“I read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson - I guess you could say by accident. I was on a road trip home from New York, and forgot to bring a book to read in the car. Fortunately, the friend who I was travelling with didn't mind loaning me her book, since she was driving the last leg of the trip back to Ohio.
"It was an accident that had a huge impact on how I viewed our legal system and the mass incarceration of the Black community. This book changed and challenged me.
"I could never quite forget about that book, and the stories it told. It didn't come full circle for me until years later when I had the opportunity to volunteer and teach a tap class at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. I have a hard time putting into words the many emotions that overcame me during those three months that I taught the class. The women were strong, encouraging, and their energy was invigorating, despite the fact that they were incarcerated. It was hard to leave each Friday knowing I had the opportunity to go home and have a week's worth of everyday normalities - and return the next week and they were still there... and they are still there.
"Women's incarceration has grown at twice the pace of men's incarceration in recent decades, and Black women are incarcerated at a rate twice that of white women. 60% of Black women incarcerated are mothers. This overrepresentation even extends into the incarceration of young Black girls in juvenile detention centers, many of whom are held for status offenses like: running away, truancy, and incorrigibility.
"How do we ensure that all women have opportunity instead of jail time? How do you end the cycle of children being more likely to be incarcerated if their mothers were incarcerated. How can we change this system? It can start with something as simple as a book.
"Learn. Educate. Listen. Vote."
To learn more about the Tapestry program at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, please visit their website.
The portraits of Jessica and her words are part of my 614BLM project to show how Columbus is responding to and working through the current national protests in support of Black Lives Matter.
Those joining the project might wear a favorite shirt with an important message or person on it, draw messages and symbols on themselves, pose with a sign or book, bring a photo of someone inspirational, sit with someone important, or anything else they want to share in support of blacklivesmatter. We might show love, anger, support, sadness, and every emotion in between. It is my goal to show all ages, young and old.
The goal of each photo and accompanying story is to show how each person is processing and responding to our country’s latest swell of support for Black Lives Matter.
In addition to creating the portraits for the project, I have asked participants to “donate what you can” for each portrait sitting. Donations will benefit the Equal Justice Initiative, a national organization directed by Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy.
(If you’re interested in donating directly to each organization, you can donate here.)
Thank you, Jessica, and everyone who has joined the project. To join my project, please send me a private message or email at email@example.com. I want to tell your story next.