June 13, 2014

The Project

The project I have been working on has been held together by the letters Joseph and I have been writing each other about prison, about alternatives to the punitive Prison Industrial Complex, and of course our lives.

He was re-incarcerated after serving a 25-year sentence and only spending 6 months in the free world, which is when we met. I taught digital literacy skills at a prisoner re-entry center where he was my student.

In this piece we are interrogating what interventions could have reshaped his story, and allowed him to thrive in the free world. We are asking if there is something that could have given him the support he needed to not perpetrate again.

30th St. Station in Philadelphia, PA

30th St. Station in Philadelphia, PA

The Interviews begin

In May, I began interviewing people that are engaged in transformative justice practices, both outside and inside prison. I am specifically searching for models that prioritize accountability processes within communities, designed to keep people out of prison and on a path of healing for both the survivor and perpetrator.

My first set of interviews took place in Philadelphia, where my and Joseph’s story began. Philly has such an active decarceration movement among communities strengthened by a critical analysis of the school-to-prison-pipeline and the mass incarceration of specifically black men, and the need for new models of personal and cultural healing.

I spent the afternoon with a collective member of the group “Philly Stands Up,” a small grassroots organization that works with sexual perpetrators within radical communities to hold them accountable and find meaningful ways to change their behavior, ultimately transforming the culture of state sanctioned violence.

This practice is survivor-led and much of the work that “Philly Stands Up” does is within queer community, so I thought this would be a good starting point of information gathering for me, because it was like going home, and learning about what models are developing in my own communities that are successful, and conversely what are not working.

Philly street art

Philly Street Art

One thing that is so powerful about these transformative practices is that they are survivor-led, and every incident they work with prioritizes the survivor’s desired outcome. It is so powerful to begin to see these new models emerge, and to learn more about the transformative justice movement that is about a decade old and continuing to evolve.

What I am noticing is that those who seem to really benefit from these resources tend to be younger folks with access to education and resources. I am so glad to see these opportunities exist for anyone, but my next round of interviews will give me more information about how this impacts communities of color, specifically folks who are at higher risk of incarceration. Stay tuned.

Mendal Polish