As regular readers know, for the past few months, I’ve been curating an exhibition titled “Picturing a World without Prisons” with my friends at the Free Write Jail Arts & Literacy Program. On Friday, we had an opening reception for the exhibition and it was packed. We had a great time and were were so excited to feature artwork by youth incarcerated at the JTDC and artists on the outside who submitted photographs depicting a world without prisons. Below are some photographs documenting the opening reception.
Coming Soon! Hope to see you there.
Picturing a World without Prisons
The U.S. is a prison nation. There is no other society in the history of humanity that has imprisoned more people. Over 2.2 million people are incarcerated in this country; representing an over 500% increase since 1970. This number excludes those we imprison in hundreds of immigrant detention centers. Our obsession with locking people up isn’t cheap. States spend over $50 billion a year just on their prison systems. The Federal government also spends tens of billions to police, prosecute, and imprison people.
Yet research and anecdotal evidence show that incarceration makes people worse and does not improve public safety. Instead of spending money on drug treatment programs, meaningful employment initiatives, health care, affordable housing, and public education, our tax dollars funnel the most vulnerable populations into the prison system so that they may languish with little-to-no access to needed resources. This is not justice. Nor is it humane. We believe that this must change.
We must dismantle the prison industrial complex. In order to do so, we have to envision what a world without prison can and should look like so that we can build that world together.
Through this exhibit which brings together the visions of incarcerated youth and people on the outside, we want to engage the public in imagining a world without prisons with us.
It will run from November 11 through December 6th at the HumanThread Center/Gallery for Nonviolence, Arts & Education, 1200 W. 35th street (Bridgeport Art Center, 5th floor)
Please join us on November 15th from 6 to 10 p.m. for the Opening Reception. RSVP HERE for the reception.
This event is part of Chicago Transformative Justice Fall and you can view other upcoming events HERE.
My organization was invited to speak to students (K-7th grade) at Village Leadership Academy about our work. One of our volunteers, Bianca Diaz who is an artist, kindly agreed to speak to the students. She incorporated art in her presentation by asking students to respond to the following question visually: “What do you think it would be like to be in jail or prison?” Bianca uploaded some of the student created art HERE. I’ve included a few examples of their art below. If you are in Chicago on November 9, join us for a conversation about how to explain prison & jail to children with incarcerated loved ones. Details are HERE.
Sun Up to Sun Down
From sun up to sun down I think about how I’m doing 8 to 9.
I sit in my cell and pray to God that I ignore negativity so I won’t catch time.
I think about the situation I put my parents through and all the money they spent when they could have spent the money on the loans they signed.
As day by day goes by I hear and see the same people eating nasty food and going to school all year round. I wish I could have changed my mind.
I sit in my cell and think of that one girl, the one that hugged and kissed me all the time.
I wish I could go back in time to realign my mind.
I sit in my cell and think about how my life would be like if I haven’t committed a crime.
So now you see, I’m doing 8 to 9.
Facility: St. Johns Juvenile Correctional Facility, St. Augustine, FL
This poem can be found in a new anthology titled “Words Unlocked.”
From the ACLU:
“Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed a lawsuit (R.J. v. Bishop) against the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ), challenging conditions in the facilities across Illinois where juveniles are detained. Concurrent with filing the lawsuit, we filed an agreement with the IDJJ. That agreement called for the retention of three nationally-recognized, court-appointed experts to conduct an exhaustive analysis of IDJJ’s facilities, and make recommendations on how to move forward with improvements.
The three final expert reports now have been filed with the federal court in Chicago where the lawsuit was filed. These reports confirm the plaintiffs’ initial allegations of systemic deficiencies, especially in education, mental health, solitary confinement, and continued IDJJ confinement for lack of a community placement.
These reports now become a baseline for the ACLU of Illinois to work with the IDJJ in order to solve these problems and improve conditions for children detained by the State of Illinois. We will continue to post updates on this case.”
Read all three reports HERE.
In his overview of mental health services, Dr Krause stated: It is difficult to fully assess the workings of mental health treatment at the IDJJ, because: 1) they do not have a full complement of services, and 2) even with the groups they have right now, a number of the facilities cannot function because of the paucity of services, and essentially are not getting youth to groups or are getting them there significantly late so they cannot run the program.
A similar assessment was made of education with conclusion that there was “inadequate instruction and inadequate opportunities for students to learn” – in St Charles, the expert concluded that in a two month period (March through April of 2013) the students received the equivalent of six to eight full days of school.
Not surprisingly, the experts conclude more resources are needed – particularly more staff. However, Dr. Barry Krisberg concludes in part that two key issues are addressing the number of youth who stay past their discharge date (some just to complete programming), and addressing the need to provide “non-custodial sanctions” in the community and/or within their families for those youth who do not pose a serious threat to public safety.
Over 40% of the admissions in FY12 were of parole violators and over 10% were for misdemeanor offenses. Merely closing the door to parole readmissions and misdemeanors would decrease the population by half – freeing up resources and sufficient staff to address the education and treatment needs of the remaining youth.
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.
“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)
There are a lot of things that I don’t know… For example, I don’t know anything about the human genome project. I don’t know how to mountain climb. I have no idea who the current President of Paraguay is.
I do know at least one thing for sure. I know that subjecting children who we cage to rape behind bars is unconscionable. If only one child is sexually victimized in our prisons, then that is too many. I also know that sexual violence is endemic to prison. This means that no level of “reform” will eradicate it. If we want to end the rape of incarcerated children, we must close youth jails and prisons. That’s it.
Today, I stood with dozens of my fellow Chicagoans to say that we adamantly oppose the judicial rape of our children. Furthermore, we insisted that youth jails & prisons be shut down.
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.
JOIN US TO RALLY TO STOP THE VIOLENCE &
DEMAND YOUTH INVESTMENT
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.