"I Am Not Invisible": Prisoner Rights Advocacy with Chris Harris
5:22PM Aug 4, 2022
Hello and welcome to Righting Relations radio, an experimental podcast to uplift and support adult educators and community organizers across Turtle Island. Today, we're talking to Chris Harris, about an upcoming event in Toronto, August 30. to relaunch the black inmates and Friends Association, it's called I am not invisible. So Chris, so this event that you're hosting on Thursday, tell us about it.
Event is, the campaign is called I am not invisible. And it's a prison rights campaign at Parkdale Community Legal Services organized to raise awareness about the conditions of African and indigenous prisoners and ex prisoners in Ontario. In Toronto in Ontario, we see the emergence of super jails in the last 1520 years. There's currently four or five super jails in the province, and the numbers of African and indigenous prison prisoners has been steadily increasing over the last 1020 years. So there's a large influx of African and indigenous prisoners, and there's not a lot of support for them. So what we're trying to do is raise awareness about mass incarceration with this event, and let people know how they can support African and indigenous prisoners. With this event, we're organizing a black, African Caribbean black Canadian prisoner organization called the Black inmates and Friends Association, Toronto chapter. So what we hope is this event will be the foundation of this organization. And we're going to continue meeting after the event. But what we want on is to recruit a network of let's say, 10, to 20 volunteers who are going to pool their volunteer resources come together and figure out what kind of supports they can do for ex prisoners coming home to reconnect with their children and families to get jobs to be housed. Since it's really hard for low income people to get housing, we want to focus on their mental health and wellness, because a lot of ex prisoners by being incarcerated in solitary confinement for long periods have post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, different mental health issues. And they may not be in the mental health system, a lot of ex prisoners have no mental health diagnose. So we want to support them to get into the mental health system, so that they can heal from that experience of spending many decades, four years in prison.
That's amazing, and very important work you're doing, Chris, who is this event for?
You. So the event is for anybody in the community that's interested in the issues of prisoners, or might not be aware of what's going on in Ontario prisons. So it's for anyone that has an interest in prison reform, in improving the prison system to work more on rehabilitation. For the last 20 years in Ontario, there's been a change from institutions that had punishment and rehabilitation, that prisons that are only focused on punishment and warehousing people. So we really want to strengthen the rehabilitation aspect. And anyone that's interested in volunteering an hour or two, to have a coffee with an ex prisoner, to meet up with them and help them navigate this new society that they're entering after being away for many years and decades. We're interested in those kinds of folks. The speakers are Ricky Atkinson, who is the founder of the black inmates and Friends Association in 1974. Today, Ricky is 63 years old. He spent 32 years in prison. He has been a career criminal for much of his adult life. But in recent years, he's changed and now he is mentoring youth in his Toronto housing project community of Alexandra Park. He teaches pottery classes for children, as well. He teaches youth how to box in Alexandra Park. So he's like a motivational speaker and he is the founder of the first FIFA. So he's going to give us the 30 year history of FIFA. And we're going to continue in that legacy of supporting Black inmates. We also want to do fundraising for the immigrant detainees. There's a lot of Africans and Caribbean blacks who are immigrant detainees that have no criminal background. And there's a movement in Toronto called the migrant detainees support coalition. And they're opening up a hotline for immigrant detainees. So through this different Toronto chapter, when we get it off the ground, we hope to do fundraising in Toronto for this migrant support hotline. So there's different types of prisoners that we're hoping to support through the campaign. There's African and indigenous prisoners in federal prisons. There's African and indigenous prisoners in provincial prisons, which means they're serving a sentence under two years. And then there's immigrant detainees in some of the provincial institutions who are African, Caribbean in and we will work with immigrant detainees from any country in the world, and will work with any prisoners to so while the focus is on African and indigenous prisoners, we're open to working with white prisoners, we're open to working with immigrant detainees from Latin America. So we are not going to exclude any group of prisoners.
Thank you for sharing all that, Chris. You know, Righting Relations, our focus is on supporting people like you and you know, as a member of Righting Relations, how how we strive to be a network of support and capacity building for frontline, adult educators and community organizers like yourself to continue doing the amazing and, and difficult work that you're talking about. And so thinking about people thinking about yourself right now and for a moment, taking a chance to, to ask yourself, you know, what, kind of, what kind of capacity building? Do you feel that you need to continue doing this work? And what do you think your peers could also learn or benefit from, to develop their capacity to continue to show up in solidarity and the ways that you are doing so courageously?
I think one of the things that we need support around is social media. If there's anyone in the writing relations network that's really good at social media, we really don't have funding. So we're really just doing this as a grassroots volunteer type things. So if there's people in the network that can help us with our social media campaign, we're going to be developing social media content this fall to blast on different social media. Things I'm out of touch with that. So but I definitely like that's something that people in other provinces can help us with. They don't have to be in Toronto, to help us to develop our social media content, to edit it to make it great. And another thing too is, I know writing relations is a woman led women's focused project. We're also right now we're organizing men, but we're in talks with different organizations that are organizing women prisoners, and we're really interested because women prisoners, African women, indigenous women, are some of the highest prison populations in recent years. So we definitely are interested in supporting women, and working with activists who are working at the venue institution in MAPLEHURST complex where a lot of women are in prison. So we're interested in making this provincial campaign, possibly a national campaign. So if there's any organizations that are interested in bringing the campaign to their province, and doing similar organizing, for example, there's a lot of African and indigenous prisoners in the prairies. I mean, sorry, no, in the Maritimes, in Nova Scotia, or in Quebec. So if there's other parts of Canada, where people see the need for this type of organizing, it's a time of mass incarceration, where more and more people from many walks of life are being incarcerated. And it seems like there's less and less support so we're really trying to get as many organizations and activists involved to help bridge that gap.
Tell us again the details of the event, when is it and where is it?
So this is not a visible event is going to be at the People's residence at a different bookless Cultural Center. 779 Bathurst Street just south of Bathurst and war in Toronto. And our keynote speaker will be Ricky Atkinson, founder of the black inmate and Friends Association. You can do a YouTube search for Ricky Atkinson. And a lot of clips will come up. He's done a lot of press. He's a high profile former criminal that's turned his life around and is doing a lot of amazing things with youth in Toronto.
Amazing Seeing and the time is six to nine, you said
six to 9pm. We're also gonna hear from Kevin Hart, who's a leader of the native brotherhood at Joyce, Phil prison, has spent most of his youth and adult life from the age of 13 to 33 incarcerated. He's been out for a year. And He currently works in construction. And he's doing really well. So he's going to speak about his native prison organizing in the federal prisons. He recently came home from doing an eight year bid. So we're going to hear from him. And we're also going to hear from Omar Matthews and ex African prisoner who is at Toronto self to talk about a lot of the challenges that they had in the Superjail in Toronto, so be an excellent event. And hopefully some of you can make it out.
Yeah. Thank you so much, Chris. Thank you so much to all the speakers and all the organizers and, and many, many blessings and wishes for the continual transformations that are occurring and sending you lots of love from the writing relations network across Turtle Island where we're wrapping you in a warm embrace and giving you lots of courage and energy and, and like for you to stay on this path of amazing organizing you do in the city of Toronto. Thank you so much for all your work, Chris.
Okay, well thank you writing relations for all the support that you've given.
For more information and resources from the Righting Relations network, visit rightingrelations.org. Say buddy,