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)
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.’
“…the rule does not apply to city and county jails, like New York City’s Rikers Island, which houses hundreds of minors as young as 16. Although most of them have not been convicted, they still can be punished as adults for breaking jail rules. That often means weeks or months in solitary confinement.”
Some of you reading this might be surprised that any state would use such a practice at all. A couple of years ago, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a wrenching report about the scope and impact(s) of solitary on children. Basically, they reaffirmed that the practice amounts to physical and psychological torture. HRW produced the video below to accompany the report.
Solitary confinement or what many prisoners call “the hole” can only accurately be considered torture. Charles Dickens recognized as much in the 19th century. Too often, however, the practice is either ignored or discussed euphemistically. America has ALWAYS been pro-torture of certain people. I offer as exhibit A the spectacle lynching of black people in the U.S. So we shouldn’t be surprised at the fact that we still torture so many people in prison through the use of solitary as well as other forms of physical, psychological, and emotional brutality. CIR produced an excellent animated video to illustrate how solitary confinement is experienced by children. I recommend that everyone watch it.
We should end solitary confinement in general as a practice in our prisons. We should abolish prisons.
It’s that time of year again. This time, I am asking that you support two Senate bills that are intended to address school discipline issues in various ways. One focuses on school-based policing and the other on data transparency.
Amends the School Code. Provides that (i) prior to being asked any question or being requested to make any statement while in the presence of a police officer, a student must be informed of the right not to answer any question or to make any statement in the presence of a police officer; (ii) prior to being asked any question or being requested to make any statement while in the presence of a police officer, a student must be informed of the right to have a parent, a guardian, or an attorney present during such questioning or request for a statement; (iii) prior to being asked any question or being requested to make any statement while in the presence of a police officer, a student must be informed that any information given in the presence of a police officer may result in an arrest and in the issuing of a summons and may be used in school discipline and in criminal prosecution; (iv) prior to the presence of a police officer during the questioning of a student or of a request for a statement, the school principal shall approve the presence of the police officer during the questioning of or while making a request for any statement from the student; and (v) prior to the presence of a police officer during the questioning of or while making a request for any statement from a student, a parent or guardian of the student must be given notification of the opportunity to be present during the questioning. Sets forth provisions concerning the notification, school principal and police officer consultation, and tracking and reporting data. Effective July 1, 2014.
Amends the School Code. As part of the annual school report card, requires every school to provide (i) data on the issuance of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and removals to alternative settings, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, limited English proficiency status, length of exclusion, reason for exclusion, and whether alternative educational options were provided; (ii) data on the use of arrests or criminal citations, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, disability status, limited English proficiency status, and alleged criminal offense; and (iii) data on student retention during and between academic years, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, disability status, limited English proficiency status, and the reason for the student’s departure. Sets forth requirements and exemptions concerning the data, including requiring the State Board of Education to analyze the data on an annual basis and determine the top quartile of school districts for specified metrics. Requires certain districts identified by the State Board to submit a school discipline improvement plan identifying the strategies it will implement to reduce the use of harsh disciplinary practices or reduce the disproportionality evident in its disciplinary practices; sets forth other requirements.
If you’ve never filed a witness slip before, it’s simple and only takes two minutes:
1. Go to the House Judiciary Hearing website HERE
2. Click on the right icon under the “Witness Slips” column for SB 2760 and 2793 to create witness slips.
3. Under Section I, fill in your identification information.
4. Under Section II, fill out your organization if you are representing one or write “self” if you are representing yourself. You can also just fill out N/A.
5. In Section III, select the “Proponent” button.
6. In Section IV, select “Record of Appearance Only.”
7. Agree to the ILGA Terms of Agreement
8. Select the “Create Slip” button.
Slips can be submitted until tomorrow, February 18 at 12:30 p.m.
“This 1936 photograph—featuring eight of the nine Scottsboro Boys with NAACP representatives Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Laura Kellum, and Dr. Ernest W. Taggart—was taken inside the prison where the Scottsboro Boys were being held. Falsely accused of raping two white women aboard a freight train in 1931, the nine African American teenagers were tried in Scottsboro, Alabama, in what became a sensational case attracting national attention. Eight of the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death; the trial of the ninth ended in a mistrial. These verdicts were widely condemned at the time. Before the young men eventually won their freedom, they would endure many years in prison and face numerous retrials and hearings. The ninth member of the group, Roy Wright, refused to pose for this portrait on account of his frustration with the slow pace of their legal battle. (Source: Smithsonian)”