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We are excited to announce, in collaboration with Princeton's Office of Religious Life (ORL), SPEAR's 5th annual conference Shadows of the Prison. Generously cosponsored by Princeton University's Campus Conversations on Identity.

The conference will take place April 13-14, 2018 at Princeton University.

Shadows of the Prison:

[ʃædoʊz əv ðə prɪzn], noun.

1. lesser-seen, under-discussed features of the criminal (in)justice system which impact human lives through the pervasion of carceral logics - punishment, supervision, violence, and control - beyond the prison's walls and deep into "free" society. The prison's shadows fall on individuals, families, and communities alike; they are cast differently based on identity and location. Illuminating these shadows more fully reveals the carceral state, which cannot be wholly dismantled if it is not wholly understood.


As the phenomenon of mass incarceration becomes increasingly acknowledged among the American public, popular discourse tends to focus exclusively on the 2.3 million people confined in prisons and jails - erasing the tens of millions more who are impacted in non-caged ways by the carceral state. The prison's shadows have expanded along with its formal counterpart, reaching into the lives of millions of non-incarcerated but heavily-impacted people. Americans are jailed an estimated 10.6 million times each year. Nearly five million people are on parole and probation. Millions of Americans live under the burden of a past conviction, their access to employment, education, housing, and social services severely curtailed. Children are intimately impacted by the incarceration of parents. Communities of color are devastated by abusive policing, urban divestment, and the theft of young people from their homes, schools, and jobs. The prison state increasingly intersects with immigration, environment, and religious discrimination.

At Shadows of the Prison, participants and speakers will seek to shine a light on these shadows. Through sustained scrutiny of policing, parole and probation, incarceration’s impact on families, and the wide dissemination of carceral logics into society, we will develop a sharper understanding of how these often overlooked aspects of the prison state perpetuate harm.

Registration is available here for university students, here for Princeton students, and here for community members. All meals will be provided at the conference, and the schedule can be found below. We hope you'll join us!

Friday, April 13th

1:30pm - 4:00pm registration (Lobby of the princeton University art museum)

4:30pm: keynote address (McCosh 50)

Women in Chains: The Over-Incarceration of Women, Susan Burton

In Susan Burton's award-winning memoir, Becoming Ms. Burton, we follow one woman's journey through systemically missed opportunities to provide resources; instead, she was shoved into the conditions of cages and chains. Burton's story is not unique, but a glimpse into the travesty of what we now know - women, primarily women of color, are the fastest growing incarcerated population. As a Subject Matter Expert, Burton connects the dots to create a powerful portrait illustrating the harm and trauma which mass incarceration has inflicted on communities of color - especially women. 

8:00pm, performance (Mccosh 50)

Poetry Reading, Poetry Ambassadors from Free Minds Book Club

Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop uses books, creative writing, and a peer support system to awaken DC youth incarcerated as adults to their own potential. Through creative expression, job readiness training, and violence prevention outreach, these young poets achieve their education and career goals and become powerful voices for change in the community. Since its inception in 2002, Free Minds has reached over 1,000 youth through their continuum of services. Free Minds is the only organization working with these youths throughout their entire incarceration and when they return home. Free Minds will be performing a selection of poetry.

Saturday, April 14th

8:30am: opening plenary (mccosh 50)

What About the Families? The Invisible Consequences of Mass Incarceration, Breea Willingham

This lecture will examine mass incarceration through the prism of pain that prison life brings to the families of the incarcerated. They are the mothers who cry for their sons and daughters and wonder what they could have done to protect them. They are the siblings who have to bond with their sisters and brothers through prison walls. They are the children who grow up without their parents. Families of the incarcerated are part of the tragic societal ramifications and collateral consequences of warehousing so many people in our nation’s prisons. Using my personal experiences as a sister and aunt of two men serving life sentences, I will interrogate the meaning of the painful void felt in the lives of families like mine who also do hard time and offer suggestions to help them navigate a system that has rendered them invisible.

9:45am: Panel 1 (mccosh 50)

Carceral Logics, Carceral Shadows, Talila Lewis, Nyle Fort, and Sahar Aziz

How do shadows of the prison extend across America depending on place and identity? The goal of this panel is to illuminate the breadth and intersections of the dissemination of carceral logics into society. To that end, this panel brings together experts to talk about their research and organizing experience in different communities, exploring how carceral logics manifest at the intersections of race, class, and disability, in black and urban communities, and for people of stigmatized faiths, particularly Muslims and Sikhs. This panel explores how the carceral state reaches into various communities, illuminating the dynamics of carceral logics' dissemination into society through broad and intersecting channels - revealing how deeply these 'shadows of the prison' extend.

11:15am: Panel 2 (mccosh 50)

Parole & Probation: Punishment Beyond the Prison, Keesha Middlemass, Olinda Moyd, and Reuben Miller

Parole and probation are features of the criminal justice system that ensnare nearly 5 million people at any given time, yet are rarely discussed in conversations about the criminal justice system. What are parole and probation, and how do they fit within the carceral state and especially reentry? How do they impact people's lives, and how do they employ carceral logics of punishment, discipline, and supervision to act as shadows of the prison? Is there hope for reforming parole and probation? This panel seeks to shine the light on a particularly nefarious shadow of the prison, vastly widening the scope of what we consider the carceral state.

1:30pm: Workshops (east pyne hall)

Combatting the Shadows

Workshop sessions feature organizers and activists doing on-the-ground work, and provide an interactive opportunity for participants to ask questions and learn more about the work of activists who are confronting the many shadows of the prison. The following workshops will be offered (more coming soon):

A) “Earth Liberation Not Mass Incarceration”: Building Momentum at the Intersections of Abolition and the Environment

For the past three years the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons (FTP) has worked to build grassroots resistance at the intersections of the radical environmental, environmental justice, and abolitionist movements. FTP has grown to a national collective and network composed of radical environmentalists, environmental justice activists, abolitionists, anarchists, communists, lawyers, academics, journalists, former and current prisoners, and their loved ones. This momentum has manifested through our work with local organizers at the Letcher Governance Project in Kentucky where we’ve stalled construction of the only proposed Federal prison for over 2 years; working with incarcerated organizers and IWOC we organized outside solidarity for the #OperationPUSH Florida prison strikes; and our allies are contributing to growing awareness, action, and skillsharing across the nation!

This workshop explores the unique and often overlooked environmental dimensions of prisons and will provide participants with:

  • Analytical tools for understanding and critiquing prisons from an environmental angle;
  • An exploration of strategy and tactics used on the inside and outside to resist new-prison construction and alleviate and end hazardous health conditions within prisons;
  • And reflections on building and sustaining national cross-movement solidarity.

B) Bail Reform: Critical Decarceration Effort or Rise of a New Surveillance State (or both)? with Alex Shalom.

In the beginning of 2017, New Jersey undertook an aggressive effort to transform its system of pretrial release and detention. The new system, which relies on perceptions of risk rather than determinations of resources, has been widely hailed by civil rights advocates. And New Jersey jails have seen significant reductions in the number of people incarcerated pretrial. In this workshop we will examine how well has it actually been working and whether it merely replaces one form of control with another. We will also explore lessons that New Jersey's efforts hold for other states seeking to confront the pretrial mass incarceration crisis.

C) Peacemaking Circles:  Toward a New Vision of Justice and Community, with Mika Daschman

Join us for an experiential workshop introducing participants to the power of the Peacemaking Circle, a restorative justice process. Restorative justice is a set of principles and practices that emphasize healing, accountability for harmful acts, self-determination, and interconnection. Restorative justice has a range of applications in the criminal legal system and beyond. In the U.S., it's playing a critical role in dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline and challenging the punishment paradigm.

Our ancestors gathered in circles, sometimes around a fire or a communal table, to strengthen their bonds, provide mutual support and to resolve disputes.  Indigenous tribes of North America convened Talking Circles in which a talking piece was passed around to ensure that everyone had the opportunity to participate. The Circle can foster group dialogue in many different settings, and it's an ideal tool for activists.

Learning Objectives:

Participants will learn the basic structure and principles of the Circle including the purpose of the talking piece, the power of storytelling and speaking from the heart. Participants will gain an understanding of the importance of creating safe spaces for open and honest dialogue within any movement for social change.

D) Prison to Princeton: From Witnessing Injustice to Advocating for Change, with Erich Kussman

Erich spent 12 years in the NJ State prison system, and currently serves as the chaplain at Community Access Unlimited in Elizabeth, NJ. He is also a Vicar in the ELCA, and a student at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is a devoted father and husband, and  desires to be the change he wishes to see in the worldCome hear a first hand account on what goes on within the carceral system within the state of NJ and steps being taking to change the punitive culture that devastates so many lives.

E) The Impact of Expanding Immigrant Detention on Immigrant and Non-Immigrant Communities in New Jersey, with Serges Demefack and Matthew Boaz

Under the current Administration, the detention of immigrants has greatly expanded. The discretion and prosecutorial priorities that had been used by prior Administrations no longer apply. Currently, anyone without immigration status can be detained and put into removal proceedings. This workshop session: (1) explains how immigrants are detained, (2) describes the conditions and legal rationale for immigration detention, (3)  discusses the impact of detention on New Jersey residents and families, and (4) provides strategies to work against this system that has sharply increased in size over the past year.  

    3:00pm: performance Talk-Back (Mccosh 50)

    The Jumpsuit Project, Sherrill Roland

    In The Jumpsuit Project, Sherrill Roland's ongoing performance work, the artist seeks to challenge and further discussions around mass incarceration. While a graduate student, Roland was wrongfully convicted and spent over ten months in prison. Although eventually exonerated, his experiences with the justice system had a lasting effect on both his life and his artistic practice. During the performance Roland will wear an orange jumpsuit—a reminder of his prison uniform—and invite visitors into his "cell," a space that is roughly the size of his cell in prison. Visitors are encouraged to engage in conversation with Roland during the course of his performance.

    4:00Pm: Panel 3 (Mccosh 50)

    Agents of the Shadows: Police, Violence, and Control, Alex Vitale, Cobe Williams, and Eugene Puryear

    Policing is one of the largest and most oppressive complements to the prison. While police brutality and killings have become increasingly documented and publicized, essential questions remain of whether there is hope for police reform, and what the true purpose of policing is. How does policing act as a shadow of the prison, even when it does not lead to an arrest and conviction? In other words, how does policing impact the lives of people just through the presence and impact of police alone? What are the most effective police alternatives, police reforms, or police abolitionist strategies? This panel brings together experts and activists on policing to more fully grasp the true problems with policing, and what can be and is being done about it.

    5:45pm closing plenary (Mccosh 50)

    Priests, Prophets, and Panthers: Hope for the Shadows, Teresa Smallwood

    Modernity’s panopticon – the surveilling eye – presents itself in the post-modern context as the protracted, super-masculine power of the nation-state spiraling out of control. Proliferating and propagating fiction versus truth, the nation-state of post-modernity manufactures social control through selective truth. America’s criminal justice system evolved from this frame. Its prophecy is bondage. Its historical genealogy suggests, in the words of Stuart Hall, “what is at issue here is the foundation of truth that science has performed within modern cultural systems from the eighteenth century onward.” That foundation pushes human beings into the shadows of existence. For example, the rate of incarceration produced by the American criminal justice system far exceeds that of any other nation. Mass incarceration therefore, signifies the complex nature of existence for the incarcerated well beyond the period of incarceration. The formerly incarcerated, their families, and communities experience any period of incarceration as a literal life sentence; severely impoverished, politically disenfranchised, and reduced to perpetual existential crisis.  Who challenges the false prophecy of a carceral nation-state? What interventions must be employed to foster liberation for those condemned by a nation-state obsessed with itself and oblivious to the common interest of the people? The priests, the prophets, and the panthers; those who listen to the voices of the marginalized; those who are attentive to the cry of the children; those who will not be silent in the face of multiple sites of suffering at the hands of the carceral nation-state envision, articulate, and codify hope for the shadows.