Join the Mass Incarceration Working Group for the final teach-in of the academic year in our series “More Beautiful and More Terrible: Prison Organizing and Abolition in Unsettled Times.” Featuring author and organizer asha bandele—author of The Prisoner’s Wife and co-author of When They Call You A Terrorist—in conversation with Chicago-based organizers and visionaries Willette Benford (Decarceration Organizer at Live Free Illinois and member of the Statewide Women’s Justice Task Force) and Aislinn Pulley (Co-Executive Director of the Chicago Torture Justice Center).
Co-moderated by Jordie Davies, PhD Candidate at the University of Chicago, and Madeline Wright, Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project intern.
Suggested Further Reading:
Arrested Justice (Beth Richie)
Assata: An Autobiography (Assata Shakur)
Becoming Ms. Burton (Susan Burton)
Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System (Cyntoia Brown-Long)
Invisible No More (Andrea Ritchie)
Making All Black Lives Matter (Barbara Ransby)
Something Like Beautiful: A Single Mother’s Story (asha bandele)
The Prisoner’s Wife (asha bandele)
Unapologetic (Charlene Carruthers)
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (Saidiya Hartman)
We Do This ’Til We Free Us (Mariame Kaba)
When They Call You A Terrorist (Patrisse Cullors & asha bandele)
**We encourage you to go to Semicolon Bookstore, a Black-woman owned bookstore and gallery space in Chicago, for these texts.**
We Charge Genocide Report to the United Nations (2014)
“Women in Prison: How We Are” (Assata Shakur, 1978)
“Stop Hustling Black Death” (Imani Perry, 2021)
“Political Possibilities: Black Feminism Offers A Path to Abolition” (Jordie Davies, 2021)
“Reformist Reforms vs. Abolitionist Steps to End Imprisonment” (Critical Resistance, 2021)
“Reformist Reforms vs. Abolitionist Steps to End Policing” (Critical Resistance, 2021)
asha bandele is a pioneering writer and social-justice activist. asha’s is a New York Times bestselling and National Book Award winning author of six books, including the widely acclaimed memoir, The Prisoner’s Wife; a novel, Daughter; two poetry collections, Absence in the Palms of My Hands and The Subtle Art of Breathing; and Something Like Beautiful: One Single Mother’s Story. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, The Nation, Vibe, Ebony, and Essence, where she was a senior editor and writer for the magazine. Her most recent work is a collaborative effort with Black Lives Matter co-founder, Patrisse Khan Cullors, who courageously shared her story of challenge and triumph with asha in When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. An advocate for racial justice and prison abolition, asha is the Director of Strategy and Communications at Galaxy Gives, the philanthropic entity of the Mike and Sukey Novogratz Family. She continues to serve, as well, as a political and organizational management consultant for foundations, PACs, and non-profits across the field. But of all her work, none has been more central than her role as the single parent of an exquisite daughter, Nisa, a Dean’s Level Rising Senior at Columbia University; and as loving stepmother to a brilliant son, Aundre, who was murdered in 2015.
Willette Benford is a mother, leader, social justice advocate, sought-after speaker, minister, and a system survivor. She spent over two decades inside, punished for a survival crime. Willette is the first woman in the State of Illinois to benefit from a 2-1401 submitted when the Illinois Criminal Code was amended and domestic violence became a mitigating factor. This resulted in her being granted an immediate release from the Illinois department of corrections. Willette is now the Decarceration Organizer for Live Free Illinois. Willette is the board chairwoman for the Heartland Alliance Fully Free Campaign to end permanent punishments, and a 2020-2021 Community Change Women's Fellowship fellow. Willette is a grassroots leader with organizations such as Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Reentry team, Cabrini Green Legal Aid Visible Voices and Leadership Council, Women’s Justice Institute, and Mothers United Against Violence and Incarceration to name a few. Willette also helped create a voters guide to distribute inside of Cook County Jail to encourage those not convicted to use their rights while incarcerated. Willette was instrumental in the passing of the Just Housing Initiative in Cook County. She is a task force member of Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton-Echols Task Force Children of incarcerated Parents. An organizer at heart, Willette was recently a part of a team of justice-impacted system survivors that built a campaign from the ground up and organized first time voters and formerly incarcerated individuals to get out to vote in the Georgia state Senate run-off. She is passionate about eradicating unjust laws and systems that create barriers to the continued success of individuals like herself and others which have been impacted by them.
Aislinn Pulley is Co-Executive Director of the Chicago Torture Justice Center, and a long time organizer who has worked on a variety of campaigns including the Reparations Now movement to pass the historic 2015 Reparations Ordinance for survivors of Chicago police torture, campaigns for justice for families who have lost loved ones to police violence, defense campaigns to free political prisoners, and many others. Born and raised in Chicago, Aislinn founded the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter and was the youngest founding member of the cultural non-profit that used art for social change, Insight Arts. She was an organizer with We Charge Genocide, as well as a member of performance ensembles which include Visibility Now, which she founded for young women dedicated to ending sexual assault. Aislinn is an alumnus at Columbia College Chicago having studied graphic arts, and North Park University where she double majored in psychology and sociology.
Jordie Davies is an incoming postdoctoral scholar in the P3 Lab at the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University. She is a 2021 PhD candidate in political science from the University of Chicago. Jordie’s research and writing interests include Black politics and political thought, US social movements, and Black feminism. Her research agenda focuses on the influence of social movements on political attitudes, activism, and political participation. Jordie’s dissertation, "From Adherents to Activists: The Process of Social Movement Mobilization" examines social movement support and participation at the aggregate and local levels, breaking down the various paths to political activism in contemporary progressive and racial justice movements, especially the Black Lives Matter movement.
Madeline (Madi) Wright is a second-year at the University of Chicago where they study Critical Race and Ethnic Studies and Comparative Human Development. Currently, they work as an intern for the Pozen Center for Human Rights and the Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project, curating virtual art galleries for formerly incarcerated individuals, facilitating panel discussions, and managing logistical needs for events. Additionally, Madi works with organizations like #CareNotCops, DefundCPD, and the Black Abolitionist Network. Outside of organizing, Madi works as a college counselor at the Ron Brown Scholar Guided Pathway Support Program, mentoring Black youth through college preparatory curriculum.
About the Series:
The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought untold suffering onto incarcerated people and their loved ones. Those in prisons, jails, and detention centers are made vulnerable to illness and for many, these circumstances have made the past year one of mourning and revelation.
These pressing conditions challenge those who dream and struggle for a society free of domination and control to ask themselves, What do prison organizing and abolition mean right now? How might we draw on history to meet this moment? What new strategies or knowledge have been developed, or can be developed, to push forward an abolitionist future?
Over the winter and spring, the Mass Incarceration Working Group at UChicago will host a series of “teach-ins” with activists and scholars across the country to tackle these very questions. Curated by Human Rights Lab Graduate Fellow David Knight, this series will proceed from the standpoint that abolition, to echo the words of Dylan Rodriguez, is a project of “collective genius,” an obligation to our ancestors and to future generations.
Presented by the Mass Incarceration Working Group convened by the Pozen Center Human Rights Lab and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture.