Three Online Events Exploring Systemic Racism and Long-Term Incarceration (March 30, April 6 & 13)

Cerise Jacobs and her activist opera company, White Snake Projects, are pleased to announce three online events leading up to the premiere of their new virtual opera, Death By Life. Conceived as a monument of support for the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the opera explores the intersection of systemic racism and mass incarceration using texts written by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated writers and their families. Kicking off the online events is the interactive forum Art as Transformation: Music and Drama for Incarcerated Youth on March 30. Then, a virtual exhibition and roundtable conversation called Art and Imagination Inside Prisons follows on April 6, and a panel discussion titled Freedom-Making in an Age of Mass Incarceration on April 13. The latter two events will be moderated by Death By Life collaborative partner Alice Kim, Director of Human Rights Practice at the University of Chicago’s Pozen Center, which she joined in 2018 to launch a Human Rights Lab focused on mass incarceration and racialized policing. She also leads the Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project’s Think Tank on long-term sentencing practices. Registration for all three events is free, and links can be found here.


Art as Transformation: Music and Drama for Incarcerated Youth explores art as a means of transformation for people who have experienced or are experiencing incarceration, and it will include guided activities in addition to the discussion. Presenting partners include Fifth House Ensemble, a Chicago-area group that harnesses the collaborative spirit of chamber music to reach beyond the traditionally perceived limits of classical music; Oakdale Community Choir, which provides choral singing experiences for men at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center (Oakdale Prison) and for singers in the community who have an interest in learning more about issues in the prison system; and Storycatchers Theatre, which helps youth in the juvenile justice system tell their stories through musical theatre. Dr. Kính T. Vu, an assistant professor of music at Boston University, sums up by exploring connections between music education and involuntary or forced human displacement. The forum will be moderated by Melissa Ngan, the founder and former CEO of Fifth House Ensemble and recently appointed President and CEO of American Composers Orchestra.


Art and Imagination Inside Prisons is a conversation with formerly incarcerated artists about the creative processes involved in making, learning, and teaching art in prisons. Featured guests are architectural crochet artist Carole Alden; visual artist Renaldo Hudson, whose painting Freedom Cost serves as the banner art for Death By Life (see above); photographer and New York University doctoral student Michelle Daniel (Jones); visual artist Jesse Krimes; and Damon Locks, a teaching artist with the Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project. In conjunction with this event, a virtual gallery of art by incarcerated artists will be hosted on White Snake Projects’ website. Alice Kim will moderate the discussion. About the importance of teaching behind bars, she explains:


“Education is a human right and everyone deserves access to it. We are all lifelong learners and teachers, and for me, teaching inside prisons is about building community with people who are behind the prison wall. The logic of the prison system is to effectively disappear those who are entrapped in its cages. Teaching inside is one way to refuse carceral logic.”


Freedom-Making in an Age of Mass Incarceration is also a panel discussion moderated by Kim, followed by a Q&A. Panelists are Norris Henderson, Founder and Executive Director, Voice of the Experienced (VOTE); Toussaint Losier, Assistant Professor of Afro-American Studies at UMass-Amherst and editor of Rethinking the American Prison Movement; Erica Meiners, Professor of Education and Women’s and Gender Studies at Northeastern Illinois University and author of For the Children? Protecting Innocence in a Carceral State; Romarilyn Ralston, Program Director of Project Rebound and an organizer with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners; and Beth Richie, Professor of Criminology, Law and Justice and African American Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago and author of Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation.