Blog
June 25, 2021

Rising Voices Women performed with the Formerly Incarcerated People’s Performance Project

On June 25th, Rising Voices will be performed with the Formerly Incarcerated People’s Performance Project at PianoFight Theater in Oakland. The theme of Rising Voices’ set is “What You Don’t See When You Look at Me”, a theme the women selected because it speaks to the pre-judgements, bias and misconceptions people hold about individuals who have been justice-involved. Rising Voices next scheduled major performance will also be at PianoFight Oakland in October 2021!

TAGS:
April 19, 2021

Join us June 29th for a virtual panel discussion about the Restorative Reentry Pilot Program, Guaranteed Income, and Reparations

Join us on Tuesday, June 29th at 4pm for a 90 minute virtual panel discussing Guaranteed Income for Reentering Citizens! Click here to register.

Opening remarks will be delivered by former Mayor of Stockton, CA, Michael Tubbs, champion of the first mayor-led guaranteed income program and current Special Advisor for Economic Mobility and Opportunity for Governor Gavin Newsom.

Panelists will include:
Zakiyyah Brewer, Program Associate, Community Investments and Partnerships Department of the East Bay Community Foundation, Sukhi Samra, Director of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, Rahkii Holman, TAY Reentry Program Manager, Community Works, and Patrick Leonard, Senior Grants Manager, Community Works
Our panel will be moderated by Dr. Erin Kerrison, Assistant Professor at the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare and CW Board member.

The Problem

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Since the inception of the War on Drugs and “tough on crime” policies in the 1980s, the U.S. prison population grew from 300,000 to over 2 million. Today, a staggering 7 million Americans are currently behind bars or under the supervision of probation or parole; the vast majority of these individuals are people of color.

Racial disparities permeate every stage of juvenile and adult criminal legal systems. Black youth are four times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth, making up the overwhelming majority of youth criminalized and swept into the system. In Alameda County, CA, 66% of youth booked into Juvenile Hall are Black and 28% Latinx compared to just 4% white. These disparities persist into adulthood where Black adults are 13% of the general population, but make up over 40% of the prison population. There is no evidence that people of color offend more often than whites despite these historical and growing racial disparities in arrests and incarceration.

White supremacy drives mass incarceration and racial wealth disparities. From chattel slavery to Jim Crow to the modern-day criminal legal system, there are countless examples of how whiteness upholds a racial caste system in America. Mass incarceration not only locks people behind physical bars but also virtual walls that restrict freedom and mobility. Once released, individuals face legalized discrimination in housing and employment and permanent social exclusion. Locked out of the labor market and having to adhere to a web of laws and rules during reentry contributes to a vicious cycle of rearrest that inhibits social mobility and maintains the caste system.

Guaranteed Income as a Solution 

Unconditional cash assistance offers people dignity and self-determination: an income floor to achieve stability and the autonomy to define and build their life on their terms. Guaranteed income for returning citizens challenges the stigma of incarceration and a legacy of punitive and paternalistic approaches that seek to define and dictate the lives of Black and Brown people returning home. This idea that ‘we’ know what is best for ‘them’ is rooted in white supremacy. Lastly, it departs from the longstanding tradition of investing in systems that perpetuate harm and instead directs those funds to people and communities that have experienced a history of discrimination and disinvestment. 

Research shows that guaranteed income (GI) programs are highly effective. The Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) and other programs for diverse ages, genders, and racial/ethnic groups shows that when provided unrestricted payments, recipients secure full-time employment, achieve financial stability, and experience improved mental health and overall wellness. The New Leaf Project, a GI program for individuals experiencing homelessness, found that cash recipients moved into stable housing faster and spent fewer days homeless. GI has also been found to alleviate financial scarcity creating new opportunities for self-determination, choice, goal-setting, and risk-taking. Recipients typically spend their cash on necessities such as housing/rent, food, transportation, education, and health.

In a brief titled Exploring Guaranteed Income Through a Racial and Gender Justice LensJhumpa Bhattacharya proposes that GI policies should center gender and racial economic justice by focusing on:

  • Dismantling narratives that dehumanize Black and Brown people and question their deservedness to receive public assistance;
  • Eliminating state-sponsored wealth extraction through our criminal legal system; and
  • Establish a truth and reconciliation process in the US. 

Community Works has received seed funding to pilot the nation’s first guaranteed income program for individuals reentering the community post-incarceration. The project is funded by the Remy Fund for Racial and Environmental Justice and COVID-19: A Just East Bay Response Fund at the East Bay Community Foundation.

Community Works’ recognizes the legacy of white supremacy and state-sponsored wealth extraction through the criminal legal system and sees GI as an acknowledgment of the generational trauma from mass incarceration and the disproportionate number of Black and Brown people affected by it, as well as a strategy to combat poverty and racial wealth inequities. Income is fundamental to building wealth, but it will not close racial wealth gaps. As such, CW is hopeful this project provides a starting point for a conversation about a truth and reconciliation process in this country and how we can create the conditions for true wealth equity, prosperity, and liberation.

The program will provide individuals with an income of $500 per month for at least 12 months. The money is unconditional: there are no work requirements and no restrictions on how the money can be spent. The target population will consist primarily of Black and Brown adults who are returning home from prison or jail and reside in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Each participant will have access to a peer advocate who is formerly incarcerated and has deep on-the-ground knowledge of the community and local resources. The advocate can link participants to services based on their needs and a financial coach for support with money management. The advocate can also connect participants interested in entrepreneurship to local business incubators and networking events.

Our long-term goal is to explore what level of cash assistance creates time, peace of mind, and freedom for recipients to explore their interests, take risks, and pursue opportunities that lead to fulfillment and wealth building. 

From Pilot to Policy

Community Works is engaged in local, state, and national policy efforts to advance GI. As conversations about guaranteed income move from pilot to policy, it is critical that we learn from recipients closest to the issues and provide opportunities and support for them to lead these initiatives. A key aspect of the Restorative Reentry Fund is providing leadership and advocacy opportunities for former recipients who express interest in this work.

For press inquiries, please contact jbacker@communityworkswest.org

TAGS:
May 1, 2019

CWW Citizens Circle Celebrates Mosaic Self-Portraits

It all began late last summer when restorative arts facilitator Dee Myers asked restorative justice circle facilitator Jo Bauen whether she would like to collaborate on a mosaic arts project for parolees, sponsored by the California Arts Commission. This seemed like a perfect opportunity for members of the Citizen Circle, a weekly restorative justice circle for people on parole, to try their hand at mosaic arts. It was an opportunity to use the arts to express the restorative themes of truth, forgiveness, conflict, and accountability, and it was an opportunity for the power of arts to uplift each participant and to strengthen the group as a whole. Finally, it was an opportunity for Jo to use her background in mosaic tile work in the context of restorative justice. Needless to say, the Citizen circle accepted Dee’s invitation!

Dee began by leading the group in a brainstorm potential topics for the art project. The Citizens Circle is open to all who care to join, and is made up of equal numbers of parolees and never-incarcerated individuals.  Participant spoke of their desire to rebuild their identity, to deal with racial profiling, and to successfully transition from prison to free society. We discussed our values and guidelines, and established group safety.  Dee helped build confidence with arts-based team building exercises. Based on participant input we organize a 10 week program that resulted in 14 stunning mosaic self-portraits.

Mosaic requires a lot of physical materials: broken tile, pebbles, mirrors, artifacts, backer board and adhesive. Preparing the tile takes a variety of tools: diamond saw, neighbors, score and snap, hammers, eye and skin protection. Week by week the project grew to fill large community space.  Each week we had to line the floors with drop cloths, prep the mosaic materials for 15 participants, organize the setting materials, the tools, and the safety equipment. Each week the participants arrived, looked at our enormous set up, and for the most part everyone got to work. Some people jumped right in, others hesitated, chatted, and hung in the background. A few resisted but that was OK, we set up a space for people to chill. Mosaic is slow and there is a world of options for how one might proceed.  But shoulder to shoulder, women and men, white and black, incarcerated or never incarcerated, timid artists and brave, proceed we did.

The project continued through the summer, and at last, one or two portraits were nearing completion. That inspired other artists to attempt completion. Soon it was time to grout the initial artworks. Grouting is messy, frustrating, difficult, destructive to your skin and eyes, and did I say messy? But then we grouted a couple pieces, and they started to shine. At last all pieces were finished. We mounted them in a sunny conference room and had track lights installed so the artwork is featured. 

On April 16, 2019, CWW hosted an evening of food and music to honor the artwork. A large crowd stood circle-fashion to hear from the artists and to offer our hopes for all men and women reentering society from prison. People said, “I hope they all learn to forgive themselves.” “I hope they find connection and love.” And, “I hope they find a circle of trusting people who help them rebuild their lives like this one.”

Photographs by Terrence McCarthy


TAGS: