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Comic by Jacob Barrett

December 3, 2015

Dear Friend of the RCPP,

It seems like more than a year ago when with the Western MA American Friends Service Committee, I organized a protest in response the St. Louis District Attorney’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown. This year, we name the young and old killed by racist terror and policing: the nine women and men in Charleston, Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Rekia Boyd and too many more to be named here. Their deaths have not gone unnoticed and unanswered. The Black Lives Matter movement is demanding an end to police impunity and for accountability of police and prosecutors.

For more than fifteen years, The Real Cost of Prisons Project has educated and organized against racist policing and prosecutions, hyper-surveillance of Black and Brown communities, an end to cruel and dehumanizing prisons and jails and a criminal “justice” system which produces little or no justice.  At this pivotal moment, please make a donation so we can build on years of work.

Each of you receiving this letter has an idea of what the Real Cost of Prisons Project does. Here are some 2015 highlights to give you a bigger picture.

Organize and agitate.

Two years ago I began organizing with Andrea James, founder of Families for Justice As Healing. Her visionary leadership led to FREE HER, a rally in Washington DC in June 2014, the first ever event which brought together formerly incarcerated women, their families and allies. In August 2015, the first path-breaking FREE HER conference took place at Harvard Law School. The work continues with convenings of formerly incarcerated women and others. Even though I have not been incarcerated, I am honored to be a part of this work as we continue to build and strengthen the FFJAH network, write new legislation work to implement policies grounded in the realities of incarceration and the harm done to families and communities by the carceral state.

In 1994, Bill Clinton ended Pell Grants for prisoners. Many of men and women we organize with who are thinkers and activists received Pell Grants in prison. The RCPP is working with educators and advocates nationally to restore Pell Grants through the REAL Act which needs your support.

In October, with advocates and attorneys, I redrafted legislation which, if passed, would outlaw videotaping by any guard of women being strip searched before they are placed in solitary. The redraft calls for the destruction of hundreds of videotapes of strip searches which were made at the jail for women in Chicopee, MA.

I am continuing to lead the fight against building new jails in Massachusetts. Despite talk of decarceration, once again, a bill for a new jail is before the legislature.

Currently, I am organizing with health care providers and civil libertarians against a dangerous proposal by MA Governor Baker which would allow doctors to hospitalize drug users, involuntarily and without a court order for 72 hours. No plan has been proposed for where people will be held. With no room in hospitals, the default could be overbuilt jails.

And, our work continues on ending the unjust practice of money bail in MA. In the current legislative session, a bill with broad support has been introduced which could end money bail. We continue to educate legislators and the public about this unjust system which penalizes the poor and advantages those with money for bail.

Advocate. Every day, I advocate on behalf of incarcerated women and men so that the powers that be know there is someone holding them accountable. For example, in February, the RCPP created and mounted a nationwide campaign for Jacob Barrett, a jailhouse lawyer, activist, writer and cartoonist. Jacob is incarcerated in Florida although he was sentenced in Oregon. His successful pro se case in the Oregon Court of Appeals states that an OR prisoner should be treated under the same rules and conditions as prisoners in OR regardless of where they are incarcerated. If Jacob wins in the Oregon Supreme Court, the ruling would reshape Oregon’s Interstate Corrections Compact with every state. In retaliation for his legal successes and for his advocacy for gay and transgender prisoners, Jacob is in solitary. The RCPP supports his work and hundreds of other unheralded courageous prisoner activists.

Every day, I send printed material—reports, articles and newsletters- to incarcerated people so their organizing can take place within prisons; I write letters in support of parole; and campaign for prisoners release from solitary. 90% of prisoners do not have access to the internet. The RCPP works to ensure that they will continue to receive and send mail.

Educate. As the current wave of interest in mass incarceration has grown, so has the RCPP website, which provides a powerful, unique resource for ideas and analysis for prisoners, organizers and researchers. This year, our website received 750,000 unique visits. More than 22,000 people have “liked” our Facebook page; its weekly reach exceeds 150,000 connecting people around the country and beyond. And, there are more requests for talks in classes, public forums and radio interviews as people seek greater understanding of how we got to where we are and how to organize for change.

Communicate. The RCPP is dedicated to making known the ideas men and women who are incarcerated.  Many people have no contact with people who are incarcerated. Their idea of who “they” are is from TV cop shows or “reality” TV. Writing from Prison and Comix from Inside presents another view of prisoners: as researchers, thinkers, artists and insightful commentators on politics and policy and the cruelty and the absurdities of prison. Their essays, research and cartoons are studied by students, used by policymakers, reproduced in publications and posted on other websites.

Since 2000, the Real Cost of Prisons Project has accomplished a great deal on a very small budget. Our goal this year is to raise $15,000. 

Please consider making a monthly donation of $10, $20, $50 or more. Or make a onetime donation from $5 to $5,000. Every dollar we receive will be put to careful and effective use. Your donation can be made online or by check here.

Thank you for your support.

Lois Ahrens
Founding Director

© 2003-2011 The Real Cost of Prisons Project