Thursday, April 28, 2011

New Prison Film to Debut in Chicago

To folks in or around the Chicago area, this new documentary, Exile Nation, looks powerful and fascinating. Check out this short Chicago Tribune article on the film. Also, here's the trailer:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sex Workers and Victimization

I just read this powerful article from the American Prospect. Reflecting both on the recent murders of four prostitutes in Long Island, as well as the notorious "Green River Killer," the author argues that our culture of stigma surrounding sex work renders those citizens who practice it uniquely vulnerable to violence. Not only are sex workers more likely to find themselves in dangerous situations, but law enforcement routinely neglects cases such as the one currently taking place in Long Island. The author advocates a broad reevaluation of how our culture operates at the nexus of sex, violence, and economics.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Media Reform, Media Justice, and the Prison-Industrial Complex


I just returned from the National Conference for Media Reform (NCMR) that was held in Boston this past weekend. It was a busy three days and I’m tired but inspired.

As I have argued elsewhere, media issues should be considered central for all activists working against the prison- industrial complex. There is a strong connection between the prevalence of media messages of fear and the public’s acceptance of mass incarceration in the U.S., and I believe it will be impossible to effect any real change in the criminal injustice system until and unless we change the media discourse around race, poverty, crime, and violence.

The NCMR brought together over 2500 activists, educators, writers, artists, filmmakers, and citizens inspired by the conference slogan: Change the Media, Change the World. Sponsored by the non-profit organization Free Press (, the NCMR is held periodically on an irregular schedule and I always find it invigorating and energizing. It is absolutely crucial for dissident movements to establish a sense of community so that individual activists can fight the feelings of isolation and marginalization that often plague those whose opinions and ideas are ignored or ridiculed in the mainstream culture.

The NCMR is by no means a radical utopia (I was particularly displeased by the inclusion of Nancy Pelosi as a featured speaker), but it always offers many inspiring moments, such as the speech by Malkia Cyril ( who emphasized the need for a deep connection between the media reform movement and the fight for media justice. For me, the term media justice invokes the battle against degrading images of people of color and the poor and working classes that continue to infest commercial media while serving to distract us from the real crimes promulgated by America’s corporations and their lackeys in the U.S. government.

“Divide and conquer” is an ancient strategy that the powerful still employ as an effective means of social control, and our media saturated society allows for more propaganda tools than ever before. But the NCMR reminded me that “divide and conquer” can be met by “organize and unite,” and that the fight for social justice has not been entirely lost yet.

To find out more about the National Conference for Media Reform and to watch videos from conference sessions go to:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

New NAACP Study on Incarceration and Education

In a new report (covered here in The Root), the NAACP argues that, as a nation, we invest more in incarceration than the education of youth. This is particularly harmful to the poor and communities of color. For those already engaged in the battle against the prison-industrial complex, this isn't news; however, it's refreshing to see a high-profile organization like the NAACP publicizing such crucial information.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Chicago Books to Women in Prison

Here at home in Chicago, I help to run an all-volunteer prison book project (Chicago Books to Women in Prison). We were fortunate enough to be featured on the local ABC news affiliate in Chicago this past week. You can take a look at the video here:

As a volunteer at CBWP (, I have come to believe that the small act of answering a person's letter and sending a bundle of books his or her way can have a real--if individualized--impact. I recognize that this perspective is up for debate, and I think there is an important conversation to be had about incremental activism, abolition activism, and interpretations of radicalism in prison-focused movements. (P-CARE has submitted a proposal to discuss this topic at the 2011 National Communication Association Convention- we'll keep you posted!)

I am working on a longer post reflecting on the political aspects of small-scale prison outreach projects, but in the meantime I want to raise the issue of *kindness*. One woman currently being held in Chowchilla, CA sent a recent book request and included a note: "When you don't have anything or anyone out there that cares it is always makes you appreciate when someone that does not even know you reaches out and shows you kindness." Women who write to us at CBWP tell us that the isolation of incarceration can be dehumanizing, and we hope that sending books can help people behind bars feel more connected to others. One reason that I endorse and engage in incremental action is because it can be a way to provide personal connections, however fleeting.

There is something powerful in activism on a human scale.