From Sept. 26 through 28th hundreds of prison rights activists, including former prisoners, family members and community activists, gathered at Oakland?s Laney Community College. We shared experiences, learned from each other and made plans to continue working nation-wide for prisoner rights and to abolish prisons. The conference celebrated the 10th anniversary of Critical Resistance, and commited to continue working to dismantle the ?prison industrial complex? (PIC)?all of the prisons, detention, policing and surveillance ? used to ?solve? the problems brought on by racism, poverty, homelessness, and sex, gender and disability oppression.
The weekend included hundreds of workshops, a film series, regional meetings and cultural performances- dance, theater, spoken word and drumming. Workshops addressed issues such as political cases of the SF 8, the Jena 6 and the New Jersey 4, and the US government?s Counterinsurgency Program (COINTELPRO), and issues of youth incarceration, mental health inside, oppression of and support for transgender and gender variant people in prison. CCWP sponsored and participated in many workshops. Here is a summary of a few of them:
Caged Mental Health: Strategies
for Resistance in Women?s Prisons?CCWP started by bringing
the voices of women and trans prisoners into the workshop space. Former prisoners Hamdiya Cooks, Ida McCray, and Rahima Walker gave testimony about their experiences fighting to hold on to mental health while living in a cage. Nia Sykes spoke eloquently about the mental health impact of having her mother in prison for much of her childhood. And Xiomara Campos Cisne described the specific ways in which immigrant women prisoners deal with mental health abuse. After the presentations, others in the workshop shared their firsthand experiences of caged mental health, demonstrating that it is possible to overcome the damage of the prison environment even if it takes enormous courage, persistence and resistance.
Torture and Violence against Prisoners with Disabilities?CCWP joined with StopForce(a NY State organization working to end forced medical treatment for people with psychosocial / mental health disabilities), and Poor Magazine to document prison abuses and strategize about how to best defend the rights of prisoners with disabilities. We heard testimony from Michael Manning, an African American man with disabilities, unjustly convicted and incarcerated in Pennsylvania; words from women from CCWF and VSPW; and from Martha and Lily, a mother and daughter representing the Parents Assoc. Of Youthful Offenders in Pueblo, CO, testifying about abuses of a family member and other youths. This workshop also initiated work to educate and ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (see article “Support Prisoners with Disabilities, The Fire Inside, Issue Number 38, Summer / Fall 2008).
Coalition Building to Stop the Prison Industrial Complex?The room was packed as representatives from CCWP, CURB, All of Us Or None, LSPC, Drug Policy Alliance, Youth Justice Coalition, Prison Moratorium Project and Families to Amend Three Strikes sumed up the accomplishments of the last ten years and discussed the challenges of the coming decade. All agreed that in order to become more effective, we had to go beyond our individual organizations and come together as a genuine movement challenging the PIC. We also agreed that it was crucial for the communities most affected by the PIC be represented and supported in setting the agenda and participating in all aspects of prison abolition work.