A monthly column in which various contributors from both sides of prison walls explore common ground for effecting change.
As the first day of spring rolls in and the favorable weather that goes along with it, I couldn’t help but think about the tumultuous winter that we just survived, with its record snowfalls and frigid weather that at times felt like it would never end. But here we are at the dawn of spring and the weather is right where it should be.
During one of my check-ins with Vina, we took some time to reflect on this resilient act of the earth and think about what our new work plans look like. I’m ready to blossom and transition back into the community just like the spring.
I’m excited to pick up the baton and continue the BRIDGE work. I’m gearing up to join the Voices for Racial Justice team in my role as director of criminal justice reform, where I aim to work with local organizers and organizations and use my 14 years of experience to do my part to end mass incarceration.
I also look forward to the great honor of facilitating the BRIDGE
organizing cohort to end mass incarceration that I have been developing since
last year with a group of formerly incarcerated people as well as family
members of the incarcerated. In this space, we will bring people coming from
different experiences to be in community together. We will go through a deep
and thoughtful shared learning that will plant the seeds for each person to
live as a more informed, inclusive and passionate organizer.
I, too, am preparing for transition as I step into a new role at Race Forward as vice president of movement and capacity building. Just as the new life of spring is emerging, I am in a space of deep observation and learning. It is good to be in that openness of newness, slowly being introduced to a different cast of characters and taking in a different organizational culture and a wide landscape of work for racial justice.
As I emerge in this new space, like Kevin, I will also be bringing who I am and what I have learned along with me. That includes all that Kevin and I have done and experienced together.
Through Kevin, I have learned the power of organizing to change not just our communities and systems, but actually change ourselves in the process. As we have pushed the boundaries of what organizing and community look like from both sides of prison walls, we have transformed the way of doing this work.
But the thing I hold on to most is the power of relationships. With the deep trust and partnership we have developed, we can move through the barriers the system puts up. I have also learned that some change takes time to emerge. Despite thinking we were ready to burst open, the soil and conditions for true sprouting of the seeds of change are not always ready with us.
In the embryonic stages of our partnership, Vina would always ask what she could do to support me. I would always say, “Vina, just your partnership is enough, and maybe when I’m home you could buy me a cup of coffee.” This dream of working through all of the barriers of the system just so we can share a cup of coffee was always symbolic of the humane treatment we were pushing the criminal justice system to adopt in its dealings with the incarcerated population.
That dream of a cup of coffee has always been the prize in our eyes
and the other side of the bridge that we were building together. Now, as the
end of my time in this space is fast approaching, I greatly anticipate this cup
of coffee so we can discuss how to build more bridges both locally and
Kevin has recently been classified to minimum security, meaning that he could be eligible for work release and rejoining the community soon. I would like to say that the soil of community is ready to receive Kevin and others like him as they leave prison.
Although my friends and I at Voices are ready to support Kevin’s leadership in the movement to end mass incarceration, I also know that our larger society has not truly prepared the soil and conditions for people to return to community from prison.
As we have said from the beginning of our work together, some of that readiness is the responsibility of the community through job and housing opportunities, mental and other health care, family support, and other reentry support. Some of that preparation needs to happen inside prisons, through education, health care, and the support for people to thrive in ways that may not have been possible before.
Our long-awaited coffee together is coming soon, and in those steaming cups are our dreams of a more humane and just world where this simple practice of being together and envisioning the change we need can be realized. It may seem small, but I believe that our coffee together will be the beginning of something big.
Vina Kay and Kevin Reese are participants in Voices for Racial Justice’s “BRIDGE Partnership.” Vina and Kevin plan to continue their dialogue monthly, culminating in Kevin’s release in 2019.