Tag Archives: prison abolition

Coming Soon: “Free Inside” by Peter Collins

Pete_pigeonsonshoulderOn August 13, 2015, Peter Collins died in prison. The headline in his hometown newspaper read ‘Police Killer Peter Collins dies in prison‘. It’s remarkable how many lies can fit in a headline.

No one contests that in October, 1983, Pete shot and killed Constable David Utman. But for the headline to say only that Pete was a ‘police killer’ is to tell an unforgivable lie. It might have read ‘Award-winning AIDS activist Peter Collins’ or ‘Fearless champion of animal rights Peter Collins’. A more honest headline could have said ‘survivor of child abuse Peter Collins’, in recognition of a portion of his trauma.

There is another unforgivable lie in that headline. ‘Peter Collins dies in prison’. They use the neutral word, dies, as though there’s nothing else to say about it. But here’s something that needs to be said: the prison system murdered Pete. When he found blood in his urine he asked to see a doctor. It took them months to fulfill his request. Bladder cancer can be treated if you catch it early. But for Pete it was too late.

To tell Pete’s story the headline might well have added another word at the end. That word is ‘alone’. Though his cancer was known to be incurable he was denied compassionate release. He might have spent the last weeks of his life reunited with his family. With his friends. With freedom.

But whether it’s for love of the police or the profitability of sensationalism, no headline is going to tell that story. For that you’ll have to read his book, ‘Free Inside’, published by Ad Astra Comix. Featuring comics, original art and writing by Pete and those who knew him, ‘Free Inside’ is no fit tribute to a man whose indomitable spirit cannot be captured by mere print.

But at least it tells the truth.

 

Preview of Art in “Free Inside”

 

Things you can do to help:

Pre-order copies of “Free Inside” for yourself, your classroom, your church library, or your social justice organization by e-mailing us at adastracomix@gmail.com

Share the following press release about the book:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
'Free Inside' Documents the Life of Prisoner and Activist Peter Collins

Ad Astra Comix is pleased to announce the publication of its latest title, 'Free Inside: The World of Peter Collins'. A mixture of comics, art and writing by Pete Collins and those who knew him, 'Free Inside' is a record of Pete's courage and tenacity.

After a troubled childhood, Pete was imprisoned in 1983, convicted of killing Ottawa Police constable Robert Utman. Left alone with his thoughts in prison, Pete felt a terrible remorse for what he had done that would remain with him for his entire life. He spent the next several decades of his life working to heal himself and help those around him. He died of bladder cancer in 2015 after being denied compassionate release so that he might spend his last moments with his family. Prison confined Pete but could not contain him. He was an advocate for the rights of animals, prisoners and people with HIV / AIDS. In 2008, he was awarded the Canadian Award for Action from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Watch. He helped prepare fellow prisoners for parole hearings and fought tirelessly for justice. 

Although the prison authorities repeatedly obstructed his work as an artist, Pete persisted. His acerbic cartoons about prison life speak to the frustrations therein. His political cartoons skewer the hypocrisy of powerful people. His sketches of birds and other wildlife show his sensitivity and patience. 

'Free Inside' is a kind of memorial to Pete - full of his work, his thoughts and the thoughts of those who loved him. It speaks to the failures of the Canadian prison system and the triumph of the human spirit in the face of misery. We are proud to publish this first full length collection of Pete's work and hope that it will encourage people to judge prisoners not in terms of their one mistake, but the whole of their lives and experiences.

 

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“Three Feathers”: Speaking in complete sentences

Richard Van Camp, a Tłı̨chǫ writer from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, based ‘Three Feathers’ off an incident in his town. There were three young men who robbed a number of residents of the town, including him. When they were caught, they were sent south to serve two years in prison. In ‘Three Feathers’, a Sentencing Circle sends the boys to spend nine months living on the land with some of the community’s elders. The difference in their experience is profound.

Three-Feathers

Title: Three Feathers|
Author: Richard Van Camp
Illustrator: Krystal Mateus
Published: Highwater Press (March 2015)
Pages: 48 pages

The comic opens with the boys returning from their time on the land. This beginning sets the tone for a non-linear narrative structure that challenges the reader to piece the story together while also making sense of what is, to most settlers, an alien approach to justice. This echoes our experience of learning about criminal incidents where we are often too quick to make assumptions based on a few snippets of information. The comic charts the events leading to the sentence, the experience of the boys on the land, and its ultimate effect on them. In doing so, it helps us piece together the story of how the boys came to be at odds with their community.

three feathers_eagle has three shadows

‘Three Feathers’ paints a familiar portrait of the challenges faced by indigenous communities: children without parents, families struggling with addiction, and youth alienated from their traditional culture. But Van Camp, unsurprisingly, never stoops to caricature. His characters are emotionally complex, possessed of agency and sympathetically rendered. He provides a good answer to the question ‘Why does it matter that indigenous people write indigenous characters’? His portrayal of a deaf character, one of the boys sent to the land, is also nuanced. He isn’t reduced to his disability or played for laughs but is allowed to suffer from the same anger, frustration and imperfection as his peers.

The comic is not without its faults. It is not as long as it might be, and as a result we are not given much time to learn about the young men or their community. Similarly, though there are some aesthetic styles that benefit from the use of black and white, this is a comic that would have benefited from colour. Still, the sparse use of text accents the art and puts the environment in the foreground, particularly when the young men are out on the land. Given the moral and spiritual importance of their environment this is a good aesthetic choice.

three feathers greatest teacher

I don’t want to give away the ending. I will say, however, that I was surprised by it, though it reflected the moral arc of the story as a whole. The tale is one of restorative justice, of the capacity of a community to heal its wounds together instead of discarding people who behave unacceptably. It is understood from the outset that the boys have caused harm partially as a result of the harm they themselves have experienced. Their rehabilitation is not rooted in high-minded moralizing about human nature but in the very personal compassion and willingness to forgive shown by their community.

How radically this differs from our colonial conception of justice! For many Canadians, justice is inseparable from retribution. There is even still a surprising enthusiasm in Canada for capital punishment. The idea that ‘criminals’ could be sent out onto the land to fish and camp with the elderly probably sounds like a vacation to your average settler. Even successful experiments with rehabilitation, like the Kingston prison farm, end up up in the scopes of politicians looking for a soft target.

three feathers jail

Activists on the left sometimes like to imagine that they are above this kind of justice. They champion prison abolition and talk gravely about police corruption. But, in practice, I think most radical communities end up practicing a kind of ostracism, seeking to exclude people who transgress against the values of the community past a certain point. I’m not saying we can’t protect our communities from toxic people, privileged jerks who never shut up, or occurrences of sexual violence. But what I do think is that restorative justice looks a lot more ‘protecting our community’ than the ostracism that contributes heavily to activist turnover. That is not a comfortable truth for people whose social circle is a line drawn in the chalk of moral certainty. But uncomfortable truths are a powerful thing in the right hands. All I could think in reading this comic was ‘if only it worked that way for us’, …whoever ‘us’ is.

A teen’s horrifying tale of solitary confinement at Rikers

Fusion

Every year, thousands of teens are held in solitary confinement in jails, prisons and juvenile halls nationwide. This is the story of Ismael “Izzy” Nazario and the time he spent in solitary confinement in New York City’s Rikers Island jail. Izzy’s dialogue is taken from transcriptions of audio recordings from several interviews.

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There are currently thousands of kids in solitary confinement nationwide. New York state prisons recently agreed to ban solitary confinement as punishment for inmates younger than eighteen. But this doesn’t apply to Rikers Island and other New York jails.

The New York City Department of Correction declined interview requests and would not let the Center for Investigative Reporting visit the box.

Izzy is now a case manager for teens and adults coming out of Rikers Island.

Reported by Daffodil Altan and Trey Bundy, and illustrated and designed by Anna Vignet. Senior multimedia producer: Michael Schiller

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