Speech by Tomiko Shine, Cultural Anthropologist and Lead Organizer of the
Aging People in Prison Human Rights Campaign
Saturday, August 19, 2017
My name is Tomiko Shine and I’m a cultural anthropologist who helps lead the organization, Aging People in Prison Human Rights Campaign. The Campaign advocates for the release of aging people in prison and recognition of their human rights.
We are gathered here on the National Mall in Washington about the Thirteenth Amendment that states “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. While it abolished slavery, it allowed the enslavement and incarceration of freed slaves if convicted of bogus “crimes” of disrespecting whites or loitering. We need to abolish or amend this so incarcerated people can be released.
Do we begin at the 13th amendment or earlier with the Emancipation Proclamation when America had an opportunity to do what we are trying to do today: end and dismantle the system of white supremacy by freeing the enslaved? Instead, the politicians added an amendment to serve the slave owners. Like a contract it is for the authors of the contract who wanted the continued labor and servitude of the enslaved.
So we begin with the first prison when the enslaved Africans were brought over from a continent far from here to America. And they lay in the bowels of the ship chained together dying and some even throwing themselves over board because they knew the life they were going to was a living death, and a living death was worse than death itself. And those that survived the voyage across the ocean went on to the next prison, the plantations. The enslaved lived and died on the plantations, and later their children endured the same fate. And now today we have ones in prisons across the nation, mostly African Americans growing up, living, and dying in prison. And now we have generational incarceration. And now you can find 3 generations of men and women missing from one family affecting generations of children, grandchildren, and great grand children. A few years ago I asked a little 7 year old boy in Baltimore who lives on Carey Street what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he said,” I’ll probably end up going to jail like my father. I felt sick and knew we had to change what we had become for a child to say this, to see this as his future.
Aging People in Prison Human Rights Campaign works to interrupt this cycle to avoid aging people in prison and works to get those elderly released. So APP-HRC doesn’t see the original crime as the “crime.” Instead, after so many decades in prison, the length of time they are inside prison becomes the crime and a denial of human rights. And so the beast, the machine has to keep feeding, not just peoples of African Descent, but different ethnicities who are aging and dying in prison.
Thus, APP-HRC wants reparatory justice. We want reparations in the form of “living bodies.” We want them released and returned to their families and communities to live, to live out their days with family.
We ask you to join APP-HRC and to raise your voices, stomp your feet, and make the Walls of Jericho fall, to release them, to release us. Thus, we need to fight for their liberation. Freedom of a people is a spiritual act because we are all creations of the creator. So we call out to the ancestors, the Divine, and you to help us get them back. We want them back. Let them Live, Return Them. So we must begin to build a society that the human spirit demands where everyone can live together. GIVE THEM BACK to us, RETURN WHAT WAS TAKEN to us, WE WANT THEM BACK, GIVE THEM BACK.
Here are some of our elderly living and dying in prisons or soon after release:
- Eraina Pretty– 39 years in prison in the state of Maryland, left behind 1 daughter.
- Shahid Ali– 50 years in prison, released in November back to his home in Washington DC, died in January of last year, left behind 1 daughter.
- Patty Prewitt, 30+ years in prison in the state of Missouri, left behind 5 children.
- Joseph Ligon, 50+ years in prison in the state of Pennsylvania, oldest juvenile lifer in Pennsylvania.
- Sheldry Topp, 50+ years in prison in the state of Michigan, oldest juvenile lifer in state of Michigan.
- Dr. Lois Farquarhson, served 41 years in prison in state of Pennsylvania, died last year at the age of 91 not knowing where she was and why she was there.
- Sundiati Acoli, 40+ years in prison from the state of NJ, now in Cumberland MD prison, went up for parole at age of 80 last year, denied parole and told by the parole board to come back in 15 years.
- MOVE9, 30+years in prison in state of Pennsylvania, when I attended the MOVE9 conference in May I was stunned at the many generations they have left behind.
- Phillip Chance, 30+ years in prison in state of Alabama, even though he was exonerated of the crime by two Michigan governors, died in an Alabama prison earlier this year, left behind 2 daughters.
- Yusef, 41 years in prison in state of Maryland, released year before last, died that night at home.
- Jalil Muntaquin, 40+ years in state of New York.
- John McKenzie, 40 years in prison in state of New York, committed suicide this year after 10th parole denial, left behind 2 daughters.
- Herman Bell of the Angola 3, 40+ years in Angola Prison in state of Louisiana, died 2 days after release.
- Glenn Ford, 30+ years in prison in state of Louisiana, exonerated of crime, died 1 year after release.