Prisoners' Justice Day 2022: Remembering those who died in prison
Posted on behalf of Kendra C.
(Content Warning: this blog mentions suicide, death, and systemic violence)
August 10th is internationally recognized as Prisoners’ Justice Day (PJD). PJD is a day to remember people who have died preventable deaths in prison. It is also a day to show solidarity with those who organize against inhumane conditions in prison.
PJD is a day when prisoners and community supporters take part in strikes and other protests. The history of these actions trace back to the 1970s in Ontario. On Aug 10, 1974, Eddie Nalon died by suicide at the Millhaven Maximum Security Prison in Bath, ON. Eddie was told that if he signed a form refusing to work he would be transferred to a non-work unit. However, instead of being transferred, Eddie was punished and sent to solitary confinement. After 30 days, even though Eddie’s request to return to general population was approved, he was sent to segregation. On Aug 10, while still in segregation, Eddie died by suicide.
One year later, on Aug 10, 1975, prisoners at Millhaven held a memorial service, hunger strike and work stoppage to draw attention to the conditions that led to Eddie’s death. Many engaged in the protest knowing that they too would be punished with solitary confinement.
Despite these protests, not much changed. In June of 1976, prisoners at Millhaven invited others to join them in a hunger strike to honour those who had died while in prison and to raise awareness about the violence of solitary confinement. Thousands of people across the country joined in their hunger strike.
By the mid 1990s, PJD had gone global. While the strategies used to mark PJD have shifted over time, it continues to be an important day of remembrance and action for many.
In Toronto, there are multiple opportunities to take part in PJD. An awareness-raising event will take place outside of the office of the Solicitor General on Aug 10 from 2 -4 pm. The office of the Solicitor General oversees the public administration of public safety measures, policing, and correctional services. A memorial will also occur at Allan Gardens from 4:30- 7:30 pm. On Aug 11, you can join the Prisoners' HIV/AIDS Support Action Network from 11:30 - 2:30 pm at Regent Park Community Heath Centre to “break fast for Prisoner Justice Day”. If you cannot attend in person, listen to CFRC Prison Radio 101.9 FM's annual Prisoners' Justice Day broadcast live on-air (in Kingston, ON) or on the CFRC website on Aug 10, from 4 - 10 pm.
Below are some TPL resources that will help you learn more about the structural issues prisoners face and how communities are organizing to change them.
To learn more about the history of PJD, check out A History of Prisoner’s Justice Day, the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project mini series “What Happened to Prisoners’ Justice Day” , The Journal of Prisoners on Prisons PJD special issue, and the PJD issues of Cell Count, a quarterly bulletin comprising content by/for/about prisoners and ex-prisoners.
Available in multiple formats
We Do This ‘Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba
This collection emphasizes how everyday people can challenge the conditions that lead to imprisonment. Start here if you are interested in learning more about activist movements for prisoner justice.
Ever wonder what you actually know about prisons? This resource is for you if you are new to the study of prisons.
Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis
This is one of the most influential studies of prisons ever written. If you are looking to learn more about the relationship between African American liberation and getting rid of prisons, read this book.
Taking the Rap: Women Doing Time for Society's Crimes by Ann Hansen
Gender is often left out of discussions about prison. If you are interested in a firsthand account of the connections between gender, class, and race in Ontario women’s prisons, read this book.
Available in Print
Prison Industrial Complex Explodes by Mercedes Eng
Eng’s poetry mixes personal reflection on her time spent visiting her father in prison as a child, government documents, and her father’s correspondence with prison officials to examine how prisons impact individuals, families, and communities. If you want an emotional and creative reflection on how prisons affect families, start here.
Prison Writings: My Life is My Sundance by Leonard Peltier
Leonard Peltier is one of the most well known political prisoners in the US. In this collection of writings, Peltier shares his life story and his own analysis of the prison system. If you are interested in how prisons are used to repress Indigenous civil rights, start here.
Available on DVD
Since I Been Down by Gilda Sheppard
This documentary tells the story of Kimonti Carter and his efforts to bring prisoner-led education programs to prisons in the US. The film draws on interviews with prisoners, former prisoners, and their families. These interviews provide insight into how gang violence and poverty are created by structures of racism. Carter’s story shows the importance of organizing collectively, especially around issues of education.
*the term prisoner is used in line with the prisoner justice movement to recognize the political realities of imprisonment. To learn more about the language used to talk about incarceration visit the Marshal Project's Language Project.
Thank you to PASAN for your support in writing this blog post.