‘Release’ -Art Show Opens in Philly at the intersection of gender justice and mass incarceration

release_for_website__largeThursday, February 26 5:30 pm-8:00 pm

[ Leeway Foundation - 1315 Walnut Street, Suite 832 ]

Click [here] to RSVP

Leeway Foundation and Bread & Roses Community Fund present RELEASE, an exhibition and program series that explores the intersection of gender justice and mass incarceration. RELEASE aims to provide shared spaces for women, transgender, and gender non-conforming survivors of the prison industrial complex, local artists, cultural producers, and activists to critically reflect and build power for change.

RELEASE includes a collection of portraits and narratives curated by Chicago-based activists Mariame Kaba and Rachel Caidor, and paintings by Mary DeWitt (LTA ’10, ACG ’09, WOO ’03, ’00). Co-curators Mariame Kaba and Rachel Caidor focus on women of color who have been incarcerated due to self-defense and the campaigns that demanded their freedom, while Mary DeWitt’s paintings narrate the lives of women serving life sentences without parole in Pennsylvania. Together, they address the circumstances leading up to their convictions, expose the injustices that lay before and after their sentencing, and show how we can mobilize to resist the criminalization of marginalized communities.

The exhibit also includes original art by Micah Bazant, Molly Crabapple, Billy Dee, Bianca Diaz, Rachel Galindo, Lex Non Scripta, Caitlin Seidler, and Ariel Springfield. It also includes ephemera and artifacts from Mariame Kaba’s collection.

Join Rachel Caidor and Mary DeWitt for a tour and artist talk at the Opening Reception on Thursday, February 26 from 5:30pm-8:00pm at the Leeway Foundation (1315 Walnut Street, Suite 832).

Details about the program series will also be announced.

About Mariame Kaba

Mariame Kaba is the founder and director of Project NIA, a grassroots organization with the long-term goal of ending youth incarceration. Her work focuses on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex, and supporting youth leadership development. Kaba has a long history of educating and organizing against violence. She has co-founded several organizations including the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women, the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team, and the Chicago Freedom School. Kaba runs the blog Prison Culture where she writes about issues of juvenile justice, prisons, criminalization, and transformative justice.

About Rachel Caidor

Rachel Caidor has worked in Chicago rape crisis and domestic violence crisis centers since 1997.  She has been active in Incite! Women of Color Against Violence and was a founding member of the radical feminist dance troupe, Pink Bloque.  She currently works at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

About Mary DeWitt

While studying painting in the 1970s and 80s, Mary Dewitt had the opportunity to work with a great figurative painter, Jerome Witkin, at Syracuse University. He introduced Mary to the work of Käthe Kollwitz, Alice Neel, Egon Schiele and Lucien Freud — all figurative expressionists, several social activists, whose visions inspired her development.

In 1988, Mary began working in the prisons almost immediately after she finished her graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania. She taught painting to men and women in the state correctional system, traveling throughout Pennsylvania. Those serving life without parole were the most helpful and enthusiastic students.

She continued to work with the same life-sentenced women over twenty-five years later. They are inaccessible to the public, yet their histories illuminate a crisis in our country that needs to be witnessed and rectified. They have so much to teach us about race, class, gender and the evolution of the prison industrial complex unique to the United States. They are articulate, eloquent and authentic; they have been unjustly incarcerated decades too long.

Mary’s hope is to communicate who these individuals are, on the Internet and by exhibition, using portraiture, video and the voices of the life-sentenced women. People outside of these institutions deserve to know what is really going on, the truth, so they can mobilize to change this tragic situation.

About Bread and Roses

Bread & Roses Community Fund provides grants and technical assistance to support communities in the Philadelphia region that are taking collective action to bring about racial and economic justice. Since 1977, Bread & Roses has distributed over $10 million.

Community Partners

This exhibit is presented with the support of our community partners: 1Love MovementAddress This!, Art Sanctuary, Attic Youth Center, BlackStar Film Festival, Books Through Bars, Decarcerate PA, Feminist Public Works, GALAEI, Gender ReelGirls Justice League, Hearts on A Wire, I’m Free, Institute for Community JusticeJuntos, Let’s Get Free, Morris Home, National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, PA Innocence Project, People’s Paper Co-op, PhillyCAM, Scribe Video Center, Sisters Returning Home, The Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation, Trans Justice Funding Project, Trans Oral History Project, Trans Wellness Project, Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia, Inc., Why Not Prosper?, William Way Community Center, and Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project.

Exhibit Hours: By appointment only. Monday – Friday, 10:00am – 5:00pm. Please call 215.545.4078 to schedule a viewing.

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Image Credit: Marie Scott, 1996 by Mary Dewitt; Inez Garcia, 2014 by Biana Diaz.

Marissa Alexander Released from Prison; Supporters Celebrate, Demand Full Freedom

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 10.41.11 PMThe Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign reports:    Supporters of Marissa Alexander in Jacksonville, across the US, and all around the world are overjoyed that Alexander has been released from jail after serving 3 years behind bars for defending her life.  In 2010, Alexander, a black mother of three from Jacksonville, Florida, was forced to defend her life from a life-threatening attack by her estranged husband by firing a single warning shot that caused no injuries.  State Prosecutor Angela Corey prosecuted Alexander, pursuing a 60 year mandatory minimum sentence.  On November 24, 2014, Alexander accepted a plea deal that included time served of nearly 3 years in prison, 65 additional days in the Duval County jail, and 2 years of probation while under home detention.  Today marks the end of her time behind bars.

“We are thrilled that Marissa will finally be reunited with her children, her family, and her community,” said Sumayya Coleman, co-lead of the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign.  “Today’s hearing revealed that Marissa intends to attend school to become a paralegal and she is a wonderful mother to her children who urgently need her.  Amazingly, the State continued their campaign of punishment by trying to add two more years of probation.  Fortunately, they failed, and Marissa will be released today!  Marissa and her family will need time to begin recovering from this arduous and traumatic experience.  It’s been a long and painful journey and, though her release from jail is definitely a win – no 60 years, the journey of seeking ultimate freedom is not over.  Marissa will be forced to be on strict home detention while being under surveillance for two years.  This is by no means freedom in the sense we feel she deserves.  Our next agenda is to seek full restoration for Marissa and her family, including the expunging of her so-called criminal record, and a systemic transformation that prevents black women and all survivors of domestic violence from experiencing the hostile and brutal treatment from policing, prosecution, and prison systems that Marissa has endured. We will push for improved legislation and monitoring of systems that penalize victims of domestic violence who choose to save their lives by force. This is by no means a conclusion.”
Alexander will be forced to wear and pay for a surveillance ankle monitor, and forbidden from leaving her home with the exception of attending work, church, her children’s school, and appointments with doctors or the court.  This will effectively “prisonize” her home, as noted by journalist, Maya Schenwar.  This practice of extending a prison culture of surveillance, punishment, and confinement into people’s homes and communities has significantly increased in the U.S., creating what Prof. Beth Richie has described as a “prison nation,” especially for black women.  Coercing probationers to pay for surveillance monitors is also part of the increasing privatization of punishment in the U.S.Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 10.40.38 PM

Since 2012, the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign has organized to free Alexander from the punishing experience of being prosecuted for self-defense.  Supporters have organized in Jacksonville, across the United States in dozens of cities, and around the world to demand Alexander’s freedom.  Aleta Alston Toure’, co-lead of Free Marissa Now said, “For almost three years, this campaign has raised critical awareness about Alexander’s case, raised much needed donations for her legal defense fund, and raised a movement that takes a stand against mass incarceration and domestic violence.  If this targeting of Marissa had unfolded behind closed doors and without powerful pushback from people who believe in justice, we believe she would still be in prison today.  Organizing matters.”

Organizers are hosting a number of direct actions in support of Alexander’s freedom.  In Jacksonville, organizers will hold a press conference today at 12pm on the Duval County Courthouse steps.  They will also welcome a display of The Monument Quilt, 350 quilt squares containing stories from survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in solidarity with Marissa Alexander.  The quilt will blanket the Duval County Courthouse lawn on January 27th, 8 am – 2pm.

Local organizers will convene a televised People’s Movement Assembly to be held on January 28th, 1pm at WJCT/ PBS, 100 Festival Park Ave.  The assembly discussion will focus on state violence against women and will include Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw, Columbia University, UCLA, & the African American Policy Forum; Kerry McLean, National Lawyers Guild, Dr. Faye Williams, National Congress of Black Women; Dr. Rose Brewer, University of Minnesota; and Dr. Beth Richie, University of Illinois, Chicago and INCITE!.  The assembly will be hosted by local Free Marissa Now member, Denyce Gartrell.

The Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander led a recent major fundraising push that raised $11,000 to help Alexander cover the cost of her ankle monitor for the two year period of home detention.  They are organizing a January 27th discussion about how to talk to children with imprisoned family members about incarceration, which will occur at 6pm at 637 Dearborn St. in Chicago.

The Free Marissa Now Bay Area collective also organized a caravan that traveled from Oakland, CA to Jacksonville, FL, raising awareness about Alexander’s case in cities along the way.  Details about all of these events can be found at freemarissanow.org.

“It’s hard to summarize the incredible outpouring of rage, love, and commitment to freedom that has arrived from all around the world in solidarity with Marissa Alexander,” said Alisa Bierria, also from Free Marissa Now.  “Hundreds of people have Hundreds of people have donated, created art and media, and organized direct actions, letter writing sessions, and teach-ins in Jacksonville, Chicago, Berkeley, Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh, DC, New Orleans, St. Louis, Seattle, Denver, Miami, Canada, Australia, and many other locations.  The dozens of projects that Marissa’s supporters have organized have been creative, brilliant, and impactful.  Together, we have not only helped to ensure Marissa’s release from prison, we have hopefully shown why we must keep addressing the connections between domestic violence, reproductive violence, and state violence.  We warmly thank and honor every person who has contributed to this historic freedom movement.”

image_1Free Marissa Now notes that Alexander has asked supporters to use her case to bring more attention to women in similar circumstances, such as Tondalo Hall and Charmaine Pfender.

Organizers will publish a report about the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign on their website, freemarissanow.org, in the coming weeks.

The Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign is an international grassroots campaign led by a core of organizers representing the African American/Black Women’s Cultural Alliance, New Jim Crow Movement – Jacksonville, and INCITE! Women of Color and Trans People of Color Against Violence. For more information, see www.FreeMarissaNow.org.

Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign

Donate to the Marissa Alexander Freedom Fund! More info: freemarissanow.org Follow us on facebooktwitter, and tumblr Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign FreeMarissaNow@gmail.com Contact: Sumayya Coleman, aabwculturalalliance@gmail.com, 443.812.9503 Aleta Alston-Toure’, withjusticepeace@gmail.com, 904.631.1674

3 Upcoming Events!

Let’s Get Free member, Amanda Johnson is hosting an informal film screening of a series of Ted talk videos featuring women who are incarcerated at a women’s prison in PA.
Event Details
Women Serving Life film screening
January 17th
@ the Big Idea Bookstore
4812 Liberty Ave Bloomfield
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More information about the Martin Luther King March at WeChangePittsburgh.com
Chin to the Sky: The Life Sentence of Avis Lee will  be performed at the 17th Summit Against Racism Saturday January 24th at 9:30 am. Register with Let‘s Get Free and get a $10 group rate! Join us for performance and discussion about Life Without Parole!
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Charmaine Pfender’s Dinner to Honor 30th Year in Prison a Delightful Success

Prayers, Hopes and Dreams for Char Alter beautified by South
Prayers, Hopes and Dreams for Char Alter beautified by South

About 30 people filled the Braddock Carnegie Libraries transformed space to honor Charmaine Pfender and the unjust length of time Char has had to spend incarcerated for defending herself from rape. Life without parole is death by incarceration.

While the evening was warm and sweet it was also very sad. Thinking of Char and all the women who are criminalized for defending themselves is heartbreaking. Here we are celebrating Char, her family and friends gathered round the tables with – her seat empty. Charmaine has been punished for 30 years for surviving and to this sentence we resist!

Donna Hill read a profound statement by Charmaine to the audience and Bret Grote updated us on the legal specifics of Charmaines case. We need to hire experts to help uncover new evidence to get Char back into court. So if you would like to make a donation it would be greatly appreciated.

We toasted to many things last Sunday, ending each toast with “Let’s Get Free”

Thank you so much for all who attended and shared their hearts! The night was lovely. We had quite a spread of food and different activities. Collectively we wrote a typewriter poem and created over 25 post cards and letters to be sent one at a time over the next month.

Click an image below to scroll through pictures of our beautiful event at the Braddock Carnegie Library! Below the photos is a poem written by Charmaine.

The following poem was written by Char for Mother’s Day years ago.

One Night

What happened one night ended lives,

What became of his mother?

I can’t begin to imagine

What became of my mother?

With such pain and disappointment,

It can’t compare.

Two mother losing children,

Two mothers in agony,

Both asking, “What went wrong?”

With my mother’s tears as a gauge,

I still can’t imagine the multiplier of

..his mother’s pain.

I am still alive; although lost in walls,

She can still see my face.

His mother has that, no more.

What would he have become?

How would he have changed the world?

What became of his brothers and sisters

…without his love?

What would have become of me?

I can’t go back and change time,

I can only begin by being responsible.

A burden so heavy, I am willing to carry.

To change all I was, to dispose of the “old” me,

Could never be enough,

Yet it is all I can do….

To hope to honor our mothers.

Charmaine Pfender (OO7423)


Transgender Day of Remembrance: Critique is Resistance; Resistance is Revolution

Commemorative Dinner for Charmaine Pfender!


A dinner to honor Charmaine Pfender who has unjustly spent the last 30 years in prison.

Sunday, December 7th at 5:30 PM (TIME CHANGED TO EARLIER!!)
at the beautiful historic Braddock Library
419 Library St, Braddock, PA 15104

Space is limited
so please rsvp to letsgetfree@activist.com
$10-$25 sliding scale

Delicious pierogies catered by Kate Lasky!
Please let us know your dietary restrictions.
Meet Charmaine’s family!
Crafting stations!

Learn more about Charmaine’s story by clicking here.


The Prism Project will be on display at the Braddock Library during the dinner  –>The Prism Project was initiated by Richard Guy, South Fayette Correctional Facility and Mary Carey, The Braddock Carnegie Library. The Prism Project is a collection of artwork generated by people currently incarcerated at South Fayette Correctional Facility, that is available for check out along with over 120 other artworks made by local, regional and international artists.