Events in 2020
In February we hosted Leap into Freedom at the Babyland Print Shop. This event was a hand made card making party to send art to our friends on the inside. Happen to coincided near leap day! We sent over 250 postcards with sweet message to people in prison.
Events in 2019
October 4, 2019 marked the opening of our 3rd annual month long event series. This years show was called Glow Home: Illuminating Relationships. Over 60 artists from both sides of the prison walls submitted provocative pieces utilizing ceramics, photography, textiles, bead work, silk screen, collage, stained glass, digital drawing, water colors etc.
In addition to the art show we hosted a workshop led by Ghani Kempis Songster which explored the intersections between environmental degradation and prisons. Ghani really brought home the idea that prisons as they are now are a public health issue and he showed us this video, a time lapse of a prison being built which he watched from his own cell while he was still in prison. (not this exact prison but one similar)
We also brought Naomi Blount here to speak. Naomi is just the 2nd woman to be commuted from a life sentence in almost 30 years. It was so special to have here in Pittsburgh just 3 months after her release to share her story.
Serendipitously, Anqwenique Wingfield, a BOOM collective member and fine fine fine jazz and opera singer just happened to be in the night Naomi arrived wanting to test the electric piano. It didn’t take long for the two of them to start freestyling. The chance meeting led to rousing duet of “Summertime” to close out the event the following day. It was not only the sweet song that moved the audience but also the number of women and mothers who came to appreciate Naomi and recognize her for the impact she had made on their lives while they were in prison.
Naomi reflected on the pain of not being able to be there for her son. The mothers in the audience shared deep gratitude for Naomi being there in their absence. Several women from Muncy chipped in and bought Naomi necklace which dangled a delicate silver key.
Darlene Williams presented this gift on behalf of her daughter Brittany and others, declaring “You now hold the key to your own destiny.”
Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration “Heal Our Communities:End Death by Incarceration” Rally in late October
Ronna Davis attended the Free Her Conference in Alabama! The conference is put on by The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls
Board member, Ronna Davis attended this year’s Free Her conference. She reflects, “We got in that room and there was so much power. We could feel it. People like me, who knew where I was coming from. It’s so important to see women with their heads held high, formerly incarcerated people who are lawyers, who are running business, who are RNs, who got their lives back. Sometimes you don’t know why you do what your doing you just do it. And then you go to a conference like Free Her and it all makes sense.”
Ronna was really moved by the powerful performance of “The Graduates.” This ensemble is comprised of former members of the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women (LCIW) Drama Club. Ronna reported, “All of the women had white on. One of the older women told her story – she was dancing to her own story. You could see the excitement in her dance. They all sang their stories. It showed the unity of the women that were incarcerated.”
Events in 2018
April 18, 2018 – The Prison in 12 Landscapes – Film Screening and Fundraiser in collaboration with University of Pittsburgh’s Women’s Studies Department
More people are imprisoned in the United States at this moment than in any other time or place in history, yet the prison itself has never felt further away or more out of sight. The Prison in Twelve Landscapes is a film about the prison in which we never see a penitentiary. Instead, the film unfolds as a cinematic journey through a series of landscapes across the USA where prisons do work and affect lives, from a California mountainside where female prisoners fight raging wildfires, to a Bronx warehouse full of goods destined for the state correctional system, to an Appalachian coal town betting its future on the promise of prison jobs.
The film was followed by a panel discussion and dance party benefit at Glitter Box Theatre.
Candidate Forum on Criminal Legal Issues – May 7, 2018 with CADBI- West Four legislative challengers–Aerion Abney, Mike Devine, Sara Innamorato, and Summer Lee– attended, as did current Rep Jake Wheatley. The panel discussed specific legislation and injustices of our current criminal system. CADBI-W (Coalition Against Death By Incarceration-West) reserved time on the agenda to ask questions submitted by community groups and incarcerated men and women, and held a moment of recognition of those who could not be in the room. The Lifer’s bill (HB135) was asked about twice, and all present committed to supporting this legislation to amend LWOP to allow for parole eligibility after 15 years.
July 6 – 30 2018 -Letters and Liberation our Annual Art Fundraiser in collaboration with Boom Concepts. Opening night auction, weekly gallery hours, and two youth tours – 1Hood Media and Hazelwood’s Arts Excursion.
July 11, 2018 A Community Forum on Pardons and Parole @ BoomConcepts.
This community dialogue between political officials and candidates, formerly incarcerated people, family members of prisoners and survivors of violence, to discuss the state of pardons and parole in Pennsylvania. Panelists included: Robert Saleem Holbrook Carol Speaks Liz Guyer Marcie Marra John Fetterman Ed Gainey Sara Innamorato Summer Lee
July 21, 2018 – Peace, Forgiveness and Ubuntu
In this participatory 3 hour workshop led by Kempis Ghani Songster and etta cetera, we invited you to imagine what a parole hearing could be and create a justice process after the whole system has been wiped out by climate chaos. We reflected on violence and victimization in our communities and society and attempt to get to the root cause by brainstorming questions. What questions do we need to ask in order to solve the problems of our criminal justice system?
2017 Events and Programming
April 7 – April 30th 2017 -Our first art show Contraband displays at Boom Concepts.Contraband is the name of a series of paintings on leaves created by Todd “Hyung – Rae” Tarselli. Leaves are considered contraband or forbidden possessions in prisons across Pennsylvania. This show featured 6 of these delicate leaf paintings illustrating detailed images of animals and nature. In addition, the exhibit showcased artists from both sides of the prison walls including Mary Dewitt’s portraits of women serving life and selected artwork from prisoners around the country. As for artists on the outside: Ginger Brooks Takahashi, Merideth Stern, Jim Kidd, Alisha Wormsley, Bec Young, Leslie Stem, Ellen Melchiondo, Josh Macphee, Shaun Slifer and Vanessa Adams are just a few of the many brilliant artists who donated pieces. Also displayed was a life-size solitary confinement cell, the walls of which are made from letters written from people incarcerated to Book’Em (Pittsburgh’s Books To Prisoners) program.
April 22, 2017 – Spirituality, Religion and Prison Justice: an interfaith panel discussion on how local religious institutions have influenced the transformation of society from abolition of slavery to the prison justice movement today.
Led by Maggie Repko you will hear the Panelists and the following dialogue. Panelists include: Victor Muhammad from the Nation of Islam, Dina “Free” Blackwell from House of Manna, Amanda Gross from American Friends Service Committee and card carrying Mennonite Susan Baida from St. Joseph’s United Methodist Church – volunteer at Allegheny County Jail and Marcus Rediker who spoke about the Quaker Abolitionist Benjamin Lay.
Mariposa & the Saint: From Solitary Confinement, a Play Through Letters
Saturday April 2, 2016 7 -9pm in East Liberty at Repair the World 6022 Broad Street 15206
In 2012, Mariposa was sentenced to fifteen months in solitary confinement. Through letters with longtime friend and current collaborator, Julia Steele Allen, Mariposa brings her experience to the stage.
October 29, 2016 -Life Sentences, Victims, Offenders and My Mother –
This event will involved listening to Samantha Broun’s award winning radio piece together followed by a community discussion. The discussion afterwards would be led by producer Samantha Broun and former lifer, Tyrone Werts. We will be joined by Representative Ed Gainey, Co-Sponsor of HB 2135, the new bill that would expand parole eligibility for lifers. Darlene Williams and Donna Pfender will be present as well, both of them mothers of a daughter serving life without parole.