2016: Empty Cages Collective End of Year Review
This post aims to share with the world what we have learned and achieved in our third year as a small collective struggling against the prison system. You can read our review of 2015 here.
What was challenging?
2016 was another year of struggle on personal and collective levels. From dealing with grief, supporting those in prison, as well as people coming out of prison adjusting to life on the outside. Some of us dealt with, and are dealing with, chronic health problems and have analysed these through the lens of burnout. As a result, sustainability and resilience are things that have come to the fore in 2016 as a small collective relentlessly trying to confront the prison industrial complex.
On top of this, a few of us have been dealing with the police and the legal system putting pressure on us and those we care for in the past year. We have witnessed snobbery and arrogance towards us and our working class communities in the aftermath of Brexit. Ever-more cruel reforms in welfare have resulted in us fighting to look after ourselves, our family and friends who depend on what’s left of the welfare state for our survival. Despite these overwhelming challenges, we have achieved a lot this year and are really witnessing the growth of a movement all around us.
What went well? What happened this year?
Despite this year being how it’s been – we feel like we have carried on in our best capacity to fight tooth and nail against the PIC. Our struggles have made us appreciate how important it is to look after ourselves and each other and this has extended into where we put our energy this year.
Women and Trans Week of Action and Gathering
A weekend gathering was followed by three days of action. The gathering consisted of workshops around how women and trans folk are affected by and resist the prison industrial complex (PIC). Sisters Uncut illuminated the link between the prison system and how it incarcerates survivors of domestic violence. Movement for Justice spoke about their fight against detention and the Sex worker’s Open University talked about the criminalisation of working women. Meanwhile, the Icarus project highlighted the gendered use of psychiatric imprisonment. The Salvage Project also created space to talk about sexual violence in activist communities. There was certainly plenty to think about and discuss with our new comrades!
As part of the decentralised day of action, Sisters Uncut organised a visual demonstration at HMP Holloway and in Liverpool several offices of prison profiteers were invaded.
We put great effort into making the gathering accessible to all. We were pleased that many amazing women and trans and non binary comrades came down from the Unity Centre in Glasgow and paid for travel and food and accommodation as well as childcare at the gathering. We were pleased to have so many amazing people participate.
Popular Education about the Prison Industrial Complex
We also put a substantial amount of energy into popular education around the PIC in the UK since awareness is a massive barrier with the anti prison movement in its infancy and people with nothing but raw experience and Daily Mail vitriol and Guardian liberal bullshit to go on.
We visited cities in England and Wales on our first tour of the year in January. In March, we also toured Scotland and were excited to meet comrades doing incredible work supporting people in detention centres, as well as anarchists experiencing repression in the Czech Republic.
In September we visited five cities in the North of England as part of our Northern Tour with the Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee. It is clear that the North will be a frontline for prison expansion and we aimed to create relationships to support a more national spread of resistance to the PIC.
On our final tour of the year we visited four cities in the Midlands in December after the Government’s announcement that the first two prison locations announced are in the region. Thanks so much again for everyone who hosted us and came to these events.
Smash IPP – Struggles against Imprisonment for Public Protection Sentences
2016 was another year of IPP’s being behind bars with no release date. Prisoner suicide rates are escalating, and IPP prisoners make up more and more of the people self harming and taking their own lives behind those walls.
As a collective, we supported families in Cardiff to organise protests and write letters to get Kiya Smith moved to a prison where there are the courses available for him to do to get out. We also spearheaded a letter writing campaign for IPP prisoner Carrie Duxbery to Foston hall. We won on both accounts!
Tragically, Charlie who we were writing to as Smash IPP died in prison this summer. Her death had a big impact on us and our thoughts are with her friends inside and everyone she has left behind in this world. This young woman had her life taken away by HMP and she’s not the only one. By December 2016 every 3 days someone takes their own life in Prison. IPP’s with no release date, no hope and even if they get out, a 99 year license to contend with, are the group most likely to harm and kill themselves right now.
Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee
Members of the Empty Cages Collective helped to found and develop IWOC in the UK. IWOC in the US as a group has had amazing success in supporting incarcerated worker’s struggle in the USA culminating in the largest prison strike in the history in September 2016.
Channels of communications to prisoners in England and Wales have proved super challenging. Zines, leaflets and application forms are commonly censored and prison related publications fear for their funding if they publish anything too radical. This has been a barrier to organising in some ways for IWOC, however, with a supportive infrastructure and being part of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World – a global grassroots revolutionary union) we are finding creative ways to overcome these challenges. With the support and persistence of it’s members we hope that IWOC will become a force to support, empower and foster resistance by the prisoners themselves against the brutal regimes they suffer in HMP.
A Movement is Building…
A new prison was announced in Manchester this March. Working with IWOC and the local IWW branch in Manchester, the Empty Cages Collective gave a workshop that brought together those who wanted to fight this new prison for the first time. Ever since, these new comrades have been meeting regularly as No Prisons Manchester and have been doing some amazing actions in resisting the prison. They are also doing wider anti-prison work, with multiple noise demonstrations at Strangeways prison, as well as letter writing for Chelsea Manning.
Sisters Uncut who came to the Gathering in Liverpool this spring, have integrated an anti-prison narrative into their amazing work taking direct action for domestic violence services. This September, they organised an inspirational week of action against prison and detention. They targeted prison profiteers G4S and this November, also supported Reclaim Holloway to demand that land from the now-closed prison is used for the benefit of the people of Holloway and the women who had been imprisoned there.
We hope to organise with this amazing constellation of groups to oppose the five new women’s prisons announced in the Government’s White Paper in November.
Action For Trans Health also inspired us when they blocked the police from marching at Manchester Pride. See the video here.
They have also been doing Queers Against the Prison Industrial Complex workshops. We are excited about working together more in 2017.
Overall, its been an incredible year, that ended with prison riots in multiple prisons across the UK. Prisoners are fighting back, and we on the outside are getting increasingly networked and confident in resisting this repressive system. When we are in those moments with our comrades, where we recognise our power and potential, prison abolition feels possible. In the words of Ruth Wilson Gilmore:
“What is, so to speak, the object of abolition? Not so much the abolition of prisons but the abolition of a society that could have prisons, that could have slavery, that could have the wage, and therefore not abolition as the elimination of anything by abolition as the founding of a new society”
With every new relationship, we are building those foundations. We are still setting our goals for 2017. If you are keen to get involved, please get in touch!
Until All Are Free,
Empty Cages Collective