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Prison Renaissance

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Prison Renaissance was formed in 2015 by Emile DeWeaver, Rahsaan Thomas, and Juan Meza. Founded while the members were incarcerated (and still currently active in the Bay Area), Prison Renaissance provides a platform for incarcerated artists and authors and supports artistic and personal growth. The aim is to center the voices of incarcerated people within ongoing conversations about criminal justice reform and celebrate their insights in activist and creative circles.

Metropolis, 2018
Sound installation and telephone
Courtesy of the artists

Metropolis

When we think “prisoner,” we think poor person, we think minority, we think oppression. Why don’t we think journalist, economist, legal scholar? …Why don’t we think pregnant woman?… I think we’re blinded by the spectacle of [incarcerated peoples’] struggle, the spectacle of their poverty, the spectacle of their racial oppression, and that’s blinding us to the actual people who are inside. We are as creative as you, we are as diverse as you, we dream like you. We are you. ~Emile DeWeaver, Prison Renaissance co-founder

Prison Renaissance is an abolitionist organization that fosters the leadership, healing, and creativity of incarcerated individuals. The title of their collaborative sound installation, Metropolis, draws attention to the fact that, if gathered together in one location, the more than 2.2 million people incarcerated in the U.S. prison system would comprise the fourth-largest city in the nation.

In this audio installation, a small number of the people that exist within this immense, if dispersed, city discuss their areas of creative expertise, drawing attention to their identities as artists, writers, and poets. Out of sight, the voices of the incarcerated echo within the architecture of the museum.

Prison Renaissance’s work and clips from Emile DeWeaver’s interview are also featured in the following Barring Freedom study guides: From the Inside OutAbolition Futures

Emile DeWeaver became a published writer, community organizer, and co-founder of prisonrenaissance.org while serving a 67 year-to-life sentence. California Governor Jerry Brown granted him clemency in 2017. DeWeaver is interested in internalized systems of oppression and how they prevent us from building and maintaining effective models of justice. He guest lectures at social justice venues and universities about his written work, what he calls “liberation models and “the lying fiction of criminality.” He has written over 50 published articles, essays, short stories, poems, plays, and curricula. His community organizing includes education and communication campaigns to pass four senate bills and Proposition 57. His organization is the first nonprofit founded and run by incarcerated people. Their aim is to take prison administration out of prison programs as a step toward prison abolition.

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Suggested Reading

Gibran, Kahlil

Sand and Foam ; a Book of Aphorisms

New York: Knopf. 1954

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