The paintings included canvas work, watercolor, summary drawings on poster board, and sculpture. A number of of the sculpture items integrated the pursuits of the AFJ members, like member Takeasha, who works as a cosmetologist. She created hairstyles on salon mannequins with messages associated to AFJ’s mission, together with a cornrowed type with the phrase “justice” and “AFJ” etched in braids. Her daughter additionally contributed a bit: a household portrait that includes her mom drawn alongside a damaged coronary heart, her father behind bars with a low battery hanging over his head representing the shortage of nourishment he was receiving inside, and herself writing a letter that learn, “Want I could possibly be with you this Christmas.” Takeasha’s husband is at the moment incarcerated in a facility that has but to renew visits. This season is especially troublesome for her household since her birthday is on Christmas Eve, and her husband’s is on Christmas Day.
AFJ plans to make use of the paintings for future rallies and on-line social media campaigns. The group usually holds rallies in Albany in entrance of the state legislature or across the governor’s workplace. AFJ additionally hopes that the paintings and the day’s occasion will draw consideration to particular calls for the group has for New York Gov. Cuomo round providing incarcerated folks primary protections in opposition to COVID-19 and increasing visitation for their households.
Amongst these calls for is the reinstatement of the Household Reunion Program, which allowed some incarcerated New Yorkers to spend prolonged intervals of time with their households in an apartment-style trailer off the location of the jail. Luceita, an AFJ member, instructed Prism that her household has benefited from the Household Reunion Program as her husband has served a 25-year sentence that has not too long ago been prolonged an extra 15 months. This system, she mentioned, “retains [incarcerated people] feeling like they’re human once more,” however for the previous seven months the Division of Corrections and Group Supervision (DOCCS) has suspended it.
That call got here amid a bunch of different restrictions because the pandemic took maintain: between March and August, all 52 prisons inside the state suspended visitations. Forty-one have since resumed visits however with heavy further restrictions like shortened time, fewer relations, and fewer out there dates.
Takeasha mentioned that not solely do these restrictions affect the relationships between these inside and their households, however they don’t even adequately shield incarcerated folks from COVID-19. She mentioned that facility workers are those primarily turning prisons into hotspots, and that she has heard of guards not sporting masks or social distancing from each other all whereas denying recent private protecting tools (PPE) to these inside. Members of the family are additionally not allowed to ship masks or give them to their family members throughout visits.
Takeasha additionally expressed concern concerning the lack of consideration paid to the general well being of those that are incarcerated. “There’s no warmth, scorching water or heat meals,” she instructed Prism. “There’s no vitamins out there to construct their immune system.”
In a yr that has seen so many Black lives misplaced, she mentioned the added menace of the pandemic raging via prisons has left her “utterly traumatized.”
“To have somebody maintain on to and harbor your family members exhibits that these in energy are doing all the things to advertise demise,” she mentioned.
Along with open and secure visitation for households and elevated protections in opposition to COVID-19, AFJ can also be requesting that the state resume processing marriage functions for folks engaged to these inside simply as they’ve for the remainder of the state’s inhabitants. The group is asking that Gov. Cuomo and the DOCCS launch an in depth public plan for assembly these demands and supply ongoing updates as they’re being carried out.
Whereas AFJ is holding off on setting a date for the following in-person protest as a result of dropping temperatures, Mesha, a member for the previous 4 years, hopes that one of many items she created—a watercolor portray of a solar setting over blue waters with the slogan “justice is on the horizon”—shall be changed into a banner to make use of at a future rally.
No two tales amongst members of AFJ are the identical: Some have family members in amenities that enable visits whereas others don’t, and a few are staring down sentences that may stretch into the following decade whereas others are ready only a few extra months for his or her beloved one to return residence. Nonetheless, being in group with individuals who perceive some semblance of your expertise could be a lifeline. As Luceita described, it “permits us to be free.”
For folks with incarcerated family members who could not have such a group and might have assist, Mesha supplied a key piece of recommendation: “Simply keep as absolutely linked together with your family members as a lot as you’ll be able to to really feel that this bond continues to be there,” Mesha mentioned. “This time could make the bond stronger.”
Till not too long ago, Mesha’s husband used a pill to ship her emails, however not too long ago it broke and he grew to become very pissed off, she shared. In response, she instructed him that the 2 needed to “make it work,” and turned to different types of communication like telephone calls and handwritten letters.
Takeasha echoed Mesha’s recommendation and inspired folks to even be understanding and affected person with their family members inside even because the calls for of their very own private lives proceed to press on.
“Understanding their place and never taking issues personally will go a great distance,” mentioned Takeasha. “You’ll be able to’t think about what your beloved goes via.”
Her message is equally relevant to the broader public presently of yr, which should present better understanding each for incarcerated folks and people who love them.
Tamar Sarai Davis is Prism’s legal justice workers reporter. Comply with her on Twitter @bytamarsarai.
Prism is a BIPOC-led nonprofit information outlet that facilities the folks, locations and points at the moment underreported by our nationwide media. By our authentic reporting, evaluation, and commentary, we problem dominant, poisonous narratives perpetuated by the mainstream press and work to construct a full and correct document of what’s occurring in our democracy. Comply with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.