s book is that it’s a story of a young girl coming to voice. So many children with incarcerated loved ones need help to articulate their feelings, fears and questions about what’s happened. That’s really the bottom line. Unfortunately, too often they are confronted with judgement and shame. This needs to change. The women who spoke last Tuesday helped to catalyze a conversation that I hope will spread throughout our city.

Bianca generously made her book available to view and download through issu:

Many people, however, have been in touch to say that they can’t figure out how to download the book through issu. To that end, I am making a PDF copy of the book available for downloading. I would encourage everyone to first read Bianca’s reflections about talking to children about the PIC and also listening to formerly incarcerated mothers narrate their own stories. She was inspired to write the book based these experiences.

Finally, Bianca created the book with the intention that it be shared with children who have incarcerated loved ones. This means that those who download the book have a responsibility to share it with that group of children. I hope that you will do so and that you will find a way to let the children know that they are loved and cherished.

Jan 28 2015

Marissa Alexander Did Not Die…

Marissa Alexander didn’t die.

In spite of her husband threatening to kill her & the state of Florida relentlessly pursuing social death, Marissa walked out of a Duval County jail yesterday. Alive.

She had a hearing and thankfully the judge accepted the terms of her plea deal with the state of Florida which means that she gets to go home to spend the next two years electronically shackled under house arrest. And this is supposed to be “justice” for her. We are expected to be relieved and in many ways we are. The state is so diabolically effective at criminalizing and killing our friends that the bar has been lowered regarding what counts as victory.

image by Jennifer Kernica (2015)

image by Jennifer Kernica (2015)

Marissa spent 3 years in jail and has also served a year already under house arrest. All told, she will have spent over 6 years under some form of incarceration and state supervision for firing a warning shot to defend against her abusive husband. No one was hurt by the shot and yet Marissa has lost years of her life.

I became aware of Marissa and her plight in 2011. In 2012, after Trayvon Martin was killed & her name became more well-known, I paid closer attention to her legal tribulations. I wrote my first post referencing her conviction in May 2012. It was an essay focusing on how women of color have historically been denied access to self-defense when faced with violence. I specifically related Marissa’s story to that of Inez Garcia. For the most part though, I didn’t get actively involved in Marissa’s defense. I was busy with many other projects and I saw that she had support from the Free Marissa NOW National Mobilization Campaign.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (11/24/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (11/24/14)

In early 2013, I saw a photograph of some white comrades holding a banner in support of Marissa at a Chicago rally and it pushed me over the edge. I was relieved that people in my city were lifting up her name and I was embarrassed that white people were the ones publicly showing her solidarity. How could a city like Chicago, home to thousands of Black people, not have a local defense committee to support her? The question kept gnawing at me. I was still swamped with other work and felt that I wouldn’t have the capacity to take on building yet another organization.

In the summer of 2013, I finally decided that I would organize a teach-in on Marissa’s case. I’d host it on her birthday in September in response to a national call to action by FMN. I reasoned that if participants were exposed to the injustice of the case and provided with an opportunity to organize on her behalf that they would. It’s exactly what happened. The twist was that, while I initially warned that I would only be able to serve as a sporadic adviser to the local defense committee, I ended up getting drawn into a co-organizer role fairly early. Working with my fellow Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander (CAFMA) organizers has been one of the best prisoner defense committee and organizing experiences that I’ve had.

I’ve written briefly about the importance of a defense committee for prisoners:

“Marissa Alexander is a person. She is also fighting a case and that case illuminates a greater cause. But she is a human being. This is something that can be overlooked. It’s easy to do for a number of reasons. Most defendants are advised by their attorneys to keep quiet while facing charges. This creates a vacuum. If the defendant is lucky, others step in to speak for them and to act as their surrogate filling in the gaps in their story. This is the position in which Marissa finds herself.

And so it falls to others to find ways to keep her name and her story in the public’s mind. It falls to others to devise creative ways of engaging new supporters. It falls to others to convince people that they should care about the defendant and that they should offer material support for a prisoner.

One of the important lessons that I’ve learned in my years of prisoner defense committee work is how isolating and lonely the criminal legal process is. This is particularly true for detainees who find themselves jailed while awaiting trial or a plea deal. It is difficult to make peace with the loss of your freedom when you haven’t been convicted. Letters and other communications are lifelines for those who find themselves in such a predicament. The knowledge that people on the outside care about you, haven’t forgotten about you, and support you is encouraging. Often it makes the difference between giving up and staying hopeful. That line is an excruciatingly thin one.”

I’ve been all in with Marissa and her case since late summer 2013. Ten days prior to her expected release, CAFMA spearheaded a 10 day fundraising campaign to insure that she would not be burdened with paying for her own incarceration (through electronic monitoring). We estimated that it would cost $11,000 for two years of house arrest and thanks to generous supporters that goal was met in the first three days of the campaign. So yesterday, Marissa walked out of jail with at least one less financial worry. She is also no longer facing a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years (for her initial conviction) or potentially 60 years (had she been convicted in a retrial). I suppose that I should take some solace in this. Unfortunately, I feel a conflicting set of emotions. On the one hand, I feel a seething, low grade rage and one the other, I am filled with gratitude and love.

I am angry that Marissa, a victim of domestic violence, has had to spend even one day in jail for defending herself. I am angry that Marissa, a mother of three, has spent years away from her children. I am angry at a spiteful and vindictive prosecutor who abused her discretion and pursued Marissa like Ahab. I am angry that Marissa is still shackled to the state for two more years and that she is expected to pay for her continued confinement. I am angry that while we successfully raised money for Marissa’s legal defense too many people (including black people) stayed quiet on the sideline. I am angry because of the Marissas of the past, the current Marissas and the future ones. I am angry because violence against women continues unabated. I am angry because too many black women’s lives DO NOT in fact matter. I am angry.

Alongside my justified anger, however, lies profound love and gratitude. I am grateful that Marissa wasn’t broken by her experience of injustice. I am grateful that she has a family and particularly a mother who has stood steadfastly by her side throughout this ordeal. I am grateful to Aleta, Sumayya, Helen and to my friend Alisa for taking the initiative to launch the Free Marissa Now mobilization campaign in 2012. The countless hours, days, weeks, months, and years that you labored are valued. I saw you. Thank you. I am grateful to my comrades and friends of the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander (CAFMA), particularly Tasasha, Maya, Holly, Ash, Monica, Sean, Jessica, Sarah, Rachel, Jennifer, Olivia, Suey, Gail, Chez and most especially Ayanna. Your creativity, passion, and persistence are unmatched.

There are many more people in Chicago & across the country who contributed their talents, art, money and time to supporting Marissa and I am grateful to and for them all. Thank you Mychal, Vikki, Molly, Esther, William, Micah, Malcolm, Steve, Bianca, Kiese, DJ, Trudy, Christina, Lindsay, Brandon, Jamal, Nikki, Jasiri, Beth, Lauren, Emily, Jenn, Billy, Lewis, Noah, Allison, Vivi, Sage, Brandi, Kelly, Sam, Scheherazade, Mary, Lex, Zachary, Rachel, Shaun, Claudia, Dave, Andy, and many, many more. Some of the people who helped like Lauren suffered the negative consequences of state surveillance as a result; reminding us that doing this work takes a toll and is always risky. I am grateful to the ones who took the risk. I am grateful for our resistance and our endurance. I am grateful for the witness. I am grateful for our stubborn insistence to love each other even when the world is unloving toward us. I am grateful for beauty in the bricks.

Marissa is out of jail but she is still not free. I hope that supporters will continue to care about what happens from here on out. For my part, I am going to take a break from prisoner defense work. I am certain that it won’t be a long one. There are too many people locked up and too much injustice. But it’s important in this work to preserve one’s mind, body and spirit. It’s important to prevent burn out. So I’ll step away for a little while sure to be drawn back again by another travesty of injustice. I will keep an eye out for Marissa and I’ll be ready to support her in what comes next.

We welcome our sister home understanding that she’s still not free. Cognizant also that none of us is free while others are caged.

by Suey Park (2014)

by Suey Park (2014)

But Marissa did not die. For this, on this day, we rejoice. In the words of the great writer-poet Lucille Clifton: come celebrate/with me that everyday/something has tried to kill me/and has failed.

Marissa will need money as she gets on her feet. If you have a few dollars, please contribute to her restoration here.

Dec 09 2014

On Toys, Incarcerated Moms and Solidarity…

Over the past few weeks, my friends at Moms United Against Violence & Incarceration and Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers have sponsored a holiday gift drive for children with incarcerated mothers and mothers in recovery. I have been heartened to witness the outpouring of support for this gift drive.

UPDATE: As of this evening, there were 1430 gift donations to incarcerated moms to their children. It’s just astounding!!! I asked friend and comrade Holly Krig for some reflections and words about the drive. Holly’s words are below. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to making this drive such a success! If you are in Chicago, please connect with Moms United and CLAIM’s work.

by Amaryllis Moleski

by Amaryllis Moleski

For Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration, the toy drive has been part of an ongoing collaboration with groups committed to developing some balance of advocacy, as well as education and organizing around the issue of mass incarceration. The idea to do the drive itself started with Alexis Mansfield, attorney with CLAIM/CGLA and Colette Payne, of their support group, Visible Voices. CLAIM’s founder, Gail Smith, and Olivia Chase of Lutheran Social Services IL, eagerly joined the partnership from the jump. In terms of the gift goal itself, I was cautiously optimistic, Sabrina Morey, (my co-organizer at Moms) figured we could triple our goal, easy.

And, she was right. The drive has been hugely successful, well beyond our original goal of 400 gift donations for the mothers of Logan Prison to give to their kids. The incredible generosity of donors from around Chicago and around the world, and of all the people who joined us in the call for donations, challenged us to raise the goal several times. Just 3 weeks into the drive, we have collected 1,368 of the 1,375 donations needed for moms at Logan and Decatur Prisons, Division 17 of Cook County Jail, and transitional facilities in Aurora and Chicago (Haymarket, Women’s Treatment Center and Grace House). In dollars, that is conservatively $27,000, if we account for some folks paying shipping too.

So, I should stop right there and say: THANK YOU. Thank you to all the folks who donated what they could afford, every box of markers or clay helps. Thank you to people like Mariame Kaba who leveraged her good name, her long-time commitment to the fight against the Prison Industrial Complex to help us raise donations. Also, Maya Schenwar, Suey Park, Kelly Hayes, so many more. Every box of markers or legos or soccer ball may as well have your names on them too.

Of course, the holidays aren’t only about gifts, and neither is this. It is profoundly important to support the relationship of mothers and their kids during this time of traumatic separation, which is especially painful over the holidays. And, for moms who are released while their kids are minors, simple things like gifts can concretely demonstrate to the courts that there has been ongoing contact between kids and parents, and help moms as they fight for what they have waited so long for: to be reunited with their kids. The success of the drive has also helped us deepen relationships with staff inside the facilities, which will hopefully create more opportunities to support inmates and their families from outside.

So, this toy drive is about moms and kids, but it is also about the people who donate. It is about raising the visibility of the millions of people disappeared in jails and prisons to people who may not think about incarceration, who may not have a personal connection. We hope the toy drive has initiated a personal connection for many, and reaffirmed a commitment for others, and, maybe, just felt like love to those who are already personally connected. We hope to maintain contact with the many people who have reached out to us to grow that base of people who will advocate for inmates’ rights, support harm-reducing efforts, and who will also join us in the fight for community based alternatives to mass incarceration, for all–juveniles, women, men.

We hope more people who supported this effort in any way will reach out to us at holly.krig@gmail.com (Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration). For people in and around Chicago, we invite people to celebrate the success of the toy drive, and learn more about the on-ongoing organizing at our “Holiday Party in Solidarity with Incarcerated Moms and their Kids” on Saturday, Dec 13th, 2-5pm, UE Hall, 37 S Ashland. Details on Facebook HERE.

Nov 25 2014

Free Marissa and All Black People…

“What if she goes to jail again? How will you feel?”

The questions bring me up short. My goddaughter hasn’t previously expressed an interest in Marissa Alexander. She knows that I’ve been involved in a local defense committee to support Marissa in her struggle for freedom. But up to this point, she hasn’t asked any questions. Her mother, however, tells me that Nina (not her real name) has been following my updates on social media.

I’m still considering how to respond and I must have been silent for too long because Nina apologizes. “Forget about it, Auntie,” she says. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

It’s interesting that she thinks I am upset. She knows that I have no faith in the U.S. criminal legal system and perhaps assumes that I am pessimistic about Marissa’s prospects in court. I tell her that while I have no faith in the criminal punishment system, I am hopeful for a legal victory in Marissa’s case. I say that while the system as a whole is unjust, in some individual cases legal victories can be achieved. I tell her that this is particularly true for defendants who have good legal representation and resources. Money makes a difference in securing legal victories. I explain that this is why I have worked so hard to fundraise for Marissa’s legal defense.

“But how will you feel if she’s convicted again though?” Nina persists.

“I’ll definitely be sad for her and her family,” I respond.

“I think that you’ll be a lot more than sad,” she says.

Does sadness have levels? I guess so. I’m not sure what “more than sad” feels like so I keep quiet.

A friend, who has spent years supporting Marissa Alexander through the Free Marissa NOW National Mobilization Campaign, recently confided that she was unable to contemplate another conviction for Marissa at her retrial in December. Many of us who’ve been supporting Marissa have been bracing ourselves. Each of us trying to cope as best we can. Over the past few weeks, I’d taken to asking comrades if they believed that Marissa would be free. Some answered affirmatively without hesitation but they were in the minority. Most eyed me warily and slowly said that they were hopeful of an acquittal. I don’t think that they believed what they were saying.

The U.S. criminal punishment system cannot deliver any “justice.” Marissa has already served over 1000 days in jail and prison. She spent another year under strict house arrest wearing an ankle monitor costing her family $105 every two weeks. Marissa fired a warning shot to ward off her abusive husband and no one was injured. For this, she was facing a 60 year sentence if convicted in her re-trial. True justice is not being arrested and taken away from her children, family and friends. Justice is living a life free of domestic abuse. Justice is benefiting from state protection rather than suffering from state violence. Justice is having a self to defend in the first place.

Yesterday morning, I got news that Marissa had agreed to a plea deal. A couple of hours later, the news broke on social media. I saw a mix of people celebrating this outcome and others expressing their anger that Marissa was forced into a Faustian ‘choice’. I got calls, texts and emails from friends and family checking in on me. I appreciated everyone’s concern but I was unfortunately thrust into action when I heard that the grand jury in St. Louis would be announcing their indictment decision in the killing of Mike Brown later in the day. It was a mad rush to make arrangements to combine solidarity events since we already had one planned for Marissa yesterday evening.

The parallels between Marissa’s unjust prosecution/imprisonment & Mike Brown’s killing by law enforcement are evident to me. Yet, I am well aware that for too many these are treated as distinct and separate occurrences. They are not. In fact, the logic of anti-blackness and punishment connects both.

In the late 19th century, a remark was attributed to a Southern police chief who suggested that there were three types of homicides: “If a nigger kills a white man, that’s murder. If a white man kills a nigger, that’s justifiable homicide. If a nigger kills a nigger, that’s one less nigger (Berg, 2011, p.116).” The devaluing of black life in this country has its roots in colonial America. In the book “Popular Justice: A History of Lynching in America,” Manfred Berg makes a convincing case that: “The slave codes singled out blacks for extremely cruel punishment, thus marking black bodies as innately inferior (p.11).” Berg argues that: “Colonial slavery set clear patterns for future racial violence in America (p.11).”

“Innately inferior” bodies can be debased, punished and killed without consequence. The twist is that black people have always been considered dangerous along with our disposability. Mike Brown’s (disposable) body is a lethal weapon and so he is justifiably threatening. Marissa’s (disposable) body is deserving of abuse and is incapable of claiming a self worth defending. Mike Brown was described by his killer, Darren Wilson, as a “demon” and called an “It.”

The doctrine of pre-emptive killing and preventative captivity finds expression in the daily lives of all black people in the U.S. Black people are never ‘innocent.’ That language or concept doesn’t apply. We are always guilty until proven something less than suspect or dangerous.

Read more »

Nov 15 2014

Interesting Things This Week…

I came across various things of interest this week and thought to share them here.

1. I listened to this very good panel discussion about abolition with Reina Gossett, Janetta Johnson, CeCe McDonald, Miss Major, and Eric A. Stanley.

2. I read a good essay by Vesla Weaver titled “Black Citizenship and Summary Punishment: A Brief History to the Present.” It’s part of a special issue of Theory & Event focused on the events in Ferguson.

3. I was interested in the findings from this Pew Charitable Trust survey about Americans’ perceptions of surveillance, privacy and security.

4. I watched and enjoyed Ana Tijoux’s new video which offers a vision of how the world might look without capitalism.

5. I was profoundly moved by Cord Jefferson’s essay “On Kindness.”

6. I’ve been listening to audio stories about Cook County Jail recorded by 96 acres.

7. Only 23 more days until opening statements in Marissa Alexander’s retrial…

marissa

8. I was bursting with pride for the wonderful young organizers from We Charge Genocide who made themselves heard this week at the UN in Geneva.

We Charge Genocide at UNCAT

We Charge Genocide at UNCAT

We Charge Genocide at UN in Geneva

We Charge Genocide at UN in Geneva

Oct 20 2014

Walking in Lawndale For Marissa and Other DV Survivors

It was another busy weekend. On Saturday, I was privileged to participate in the 2nd Annual Domestic Violence Awareness Month Walk organized by my friends at A Long Walk Home. This year, they chose to honor Marissa Alexander.

Below are some pictures from the march taken by my friend Sarah Jane Rhee.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

“Who are we? Families”

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

“What do we do? Stop The Violence.”

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

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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 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 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.

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