2015: Empty Cages Collective End of Year Review
This post aims to share with the world what we have learned and achieved in our second year as a small collective struggling against the prison system. You can read our review of 2014 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.
We set these goals for 2015 and this post is a review of those goals and what we learned over the last 12 months.
What went well? What was challenging?
2015 was a huge year for us on personal & collective levels. We lost people we loved, and two members of the collective returned to HMP. We sold our labour to survive and tried to keep our friends alive in jail, while still fighting back and trying to inspire others to do the same.
Lots of good stuff happened:
- We continue to be a growing point of contact for people wanting to agitate against the prison system. We’re getting invited to talks & events, strengthening relationships with people all over the country and generating lots of interest. New groups have started in the UK, with increasing numbers of people organising in the UK.
- We organised an international action camp with Reclaim the Fields that fed our souls. From the 28th August to the 2nd September 2015, the Reclaim the Fields International Action Camp drew over 130 people to Wrexham, North Wales, to resist the ‘North Wales Prison Project,’ the construction of Europe’s second largest prison. Held at Borras Community Protection Camp, a site camp established to oppose fracking in the area, the gathering sought to link land struggles with resistance to the prison industrial complex and ongoing mechanisms of state violence and dispossession. The best part of the camp was that a large number of people who were there had been in prison, or supported loved ones inside. In the evening noise demos, we visited many prisons where family members were still being held or that had recently held one of us. We cannot underestimate the effective this had on overcoming the isolation and alienation most people feel who have prison as a part of their life. New relationships & friendships were formed that are leading to increasing new projects and initiatives.
- We supported the Smash IPP campaign to re-launch. Smash IPP is a collective of anarchists and anti-authoritarians, who have chosen to stand against the IPP sentences – imprisonment for public protection sentences, where thousands of people are left behind bars with no date of release. We organised a day of action in Cardiff, did stalls at jails around the UK & organised a handful of fundraisers and info nights.
- The Community Action on Prison Expansion campaign escalated with a number of events and actions across the UK. From the 31st October to the 8th November 2015, a week of action took place against the prison industrial complex in the UK. A small group of anarchists, working with others from across the UK, traveled to different cities each day to target the companies connected with the North Wales Prison Project (Europe’s second biggest prison currently in construction). Demonstrations took place all over the UK, and the prison was shut down while two women d-locked their heads to the gates. Other positive developments also happened – Secure colleges (the state’s plans for new jails for 12-17 year olds) were scrapped. The expansion of Campsfield Detention Centre was successfully resisted and a new group has emerged to oppose the new prison in Jamaica that the British Government intends to fund.
- The Empty Cages Collective was part of the first meeting with the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) who plan to start an Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee in England, Wales and Scotland. We have been inspired by organisers in North America and plans are afoot to start IWOC here. See our goals for this on our page about our plans for 2016.
- Resistance to borders is increasing, or at least the awareness of state repression and migrant struggles in Europe are more visible. People are connecting the dots between borders and prisons and embracing a more prison-abolitionist worldview when organising against detention centres.
We also had some challenges:
- Our collective took a battering by bereavement both at the start and end of the year. Two comrades were also imprisoned and support efforts dominated our time. Other active organisers are struggling with burn out.
- Stopping the North Wales Prison Project feels unachievable. After it received planning permission in November 2014, it has been constructed at a sickening pace. Local people feel dwarfed and powerless and a strong local group simply isn’t getting off the ground, despite repeated efforts. Resistance to it feels tokenistic, and the strategy of effectively slowing it down and influencing power holders to abandon the project is only possible with a much larger number of people taking action. Movement building is slow and steady but never feeling ‘enough’.
- The Government have announced plans to build 9 new mega prisons in the UK. Our workload is about to increase tenfold! Read more about the plans here: http://www.cape-campaign.org/community-action-on-prison-expansions-response-to-the-9-new-prisons-announced-yesterday
Did we achieve our goals?
In 2015 we set ourselves some specific goals. Below is our evaluation on if we have achieved them.
- Increase the number of people involved in the collective itself – Achieved but still massively needing more people.
- Increase the number of ex-prisoners involved both in the collective (and the wider movement). Partially achieved. The Reclaim the Fields Camp brought together a large number of ex-prisoners however the follow-up hasn’t been that effective. An event was organised in August 2015 specifically for ex-prisoners but was poorly attended (poor publicity levels, clashes, access).
- Set more SMART targets as a group – be clearer about what we want to achieve and why. Accept that we can’t do everything and prioritise our efforts more. Partially achieved. We’ve definitely started saying NO more to requests that we aren’t focusing on.
- Organise more sustainably, have more physical meet-ups, socials and time-off from living and breathing prison. – Not achieved!
- Find a way to start a bank account, develop a creative fundraising plan and look for more sources of income for our work beyond grants In progress. Partially achieved. Still need support with fundraising & to give more attention to it.
- Fill in the blank pages of our website! Prioritise finishing the resources section. Subscribe to more newsletters & websites to access more up to date content. Publish more writing from ex and current prisoners. – Achieved. Still not creating the content we’d like but definitely becoming a point of contact for people and an avenue for expression.
- Be more explicit about our anarchist position and how we centre resistance to prisons as part of a larger struggle against the state and capitalism. Consciously try to support people to connect the dots at all the events we organise or participate in. Achieved – via the website & distro and the content we are sharing.
- Have at least three dedicated social media volunteers who can utilise social media to increase our impact. Partially achieved – Still need to be more systematic about social media.
Relationship & Movement Building
- Develop more ways to build relationships and work with current prisoners beyond our existing networks and friendships – Not achieved. Still not doing this effectively or systematically enough.
- Work with more existing groups and movements, from different but interconnected struggles The Reclaim the Fields Camp in August 2015 brought together people from anti-fracking and land-based struggles. Our week of action linked migration & prisons and we’ve been trying to build these relationships more. Achieved.
- Develop relationships with more groups internationally. Achieved. We’ve made links with comrades from Australia & the US and hope to organise a tour in 2016 about resistance to the Belgium mega prison.
- Support new groups to start in more cities and towns across the UK. Partially achieved. A lot of the local groups have still struggled to get off the ground, however there is increasing energy in South Wales and Birmingham, who are really inspiring others.
- Facilitate more workshops with people harmed by the P.I.C. Achieved. We’ve done a huge amount of popular education this year, with a massive diversity of people.
- Organise a second Tear Down the Walls Tour Planned for January 2016. Achieved.
Conference & Gatherings
- Organise a massive Prison Abolition Conference in 2015 that brings together people harmed by the P.I.C, organisers and those resisting the system. Not achieved – yet again, we decided that organising a conference couldn’t be our priority, as time-urgent campaigns felt a better use of time. We would still like to make this happen.
- Start organising a European-wide anti-prisons gathering – Not achieved.
- Organise a Transformative Justice gathering to accelerate organising around transformative justice in the UK – Not achieved in 2015 but its our priority in April 2016, see here.
Prison Union Organising
- Contact Ben Gunn and research past prisoner organising in the UK – Not achieved.
- Work with the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) to establish a union of incarcerated workers in the UK. Achieved. The very first meeting for this initiative took place in December 2015 and it will be a huge focus of the Empty Cages Collective in 2016.
- Be a visible outside voice & solidarity link for prison uprisings, actions and riots that make the system unworkable. Partially achieved. Not there yet, but we are increasingly sharing news of anti-prison struggles globally via our channels.
Resistance Campaigns: Community Action on Prison Expansion
- Support local groups to become stronger & more organised. Partially achieved. Happening, slowly!
- Help to start new groups. Partially achieved. New groups have emerged in Birmingham and Cardiff.
- Organise several international days and weeks of action in 2015 November 2015 was a huge week of action, following the Reclaim the Fields Camp. Partially achieved. We are gutted more were not organised through the year & aim to initiate more actions in 2016.
- Organise a large action-camp in collaboration with Reclaim the Fields in the Summer of 2015 to resist expansion plans, especially the North Wales Prison. Achieved. This was a huge success & we loved being part of it. Read the write up here: http://www.reclaimthefields.org.uk/2015/09/06/reclaim-the-fields-international-action-camp/
- Design a ‘generic’ leaflet about prison expansion and the P.I.C in the UK. Achieved. We have distributed more than 20,000 leaflets about the North Wales Prison Project.
- Successfully resist expansion plans: Partially achieved. Halt the development of the mega prison in Wrexham, work with Close Campsfield to prevent the extension of Campsfield Detention Centre, force the government to abandon their Secure College plans, prevent the buiding of a prison in West London before it starts. Make prison profiteers re-think pursuing their profit from caging people in the UK. – We can’t take credit for the victories of Campsfield or Secure Colleges being scrapped, but perhaps we played a small role. The resistance to prison expansion is only going to escalate in 2016, with the state planning to build 9 new mega prisons.
Publications, Resources & Materials
- Increase the visibility of the ECC by writing more articles in magazines, especially Inside Times. Partially achieved. We had a huge spread in the Occupied Times at the start of the year, but have failed to contribute to the Inside Times. We’re also being featured in the Earth First Journal.
- Develop a publications collective that can respond to article requests. – Not achieved, but definitely have more people in our networks that can support with this.
- Create stickers that can be distributed for a UK-wide sticker campaign – especially near prisons, so families and friends of prisoners can learn about abolition struggles. Partially achieved. Stickers are printed and need to be distributed!
- Produce a report in collaboration with Corporate Watch detailing the P.I.C as an industry. Partially achieved. This is in process and we hope to release it in early 2016.
- Produce a zine that can introduce abolition. – Not achieved, but our distro is improving and more abolition-related texts are available.
- Develop more visual tools to communicate prison abolition e.g. Street art, films, photography, comics – Not achieved. However we are supporting a new compilation CD, check it out here.
- Design a ‘generic’ leaflet about prison abolition that can be used at events – Not achieved.
- Have a more organised distro of books, merchandise, zines, badges & more. Achieved with huge help from our friends at Active Distribution and PM Press. T-shirts will be coming soon.
We also organised, spoke at or facilitated workshops at several other events throughout the year:
- Cardiff Anarchist Bookfair, February
- Public Meeting about Prison Expansion, London, March
- Smash IPP Fundraiser, Cardiff, March
- Public Meeting in Wrexham: Resisting the North Wales Mega Prison, what now?, March
- IPP Info Night & Fundraiser, Bristol, April
- Bristol Anarchist Bookfair, April
- Health & the Prison Industrial Complex, Radical Herbalism Gathering, Shropshire, June
- Public Meeting: Resisting Child Imprisonment – Resisting Secure Colleges, London, June
- Empty Cages Collective Workshop on Prison Abolition in Brighton, July
- Prison Abolition & Permaculture Talk at the Permaculture Picturehouse, London, August
- Public meeting for Ex-Prisoners, London, August
- Social & Ecological Harm Of The Prison Industrial Complex, Earth First Gathering!, August
- Reclaim the Fields International Action Camp, Wrexham, August
- Prison Abolition & Permaculture, International Permaculture Conference & Convergence
- London Anarchist Bookfair, October
- Warwick Uni: Prisoner wellbeing and the experience of punishment, November
- Abolition or reform? Dismantling criminal justice with the Reclaim Justice Network, November
- Prison Abolition Debate in Bristol, December
- A-grrrls Prison Abolition Film Showing, Cardiff, December
- Interrogating the Prison Industrial Complex – An Info Night in Birmingham, December
- Brighton ABC Info Night – with talk about resistance to prison construction, December
- Workshop with the Women’s Health Project, London, December
People are increasingly connecting the dots between the prison system, racist policing, state repression and austerity, domination of the environment and overwhelming alienation of our capitalist economic system. We are ‘howling for our pack’ and people are coming. We are finding new comrades around every corner and are continuing to build relationships of opposition and confrontation.
We know that we are playing a small and limited part and that the main people fighting this prison system are the ones trapped in its walls. The folk fighting back, kicking off, cheating the system, resisting dehumanisation and imagining a better world.
“The state treats delinquents en masse as a social danger, but demolishes them one by one”.
– os cangaceiros
We refuse to be demolished. We refuse to let our friends, lovers and communities be demolished. We are overcoming the oppression and dehumanisation of this system through relationships and resistance.
Until All Are Free,
Empty Cages Collective