Why I Cry
by Sharee M (Free Write Jail Arts Program)
I cry because so many thoughts
go through my mind.
I cry when I feel that I have been mistreated
I cry so that someone could come and comfort me
I cry so that things could go my way
I cry when I feel that everything’s over
I cry when I think about what I should have done
instead of doing time
I cry for a second chance
so that I could be something
I cry when I think about
when would I see my family again
I cry because I have not found myself
I cry for the family who lost a loved one
I cry for not going with my first mind, the right one
I cry because bricks surround me
I cry because I am in a box
I cry because I am not free
(Source: Big Dream I’m Chasing, Free Write Jail Arts Anthology Vol 6)
The Advancement Project is out with a good short video that updates Kiera Wilmot’s case. Kiera is a Florida high school student who was arrested and charged with two felonies for a botched science experiment. The Advancement Project video speaks to the collateral consequences of criminalizing school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline.
They are banging on the windows…
At first, I can’t place the sound. Then I look up and I see arms waving from behind darkened windows. They must be standing on their beds straining to see us. I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me that they might see or hear us outside. This is after all mainly why we are here.
Over 200 of us (or more) are standing outside of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC). We’ve walked over 2.5 miles from Paderewski Elementary, one of fifty schools that Rahm Emanuel closed last year. As we march, there are energetic chants, waving signs, a colorful banner, cars honking, neighbors looking out of their windows and others rushing over to ask what we are all about. It doesn’t feel somber though we’re here to resist the criminalization of young people. We are joining together to kick off the National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth.
Our group is an intergenerational one – from babies and toddlers to teenagers and college-age young people to those of us in middle-age and grandparents. We are black, white, latin@, asian and a mix of all of these. We are cis-gendered and trans*. We are able-bodied and differently-abled. It’s an incredibly diverse group and this matters if we are to build a mass movement to end prisons.
If you’ve read this blog even once, you know that I am against prisons. I am particularly against incarcerating children. Today kicks off the National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth.
I write a lot about the prison industrial complex (including the juvenile punishment system) and last year I published a paper with my friend Dr. Michelle VanNatta about alternatives to youth incarceration in Chicago. In the paper, we provided a brief literature review about juvenile detention and incarceration. I am republishing that part here to buttress the case against incarcerating young people.
The W. Haywood Burns Institute has released an interactive map that breaks data down by state according to racial disparities and non-violent offenses. The map is based on federal data for 2011 is the most recent information available. In 2011:
—75 percent of all youth are incarcerated for non-violent offenses.
—Two-thirds of those youth are of color.
—Black youth are 4.6 times as likely to be incarcerated than white youth.
—Native American youth are 3.2 times as likely.
—Latino youth are 1.8 times as likely.
Check out the maps yourselves to see how your state fares.
The voices blared from loud speakers as hundreds listened raptly at the Cadillac Palace last night. It was the team finals of the 2014 Louder Than A Bomb Youth Poetry Festival and I was a judge. Young men incarcerated at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) were reading from the zine “The PIC Is” created by my organization.
“The prison industrial complex tears families apart,” one voice shared. “The prison industrial complex is where you spend your ‘best years’ just trying to survive,” said another.
Some young men tripped over their words; it didn’t matter. The audience was attentive, sporadically interjecting with appreciative sounds and fingersnaps. The stage was empty except for the DJ tucked in a corner and four microphone stands. I heard the experience described as “haunting.”
The disembodied voices cascaded over the crowd, emphasizing that the young people who were speaking the words were absent. I swallowed past the lump in my throat and surreptitiously dabbed by eyes. I was trying to contain my rage.
Perhaps the stark contrast between the empty stage and the voices that we were listening to was haunting. But it was also a reminder that the mostly black & brown young people who had graced the stage for most of the night prior to the JTDC performance could easily have been on the other side of the wall. The membrane that divides those performing on stage and the ones speaking through the loud speakers while caged behind bars is porous. The capriciousness and unfairness of the injustice system are a cruel reality. So I was furious.
Before and after the JTDC spoken word piece, young people took to the stage to share stories and experiences of racial & gender discrimination, adultism, addiction, family strife, suicide, gun violence, capitalist greed, and political corruption. Such large scale gatherings organized to simply listen to the truths and lived experiences of black and brown youth in Chicago are rare. I tried to take in the moment. I listened as young people of color buried the pernicious lie that they are disposable and challenged the world to “see” and “hear” them. ‘We are not who you say we are.’ ‘To those who fear and malign us, we are not violent and depraved predators and to those who say they care for us, we are not child soldiers.’ ‘We are human and we matter.’ These were, to my mind, some of the overarching statements of the night. And last night, the voices of the young people on both sides of the wall were indeed ‘louder than a bomb.’
** This is my final recap of 2013…
Chicago has been in the spotlight over the past few years as the epitome of urban violence. The city has been dubbed the “murder capital of the U.S.” even though this is actually untrue. I’ve written and will continue to write about the various organizing and advocacy efforts by Chicagoans to address interpersonal and structural/systemic violence. Lots of people in this city are working to address violence; many in very creative ways.
Today, I want to focus on some of the creative interventions to address violence in Chicago that I’ve either been part of or have otherwise come to my attention in 2013. Thousands of people were engaged through these projects. There were of course many other efforts that I left off this list. I invite you to submit your suggestions in the comments section. Think about how you can contribute to ending violence in your own communities and then get to work!
From NBC 5 Chicago:
After the murder totals in Chicago started racking up after January of this year, South Side native Bryant Cross decided he’d seen enough.
The 28-year-old speech communications professor started thinking of effective ways to spread an anti-violence message and came up with the 500campaign, head shots of Chicagoans with the slogan “Angry Because Over 500 Youth Were Murdered in Chicago.”
**Note: The 500 youth number cited is not at annual number. Over the course of 5 years about 500 young people under 20 years old were victims of homicide in Chicago. One is too many but it’s important to be clear about what these numbers represent.
Below is the founder of the 500campaign, Bryant Cross, talking about his campaign:
According to the Steppenwolf Theatre website:
“Woven together from interviews gathered by journalist Miles Harvey and his students at DePaul University, How Long Will I Cry? provides raw, truthful insight into the problem of youth violence. By giving voice to those who know the tragic consequences of violence first-hand—families of the victims, residents of crime-ridden neighborhoods and especially young people—How Long Will I Cry? inspires all of us to join together in search of a solution.”
The play was performed for a month earlier this year and the stories have now been compiled into a book that is available for free to Chicagoans.
“The book contains interviews with 35 people, told in Studs Terkel-style first person: current and former gang members, parents and siblings of young people who have been killed, and cops, lawyers, nurses, and community activists who are working to stop the violence.”
I initiated this project and solicited support and help from friends to execute it. We asked Chicagoans to summarize their feelings about violence in one sentence. We used a central hotline to gather responses from people across Chicago. The responses were assembled into audio collages. In late April, community members gathered to listen to the audio collage and to participate in a peace circle where we could discuss our experiences and the impacts of violence in our lives.
I talk more about the project here. Below is the main audio collage.
Visit Soundcloud to listen to all of the audio from this project.
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.