Far too often, the contributions to social justice movements by artists and cultural producers are seen but uncelebrated. In recognition of Philadelphia Reentry Month, Leeway spotlights just a few individuals who believe that social change happens when we work together to dismantle oppressive power structures and see possibility beyond the confines of stigma associated with people in reentry.
Do you know of other women and trans artists doing work in communities affected by incarceration? Encourage them to apply for the Art and Change Grant, deadline: August 1.
1. Faith Bartley (ACG ’15): Faith is an organizer and multidisciplinary artist who creates resources for women living in halfway houses. Working with The People’s Paper Co-op – an initiative by the Village of Arts and Humanities that works directly with individuals impacted by incarceration to develop the tools, skills, and networks to advocate for themselves and their loved ones- Faith uses the process of papermaking, gatherings, and speaking engagements to provide information and tips meant to ease the process of reentry for formerly incarcerated women. Faith aims to heal, unite, and empower women who have been oppressed all their lives.
2. Mary DeWitt (ACG ’16, ’15, ’09, LTA ’10, WOO ’03, ’00): Since the late 1980's, Mary has repeatedly painted portraits and collaborated with women serving life without parole in Pennsylvania. Her goal is to show their depth and humanity through exhibitions and YouTube videos of developing portrait images paired with their voices. Currently she is painting ceramic tile mural portraits of the women who are juvenile lifers, to be installed around the city of Philadelphia. Philadelphia has incarcerated more juveniles to life without parole than any city in the United States- over 300. The murals with narrative will include her websites www.juvelinelifers.com and www.lifersontile.com where viewers can hear and learn more about the women and this crisis so relevant to our city.
3. Ras Mashramani (ACG ’16): Ras is a writer and co-founder of the DIY sci-fi collective, Metropolarity. She believes that sci-fi is a technology that allows those without a way forward in the economic and criminal justice systems to build futures where they are alive and thriving. Ras is currently working on a dystopia sci-fi novel that explores the intersection of mental health treatment, mass incarceration, racism, and poverty from the perspective of a social work trainee at a local juvenile detention center. Ras aims to raise awareness around issues of surveillance and violence in poor communities and amplify the voices of both survivors and workers who are impacted by these systems in hopes to promote solidarity.
4. Courtney Bowles (ACG ’16): Courtney is a multidisciplinary artist, educator, and community organizer. She is the co-director of The People's Paper Co-op and the Philadelphia Reentry Think Tank, a project that connects returning citizens with artists, activists, and legislative experts to destroy stereotypes about returning citizens, connect them with organizations and individuals in power, and advocate for platforms that will help those in reentry succeed. At the core of her practice is the belief that those most impacted by systemic social issues are the experts society needs to listen to, and that by connecting those directly affected with a multitude of community experts and political stakeholders, change can happen on personal and systemic levels.
5. Romeeka Williams (ACG ’16): Romeeka is an organizer who is creating a collection of writing and poetry from workshops with youth within the Philadelphia prison system. Romeeka uplifts the voices of young people tried and incarcerated as adults by sharing where these young writers come from, how they got to this point in their lives, and what trauma they experienced that influenced their decisions. As a supervisor at the Youth Arts Self-empowerment Project, Romeeka talks to student groups about the school-to-prison pipeline and offers support for those returning from prison.
6. Emily Abendroth (ACG ’15): Emily is a poet, teacher and anti-prison activist. Her project, entitled LifeLines: Voices Against the Other Death Penalty, is a media/cultural project intended to inform and transform the nature of public discussions and understanding of Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentencing in Pennsylvania. Emily conducted written and audio interviews with people serving life in Pennsylvania, which she used to create a pamphlet that can serve as a tool to inform campaign strategy, educate, and generate dialogue with people across the state. Emily believes that successfully defeating LWOP will require a profound cultural shift as well as artistic collaborations that engage people on both sides of prison walls.
7. Rachel Zolf (ACG ’16): Rachel is a literary artist who developed and piloted an eight-week writing group with incarcerated women at the Federal Detention Center in downtown Philadelphia. The group, called FreeWrite, fostered creative expression, critical thinking and community building as the writers responded freely to writing prompts drawn from published poems, fiction, and memoirs by formerly incarcerated people and other writers. Rachel and her co-facilitator, Penn student Camara Brown, coordinated FreeWrite for a second ten-week session, and the group will start up again this fall.