The 5th annual FreeHer conference brought together formerly incarcerated women and directly affected people. Activists, advocates, experts, policymakers, and supporters from across the country came to connect and share ideas and resources to work collectively toward ending the incarceration of women and girls and creating systems to empower themselves and their communities.
The event featured armchair conversations, panel discussions, abolition and social justice organizations, networking opportunities, speakers, breakout rooms, and more. The following is my journal reflections on the conference as it was taking place.
The annual FreeHer is underway and I am excited to see everyone and be here in this community of amazingly beautiful, strong, and resilient people. Covid has altered the way many have been gathering, we are all Zoomed out and tired of looking at computer screens and crave human connections. We want to hug and embrace, gather and enjoy each other’s company, we want to share meals and laughter and although I don’t know if we will ever get back to what was normal, we rise to the occasion and challenges as we create a new normal.
Many have arrived today at the Renaissance Marriott hotel in Detroit and some will come tomorrow. I’m so excited about my first visit to the Motor City. I’m a bit overwhelmed at being in this enormous hotel and looking across the water at Canada! Wow, Canada. This is a surreal moment for me.
Four years ago I was sitting in a prison cell in BedfordHills Correctional Facility in Westchester County New York, not knowing if I would taste freedom, but look at me now. I feel blessed and honored with the opportunities and work that I’m doing as the Beyond Incarceration Program Manager for V-Day. I just want to mention V (formerly known as Eve Ensler) because she took a chance to hire and believe in me and without that chance there is no telling where I may have ended up. Mama V, I love you and our amazing team.
People from all parts of the world are gathered here today; Atlanta. Arkansas, Alabama, Brooklyn, Boston, Rhodes Island, Long Island, California, Columbia, Mexico, and Louisiana, just to name a few. Groups and organizations who are making policy changes, prison abolition (shutting prisons down), reformers (making conditions more humane), lawyers (taking on cases), and formerly incarcerated folks coming together to fight the oppression of a racist system that targets the poor, marginalized people and communities as we think of ways to make our world more inclusive, diverse and free of discrimination of all kinds.
We are a diverse group of organizations; black, brown, white, yellow, and red, we have disabilities, we are queer, gay, cis, nonconforming, trans, and bisexual. We have brought our babies, husbands, grandparents, brothers, cousins, friends, lovers, partners, sisters, mothers, sons, and daughters, and our fur babies too, to convene and share while we learn, grow and build community together. Activists of formerly incarcerated men and women are sick and tired and doing something to make a difference. We are the change we want to see in the world.
Our gathering in the Renaissance Room on Friday morning to sit down and share breakfast was infused with so much love and respect for one another, smiling faces, hugs, “Oh my god! I haven’t seen you in years”, or “I’m glad to finally meet you ‘cause I only saw you on zoom.” There is nothing to replace the presence of another human– it’s divine and we were thrilled to be together.
The big screen flashes all of the events of FreeHer prior conferences and rallies. The two emcees are from Boston and both are 17 years of age (beautiful black girls with magic in their souls). They are offering childcare services for families that brought their children. Recognizing this is such an enormous step in honoring families and women. My heart swells because I feel that we are all being recognized in this space, as women, as mothers, and as change makers.
The room is buzzing with conversation and I instinctively think of a bee hive and all the worker bees doing their part to ensure that the hive can thrive. We are buzzing. That’s how I think of these conferences we have, bees getting the work done on so many levels. We share information/resources, bring knowledge and new insights into old problems, we brag a bit about all the things we have done or are doing, yet we bring it in love and respect as we share unapologetically because we each play a role in this movement that is our life force. We fight to win; some battles we do and others we have to re-think and re-imagine other outcomes. We are constantly changing and growing but we love the work and we love our collaborations. That’s why we gather at FreeHer every year!
The expected number of people who attended is over eight hundred, many eager to learn how we can move the needle toward ending mass incarceration and strategies that will provide equity and inclusion for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend every break-out event as there was a lot going on, but here are some highlights from the conference:
Detroit Martin Luther Marching Youth Band opened the show in black and gold. They are amazing. It’s so refreshing to see young people working together.
Detroit Youth Marching Band (The energy was electric and inspiring.)
After lunch, we delved into the family and what happens to our communities because of mass incarceration. Specifically, we talked about giving birth in prison. We heard about the film, “The Bond” by Jamilah Eady, which won an award. Jamilah is the daughter of Carole Eady and this film is her representation of the birth.
Jahmil Eady was raised in New York City and Charleston, SC. She earned her B.A. in Media Studies from Pomona College and studied film at the Prague Film School in the Czech Republic.
She worked as an associate producer on documentary projects for Oprah Winfrey Network, Viceland, and Discovery Network. Since transitioning into narrative screenwriting and directing, Jahmil has continued to create socially-minded character-driven stories.
Jahmil’s first short film, Heartland, a sci-fi examination of relationships in a technological world, has screened at over 20 film festivals including Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, St. Louis International Film Festival, and BlackStar Film Festival where it was nominated for the Starz Award for Best Speculative Fiction Short. Heartland won the Audience Choice Award at Indy Shorts International Film Festival, and Best Live Action Short at the Atlanta Sci-Fi Film Festival.
Her most recent film, The Bond, follows an incarcerated pregnant woman as she gives birth. It won Best Student Film at Academy Qualifying BronzeLens Film Festival, a Jury Award at Bentonville Film Festival, and a Jury and Audience Award for Best Narrative Short at Atlanta Film Festival. The Bond was fiscally sponsored by Film Independent and raised over $26,000 on Kickstarter in just two weeks. Jahmil’s awards include the 2022 Princess Grace Foundation Award, New York Times Award, and the Four Sisters Award from writer-directors Gina Prince-Bythewood, Sara Finney-Johnson, Felicia D. Henderson, and Mara Brock Akil.
Jahmil is currently completing her MFA in Directing at the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television.
Here are the links to view the panelist movies:
Dr. Ruha Benjamin of Princeton University did a plenary about how data is being used against us. She wrote a book called “Race after Technology: The New Jim Code.” Technology is using metrics and algorithms to determine how many new prisons should be built based on the attendance level of black boys. See a synopsis and her biography below:
Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code is a 2019 American book focusing on a range of ways in which social hierarchies, particularly racism, are embedded in the logical layer of internet-based technologies. Race and technology are closely intertwined, continuously influencing and reshaping one another. While algorithmic bias has received increased attention in recent years, it is only one of the many ways that technology and race intersect in computer science, public health, digital media, gaming, surveillance, and other domains. To build inclusive technologies that empower us all, we must understand how technologies and race construct one another and with what consequences.
Ruha Benjamin is a professor of African American studies at Princeton University, founding director of the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab, and author of two books, People’s Science and Race After Technology, which was awarded Brooklyn Public Library’s 2020 Nonfiction Prize. She’s also the editor of Captivating Technology. She’s currently working on her fourth book, Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want. She speaks widely about the relationship between innovation, inequity, knowledge, power, race and citizenship, health, and justice. For more info, visit www.ruhabenjamin.com
Andrea Ritchie – Abolishing the courts
You can listen to her here.
Andrea Ritchie – Interrupting Criminalization
Beyond Criminal Courts is a Digital Resource Hub for organizers, advocates, and community members working together to build the organizing power we need to defund, divest, and ultimately dismantle criminal courts for good.
This was recorded in Detroit at the 5th Annual Free Her Conference hosted by the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls.
Discussion with Family Members fighting to bring their loved ones home and the work that’s grown out of their struggle.
Moderator – Danielle Metz – The National Council
Michelle West – Free Michelle West
Dolores Canales – the Bail Project
Cindy Shank – The Sentence
[I missed Miquelle’s initial speech so it comes in with Cindy speaking]
Discussion about policies and legislation to help us toward ending the incarceration of women and girls. Note – Recording starts a bit late with Kassandra speaking.
Recorded at the Free Her conference in Detroit – Friday, September 30, 2022
Remission is a box you can check on Federal Clemency applications asking for forgiveness of restitution.
Recorded at the Free Her Conference 2022 in Detroit www.nationalcouncil.us/
Moderator – Charlena McFarland
Sue Mason – What’s Next Washington
Judith Negron – The Freedom Glow LLC
Avalon Betts-Gaston – Illinois Alliance for Reentry and Justice
This was recorded at the Free Her Conference in Detroit on October 1, 2022.
The panel opens with6 D’s Until She’s Free Video
Jamilah Eady – The Bond
Roslyn Smith – V-Day
Laura Whithorn – Rapp
Serena Liguori – Newhour
Jose Saldana – Rapp
The renaissance hotel
Dawn Harrington – Free Hearts & The National Council Primary Caretakers
Kassandra Frederique – Drug Policy Alliance
Morgan Godvin – Oregon’s Drug Decriminalization Council – Treating Addiction as a Crime Doesn’t Work. What Oregon Is Doing Just Might.
Oregon’s drug decriminalization not a factor in fentanyl crisis, oversight committee member says
Jose Saldana – Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) – https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/5319-instead-of-punishment-you-need-a-movement-why-rapp-leaves-no-one-behind
Nancy Parker-Detroit Center for Justice
Kimberly Woodson- Redeeming Kimberly
Nell Herns – Michigan Liberation
Toyja Bridges – Mothering Justice
Nakia Wallace – Detroit Breathe
Clemency quilt from California
Detroit looking to Canada
Andrea James – founder of The national council for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and girls
Reception – Checking in