Devising Freedom


Four dialogues look at our criminal legal system, towards building new and authentic safety for us all. Dr. Viviane Saleh-Hanna and Ashanti Alston (Providence), Kai Lumumba Barrow (Durham), Rachel Herzing (Oakland), and Mariame Kaba (Chicago) are just a few of the dynamic practitioners and analysts who joined local organizers to discuss the “new Jim Crow” of mass incarceration, the policing of gender, transformative justice practice and how social justice movements get built. A rare gathering of people who walk the talk of radical imagining.


December 24, 2014 – January 23, 2015 : The Ukrainian Hall, New York City


Dialogue One

Still Shackled, Still Surviving: A Visual Journey through 500 Years of Boxes

Our first dialogue is a visual journey through the technology of confinement – starting in slave dungeons inside West African soil and ending inside America’s prisons.

Dr. Viviane Saleh-Hanna of UMass Dartmouth’s Department of Crime & Justice Studies, takes us through her slides West African slavery facilities and evolving maps to establish the deep, historical connections between slavery and the current US practice of mass incarceration.  

Ashanti Alston, a former member of the Black Panther Party who spent over a decade in prison, highlights the resilient visions of the black freedom struggle in the lives of political prisoners, most of whom are serving severely long sentences.


…when I talk about the prison industrial complex or mass incarceration, I understand it as an extension of an ongoing war – that slavery was the 1st world war involving entire continents under militarized, corporate or state means, who for centuries violently kidnapped millions of Africans at gunpoint and forced them to cross the Atlantic. The first world war started in the 1500’s with the first slave ships.

– Dr. Viviane Saleh-Hannah 

“This system is built to stay here, and those of us who suffer from it …who’ve been driven to the point of insanity where we’re even killing each other…some of us are bold enough to say, I’m going to take a stand anyway…and picked up guns or put bombs in police stations to say ‘you’re gonna stop shooting black and brown people.’ So the connection I want you to take away today is that there is a host of Political Prisoners locked away, who’ve been forgotten, who people need to find out about …

– Ashanti Alston 



Dialogue Two

Policing Gender : What’s gender got to do with it?

In our second dialogue we turn our attention the ways women and LGBTQ people are being targeted and impacted by policing and imprisonment. Did you know that the number of women in prison is increasing at nearly double the rate for men?

From profiling and surveillance to popular culture, how is gender constructed, reinforced and articulated through the prison industrial complex? We’re joined by Andrea Ritchie, Kai Lamumba Barrow and Victoria Law, a remarkable group of thinkers and organizers to help us unpack these questions and more.

Andrea Ritchie is a police misconduct attorney and organizer in New York City. She co-coordinates Streetwise And Safe (SAS) and is co-author of “Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States”.

Kai Lumumba Barrow, visiting from Durham, NC, is a longtime organizer who recently worked as a Senior Strategist for Southerners On New Ground (SONG), a queer liberation organization working throughout the South. Kai is also a painter and installation artist.


Victoria Law is a writer, photographer, mother and the author of “Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women”.



“Approximately 2/3 of the women behind bars are mothers, most were primary care givers before they were incarcerated. When a mom goes to prison, her children are 5 times more likely to be put in foster care, than with a father. Then in 1997, congress passed the Federal Adoption & Safe Families Act (ASFA), which states that if a child is in foster care for 15 of the past 22 months, the state must start terminating parental rights. And given this country’s love for mandatory sentencing[in NYState the avg min.sentence for women is 36 mos], women are more likely to have their parental rights terminated. What this ends up meaning, especially in the case of older children who bounce from foster home to foster home until they age out of the system, is that because the mom’s rights have been terminated,she no longer has the legal right to find out what happened to her child – she can’t go to the social worker or foster care agency or contact the schools — and sometimes can’t find her children when she gets out of prison.

A national movement is underway, led primarily by incarcerated and previously incarcerated women who are organizing for state level regulations to the ASFA. Here in NYState, after 10-years of campaigning, the NYSenate passed the ASFA Expanded Discretion bill, which postpones the Federal mandate to file to terminate, and opens us an application process to incarcerated parents. The same thing happened in Washington state. There are currently 4 states who have taken regulatory measures – only 46 left to go.

Victoria Law




Dialogue Three

Building Movement : How do social movements get built?

What is happening right now to end the violence of imprisonment and policing in NYC and throughout the US? We’re bringing three groundbreaking organizers into dialogue on how movements are built that successfully win concrete changes and push us towards an entirely different way of addressing violence and safety in our society.

Rachel Herzing is Campaign Director of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization building an international movement to abolish the prison industrial complex.
Joo-Hyun Kang is Director of Communities united for Police Reform (CPR), an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those most unfairly targeted by the NYPD.
Gabriel Sayegh is the New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. He lives in Brooklyn.

Moderated by Michael Premo, an artist, journalist and documentary storyteller. Amongst other projects, he is a co-creator and Executive Producer of Sandy Storyline.


When I think about the organizing work we do, whether it’s trying to change policies or changing laws or what not, it’s usually, if not always driven by: are we increasing the number of people who feel situated in their own personal power to make decisions in conjunction with other people, to pursue a sort of righteous end with each other? Ultimately where I’d like to be in 40 years is in a place that’s been defined by a process like that, where people can come together and say “this is …we’re living in a place that we all helped define and build together.” ..,where stuff like this, getting together in places like this, or working with folks in groups to try to change things.

Gabriel Sayegh



Dialogue Four

Transforming Justice

What other forms of justice do people imagine or, better yet, already practice? Join us for a conversation with three remarkable visionaries who are leading the way toward greater safety, accountability and freedom as they discuss their experiences with community-based approaches to violence, their challenges and lessons learned along the way.

Mariame Kaba is the founding director of Project NIA in Chicago, which uses the principles of participatory community justice – often called restorative or transformative justice – which has been shown to meet the needs of victims, reduce recidivism, and improve satisfaction with the legal system.
Danielle Sered is the founding director of Common Justice in Brooklyn, an innovative victim service and alternative-to-incarceration program for youth charged with felonies such as assault, robbery, and burglary based in restorative justice principles.
Ejeris Dixon is an organizer with over ten years experience working in racial justice, economic justice, LGBTQ, and anti-violence movements. As the founding staff member of the Audre Lorde Project’s Safe OUTside the System Collective, Ejeris spent five years co-creating models of creating community based strategies to reduce, prevent, and repair the harm from anti-LGBTQ violence without relying on law enforcement.

Further Reading

We asked our guests to suggest some material for further reading:

Policing Gender

Queer (In)Justice
by Joey Mogul, Andrea Ritchie and Kay Whitlock
Stop Law Enforcement Violence Toolkit
by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence
Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women
by Victoria Law
Birth and Motherhood in Prison:
an interview with Veronica Martinez at Folsom Women’s Prison
Out in the Night 
a new film called about the case of the New Jersey 4
Never Innocent: Feminist Trouble with Sex Offender Registries and Protection in a Prison Nation
by Erica Meiners
Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex
by Nat Smith and Eric Stanley (eds)
Thoughts on Nomadic Aesthetics and the Black Independent Cinema: Traces of a Journey
by Teshome Gabriel

Transforming Justice

Transformative Justice
page compiled by Prison Culture
Transform Chicago
a Restorative and Transformative Justice Hub
The PIC Is…
a ‘zine created by the Chicago Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) Teaching Collective and illustrated by Billy Dee
Community Accountability Resources
website organized by Clarissa Rojas, Alisa Bierria, and Mimi Kim
The New Jim Crow
by Michelle Alexander
Peacemaking Circles and Urban Youth
by Dr. Carolyn Boyes-Watson
Are Prisons Obsolete?
by Angela Davis