Prisoners’ Justice Day — and?

(Image: from the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project, events page); (Image caption: a hand-drawn image of towering black fencing with barbed wire lined at the top, with white crosses in the foreground, and a brown-hued correctional institution in the background; in the top left-hand corner, written “Prisoners’ Justice Day 2021, and a sign draped on the fencing that says “August 10, 5–8 pm at the Church of the Holy Trinity at 19 Trinity Square”; finally, two hashtags that say #PJD, and #NoMoreDeathsInCustody)

Today (August 10th) is PJD (Prisoners’ Justice Day) — a movement founded in solidarity that began in 1974 in Canada, to recognize and support the human rights of those incarcerated as well as remembering those who have died during their incarceration by murder, suicide, and neglect.

I too, have ties to the justice system — by my own lived experiences, or personally knowing friends, neighbours, comrades, and loved ones who have been subjugated to the full punitive measures of the law. I also recognize that in my own encounters with the different facets of law and justice, through the relative privilege I possess, I’ve been somehow ‘more’ fortunate.

This isn’t to say that the justice system didn’t completely screw me — I just didn’t have to pay with my life.

The first commemoration of this significant day was on the first anniversary of Edward Nolan’s death, who died by suicide while in administrative segregation (ie: solitary confinement). This was marked by incarcerated folks in the system who fasted and refused labour — while Canadians on the outside showed support by gathering to pray, hold vigils, and other community-oriented actions.

Today is a day (as should be every single day) to fuel conversations around the abhorrent racial, socioeconomic, and mental health disparities found in the criminal justice system. It’s a day to critically engage the lived experiences of BIPOCs and other marginalized people in prisons and highly policed communities. It’s a day to challenge and speak out against the punitive, racially oppressive institutions in place that disproportionately impact our most vulnerable.

It’s a day to invest care into our communities.

On this day in 1979, The Odyssey Group — a collective of prisoners, gathered to raise awareness of the public eye to the treatment of incarcerated individuals, and educate broader communities on the injustices that the Canadian Correctional Service have been wielding against prison populations — clearly outlined their demands, following several advocacy groups’ public urges:

1/ “the right to meaningful work with fair wages”;
2/ “the right to useful education and training”;
3/ “the right to proper medical attention”;
4/ “the right to freedom of speech and religion”;
5/ “the right to adequate legal services”.

47 years later, the demands have barely changed — because these demands have fallen on deaf ears. Worse, bigots — who believe absolutely in the punitive system of the policed state — actively pursue the expansion of the prison industrial complex business, without even the slightest consideration for the massive deficits in our healthcare, social services, education, and community supports. (In our case, the Conservative government decided to slash the funding for the Ministry for Children, Community, and Social Services over the course of 3 years… Which is probably for another post.)

These demands are nothing extraordinary — they’re our basic, constitutional rights. What many of us easily forget, however, is that incarcerated or not, we are all entitled to these rights. This becomes exponentially more serious when we recognize that on average, there are 50% more adults in remand (held in custody awaiting trial/sentencing) than the actual convicted population.

In other words, half of the entire provincial prison population is comprised of people who have yet to be found guilty, and are yet subjected to the same, cruel treatment at the hands of correctional officers (COs) and the carceral administration. This is added to the fact that approximately 35% of all criminal charges in Canada never end up with a finding of guilt.

These are our friends. Our family. Loved ones. These are the people that society as a whole, has decided to cast away, and exile into the margins.

These are the voices we need to centre when we think about what it means to extend compassion.

So what can we do?

  1. Engage with the people behind bars.
    This can offer you the privilege of hearing the first-hand experiences of those directly impacted and incarcerated — many regions/countries have a penpal service that connects you with someone behind bars. And SHARE THE MESSAGE.
  2. Get involved.
    Many places have advocacy groups and community organizations that are dedicated to supporting the human rights concerns of the incarcerated population. They are always looking for support, not always monetary (though that’s incredibly helpful to continue funding on-call services, and providing toiletries and other necessities to people on the inside) from the community, in all capacities. (I’ve included some organizations below, as a point of reference.)
  3. Raise awareness.
    Talk to people, share on your social media platforms, join local and national movements that directly address prisoners’ rights issues, and the failing realities of our criminal justice system.
  4. Support your communities!
    Similar to point no. 2, mutual aid is an incredible tool of solidarity — this is through collective collaboration that works to meet the needs of your communities. You can donate your time, money, skills/experience, and offer resources, to name a few.

The amalgamation of my life experiences, my field of study (criminology) and my ongoing engagement with the community has definitely shaped my ideology and values in working to reimagine a larger society grounded in care and empathy. Granted, I still struggle on a daily basis with what it means to decolonize myself and to unlearn the white supremacist, capitalistic ideals of our society. But it’s an ongoing journey.

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N.B.: Here are some resources that I’ve learned a lot from, regarding the prisoners’ experiences of incarceration, their interactions with the criminal justice system, and other resources:

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lifelong learner • activist • reliably neurotic; committed to tackling life from a decolonized, anti-oppressive lens barely 5' off the ground.

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mika

mika

lifelong learner • activist • reliably neurotic; committed to tackling life from a decolonized, anti-oppressive lens barely 5' off the ground.

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