2014: Empty Cages Collective End of Year Review
This post aims to share with the world what we have learned and achieved this year as a small collective struggling against the prison system. You can see what plans we have for 2015 here.
At the start of 2014, the newly-formed Empty Cages Collective set out to:
- To share information, ideas and build literacy around the prison industrial complex (P.I.C) and prison abolition in the UK;
- To inspire, skill share and support people to organise for prison abolition;
- To listen & work with directly affected communities & individuals harmed by the prison industrial complex in the UK.
- Creating a website and resources with UK-specific information about the prison industrial complex and prison abolition
- Organising a National Conference
- Organising several events that would build momentum for this including a “Prisoner Abolition Speaking Tour” around social centres and events aimed at people most harmed by the P.I.C.
- Organising a skill-share weekend
What went well? What was challenging?
As a collective, we had a few good things going for us throughout the year:
- Emails to info@ account were abundant. It is clear that there are people all over the UK and beyond that are keen to organise and take action against the P.I.C.
- We had the financial support from the Anarchist Federation and Edge Fund that meant we were able to get active quickly and travel to where we were invited
- Our workshop design got better and better – each time we facilitated a workshop about abolition or the P.I.C we learnt more & more about how people interact with the issues. This has enabled us to create a strong package of workshop designs, adaptable to most groups.
- Being ex-prisoners often generated a positive response at events. People like that our collective is ex-prisoner led.
- Most events we organised were very well attended.
However, the year was not without its challenges:
- Very early on in our project, one of the core members of the collective was exposed for harmful behaviour in their intimate relationship and an accountability process was initiated. This rocked our collective’s trust and friendship. The individual left and is focusing on addressing their abusive behaviour.
- Being ex-prisoners means that this stuff is challenging – thinking about prisons, taking about prisons, organising around prisons. Life can feel like prison, prison, prison, prison. We can only think about it so much.
- Organising while surviving. While fighting the P.I.C we still face the same challenges as most; emotionally, financially, physically supporting loved ones inside and ourselves, loosing comrades and friends to the state, being wage slaves and skint, personal & family crises, confronting racism, sexism and other oppressions in our daily lives.
- The complexities of coalition working and maintaining an abolitionist position. We are anarchists, to be honest we want to destroy the prison system rather than abolish it. We are tired of reformist, liberal, state-apologising discourses, yet we interact with them daily. We are tired of being subjects of someone’s study. We are learning about non-reformist reform. We don’t want our mates to rot in prisons, reforms can change improve their lives in the now; but we don’t want future generations to be subjected to cells.
- The geographic disparity of organisers – Our first tour centred in the North meant that we are all over the country. Organising together can be challenging and face to face meet ups are difficult and expensive.
- Capacity – Like many other collectives, the workload is overwhelming and the number of people able to invest time and energy in the collective is small. We have overcome this by encouraging people to work in local groups, however core energy is still needed to keep the Empty Cages Collective functioning.
Did we achieve our aims? What happened?
- Tear Down the Walls Tour: Reaching six cities in just five days and covering over 870 miles, the tour was an overwhelming success. We worked with local contacts to organise events in Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Liverpool. Read the full tour report here.
- We created our first publication: We produced ‘Never Alone’ in partnership with Bristol ABC. This publication sought to amplify the voices of those supporting others in prison. It includes content from mothers, nephews, lovers, friends and organisers of support campaigns, about how it feels to know those you care for are behind enemy lines. Download it here.
- Sustaining the website: We managed to create a website full of prison-related content that is regularly updated and widely visited.
- Organising for Abolition Weekend: Taking place in May, the weekend created a chance for people from around the UK to come together to explore, create and critique how we can work together for prison abolition. While being an intimate group, a large amount of ground was covered. You can read a pdf with the outcomes of the weekend here.
- We helped launch new group Community Action on Prison Expansion (CAPE): CAPE was launched in Autumn 2014. We initiated CAPE to focus our efforts on resisting prison expansion plans in the UK. Its structure is a grassroots coalition of local groups and campaigns, working in solidarity with each other, sharing a prison-abolition worldview, while embracing a diversity of tactics. We supported CAPE to start by helping create the website, that details news of expansion projects and wider prison issues. In November we toured more cities in the UK to help seed groups that can resist expansion projects, including the mega-prison in North Wales, a mega prison in West London, the expansion of Campsfield Detention Centre, the new ‘secure college’ in Leicestershire and a women’s prison in Edinburgh (now abandoned).
- Supporting Local Groups to Start: Another large part of the Empty Cages Collective’s work has been supporting new local groups to organise. While many are still in the early stages, there are now new groups in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff and Glasgow. We also support existing prison-focused groups, such as ABC groups, with literature and resources.
We also organised, spoke at or facilitated workshops at several other events througout the year:
- New Years Eve prisoner solidarity demos (2013/14), Dec
- DTRTP Event: The Politics of prisons: Abolition or Reform?, London, Dec
- Workshop on White Supremacy and the P.I.C at The This is Not a Gateway Festival, London, Nov
- We spoke at the launch of the Prisoner Letter Writing Box, 56A London, Nov
- Prisons & Mental Health Stuggles Workshop at the Schizo Culture Event, London, Nov
- Workshop about Gender Violence & the P.I.C at the Anarcha-Feminist Conference, London, Oct
- Resisting the P.I.C workshop at London Anarchist Bookfair, Oct
- Tear Down the Walls Prison Abolition Workshop, Common House, London, Sep
- Challenging the P.I.C Workshop at the Earth First! Summer Gathering, Somerset, Aug
- Resisting the P.I.C workshop at Newport Rising, May
- Joint workshop with Bristol ABC at Bristol Anarchist Bookfair, Apr
We also attended many other events, demos & actions organised by others.
What didn’t happen and why:
- Conference Organising: It was meant to be the big event of our year, but it didn’t happen. Why? We made a strategic decision to focus our energy on launching CAPE before it was too late to stop some of the expansion projects going ahead. Nothing builds a movement more than struggle, and we decided to prioritise initiating and supporting resistance campaigns. We also learnt very quickly in the year that the base line understanding of the P.I.C and prison abolition, is pretty low in the UK. We knew we would have to do way more events, writing and workshops, to keep it a living topic of conversation across our Island. However with more people in our networks, the conference feels like a more realistic prospect for 2015.
Concluding thoughts: This is only the beginning
It is apparent there is a rising tide of anger, frustration and resistance to racist policing, state repression, social control and the prison system. We are proud to be part of this movement, while knowing that we play a small and limited part within it. We know this is only the beginning, and we know that our beginning is a false one, as we are connected to generations of those that have fought back throughout history.
On this page you can see our plans for 2015, how we intend to improve our collective and build on our work. We want to work more with people inside, we want to see things kicking off beyond workshops and meetings, we want more people to know that they are not alone while sat in prison visits waiting rooms. We want to inject the feeling that a world without prisons is not only possible, but inevitable, because our hearts won’t beat right until it is achieved.
Until All Are Free,
Empty Cages Collective