Tag Archives: prisons

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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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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“UNDOCUMENTED” Maps the Hidden World of Migrant Detention

Undocumented coverTitle: UNDOCUMENTED: The Architecture of Migrant Detention
Author: Tings Chak
Illustrator: Tings Chak
Published: Self-published as a 3-part zine in August 2014; published by in September 2014
Purchase: In the Ad Astra Comix Online Store
For more info: www.tingschak.com

Architecture has been described as a synthesis of life’s components in materialized form. Its proponents describe it as the mother art, or the soul of a civilization, and one in which we have historically defined our understandings of home, safety, comfort. It is an art form that can seem invisible and yet cannot possibly go unnoticed. But what happens when buildings are not, as architect Stephen Gardiner describes it, ‘good people making good buildings by good design’? What if the desired architecture is one of discomfort, isolation, and transience?

graph of architecturePrisons, detention centres, and other “holding facilities” are the subject explored artfully in this premiere work by Tings Chak, an artist, activist, and former architecture student. “Undocumented” is a jarring 3-part exploration the intimate relationship we have with the spaces around us. By examining their physical, emotional and psychological toll when occupied, “Undocumented” posits that their architecture is ill-designed and of ill-intent, meaning it mirrors the economic and political  architecture of global neo-liberal policy.

Part One: Landscape

What first strikes the reader in the comic’s first pages is the invisibility of migrant detention in countries like Canada.  From the outside, prisons and holding facilities are often nested inconspicuously in suburbs and bedroom communities. Locals think little of their impact but as a source of jobs in increasingly desperate economic times. Despite their underwhelming appearance, their intent, by design, is diametrically opposed to all the buildings around them.

confined viewThe construction of prisons and other involuntary holding facilities turns architecture on its head, and we experiences a sense of conceptual vertigo. Space and inhabitants alike are compartmentalized. The comic illustrates what inmates describe as a sense of isolation so intense that they feel they are becoming one with the walls in their cell. Aesthetically, this feeling is aided by the compartmental nature of comics as a “sequential” art form.

minimum space

Part Two: Building

“Undocumented” steps beside the realm of a comic with a linear narrative and into a category of ‘statistics illustrated’. The cold delivery of information brings home the point that these detention centres are, in so many ways, an impediment to the human narrative of their captives. Each individual, in their life journey through spaces and other individual lives, is suspended and infringed upon. Here, life is devoid of free will. Schedules are fixed and micro-managed. Interpersonal interaction is withheld and restricted. In order to understand the stories that escape from these hellish conditions, one must acknowledge the adversities they have overcome.

toronto immigration holding centerLooking over the grounds and conditions of a series of holding facilities in Ontario, they seem underwhelming, banal where we might expect that they be ominous. In other words, they are deceptive, and intentionally so.   By design and locale, they seem to embody the 19th century French “oubliette”: a dungeon where people are placed with the intention of being forgotten. Modern prison architecture shows that little has changed: rehabilitation, correction or even punishment are beyond the essential purpose of these facilities.

Confinement, historically: Pictured here from the larger french atlas, Civitatis Orbis Terrarum, Bedlam, circled in blue, was a holding facility for those deemed mentally ill or otherwise unfit for 16th century civilization. According to a writing in 1591, "Bedlam was an oubliette in all but name--a place for forgetting, where the insane were locked up with those interred by their own families on some trumped-up charge simply to be rid of them."
Confinement, historically: Pictured here from the larger french atlas, Civitatis Orbis Terrarum, Bedlam, circled in blue, was a holding facility for those deemed mentally ill or otherwise unfit for 16th century civilization. Despite it being officially identified as a place of support and assistance, according to a writing in 1591, “Bedlam was an oubliette in all but name–a place for forgetting, where the insane were locked up with those interred by their own families on some trumped-up charge simply to be rid of them.”

Part Three: Resistance

Here, the work takes a decidedly more human tone. We go from the vital statistics of carceral facilities to the descriptions of the lives of migrant detainees: precarious, vulnerable, and fearful. Quotes from men, women and children held in detention reveal a profound isolation – from spouse, sun and seasons – an example of the emotional trauma inflicted by confinement. Shine the light a bit further down this rabbit hole, and we consider the subject of solitary confinement, euphemistically termed “administrative segregation” by Corrections Canada. Here, a detainee could spend up to 23 hours completely alone, in what has been regarded by human rights activists for years as a criminal act that jumps the fenced definition of torture by any decent definition.

missing family memberUltimately, “Undocumented” is a look at architecture not as a thing of author-less objectivity, but as the physical legacy of accomplices to an agenda of discipline and exploitation. It helps us connect the economic policies of neo-liberalism that impoverish and displace populations to the detention centres they are confined in when they try to escape. With a cold, empirical lens, it demonstrates that the blueprints of migrant detention centres are drawn with the intent to isolate, agitate, and demoralize their human occupants.

Frank Lloyd Wright described architecture as a component in the construction of a civilization’s soul.  What, then, can be said of the civilization responsible for these gaps in our urban landscapes that neither light nor hope can penetrate?

“Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention Centres” is launching as a published book this week, and if you’re in Toronto, you are invited! RSVP for the event here, on Facebook.

For those wanting to know more, visit Chak’s website, or the Ad Astra Comix online shop to purchase a copy.

 

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Evidence As Antidote – “Race to Incarcerate” Fights Prisons with Facts

If all great truths begin as blasphemies, as George Bernard Shaw put it, we in Canada find ourselves living in a theocracy. Certainly even Adam and Eve would wonder at the spectacular efforts to preserve the innocence of ignorance undertaken by our present government. It has taken a valiant stand against sex education so we may uncover our nakedness. In seeking to dismantle the National Archives, they will free us from knowledge of good and evil. Thanks to the government’s destruction of the integrity of census data, we are free from even the prospect of acquiring knowledge.

Stephen Harper Destruction of Public Property

But to be sure we are safe from it, they are throwing whole libraries into the trash, and forbidding the wicked among us from sharing their dangerous truths with the press.

So we are nearly free of blasphemy, and what greater expression of piety than prisons? At a time when American districts are turning away from the tough on crime approach, Canada embraces it enthusiastically. If books are not totally passe at this point, I should recommend to the Justice Minister and any higher powers to which he might answer a thorough reading of ‘Race To Incarcerate.’

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Title: Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling
Created by: Sabrina Jones and Marc Mauer
Forward: Michelle Alexander
Preface: The Sentencing Project
Published: 2013 by The New Press

‘Race To Incarcerate’ practically bursts its bindings with relevant historical, sociological and economic data. It doesn’t shrink from statistics either, as it outlines the growth in prison populations, corrections spending and the prevalence of private prisons. Exploring public attitudes towards morality, the dishonesty of elected representatives and the role played by the War on Drugs, this expressive tome shines light onto critical questions in one area of public policy where high-minded moralizing has long reigned supreme.

ReaganThe comic traces the evolution of America’s obsession with getting ‘tough on crime’ from its beginnings in the 1970s through to the second Bush administration. Along the way it explores the impact of the War on Drugs, changes in social attitudes towards crime and the role of racism in expanding the prison-industrial complex. On the political file, the crass electoral motives of successive legislators are exposed. Clinton and George W. Bush are particularly held up as hypocrites, promising to reform the system while allowing prison spending and populations to grow in tandem.

racism and incarcerationThe comic does an excellent job of outlining the role played by racism in incarcerating black and Hispanic Americans at a disproportionate rate. Racism, and underlying white cultural anxieties, are ably exposed as the culprits for rates of black incarceration. The usual apologies for the racial composition of the prison population are handily debunked. The proverbial fig leaf is pulled away, and the naked truth is not a pretty thing to behold.

If there is a flaw in ‘Race To Incarcerate’, it is in the conclusion. After spending the majority of its pages identifying the endemic racism in American society, it proposes a coalition of business, academic leaders, communities of colour and families of addicts to tackle the problem by lobbying the government. The book persuasively argues that the rich and powerful have a vested interest in maintaining the current system. It then proposes the problems be solved through a coalition made up in part by the rich and powerful appealing to the very politicians whose dishonesty it has exposed. Some business leaders may feel compelled to oppose the prison industrial complex, but it is a drop in the bucket to a system that has been constructed–designed–in the interests of corporate profits.

Furthermore, the book is right to suggest the involvement communities of colour, but missed the opportunity to highlight one of the most important groups of all – prisoners and ex-convicts themselves. Prisoners and ex-cons not only deserve the right to tell their stories, their voices should be at the forefront of a prison abolition movement. Regardless of the accuracy of the book’s conclusion, the information in it can help persuade regular people that prisons don’t work.

Canadian prison
Canadian or American prison? Can’t tell? They’re about to get even more similar…

But the truth, we are told, shall set us free. The Conservative government is hot to bring many of the measures described in ‘Race To Incarcerate’ up to Canada, including mandatory minimum sentences and private prisons. The message of ‘Race To Incarcerate’ is clear: prisons don’t work. But more than that, they are dangerous to a degree that should alarm us. Indigenous people make up about 4% of Canada’s population, but 23% of its prison population – and the rates are climbing. In Canada, prisons are looking more and more like another form of genocide.

conclusionThe facts in ‘Race To Incarcerate’ won’t liberate those prisoners, but they can free the rest of us from the moralizing naiveté that justifies mass imprisonment. Liberated from our ignorance, we can turn our attention to prying open the bars of the prison industrial complex.