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coaltownship

One might think the cob of corn and carrot held by a hand in a prison protest banner is an unusual inclusion, Unfortunately, access to nutritional food in prisons up and down the country is not guaranteed. This symbol is highly indicative of the very basic struggles prisoners take on in the face of slashed budgets and disregard for life’s basics. Poor food and cutbacks in food provision are not unusual.

As part of a peaceful protest at SCI Coal Township, a petition from the prisoners is now being circulated. It includes 22 demands seeking the restoration of human rights and dignity for the people being held in Pennsylvania prisons.

There are hundreds of actions each year for better conditions for prisoners, but I thought the ask for simple nutrition was a good indicator of the desperate situation in some U.S. prisons. The protest is also being supported by DecarceratePA, an abolitionist group I support and admire.

This week, I received the following letter from activist Emily Abendroth and the DecarceratePA group:

In late June, in response to dramatic food cutbacks at the State Correctional Institute at Coal Township, over 1300 men staged a week-long boycott of the prison dining hall. At the end of a week of peaceful protest, with still no commitment to change forthcoming from the prison administration, participants released a list of 22 requests/demands.

The prisoners are asking that prison officials at SCI Coal Township, and across the PA Department of Corrections, honor the basic human rights of people in prison. Among other things, these men are petitioning for: access to adequate food, the ability to hold cultural events, an effective grievance process, respectful medical care, and an end to policies that dehumanize and punish prisoners and their families.

Given the fact that more than 1,300 prisoners at Coal Township were able to stand and act in solidarity with one another in the name of changing current prison conditions, at great risk to their personal livelihood, we on the outside should be aiming not only to match but to massively amplify those numbers in our own displays of support.

Take action now:

Sign the Petition

Share on Twitter

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Call PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel on 717-728-4109

 and/or SCI Coal Township Superintendent Vincent Mooney on 570-644-7890 to register your thoughts on the demands and situation at Coal Township.

Keep up with breaking news and information from participants on the inside.

G-LAW Michael Ta'Bon

Today, the Huffington Post published 31 Reasons Philadelphia Is The Most Underrated City in America. Having spent two weeks in Philly recently, I can’t argue with most points (veggie friendly baseball park, c’mon!?).

But I can go further. Allow me to add a 32nd reason. Philadelphia’s anti-prison artists and activists.

Case in point: G-LAW. G-LAW, or OG-LAW (God’s Love Always Wins/God’s Love AT Work) is the adopted name of Michael Ta’Bon, an artist and activist who’s message is peace, love and no more prisons.

For the month of February, G-LAW lived in a self-built cell-sized space on the streets of Philly. Lori Waselchuk and  I visited G-LAW on the first of the month to see how he was going with construction, buy a coffee and learn more about his project. These photos are from that day. I have not heard how the past four weeks have gone, but as with all of G-LAW’s public happenings, I am sure he’s raised a lot of eyebrows and a lot of discussions.

This isn’t the first time G-LAW has protested prison construction, poverty, inequality and hate. He has jogged 10 miles a day for seven days around Philadelphia with a 40-foot banner reading FIGHT HATE WITH LOVE; he has walked with a ball-and-chain from Selma to Montgomery; and this is, in fact, the third time he’s  spent the month of February on the Philly streets in his own prison cell. You can see coverage of the the first occasion in 2011 here and here. One year, he mounted the event in Atlanta.

G-LAW Michael Ta'Bon

G-LAW Michael Ta'Bon

G-LAW Michael Ta'Bon


“JAIL IS 4 SUCKAZ!”
 is one of G-LAW’s many tags lines. He means everyone. He means you. Taxpayers are suckers for stumping the bill to maintain abusive and broken prison systems. One side of his cell is emblazoned with the phrase.

The project as a whole is called The Un-Prison Cell. It’s “the only prison in America designed to keep you out,” laughed G-LAW. It sounds like progress on construction slowed in the days after I visited, due to vicious weather and troubles getting materials.

G-LAW was also away from the site on February 12th as he joined the monumental People’s Budget Hearing protest at the Pennsylvania capital building in Harrisburg (videoaudiophotos). The People’s Hearing was organised by DecarceratePA, one of the most effective and inspiring anti-prison activist groups in the nation. Don’t believe me? Listen to DecarceratePA member Sarah Morris debate PA Prisons Secretary John Wetzel and call him out on the misinformation peddled by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to the state legislature justify proposed prison expansion.

It was through DecarceratePA that I learnt about G-LAW’s art — you can listen to him on their radio show.

Maintaining momentum against massive forces for grassroots movements is a constant effort. A large part of that is being relevant to people outside the choir, having press strategy and adopting visual strategy too. DecarceratePA’s 100-day #InsteadOfPrisons Instagram campaign was the first and only interesting anti-prison campaign use of Instagram I’ve seen. (I adopted the hashtag myself later to spread the words of PA prisoners who’s work was in Prison Obscura.) Also, look how incredible this visual statement is.

Philadelphia should be proud of its grassroots activism. Bravo. More.

Follow G-LAW. Follow DecarceratePA on Facebook and on Twitter and on Instagram.

Thanks to Lori for some images.

G-LAW Michael Ta'Bon

G-LAW

G-LAW Michael Ta'Bon

G-LAW Michael Ta'Bon

G-LAW Michael Ta'Bon

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