Mar 29 2014

“I Love Being A Mommy!!!” On Shanesha Taylor & Black Motherhood in the Age of Mass Incarceration

Every day in this country some women are coerced or forced by circumstances into doing things they don’t want to do. For many women, it is the only static condition of their ever changing lives: to regularly feel required to make hard choices among, at times, very poor options.” – Beth Richie, Compelled to Crime (1996).

You people are Ridiculous for supporting this woman!! What she did was almost kill her two babies!! How many other times has she done this. Ot is not okay to leave ur kids in a car regardless even in winter in Arizona. I can tell from ur post EXACTLY what kind of mothers u are…” – Tamara Carlstrom, Commenter on this blog (2014).

By now, you’ve likely seen the ubiquitous mug shot photo. Shanesha Taylor with tears streaming down her face and a look of fear & devastation in her eyes. This photograph introduced me to Shanesha’s case and galvanized me into action on Tuesday. I felt as though I had been punched in the gut. I know that I am not alone. Friends have expressed their feelings using similar words. One friend, however, confessed that she felt ‘uneasy’ when she saw the photo. As we talked, she admitted that she was ‘embarrassed’ and she wondered if it was exploitative for a stranger’s mug shot, in particular a black woman’s, to be plastered on various media platforms across the country and maybe the world. After all, there is ‘no country’ for black women anywhere.

After the initial wave of sympathy that I felt for Shanesha, I got angry. A homeless mother was so desperate that she left her young children in a car while interviewing for a job. She was then arrested and incarcerated. How could jail be the solution for what was obviously (to my mind) a consequence of poverty and a lack of resources? Of course, I worried about the children’s safety but most of the time removing a child’s primary caregiver doesn’t improve their future outcomes. So I wanted to know more and to find a way to support Shanesha and her children.

I took to social media to find people local to the Scottsdale area who might be able to help her. I reached out to the young woman, Amanda Bishop, who had established an online fundraiser to benefit Shanesha and her family. I was interested in verifying the authenticity of the effort so that I could help to boost it. When I first started sharing the link to the fundraiser, people had contributed $2,200. Since that time, the case has garnered much more attention. The last time I checked, nearly $39,000 had been donated to help cover Shanesha’s bail, legal fees, and perhaps other expenses. Eventually, through Twitter, I connected with two people (one of whom lives in Arizona) who helped me gather more information about Shanesha. I heard from a member of her family a couple of days ago who provided a short update and thanked everyone for their outpouring of concern for Shanesha and her children. He was truly overwhelmed by the support. It was unexpected…

I mentioned earlier that there is ‘no country’ for black women anywhere. I have written about this in many different ways over the past few years. Because most black women expect to be maligned and demonized when we are not being erased, I immediately understood my friend’s trepidation. What would the mass media and all of us do to a homeless black mother who seemingly ‘neglected’ her children? What pernicious tropes would circulate within the public sphere and be internalized like lashes from a whip by all of us as black women? Because rest assured that only delusional black women maintain that we are seen as individuals rather than as members of a morally suspect and undesirable group in the U.S. We’ve always been treated as less than human.

Throughout history and still today, we exist as caricatures in the minds of too many. The popular representations of black women are reflected and shaped by our ideas about race, gender, sexuality, class, and more. We exist in the culture as hypersexual, unfeminine, angry, potentially criminal, depraved things. We are preternaturally ‘strong’ and feel no pain so the image of a black woman in tears in public must be jarring indeed. Society is generally inoculated against black women’s tears. We have been excluded from ideologies of domesticity and our families are pathologized. And for some of us, when these reductive lies about who we are seem to be reflected back to us (maybe through a mug shot photo), we become embarrassed and ashamed. Then we hate ourselves for it.

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Mar 08 2014

Image of the Day: From The Divide…

I saw this beautiful image by artist Molly Crabapple and it is seared in my mind and has imprinted itself on my heart. I have looked at it a lot this week. I think it’s because I recognize the women on the line. I’m sure that I’ve never met any of them in person but I have… It’s difficult to explain and I am feeling particularly inarticulate today. I will revisit the emotions and thoughts that the image has triggered at a later date. But for today, I just wanted to share this.

Illustration for The Divide. by Molly Crabapple Women waiting to visit their loved ones at Rikers. Based on sketches done from life.

Illustration for The Divide. by Molly Crabapple
Women waiting to visit their loved ones at Rikers. Based on sketches done from life.

Jul 31 2013

Invest in Education, Not Prisons: A Youth-Led Rally To End Violence & Reinvest in Communities

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.

by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/31/13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/31/13)

“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)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/31/13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/31/13)

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Jul 27 2013

Rally to Stop the Violence/Demand Youth Investment – July 31st

I’ve written a few times about the youth-led Audy Home Campaign on this blog. The Campaign is organizing a rally on July 31st.


Below is the annoucement:

Youth violence continues because of the lack of positive investments in our youth.


Wed. July 31
10am at 118 N. Clark Street
Catch the Bus at 9:00am at 602 E 61st ST

The Detention Center Spends over $40M each year locking up youth, we are holding a rally to demand that money be reinvested in restorative justice programs in the neighborhoods where youth are getting locked up.

We need your voice! Join us!

This rally will take place on FLY and the Audy Home Campaign’s 6th Year Anniversary.

Some of the campaign’s past efforts are documented here and here.

Apr 28 2013

Image of the Day: Vintage Ad For the “Largest Jail Builder in America”

The following ad comes from a 1943 magazine (2 years before the end of World War II). It is an advertisement for the Van Dorn Iron Works Co. which was apparently “the largest jail builder in America.” Interestingly the ad links prisons with the military industrial complex:

“You never expected to find a solution to one of your postwar problems in a jail cell, did you? But there’s one here for you if you are looking for new ways of building endurance into your products of the future…Jail cell construction is only one phase of Van Dorn production. Today, we are 100% engaged in building armor plate for plans, tanks, and guns.”

In case it’s illegible on the map, they seem to have built cells in the following jails/prisons across the U.S.:

1. Maine State Prison (280 cells)
2. Auburn State Prison (1514 cells)
3. Maryland Penitentiary (820 cells)
4. West Virginia Penitentiary (608 cells)
5. Bibb County Jail, Georgia (131 cells)
6. Nebraska State Prison (301 cells)
7. King County Jail, Seattle (100 cells)
8. Salt Lake City Jail (35 cells)
9. San Quentin State Prison, Calif (800 cells)


Apr 23 2013

The Drug War: Still Racist and Failed #13

The Gregory Brothers strike again with this very good music video documenting the fact that the war on drugs is a failure.

Apr 09 2013

The Drug War: Still Racist and Failed #12

The Huffington Post did a good job yesterday reporting on the costs of the so-called “war on drugs:”

Despite an increased emphasis on treatment and prevention programs in recent years, the Obama administration in its 2013 budget still requested $25.6 billion in federal spending on the drug war. Of that, $15 billion would go to law enforcement, interdiction and international efforts.

The pro-reform Drug Policy Alliance estimates that when you combine state and local spending on everything from drug-related arrests to prison, the total cost adds up to at least $51 billion per year. Over four decades, the group says, American taxpayers have dished out $1 trillion on the drug war.

Mar 30 2013

Images of the Day: Fund Schools Not Prisons!

Once again, the terrifically talented Sarah Jane Rhee was present with her camera at Wednesday’s Chicago School Closings Protest. I have selected some of the photographs that illustrate the message that we need to fund schools rather than prisons/jails.

by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/27/13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/27/13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/27/13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/27/13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/27/13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/27/13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/27/13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/27/13)

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Mar 28 2013

Guest Post: Fund Schools Not Jails! by Erica Meiners

Fund Schools Not Jails!
March 27, 2013

Erica R. Meiners is a Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Education at Northeastern Illinois University. She is the author of Right to be hostile: schools, prisons and the making of public enemies (2009) and articles exploring the school to prison pipeline. She is a member of her labor union, University Professionals of Illinois, and actively involved in a number of non-traditional and popular education projects including an anti-prison teaching collective (Chicago PIC Teaching Collective) and the Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (CReATE) and she is currently teaching classes at Stateville Prison and St. Leonard’s Adult High School. 

Thousands of people converged downtown today to speak back to Chicago’s unelected school board against the proposed closure of fifty-four public schools in Black neighborhoods. Amidst the colorful and pithy signs held up by teachers, parents, and young people my favorite (topping even the signs from the fall 2012 Chicago Teacher’s Union strike proclaiming Rahm loves Nickelback) was Fund Schools Not Jails!   

by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/27/13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/27/13)

While it might appear that the struggle to shutter our prisons, to decriminalize marijuana and sex work, or to release people from prison early on “good time,” is disconnected from the fight to keep open and fully funded high quality neighborhood schools in Black communities, the two are intimately linked.
Read more »

Mar 15 2013

7 (More) Things You Should Know About The Prison Industrial Complex by Prison Culturefeed

1. There are 2.7 million children in the U.S. with an incarcerated parent.

2. We spend a lot of money to incarcerate young people.

Created during Just Us Comic Workshop 2010

Created during Just Us Comic Workshop 2010

3. “The youth incarceration rate in the nation dropped 37 percent from 1995 to 2010. In 1995, 107,637 young people were held in correctional facilities on a single reference day, while in 2010, this number had dropped to 70,792, the lowest in 35 years. The rate of youth in confinement dropped from 381 per 100,000 to 225 per 100,000 over the same period. But the United States still incarcerates a higher percentage of its young people than any other industrialized country — in 2002 the nation’s youth incarceration rate was almost five times that of South Africa, the nation with the next highest rate. Most of the young people incarcerated do not pose a clear public safety threat: almost 40 percent are incarcerated for nonviolent reasons such as status offenses, public order offenses, low-level property offenses, drug possession, or technical probation violations, while only about one quarter are incarcerated for a Violent Crime Index offense (homicide, aggravated assault, robbery, sexual assault). (Source).”

4. According to the ACLU, “In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) held a record-breaking 429,000 immigrants in over 250 facilities across the country, and currently maintains a daily capacity of 33,400 beds—even though, in the overwhelming majority of cases, detention is not necessary to effect deportations and does not make us any safer.”

by Molly Fair

by Molly Fair

5. The numbers of elderly prisoners (65 and over) are increasing in the U.S.

6. Sexual assault and rape is rampant in U.S. jails and prisons.

7. The PIC is very costly. Preliminary data from the Census Bureau’s annual State Government Finance Census indicate states spent $48.5 billion on corrections in 2010, about 6% less than in 2009. Between 1982 and 2001, total state corrections expenditures increased each year, rising from $15.0 billion to $53.5 billion in real dollars.

Pew Center on the States

Pew Center on the States

Special Bonus:

Stop and Frisk is a policing tactic that is used across the U.S. but particularly in New York City. The practice criminalizes mostly young Black and Latino people.