Jul 22 2014

“No Selves to Defend” Exhibit & Marissa Alexander…

I’ve been incredibly busy and too tired to post anything here for a few days. Yesterday came the news that Marissa Alexander was denied a “stand your ground” hearing. She will be retried in December. I am not surprised (after all as I’ve maintained, black women have no selves to defend). Still I am disappointed for her and her family.

This weekend was jam packed with events including the much anticipated (for me) opening of the “No Selves to Defend exhibition at Art in these Times. Over 200 people packed the gallery for a first look at the exhibition.

photo by Daniel Tucker (7/18/14)

photo by Daniel Tucker (7/18/14)

As my friend and co-curator, Rachel Caidor and I envisioned the exhibition, we decided that we would anchor it with the stories of Celia (a 19th century enslaved black woman) and Marissa (a 21st century unjustly prosecuted black woman).

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/18/14) - portrait of Celia by Bianca Diaz

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/18/14) – portrait of Celia by Bianca Diaz

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/18/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/18/14)

In between those stories, we wanted to share the experiences of other women of color who have been criminalized for invoking self-defense.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/18/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/18/14)

We also decided to underscore the resistance against this criminalization by highlighting the work of various defense committees throughout history.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/18/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/18/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/18/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/18/14)

There are many interactive opportunities built into the exhibition and opening event. My friend Sarah Jane Rhee ran a “Prison Is Not Feminist” photo booth at the opening. You can see some of those photos here. Below is one of my favorite of the images.

Antonia poses with the sign she designed (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 7/18/14)

Antonia poses with the sign she designed (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 7/18/14)

There’s of course more to the exhibition including a space to hear the voices of some of the women featured and to consider the rise of carceral feminism.

It will probably take a few days before I can adequately reflect on my experiences of curating and organizing the exhibition. It’s hard to think critically while in the midst of the work. I always need some distance before I can evaluate what went well and what needs to be improved. Overall, however, I am really proud of the exhibition and I hope that many people will visit. Art in these Times is open Mondays through Fridays from 10 to 4:30 pm. Stop by to visit! The exhibition will run until September 20th.

Jul 17 2014

On the Eve of The ‘No Selves’ Exhibition Opening…

It’s been a long and exhausting week so far. I haven’t gotten home before 9 p.m for three days straight. There’s a lot happening. I am excited that the “No Selves to Defend: Criminalizing Women of Color for Self Defense” exhibition opens at Art in these Times tomorrow evening.

I spent Tuesday evening into the night with my friends Rachel, Billy, and Ash putting the finishing touches on the exhibition. I am very proud of what we’ve created. The “No Selves to Defend” exhibition is an outgrowth of the anthology by the same name.

Both projects were inspired by Marissa Alexander. More specifically, they are inspired by her consistent and constant admonition to also focus on the cases of other women who have been and are currently criminalized for invoking self-defense against violence. As I thought about her desire to lift up other women’s stories, the idea to create a document that would highlight other cases was born. The exhibition is simply an extension of this idea.

A lot of people are responsible for making both the anthology and exhibition a reality. I look forward to the opportunity to thank them all at Friday’s opening.

For those who visit the “No Selves” exhibition, you’ll see that it opens with the story of Celia.

On June 23 1855, after enduring five years of sexual violence, Celia, a 19 year old Missouri enslaved woman killed her master, Robert Newsom. Newsom was a 60 year old widower who purchased Celia when she was 14. On the day of her purchase, he raped her on the way to his farm.

By the time she killed Newsom, Celia already had two of his children and was pregnant with a third. She had started a relationship with one of Newson’s male slaves named George who became her lover. George insisted that she end her sexual liaison with Newsom if they were going to continue in their relationship.

Celia approached his daughters and implored them to ask their father to end the sexual assaults. No one could or would protect her and so she confronted Newsom herself when he came to force yet another sexual encounter. She clubbed him to death and then burned his body in her fireplace.

Her court-appointed defense lawyers suggested that a Missouri law permitting a woman to use deadly force to defend herself against sexual advances extended to slave as well as to free women. In spite of this vigorous defense, the court disagreed with the argument and Celia was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging.

After an appeal of the case failed, Celia was hanged on December 21, 1855.

Reading Celia’s story many years ago, I began to crystallize my thoughts about the fact that women of color (black women in particular) have never had “selves” to defend. It is fitting then that Celia would introduce the exhibition.

I asked my friend the supremely talented artist Bianca Diaz to create a visual interpretation of Celia for the exhibition. Since there are no photographs of Celia, Bianca had to rely on her imagination. Below is what she created which will be on display. It is haunting and beautiful.

Celia by Bianca Diaz

Celia by Bianca Diaz

So, if you find yourself in town tomorrow at 6 pm, you are invited to the opening of the ‘No Selves to Defend’ exhibition. It will run until mid September at Art in these Times located on the second floor of 2040 N Milwaukee Ave. Chicago, IL 60647. The gallery is unfortunately not wheelchair accessible. Looking forward to seeing some of you on Friday!

Jul 15 2014

Poem of the Day: Separation

Audre Lorde

Separation

The stars dwindle
they will not reward me
even in triumph.

It is possible
to shoot a man
in self defense
and still notice
how his red blood
decorates the snow.

1972

Jul 12 2014

Musical Interlude: The Prisoner by Gil Scott Heron

Jul 08 2014

Image of the Day

The wonderful Jenna Peters Golden contributed to the terrific Radicalphabet poster project.

Image by Jenna Peters-Golden

Image by Jenna Peters-Golden

Jul 06 2014

Poetry Interlude: The Courtroom

A classic…

Jul 04 2014

Musical Interlude: Jail House Blues

Jun 24 2014

Poem of the Day: To Timberly, From Her 16 Year Old Daughter

by Amaryllis Moleski

by Amaryllis Moleski

Dear Mom,

I love you very much, even though we haven’t had the greatest relationship.
I sometimes get angry when I think of all the years we have been separated.
I love you very much and wouldn’t trade you for anything.
I know it’s not your fault and I don’t blame you.
I just hope and pray that I will be able to spend more time than once or twice a year with the mom I love and adore.
Always remember I love you and never forget it.
And when you are in rehab and you feel like no one cares and you are not going to make it just remember what I am writing in this letter and I love you.

Love, your daughter,
Latoya

Source: Writers’ Block: The Voices of Women Inside (Women and Prison Program, Beyondmedia Education)

Jun 19 2014

No Selves To Defend #5: Cassandra Peten

This is the last story from the “No Selves To Defend” anthology that I will be posting here. This one focuses on the case of Cassandra Peten. Her portrait was created by Molly Crabapple and the essay is by me.

You can read previous posts here, here, and here.

Don’t forget that you can purchase a copy of ‘No Selves’ here. You can join us for the opening reception of the exhibition on July 18th and details are here.

Cassandra Peten
By Prison Culture

In April 1978, Cassandra Peten, a young mother and shipyard worker in San Francisco, left her abusive husband after nearly three years of marriage. During that time, she had been emotionally and physically assaulted. Peten had escaped her husband twice before; she left the third time, after he threatened to kill her.

Cassandra Peten by Molly Crabapple (2014)

Cassandra Peten by Molly Crabapple (2014)

She left her young son in her mother’s care and fled the state in search of employment. Peten had been working up to 70 hours a week while also studying to become a court reporter before being forced to flee.

On May 2nd, she returned to San Francisco to sign a $1500 income tax refund check, agreeing to split the money with her husband. At the bank, her husband only gave her $95 instead of the $750 that she was expecting. They argued, her husband raised his fist intending to hit her and she shot him, slightly wounding him in the leg.

Peten was charged with assault with intent to commit murder, assault with intent to do great bodily harm and illegal use of a firearm. A Cassandra Peten Defense Committee was established to support her and it estimated legal costs “of as much as $10,000.” Demonstrations and fundraisers were organized in Peten’s support, led by organizations like the National Association of Black Feminists (NABF). One of the slogans was “Clear Cassandra Peten! Defend The Right of Women to Protect Themselves from Physical Abuse.” A flyer advertising a benefit dinner for Peten explained her plight:

“Cassandra Peten, trying to make her marriage work, took her husband’s mental and physical abuse. Then, in just one incident, human instinct made her stand up for herself. Cassandra is now charged with attempted murder and a number of other charges, all in connection with that one incident, in which she shot and injured her husband. For her normal human response to an intolerable
situation, Cassandra is now facing seven to ten years in prison.”

In 1979, she was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. The judge suggested that Peten was a danger to herself and the community. He revoked her bail, and sent her to the California Institute for Women for a 60 to 90 day ‘observation’ period pending sentencing. She faced up to 10 years in prison.

Surprisingly, after her ‘observation’ period, the judge sentenced Peten to the time that she had served and released her on parole. This was considered a major victory for Cassandra, her Defense Committee, and battered women.
An entry in the radical feminist publication “No More Cages” put it this way:

“Cassandra’s victory should be celebrated. But the other thousands of women who are victimized by their husbands must not be forgotten. Total victory will come only when no woman has to live in fear of physical and emotional brutality.”

Jun 18 2014

Poem of the Day: I Am Human

I Am Human
by Tammica Summers

I am an inmate
The result of a mistake
But I am human first

This is not my fate
The effects make me shake
But it could always be worse

I am real just like you
Even though I wear blue
I have eyes I can see
My soul cries and my spirit is free

I am just as human as you are
It might be a stretch of your imagination
But can you try to reach that far?

I bleed like every human does
And sometimes I cry just because

Some days I have are good
And some days are bad
Some days I wish I could
Have a better life than what I had

I am an inmate
But I am human like you
I am now property of the state
But was once free like you

I am not an animal in the zoo
I am human just like you
When I’m scared I long to be held
And in so many ways I am frail

Man has sentenced me to shame
And put me in this Hell
And branded with this name
That you think you know so well

But do you really know me?
I’ve been conveniently moved from society
Forced into this virtual reality
But until I die I will always be
A human like you — part of humanity

Source: Bound Struggles, Number Seven (Chicago Books to Women in Prison)