On a mild sunny, Saturday afternoon October 20th, I drove across the Richmond Bridge to Oakland to attend a special cultural event: CARE NOT CAGES - a collaboration between Prison Renaissance and Decarcerate Alameda County. Took the elevator from the inside courtyard lobby at 2633 Telegraph Avenue to the third floor to Suite 315, which opened up to a large high ceiling room with lots of light. After checking in at the formal registration desk up front, and picking up my copy of A PEOPLE’S GUIDE TO HEALING , I stopped by the coffee station (the organizers had set up a table with a beautiful spread of refreshments and nibbles, I was quite impressed) and took my seat up front.
CARE NOT CAGES: A People’s Guide to Healing is a zine that features the multi-faceted and talented works (art, poetry, spoken word, essays, etc.) of inmates regarding their personal and collective struggles (cages); healing (care); resilience and resistance; learning, expression and disciplines, as well as their respective families, inside prison communities and connection to the outside world.
Even though I arrived early, people were quickly spilling into the room and filling seats until there was left standing room only. Prison Renaissance is a non-profit organization that uses art, media and technology to connect incarcerated people to the communities that need them. Decarcerate Alameda County is an Oakland based coalition of organizers and community members who joined to fight the construction of a new “mental health” unit at Santa Rita jail.
What took place from 1:30pm-4pm was absolutely wonderful! A finely tuned orchestration of timely call-ins by inmates (located in different facilities) who participated in this creative zine project. Remotely, yet in real time, they were able to talk about their experiences, share their creative artistic and/or literary works and ask questions of the audience. Conversely, the audience was able to collectively or individually respond to and ask questions of these same inmates via a mic hooked up to the phone. While this was taking place, a large screen up front would project images of the inmate(s) and/or play a video of their work(s). The treat and surprise for me was to meet some of the very same inmates I knew from my volunteer days at San Quentin who had since been released.
Care Not Cages is a (quote) …living, loving bridge. A bridge to connect people over walls and across time...to amplify so we can engage and heal together.
Zine publication (drawing by Khalifah Christopher Christenson; San Quentin, CA); building lobby; event registration; Eddie Herena (photographer); audience; Emile DeWeaver (videographer); Lemar MaverickHarrison; Maverick and Emile; Arts & Culture section of EAST BAY EXPRESS featuring Emile DeWeaver and Rahsaan Thomas from San Quentin; audience members with background artwork by James R. Metters, Jr.; participating audience. Maverick and Emily Harris from the Ella Baker Center