Let’s Get Free is pushing off the new year with a flurry of heartfelt activity. Excitement is brewing because we have secured a date for our annual prison justice art fundraiser (October) and our dear friends from Philadelphia are coming to lead a training on self governance. That’s right! Reconstruction Inc. will be here the 3rd weekend of March to share their Capacity Building Curriculum, and you are invited!
We continue to confront laws and policies upholding Death by Incarceration sentences, with our participation in CADBI-West. We have been channeling love in the form of visits, letters, phone calls, books, financial and commutation application support to not just the women at Cambridge Springs but many people serving life sentences.
We are bursting with ideas and an overwhelming workload – perhaps you are ready to get more involved? Next meeting this Wednesday Feb 20th @ 6:30pm at the TMC Annex 5119 Penn ave! You coming?
Read on dear ones for news, updates and ways to participate.
Support Pittsburgh’s New Bail Fund!
The Bukit Bail Fund of Pittsburgh is doing its first set of BAILOUTS over the week of Valentine’s Day!
To celebrate this righteous return of people to their communities, you are invited to join on February 14, 2019 for a celebration of love and freedom with dinner, conversation, performances by radical artists, and more!
This secret café pop-up restaurant will begin serving dinner at 6:45, with a short menu made to satisfying all (vegans/carnivores/gf/nut free)
There is no cost for this event, though donation jars will be present for those who feel called to contribute.
~Why do we need a community bail fund in Pittsburgh?~
81% of inmates at ACJ have not been convicted of a crime. They are only being held because they cannot afford to post bail before their trial. Their freedom cannot wait. Black people and other People of Color end up behind bars more than anyone else — Black people get incarcerated at more than five times the rate of white people. People needlessly suffer and often even die in jail while waiting on their hearings, especially if they are POC, trans, disabled, or poor. In 2017, four people died at ACJ due to medical neglect, and historically such deaths occur within the first few days of someone’s arrival.
Join this new exciting group on this day of action in memory of Frank “Bukit” Smart, Jr. and everyone else who has lost their life to the neglect and active abuse of the ACJ. In solidarity with all their families, friends, and loved ones, let’s spread the #LoveBeyondBars!
For more info on Bukit’s story, please visit the Facebook page: Bukit Bail Fund
Call for Artists
Our 3rd annual prison justice art fundraiser is set for October of 2019. Calling all artists on both sides of the walls to create pieces on the theme – “Glow Home:
What does HOME look like? Feel like? A space? A state of mind? how do you glow there?
How would you draw, paint sculpt your dream home? If you are incarcerated, what are your hopes, dreams, fears about coming home?
So many of us had fun creating lamps and light boxes at last years show we wanted to extend that theme. Spruce up a lamp shade or string of lights.
Another angle is that of relationSHIPS. We believe relationships are really what makes coming home GLOW. Think of all the ships:) relationSHIP. friendSHIP, companionSHIP, hardSHIP, worSHIP, partnerSHIP, citizenSHIP, leaderSHIP -it is a fundraiser. People love ships. loveSHIPs.
Please submit your art by July 31 2019.
As always, we accept old art that wasn’t made specifically for this show. Additionally, if anyone is still inspired to make art out of letters from people in prison please do!
Do you know an incarcerated artist? Share their contact with us so we can send them the call to artists.
Questions, encouragement or need some letters from people in prison? Contact etta cetera: email@example.com – 443-603-6964
Capacity Building Curriculum
-a training for self governance and group sustainability-
March 23 & 24 (Saturday and Sunday)
Details to be decided: Save the Date!
Please join Reconstruction Inc. in collaboration with Let’s Get Free in a two day training & learning from the Capacity Building Curriculum.
Reconstruction Inc. is a grassroots organization based in Philadelphia whose purpose is to affect social change by forging individuals that were formerly incarcerated into an organized community of leaders working together to transform the criminal justice system, their communities and themselves. This curriculum has been developed over many years of direct implementation with groups in Philadelphia and recently at the State Correctional Institution-Muncy. It is important to note that the curriculum is not only for people impacted by the criminal injustice system, but for everyone.
Reconstruction Inc. believes that each human being is sacred and is valuable to themselves, their family, the community and to society. Each of us should be critical thinkers, good decision makers, and give principled leadership to our family and eventually change the world. This curriculum has three pillars, and is both interactive and transformative.
Please watch this new 18 minute documentary produced by Real Stories featuring women in prison at SCI-Muncy. It’s called Dying Outloud.
This film features Diane Metzger who passed away this month in prison. We send our deepest condolences out to her family both in and outside of prison. Diane was 69 years old at the time of her death. Her crime, not turning in her husband who killed his ex-wife, is explained in the video. In 1989 Diane received approval from the Board of Pardons for a commutation of her life sentence, but was then denied by Governor Bob Casey.
All women featured in the documentary did not commit the murders they are serving life sentences for. They were in the car, the other room, took a plea, etc. Below are two quotes by professionals attempting to understand why the system comes down harder on women than men. (Please pardon the binary)
“There is more tolerance for male violence than there is for female violence because female violence is so rare.” – Brian O’Neil, criminologist
“There is a long standing assumption that men commit crime because they are bad or in economic need. For women, the idea that women would commit a crime is a violation of their feminine nature … that they are deviant by virtue for violating a larger cultural norm about femininity.”
–Dr. Jill McCorkel, PHD
Ricky Olds founder of Let’s Get Free’s new program, The Real Deal on Reentry, spoke as a part of Law & Disorder panel at the Pittsburgh Racial Justice Summit on January 25, 2019. The Real Deal is a budding program supporting returning citizens. The program is organically occurring on the streets of downtown Pittsburgh, on buses across the city and through the prison walls. Ricky has been offering emotional and financial support for fellow returning citizens as well as to his brothers on the inside. To learn more about Ricky’s story
This Saturday members of the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration-West are hosting a break out session at this years Summit for Racial Justice.
Saturday January 26th
at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
616 N Highland Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206
Breakout session: 1 (10:25 am – 11:25 am)
Room: Long 204 (capacity 48)
From Prison to Freedom: Building Pathways Home
The Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI-West) invites you to join us in a workshop/skill share in supporting people transitioning home from prison. Topics covered include navigating homeplans, commutation applications, support letters, housing and employment on release. CADBI-West is comprised of returning citizens, family members of people in prison and community advocates.
There will be a brief panel then small group discussions to delve deeper into different areas of interest.
Carol Speaks – CADBI-West’s newly appointed community organizer shares overview of the work of Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration –
Alan Lewandowski – CABDI-West shares reflections on PA’s commutation process, one of the only pathways for peoples sentenced to death by incarceration to come home.
etta cetera Let’s Get Free shares tips on writing letters of support before people return home and help with commutation applications.
Ricky Olds from The Real Deal shares insights of returning home after 37 years.
Contact: ricky.olds[at]acd.ccac.edu Available for speaking engagements.
October 2nd – People’s Senate Vote! Rally in Harrisburg 11:30 AM Rotunda (check in for details coming from Pittsburgh on http://cadbiwest.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org October 20th – CADBI New Member Launch – Details To be Announced October 23rd – Avis Lee’s Hearing in Philadelphia – Many people in Pittsburgh will attend leaving both Monday night and Tuesday early morning.
Let’s Get Free is meeting regularly every other Wednesday at the Thomas Merton Center Annex. See sidebar for details or email email@example.com
Oral Argument for Avis Lee – Tuesday- October 23, 2018
The Pennsylvania Superior Court has scheduled en banc (meaning the full court, i.e. 9+ judges) oral argument in the case of Avis Lee for Tuesday, October 23rd at 9:30 a.m. at in Philadelphia, address: 17th Floor, 530 Walnut St.
The Court is sitting “en banc”, which means 9 or more judges, and when they are en banc they have super judicial powers and can overturn their existing precedent that prohibits 18+ Miller claims.
The issue in this case is whether Avis is permitted to challenge her mandatory life-without-parole sentence as excessive in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment due to her being only 18 years old at the time of the offense. Avis raised a claim that she had the same characteristics of youth and immaturity that the U.S. Supreme Court found relevant in striking down mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children younger than age 18 in Miller v. Alabama, then applied retroactively to older cases (like Avis’) in Montgomery v. Louisiana.
Art Gallery as an Organizing Tool
For the 2nd year in a row, Let’s GetFree has facilitated a collaborative art show in effort to raise funds for our basic needs like transportation, stamps, speakers fees and copies. Not only do we get filled up on funds and creative inspiration, we also take full advantage of the space through having weekly gallery hours and 3 events. The opening event and auction saw over 1,000 people come through the doors of Boom Concepts and almost all the art sold raising over $5,000. Etta Cetera, co-founder of Let’s GetFree and curator of Letters and Liberation, gave two tours to youth groups including, 1Hood Media’s summer interns and the Hazelwood Arts Excursion. One participant wants to help etta curate the show next year and many of the young people said they would donate art to future events. This years art show funded the Let’s GetFree retreat which took place on August 12. Overlooking Edinboro Lake we reflected, assessed and strategized. This years art show also helped to fund two new programs – The Real Deal a support group for returning citizens and Let‘s Get Smart – an initiative to build educational opportunities in prisons across PA.
THANK YOU SO MUCH TO ALL THE ARTISTS WHO DONATED ART, ALL THE VOLUNTEERS WHO SET UP, BROKE DOWN AND HELPED WITH EVENTS, ALL THE PEOPLE WHO BOUGHT ART, ALL THE ATTENDEES WHO SHARED THEIR WISDOM WITH US THROUGHOUT THE MONTH OF JULY AND TO BOOM CONCEPTS.
Below is the newsletter we will be sending to our loved ones on the inside, we send out about 350 newsletters mostly to women serving death by incarceration and our close friends and advisors. Let’s GetFree is:
Devon Cohen, Donna Hill, Alan & Nancy Lewandoski, Sara Coffey, Darlene Williams, Jess Cox, Lauren Stupartiz, Jane Hein, Carol Speaks, Josie Young, Cat Besterman and etta cetera [Lauren, Devon, etta, and Alan pictured on left at retreat.Photo by Nancy]
Get Out the Vote in the Midterm Elections
What can you do? Get out the VOTE in the midterm elections this November! Ask the candidates if they will support the lifer bills and vote for the candidate who will. In District 28 (Allegheny County) there is a very important race. The incumbent, MikeTurzai, is being challenged by Emily Skopov. Let’s GetFree has tried to meet with the incumbent to ask for his support of the lifer bill but he will not schedule a meeting. The incumbent is the speaker of the House so he has great power to appoint committee chairs and wield influence. His head of the house Judiciary committee does not support our cause. Let’s GetFree has met with Emily Skopov and she will support the lifer bill. She is committed to serving the interests of her constituents, not her financial backers. So please support Emily Skopov and other candidates who support reforms leading to redemption. Go to https://ballotpedia.org/Pennsylvania_elections,_2018 to find out who is running in your area.
Just as important as the midterm elections is next year’s election for DA in Allegheny County. Legislators tell us they will vote on the lifer bill as the District Attorneys tell them. Philadelphia County has a new DA who is committed to being smart on crime and reforming the system. All other PA counties need like minded DA’s. In Allegheny County the DA is up for reelection in 2019. Turahn Jenkins is running against the incumbent. Jenkins has the endorsement of LGF and CADBIwest. What can you do? Please support his campaign anyway you can and especially by telling your friends and family his name.Turahn Jenkins for DA!
If Fetterman wins LT. Governor, hold him to his word
On July 11 2018, Let’s GetFree hosted a Community Dialogue on Pardons and Parole. Panelists included CADBI members Robert Saleem Holbrook, Carol Speaks, Liz Guyer, Marcie Marra and Pittsburgh based politicians: John Fetterman, Ed Gainey, Sara Innamorato, Summer Lee. (Ed, Sara and Summer have already spoken in support of SB942 and HB135.
During the discussion the Democratic Candidate for Lt. Governor John Fetterman stated the following:
1.) He opposes the Unanimous Vote on the Board of Pardons for Lifers and believes it is a impossible burden for a Lifer.
2.) He supports Judges having Discretion when it comes to sentencing prisoners to Life, which is a tacit support of parole for lifers that we can use.
3.) He said he supports changes to the Board of Pardons
4.) He would consider presumptive parole for prisoners
The Real Deal on ReEntry – From B Block to the Streets
Contact: Ricky Olds
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Snailmail – The Let’s GetFree ATTN: THE REAL DEAL 460 Melwood #300 Pittsburgh, PA 15213
What is the Real Deal? The Real Deal is a support group, a discussion group, a problem sharing and a problem-solving group tackling the many issues that face people coming home from prison. The Real Deal is made up of Re-entrants, by Re-entrants and for Re-entrants.
Who is it for? Initially, we are focusing on returning juvenile lifers and longer term returning citizens, however, we foresee quickly expanding to include all formally incarcerated individuals, men as well as women. We also hope to include spouses, children, and family members of returning citizens. Any persons integral to the support and long term success of the returning citizens. We also encourage spouses and family members of those yet to be released to attend. So they might better understand the challenges their loved ones will be facing upon release. This will create a network of support, a network made up entirely of people in the same or similar circumstances. In many cases, a strong network can make all the difference.
Speak it into Existence: Our dream is to build a solid network supporting people coming home. We hope to create strong lines of communication through the walls sharing our meeting minutes, what we have learned, discovered and created, with those still incarcerated. Any questions, comments or concerns coming from the inside can be addressed and forwarded at the next meeting with the goal being a smooth and seamless return home for all. We also plan to develop a Website and eventually simulcast our meetings to those unable to attend physically. We would like a presence on all relevant social media so that the community at large can see who these Re-entrants are and recognize the talent, skills and knowledge represented by many of our returning citizens.
Connect with the Real Deal: Anyone wanting to participate or knowing of someone who may benefit or have some skill or expertise they may want to share, please contact us at the following: The Real Deal – email@example.com Ricky Olds – Coordinator – 412-503-2319
After attending my second merit review session with the Board of Pardons I wanted to find out what factors in determining a decision to vote for or against a public hearing for lifers besides the application’s contents. Secretary Wetzel interviews each applicant before the merit review and after the staffing. He reads the staffing reports. Many of us feel that if you get Wetzel’s approval that should at least translate to a yes vote by the DOC’s BOP representative. That is not the case. The battery of tests taken also likely influences their decision.
If Lt. Governor Stack embraces second chances and votes no, how does he get to that judgment?
I learned that once a commutation application is officially filed with the BOP, the application is shared with the committing county’s DA, judge or president judge, victims and possibly the magisterial district. This information is found on page 6 in the Pathways to Pardons booklet.
I am starting to believe that it is necessary that family members and supporters of a commutation applicant reach out and have a conversation with the DA and president judge before the merit review. At that time stress the applicant’s humanity and emphasize the support you are willing to give.
Recently an applicant was denied commutation after a public hearing even with the victim’s family support. The committing county’s DA opposed it. Would it have helped if the victim’s family in this case had a conversation with the DA before the merit review and the public hearing? (I don’t know which member of the BOP voted yes to move on to the public hearing. This information would help to analyze the outcome; three members voted yes for the public hearing.) On one hand the DA’s MO is to protect the victims. But what happens when the victim’s don’t want the DA’s protection?! Who does the DA work for? Did the DA influence the AG and corrections expert who voted no at the public hearing? Interestingly, the DA and corrections expert are from the same county-Bucks.
This is a very frustrating process especially since we know so much about the nearly non-existence in reoffending by life sentenced people. The reality of commutation for lifers in PA is dark and complicated but to not apply is not only giving up hope, it keeps the system in place. By putting your life story out there and facing the consequences it is only then that we on the outside can push to dismantle it thereby improving the outcomes-possible. Always file for reconsideration.
Let’s GetFree continues to share Commutation Kits – A resource for people in PA applying for commutation. The Kit includes a sample application, tips for writing your application and tips for your loved ones to write a support letter for you.
Operation Break Bread Update
We are celebrating a year of growing connections and building friendships with our project Operation Break Bread, which started the summer of 2017 and grew out of last years art show. With this initiative we’ve organized people in Pittsburgh to visit people serving life at SCI Cambridge Springs, the closest women’s prison to Pittsburgh. For the last year, there have been visits organized at least once every other month, with over 20 people visiting and 20 people receiving visits. We recently organized two prison visit trainings to invite more people to participate and learn the ways to create connections with folks on the inside across the concrete and communication barriers.
If you or someone you know who is serving life at SCI Cambridge Springs would like a visit, reach out to us at: Let’s GetFree 460 Melwood Ave #300 – Pittsburgh, PA 15213 – Please keep in mind we can’t promise a visit and we are very slow to respond but as always we will do our best!
I see her walking out of prison
by Alan Lewondowski
The song is from a daydream I had over breakfast about my friend Marsha Scaggs, currently serving Life Without Parole at SCI Cambridge Springs, PA.
The women sentenced to life at SCI Cambridge Springs and SCI Muncy are some of the best and sweetest people I’ve ever met. They are care giving individuals who act as mentors, teachers and role models to the younger folks with lesser sentences who come through the prison. They have long ago been re-habilitated and transformed into incredible human beings. They do not belong in prison and their being held there until they die constitutes a Human Rights disaster. We make the laws. Let‘s fix these broken ones.
This song is my vision of Marsha coming home. Let it be soon!
I See Her Walking Out Of Prison
Locked away in a foreign land
Still paying for a mistake from her distant past
Doing way too much time
For tip-toeing over the line once upon a time
She turned into a saint just to survive
She’s a teacher by trade. I know justice is blind
But it doesn’t have to be stupid every time
I see her walking out of prison
I see a door opening
She’s working and waiting
It’s a moment we’ve been hoping to see
Now someone on the inside’s saying
Maybe this means something good’s gonna happen to me
Now she’s on the outside, reaching back, getting sisters free
I see her re-uniting families
I see her walking out of prison
It’s like a day breaking
Or the long-awaited peace
Of night waking
The mother of stone they buried her in is giving birth
Saying “Go on home. You belong to all of Mother Earth”
And now I see her walking
Walking, walking, walking, walking
I see her walking out of prison
I know one day she’ll walk free
From this cage of entropy
I see her walking out of prison
Ghani shares 5 lessons applicable to humanity learned by Geese. He shared this at the end of a workshop entitled “Peace, Forgiveness and Ubuntu” which happened on July 21, 2018 in Pittsburgh, PA as part of the Letters & Liberation Art Show at Boom Concepts.
Let’s Get Free, The Women & Trans Prisoner Defense Committee, teams up with Boom Concepts for the 2nd year in a row displaying a new exhibit called Letters and Liberation.
Over 40 artists from both sides of the prison walls have submitted provocative pieces utilizing ceramics, photography, textiles, silk screen, collage, stained glass, drawing, etc. There are close to 100 pieces of art up for auction benefiting the work of this local prison advocacy group. The opening and auction will take place on July 6 from 6 – 10pm with the auction closing at 9pm. The show will stay up through July 29th with gallery hours on Saturdays from 12 – 4pm.
Letters are an everyday part of being in prison or having a loved one incarcerated. Letters are instrumental in organizing for justice with people in prison. Letters are conduits for relationships. Letters can be the only tangible thread connecting people to their loved ones. And if you don’t throw those letters away for 18 years, you can collect quite a few. Inspiration for this show came when etta cetera, co-founder of Let’s Get Free, was searching for a creative way to release the hundreds and hundreds of letters she has amassed over years of maintaining friendships with people in prison and organizing for justice in the prisons. “I didn’t want to just throw them away. I like the idea of transforming them into art and letting that energy go.”
Not all of the art is made from letters. Some of the art is inspired by reading letters. Paula Levin created a ceramic bowl after reading a letter by Khalifa Diggs. The bowl is glazed on the outside weaving Khalifa’s words with prison bars, “I have seen the ancestors and I have got to get to….where?” Khalifa passed away last December after spending close to 40 years in prison. This is why people call life sentences in PA death sentences. People are dying. Let’s Get Free is one of the founding groups of the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration West (CADBIWest). Part of the proceeds from last year’s benefit went to pay for traveling expenses for many members to attend CADBI’s statewide rallies, meetings with lawmakers, the juvenile lifer day at Muncy prison, hearings for juvenile lifers, and statewide strategy meetings.
Making Connections Between Border Walls and Prison Walls
The youngest participants to submit art created out of letters are Shayla (age 13) and Luz (age 10), the daughters of MartÍn Esquivel- Hernandez. On May 1st, 2016 MartÍn Esquivel-Hernandez led the annual Mayday March for Workers and Immigrant Rights in Pittsburgh. He held a large banner with his wife that read, “Not One More Deportation.” On May 2nd, 2016, MartÍn was taken by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) at 6am in front of his family. They have not seen or hugged him since. Martin wrote this letter while he was detained for 9 months before being deported, and addressed it to ICE. His daughters Shayla and Luz redacted the letter by blocking out many words to create a new letter addressed to anyone in positions of power to stop separating families.
Shayla is tired of phone calls being the only way to be with her father. Luz barely remembers what he looks like. His wife, Alma, hasn’t seen him in over 2 years. And Alex, MartÍn’s youngest son (age 6), talks about him everyday. There is no hope for his return to the US, and his wife and children cannot visit him in Mexico. Cases like this are happening everyday, in Pittsburgh, nationwide, and worldwide. Families are being destroyed and separated. Parents are being forced to go to sleep, forever apart and without their children and families. Children are growing up in torn-apart families, surrounded by trauma. This isn’t right. Another world is possible.
Have you ever thought about how militarized borders create open air prisons? In addition to Shayla and Luz’s letter, which demonstrates the similarities between the struggles of family members separated by prison walls and border walls, there are quite a few artists represented from México. We are thrilled to exhibit two Puebla City artists, Esmeralda Juarez and Oscar Garcia, who both designed unique linoleum cuts especially for this show. More linoleum cuts from Andrea Narno and Grabiel of the radical print shop Escuela de Cultura Popular Martires del 68 in México City. This community art space was born out of the student uprisings in 68. Lastly, from México we will feature a portrait of Mumia Abu-Jamal by Zamer, who created art in honor of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s birthday, which was celebrated in April across the world and in México City! Free Mumia!
Artists on the Inside
From Muncy prison, Amanda Hein sent a very detailed embroidery of a typewriter reading the words, “I’m writing home to tell you.” From Graterford prison, Bruce Bainbridge sent a small table with four chairs made out of brightly colored popsicle sticks. He has called this piece Let’s Have a Conversation. From Fayette Prison Todd “Hyung-Rae” Tarselli has submitted a captivating portrait of Malcolm X. In different shades of pencil, Malcolm’s face is constructed with words like “sister, community, love, strength, change, movement.”
James “Ya Ya” Hough has only one year left of his juvenile life sentence. He is returning to Pittsburgh in 2019 and hopes to pursue a career as an artist. The piece he submitted is a mixed-media painting which incorporates a peach pit. Let’s Get Free is so excited to showcase his work and we can’t wait to welcome him home.
Members of Let’s Get Free met Donna Martorano and Marsha Scaggs last summer on the first group visit to the Cambridge Springs prison. Marsha and her roomate Rachel submitted two charming tiny cross stitches one reading “Live, Love, Laugh” and the other reading “Let’s Get Free”. Donna submitted 5 pieces including two large landscape paintings and two portraits of Janet Africa, one in pencil and one in charcoal. Janet Africa is a member of the Move organization and has been in prison since the 80s. The MOVE Organizationis a group of mostly black, freedom- and nature- loving activists who were living in Philadelphia from the early 1970s to early 80s. The Philadelphia police department dropped a bomb on their house from a helicopter on May 13, 1985, silencing their central figure, John Africa. Did you know that Pennsylvania incarcerates the country’s most political prisoners?
Local Artists Create for the Cause
Kiln TenderCeramics has created a limited edition of cast ceramic prison abolitionist medallions inspired by 18th century coins made by abolitionists of slavery. Larger than a silver dollar, these ceramic pieces fit in the palm of your hand with one side reading “ Until we all are free” with hands breaking out of chains, while the other side features 3 famous abolitionists of past and present – Harriet Tubman, Angela Davis, and Patrisse Kahn-Cullors.
Jenn Gooch has created a weaving that stretches 10 feet wide utilizing over 30 letters from prisoners. While working on the piece that spells out “REDEMPTION,” Jenn posted on instagram, “ Tragic weft. Weaving with strips of letters from prisoners for @womeninprison‘s upcoming show. The heaviest thing I’ve ever woven. The weight of these words, and their sound—it’s crushing and deafening, yet paper-thin.”
Sue Abramson who used the letters from prisoners as negatives. Placing the letter in its entirety directly onto photo paper reveals compelling black and white scribblings that almost look like a new language.
Lataya Johnson, an artist from McKeesport, contributed a hanging lantern made completely with letters.
Juliette Angotti, a french photographer living in Delaware, corresponded with 5 people incarcerated in Pennsylvania and asked them three questions:
If you were a photographer or had access to a camera, what would you photograph?
What images define liberation for you?
What do you miss most from outside of prison?
They responded and Juliette took photos based on those replies. 5 photographs from this series and responses from the people incarcerated will be on display.
Lifelines is a Philadelphia based media/cultural project conducted in extensive, long-term collaboration with eight people serving Life Sentences Without Parole or Death By Incarceration sentences in Pennsylvania. Lifelines created an exhibit called How Are We Free. This visual art exhibit that explores the nature of freedom and confinement through creative collaboration between people who have been sentenced to die in prison and visual artists outside the prison walls. Lifelines is lending the exhibit several pieces to display in Pittsburgh!
Last year’s art fundraiser entitled Contraband was SO SUCCESSFUL! Over 100 pieces of art sold and $5,000 was raised. A new program called Operation Break Bread was launched connecting people in Pittsburgh with women and trans prisoners incarcerated at Cambridge Springs Prison. Cambridge Springs is 2 hours north of Pittsburgh. Since the first visit last June 24 Pittsburghers were linked with different people serving time. You can read some of the visiting chronicles onLet’s Get Free’s instagram page. Scroll down to see the visit pics- most have a reddish background. You will be able to sign up to visit women at Cambridge Springs at the art opening.
Let’s Get Free is hoping to raise another $5,000 to support our work for the next year! Please come out on July 6th from 6 – 10 pm. Auction closes at 9pm. The show will be up the whole month of July with gallery hours on Saturdays from 12 – 4pm.
Overflowing gratitude to Boom Concepts for being such a gracious host and Justseeds the radical artist cooperative headquartered in Pittsburgh, who for the 2nd year in a row has made a generous donation to this cause. Thank you to all the ARTISTS for the time, thought and care you put into submissions!!
Artists from Prison in the so-called US: Marsha Scaggs, Rachel, Amanda Hein, James Yaya Hough, Todd “Hyung-Rae” Tarselli , Cuong Tran, Avis Lee, Duane Montney, Ajamu O. Iyapo, Leonard Jefferson, Bruce Bainbridge, Donna Martorano, Cinque Michael Upchurch, Andre Coltom
The Latin sign for #50 is the letter L. To “take an L” is to suffer defeat: a loss, though, since this is borrowed from sports metaphors, continuing the fight is implied. “Half-a-man” is prison parlance for 50, too. Under the circumstances, this metaphor is woefully inadequate & apt at the same time.
On April 9th, Judge Lawrence J. O’Toole – a man who once battled a DA over lying when representing a man on death row – imposed 50 years-to-life upon me for killing my best friend. I was neither shocked nor in disbelief that the number was so abominably high. Four total days of hearings, 10 postponements, & quite literally EVERYTHING done to weaken my mitigation case, had already winnowed the faint hope I had for Justice down to nothing. The ADA really was seeking LWOP, uniquely & specifically for me, but for once, my attorney’s facility with keeping me out of the informational loop paid off. The second I said I had never received notice, per BATTS II, LWOP was impossible. The ADA & team scrambled to find proof she’d sent me a letter. All she could muster was evidence she’d alerted my lawyer, which wasn’t the law. Yeah. The hearing was like THAT.
Without editorial, here are the broad points. Day 1: 2/2/18 – Emotional testimony by 3 friends & 2 PADOC sergeants. One friend was told she was testifying just 48 hours before. The sergeants were told the Thursday week prior. No one was prepped & testimony spun out after only a few minutes, w/o meaningful questioning by my counsel. Cross-exam was a harbinger of things to come, as the ADA tried to establish that my friends weren’t “real” friends & that everything they knew about me came from me. And I am a liar.
Join us for a free screening of Prison in 12 Landscapes on Wednesday April 18 at 6pm at the Melwood Screening Room – 477 Melwood Ave.
Following the film showing, there will be a Q&A with the film’s director, who will be joined by members of Let’s Get Free and Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration.
Immediately after the film showing and across the street, there will be a dance party where the fundraising for Let’s Get Free will continue. Join us for one or both events! Food and drinks will be available for sale at the dance party benefit.
Save the Date! Criminal Justice Candidate Forum, May 7
We are very excited to be participating in a criminal justice system focused Candidate Forum in advance of the PA state legislature primary on May 15. Please join us, especially if you live in one of the four districts that will be represented, to ensure that the critical issues facing our communities are acknowledged and addressed by our legislative representatives-to-be!
We are seeking collaborators for Let’s Get Free’s next fundraiser. Letters and Liberation will show in July 2018 at Boom Concepts in Pittsburgh. We are seeking artists of any ilk to throw down for our cause. Last year’s Contrabandfundraiser was SO SUCCESSFUL! We sold over 100 pieces of art!!
Last year we raised $5,000. With that money we have:
launched a new program called Operation Break Bread. This program connects people in Pittsburgh with women and trans prisoners incarcerated at Cambridge Springs Prison. Cambridge Springs is 2 hours north of Pittsburgh. Since our first visit last June we linked 24 Pittsburghers with different people serving time. We try to go up at least once a month. You can read some of the visiting chronicles on our instagram page. Scroll down to see the visit pics most have a reddish background. The gas for these trips came from the Contraband Art Show! Thank you art buyers and auction participants!!
been able to attend the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration’s statewide rallies, meetings with lawmakers, the juvenile lifer day at Muncy prison, hearings for ghani and saleem – two of our friends – ghani is home and saleem will be home SOON!! AND some us are heading to the statewide strategy meeting on Feb.3 in Philadelphia. That is a lot of gas, van rentals and tolls!! Thank you artists, especially Todd “Hyung-Rae” Tarselli and Justseeds!!
let’s get free was a primary contributor to CADBI West’s recent panel at the Summit Against Racism. 4 of the participants, Paulette Carrington, Yusef Jones, Troy David and Sharif Boyd all received substantial speakers’ fees and meals throughout the weekend. All because of our last fundraiser! Thanks Boom Concepts for being such a gracious host!! You can see a video of the panel HERE
You can see we use your energy, creative expressions and financial gifts wisely. We have tried in the past for grants and never been successful. We don’t need a lot. Just a little to really boost our work. So the ask:
Deadline for Submissions: April 1, 2018
Mail artwork to: Letters and Liberation c/o Lets Get Free, 460 Melwood Ave. #300 Pittsburgh, PA 15213- Please include title of piece and how you want to be recognized.
Format: Any medium welcome. Painting, Sculpture, Knitting, Cross stitch, paper mache, drawing, poem, collage, origami, your medium of choice. Be encouraged to re- purpose letters that were sent to or from prison. Use an old letter as the base for a painting or drawing. Use letters to make paper mache. Use letters to make a paper cut or stencil. OR DON’T. Make what you make. It can be inspired by the theme or not. Also we would love any old artwork donations even if it doesn’t fit the theme.
Theme or Concept: If you need some inspiration consider this: Can your artwork answer the sentence? Liberation is….
Do you want to collaborate with us? We are up for it!
We have sent the call to over 100 people in PA prisons. If you know any incarcerated artists send their name DOC # and address and we will send them the details. If you are not incarcerated and would like some letters to work with contact etta – 443-603-6964
Artists who want letters: i am going out of town from March 5th to May 18. If you want letters before then please connect with me in February. I have thought about confidentiality of the letter writers. We can talk about that if you are interested in participating.
Thank you so much!!
Lets Get Free (if you are interested in volunteering we always need help)