Prison Moratorium Project
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The Prison Moratorium Project
The The Prison Moratorium Project is a Brooklyn-based organization dedicated to the abolition of prisons. Part of the larger anti-prison movement, it seeks a revolution in thinking about crime and punishment, rather than just reforms to an already broken system that is currently locking up more than 2 million people, most of whom are poor Black and Latino men.
The Prison Moratorium Project (PMP), founded in 1995, is comprised of activists, community members, and formerly incarcerated people.
What the PMP is All About
Walking down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, it’s hard to imagine a life caged up behind bars. The sidewalk is alive with women, men, and children, basking in the spring sunlight, sitting on stoops, and browsing the displays of funky furniture for sale. On a day like this, it’s easier to imagine a world where people are truly free. True freedom, where people are treated humanely by all, including the state. Where mistakes and addictions, and violence borne of a violent upbringing are met with rehabilitation rather than imprisonment and brutality. That is the vision of Khaleaph Luis, education coordinator at the Prison Moratorium Project (PMP).
Khaleaph sits three stories above the Atlantic Ave. sidewalk in the PMP office explaining what the project is all about: educating people (not politicians) to rethink and challenge the prison-industrial complex at all levels. The PMP is part of the larger No More Prisons movement that became popular after the Attica prison uprising in 1971.
The way he breaks it down, the project has two courses of action—reactionary action, which are essentially acts of self-defense, and visionary action, which he describes as the path toward self-determination. Reactionary/Self-Defense actions would include a number of campaigns to curb the growth of the Prison Industrial Complex. For example, with its "Not With Our Money" campaign, the PMP was able to pressure multinational caterer Sodexho to divest its 10% stake in Corrections Corporation of America, one of the biggest private companies making money from locking people up. The PMP also got youth involved through the Justice 4 Youth Coalition, which stopped New York City from spending $64 million to expand youth jails in the city.
The visionary actions leading toward self-determination are in the day-to-day work of the PMP. Community building and education are the cornerstones of this visionary action. PMP staff regularly present workshops(PMP website on workshops) for colleges, high schools, community organizations, labor unions and, well, any person or organization that asks. They see the workshops and the one-on-one interactions— whether it’s in the form of a question or a confrontation-- as a piece of a continuous dialogue that will hopefully lead to a public that demands more enlightened reactions to crime.
“We have to ask ‘how can we hold people accountable for their actions?’ And ‘how can we hold ourselves accountable for our actions?’” Khaleaph explains. This is a conversation that PMP wants to instigate from the bottom-up. First, through the workshops and outreach, PMP hopes to get everyday people involved in the dialogue about what’s wrong (and there’s a lot) with the prison industrial complex. It’s up to that constituency to empower themselves and demand change from their elected representatives. “It’s the constituency, not organizations or lobbyists that are going to change it-— it’s not me. I’m the last person in [legislators’] ears… I’m not so focused on [legislative] reforms, but on communities building their own power.”
Self-Determination: Envisioning Alternatives to Incarceration
Prisons don't work. That is the simple message of the PMP. The question that many will ask, however is this: What do you do with murderers and rapists? Whether the question is asked as a challenge or a concern, there is no one simple answer. The Prison Moratorium Project answers that question with more questions. What are the roots of the violence? How can the community responsibly hold people accountable? What are the best paths towards rehabilitation? While the PMP is more interested in abolition of prisons than reforming them, Khaleaph lauded alternative programs to respond to violence.
For example, the Sistas Liberated Ground (SLG) project organized by Sista II Sista, works to “police” their own neighborhoods. The SLG is an actual geographic zone in Bushwick whose residents have committed themselves to holding community members accountable for any domestic violence. Rather than calling on the cops (and bolstering the prison industrial complex), Sista II Sista members calls on each other and the community to hold violent people accountable for the harm they do. The organization supports the survivor and confronts the perpetrator of the violence. Read more about community-based responses to gender violence.
Another local model of an alternative models of justice is the Red Hook Community Justice Center, which attempts to holistically solve problems of violence, addiction, custody disputes, landlord-tenant conflicts and the like.
Another model of community accountability outside New York is Generation Five, which works to end child sexual abuse. There are more models that provide alternatives to incarceration around the country, but not enough. In the current poitical climate, it is easier to build prisons than community organizations.
Workshops & Ways to Get Involved
Upcoming Workshops: The Prison Moratorium Project will be leading a workshop at Columbia University on Saturday April 23, 2005 at the Columbia Law School (117th & Amsterdam Ave.) Their workshop is entitled "Juvenile Justice 101". From 1:45 to 2:45 pm in Jerome Greene Hall, Rm. 105. Ruthzee will be in attendance.
For more information about PMP's workshops, go here: (PMP website on workshops)
Contact the Prison Moratorium Project for more ways to get involved:
Telephone: (718) 260-8805
Fax: (718) 260-0070
388 Atlantic Avenue, 3rd Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11217
Like much of the anti-prison movement, the Prison Moratorium Project has successfully used Hip-Hop music to get its message across. With Raptivism Records, the PMP put out an a compilation album titled No More Prisons with heavyweight artists including Dead Prez, Sister Asia, Last Poets, Coup, and Grandmaster Caz. With names like those, the PMP's message reached a wide audience and got play in the Source, Honey, and Rap Pages:
“Remember when some Hip-Hop artists stood for a cause? Seemingly, things have changed…with No More Prisons CD, produced by progressive Hip Hop label Raptivism Records, features original tracks recorded by more than seventy Hip Hop and spokenword artists—from old school veterans Last Poets to the Public Enemy of 2000 Dead Prez to Harvard Professor Cornell West.”
-Rap Pages (12/1999)
Listen: Sample Track No. 11--Drug Warz, by The Coup
media.The Coup-Drug Warz.mp3 Copyrighted
To sample more tracks or to purchase this album, click here
Other activists associated with PMP have also spread the enlightenment through simpler methods— author and graffiti artist William “Upski” Wimsatt has made his signature graffiti tag “no more prisons” a frequent sight along Manhattan and Brooklyn sidewalks (and an occasional sight even in D.C. and Chicago). Read more about Wimsatt and his book No More Prisons at nomoreprisons.net
Why Should I Care About Prisons?
Let's look into the ramifications of the prison system so you have a reason to care:
Unjust spending of your tax money. Overrepresentation of Blacks and Latinos within the system. Allocation of federal money to a corrupt system rather than to programs that benefit the people. Devastation of entire communities. Children robbed of caregivers. Perpetuation of inferiority complex. Psychological damage of those imprisoned. Focus on retainment rather than reform and rehabilitation. Generations of possible educators, thinkers, artists, and advocates enchained. Not yet convinced? Check out these statistics...
Whether you have been imprisoned or not, if you know someone in prison or if you just pay taxes, YOU ARE AFFECTED BY THE SYSTEM. The first step to liberation is acknowledging that there is a problem. We must rid ourselves of the uneasiness to share our personal stories and ideas regarding this issue. We must engage ourselves in dialogue in order to dismantle the system. Through education, activism, and ceaseless protest, we will hopefully achieve PMP's purpose and "build a future beyond prisons."
In addition to the Prison Moratorium Project, many other activist organizations in New York City and elsewhere tackle the issue of injustice in the prison system. Check out these pages by other students to find out more:
Other organizations against prisons: