A Kinder Justice
Time and time again we have witnessed police authorities abusing their power and failing to provide justice, particularly in the targeting of Black people who are disproportionately affected by practices like stop and search.
Campaigner Patrick Vernon OBE and organisations The George Padmore Institute and INQUEST were asked to present forewords sharing their insight on this, and look into kinder alternatives relying on community, care and support.
Writer and poets Brother Portrait and Belinda Zhawi were commissioned to produce new work exploring a kinder justice. Listen below for the audio version, followed by links to the text form.
Finally charity APPEAL wrote a statement and commissioned two poets to share their pieces reflecting their experience of the incarceration system, as an individual within it and from the perspective of having a mother who is in prison for life.
Activism has many faces and Free Word’s A Kinder Justice is a timely reminder that kindness can be an activist force.
As an archive and cultural/education space, the GPI holds and shares collections on historical campaigns (including strategies), cultural, political and social issues and organisations which founder John La Rose gave effort and energy to, always as part of a community of activists. “We named our institute after George Padmore as we see it continuing the traditions which shaped his life – an independent, radical vision…of a world unburdened from the arrogance and tribulations of empires and dedicated to equality, solidarity and hope.” (JLR)
Making materials on crucial aspects of the past available is the ‘kindness’ the GPI offers: a necessary tool to be used in ongoing present day struggles for people’s power, racial equality and social justice. All are vital ingredients for a kinder future.
— The George Padmore Institute
How can the scales of justice be balanced, when the ground they stand on is uneven? Every year many people die preventable deaths in contact with the police, in prisons, and mental health settings in the UK and around the world. Each death is an individual tragedy but also part of a systemic pattern of state violence, neglect and structural racism and discrimination. People are failed in life by an unequal society, and die in the unjust systems which were supposed to protect them. We must reimagine a world of social and racial justice which values all of our lives, and invests not in incarceration but in communities.
Brother Portrait’s and Belinda Zhawi’s both timely pieces in the context of historical and contemporary injustice is a reminder of the ongoing manifestations of structural racism as reflected in the wake of the Murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. The poems are powerful anecdotes in the backlash and doubling up of the justification of white privilege and that racism is simply an imagination of black people as a form of victimhood and madness. The artist’s activist role is even more critical to decode and to create vivid stories and context through the spoken word of our lived experiences from dehumanisation, acts of kindness and solidarity so we can all fight another day.
— Patrick Vernon OBE social commentator, campaigner and co-author of 100 Great Black Britons
Photo: Theo Ndlovu
“I was thinking a lot about mindfulness. How it can help with noticing when we are being cruel to ourselves which then leads us to gently adjust ourselves back to kind thoughts. I think mindfulness can be a great teacher of kindness as it requires one to be radically honest with themselves in order to become mindful of one’s full self and surroundings. In this poem the shadow is that part of the poet that is confronted with this personal radical truth that shows the hard emotional and spiritual work it takes to cultivate loving kindness of self. Ultimately, even though it’s kinda long, it pays off to be kind to ourselves in order to be kind(er) to those around us.”
Read Belinda Zhawi’s Be Kind To Your Shadow.
Photo: Theo Ndlovu
“We laugh bent double, tears in our eyes, though the laughing don’t laugh out the sadness. We laugh until our shoulders pulse to breathless sobs. Taste the salt from our eyes and sweet from our nostrils. Shake off the shame flaked like dead skin around us. Sweep what the wind is too weak to carry. Keep a small mound for the corner shrine, to wonder on how that dust was first a fist, a heavy silence, rejection and fight.”
Read Brother Portrait’s Hold Me Through These Dreams.
APPEAL is a charity aiming to reverse miscarriages of justice, we try to fix the mistakes that overcriminalisation creates in a justice system both broke and broken. We campaign to ensure that the system learns from its mistakes, including promoting open and accountable justice.
This Spring, APPEAL campaigned for the release of vulnerable prisoners, when the pandemic brought to light the horror of crowded jails in 21st century Britain – over-incarceration in action. It fell on deaf ears. We see women with debt issues, locked up instead of supported: imprisoned for not paying council tax, or criminalised for not having a TV licence. We see domestic abuse victims confronting their attackers, in a system that remains incapable of recognising the cruel reality driving them to fight back, or reflecting this in their sentences.
We try to unlock those cell doors. But the reality is that many of these doors should not be closed in the first place.
An overworked justice system is incapable of correcting its mistakes. Diversion of, particularly vulnerable, individuals from the criminal process is a vital step in allowing the system to cope. Yet, overcriminalisation, alongside cuts to resources across the justice system,creates more pressure. And this pressure means more can go wrong which in turn means more miscarriages of justice. The narrative of increasing crime then provides a cloak to strip defendants of their rights, which opens the door to further miscarriages of justice. The vicious cycle keeps turning.
At a time when the public eye is rightly focused on radical alternatives, we can do much better. Thank you Free Word for bringing us together to imagine A Kinder Justice.
This is poem is written by Cookie who APPEAL represents. She was in prison for life and is now hoping to be exonerated. You can listen to her story on the podcast on the APPEAL website here.
As raindrops, sparkling streetlights, cascade from the sky the wind rattles the door. The letterbox tapping. Hungry .
In this nighttime emergency of the emerging night my arthritic house stretches and moans. Stairs creaking as they settle. Devoid of my children’s scampering feet.
And the cat, like my memories, flitters dust-like across the floor.
I am cocooned in the pregnant pause of hope. The silent sounds waiting to explode in the cacophony of the birthing Sun.
And the duvet about my bare shoulders protects me from the stillness of my raging, restless, soul.
I am the bridge between the world’s.
The predictably random noises of convicted reality and the muted knowledge of freed dreams, to which I am the tranquil termination.
This is a poem from the daughter of a woman who is in prison for life.
We need Kinder Justice….
You can’t go to prison for something you haven’t done we said.
Laying there praying every night, we have to have strength and have to fight.
They will see the truth and this horrific nightmare will be over.
16 years on and we are still waiting for our conviction to be turned over.
It’s not just the wrongly convicted that have to suffer. It’s their family and friends and their very elderly mother.
The heartbreak and pain we have had to endure knowing she is sitting behind a lock door.
A crime was committed yes we agree but a wrongful conviction look…..can’t you see.
Stop putting barriers in the way of our fight, help us to prove it Justice is in sight.
The truth will come out one day you will see. We will prove her innocence and she will be free.