I’ve spent the last weeks between Philadelphia and North Carolina talking to people about “accountability” in our communities, and what that looks like.

The goal of my project is to interrogate the concept of healing, and how to employ such practices systemically in the prison system as it already exists, and also create models that are new and visionary that we can use outside of these current punitive structures. This week in Pennsylvania, activists are standing with the 1,300 prisoners who boycotted their dining halls in response to dramatic food cutbacks. They released a list of 22 demands that fight for the restoration of POLISHhuman rights and dignity for all of the people held in Pennsylvania prisons.

Joseph, my partner on this project, will spend the rest of his life in one of those prisons, and each year with cutbacks, more and more of his personal resources will be taken from him. I hadn’t heard from him in a month, and was concerned that something was severely wrong, that he had been put in the hole, or had been hurt. I finally received a letter from him the other day apologizing for not having access to a pen or paper for over a month. He was given a new cell-mate who was nice enough to share.

As I am asking big questions about trauma and lack of healing models within these systems, I’m interviewing people that work within community organizations that support transformative justice accountability processes. This has been a way for me to get information from my own communities and learn what is working, and what has fallen flat. This form of information gathering is slow, because it is about storytelling, listening, and hearing many aspects of these stories, from people who have been incarcerated to survivors and perpetrators that have been through home grown accountability processes.

Next post will be from the Bay Area where I will be in contact with a host of other organizations and models.


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