Activists Complete 150 mile March to Thomson Prison
by Buddy Bell - Creative Voices for Non-Violence
In late May and early June, Chicago group Voices for Creative Nonviolence held a 150-mile walk against indefinite detention, solitary confinement, and the racist U.S. prison system. For two weeks, a group of 20 justice seekers walked across the state of Illinois from east to west, interacting with hundreds of passers-by, carrying placards to give a momentary reminder to thousands of motorists, and holding public face-to-face discussions at churches and libraries. They began on May 28 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago and then walked through Chicago’s west side, the western suburbs, on to DeKalb and the rural northwest part of the state.
The march swelled to 35 by the last day, June 11. When the walkers arrived in the small town center of rural Thomson, IL, they noticed that 18 police cars were staged in this town of 600 residents. Carrying placards saying "Education Not Incarceration" and "Hospitals Not Prisons", the activists continued walking the final mile up to the Administrative U.S. Penitentiary, Thomson, which is expected to open in 2017.
The word “administrative” is a euphemism for a facility which consists entirely of isolation cells, in this case 1,900 of them, according to the watchdog organization Solitary Watch. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons would try to fill these cells by taking prisoners from other prisons to bring them to Illinois, a state where activists have spent decades furthering a general awareness of solitary confinement. The general disgust with solitary confinement in Illinois recently forced the state assembly to consider a House Bill 5417, legislation that requires a documented reason for putting any prisoner in isolation confinement and which limits the duration of such confinement to not more than 5 days.
The walkers admonished the U.S. government for not releasing the remaining prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, who for 14 years have not been charged with any crime. It is thought that Thomson prison may still be part of a murky and politically expeditious plan to avoid releasing these detainees by simply moving them around. Similar to having people wait years and years without a speedy trial in Cook County jail, indefinite detention without charge or trial is a government crime, the brunt of which falls on poor people and on people of color, especially Black people, who on the national level in 2008 were 6 times more likely to go to prison than white people, according to the NAACP.
The walk to Thomson prison is a recently woven row in the vast tapestry of work being done to challenge the prison system. The more work that can be done to engage people on the issue of mass imprisonment, the better. Facilitating dialogue and sparking people’s imaginations can eventually lead to a diversion of public resources away from building prisons and into alternatives that help to build a healthier society.
In the Absence of Peace
by Sabia Rigby
“later that night-Warsan Shire
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
Do you believe that there are children as young as ten who think and learn about nonviolence and desire to shelter you from the grief and suffering of war…in Afghanistan?
Come hear the stories of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. They understand that they may never see the end of war; they tell me that they do not believe that there can be peace or that they believe in peace, since they have never lived without war.
Then why do this great and arduous work? Their answer, “We have not lost hope.” Later that afternoon, I was relating these conversations to Hakim, who has had countless conversations about this, he shared the question he asked the group, “…then what should we do, how should we conduct our lives in the absence of peace?”
The Borderfree Center is their answer of hope in action. A safe haven of twenty teams involved in permaculture, trainings on leadership, volunteerism, Dari, math, classes about green spaces, sustainability and how to care for the earth, equity and equality between people and nations, and nonviolence concepts, practices and influential people of nonviolent movements. The facilitators are as young as 13 years old, and yes, she is a girl, Muqadisa.
I sit here in Kabul at the Borderfree Center reminding myself to breathe and blink. I am in awe.
Zuhal shows a PowerPoint of photo after photo: famine, mutated humans, drone attacks and nuclear bombs and the shape they leave on human bodies, lives and the earth. She stops, stutters and cries in front of the group. Zuhal was affected by the Kunduz Hospital attack. There is not a human in the room outside of me that has not been affected by war.
The APVs know that the past is not easily brushed away like the naan (bread) crumbs after every meal. It is the ingredient that connects us to each other and to the planet. The more we try to separate ourselves from the past the more the past conspires to bring us back to each other. They are using the past as a teacher and a guide to lead lives that cultivate and benefit the earth and all living beings.
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