How does mass incarceration affect Rhode Island? How are local organizations working to address human harm and conflict? Join Africana Studies Assistant Professor Lisa Biggs for a frank discussion with local artists and activists about the state of policing, prisons, and human wellbeing in Rhode Island. Panelists include local artists John Barnes and Leonard Jefferson, Nick Horton from OpenDoors, and Raquel Baker from the Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women.*
About the panelists:
Raquel Baker coordinates the Providence, Rhode Island office of the National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women. With the Council, she works to end the criminal legal system's forced separation of women and girls from their communities and loved ones through hyper-local organizing, public awareness education, movement lawyering, and the national #FreeHer Campaign. A mother of two, born and raised in Rhode Island, Raquel's activism is shaped by her personal experiences, including with the state juvenile "justice," foster care, and probation systems. In addition to her work with the Council, she is a medical marijuana advocate, and an active member of Just Leadership USA, Reclaim RI, and the Formerly Incarcerated Union.*
John Barnes is a God-fearing person who believes in the Heavenly Father. He was born in Boston, MA, and was raised there and in Rhode Island. He is a husband, father, and grandfather who currently works in fire protection and as a musician in the music ministry at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Providence. He was truly blessed to have been contacted by former President Barack Obama, who changed his life for the better. Mr. Barnes and his loved ones are forever grateful. God does not make mistakes no matter how impossible it may seem (Numbers 23:9).
Nick Horton is the Co-Executive Director of OpenDoors, the first and largest organization in the state dedicated to supporting people that have been in prison. OpenDoors works with over 500 people a year and operates 80 beds of prison reentry housing, an employment program including a trucking social entrepreneur company, and a Reentry Resource Center. OpenDoors also leads campaigns to reform the RI law enforcement system, including the successful Right to Vote campaign of 2006 that returned the right to vote to over 15,000 RI's on probation and parole, probation reform legislation, court debt reform, marijuana decriminalization and now the Stop Torture RI campaign to end solitary confinement. The agency is largely staffed and led by people that have overcome past incarceration, and as a person without previous experience of incarceration Mr. Horton works in collaboration with the leadership team and staff to help push Rhode Island to invest in people not prisons. Mr. Horton has worked at OpenDoors since graduating from Brown University in 2004.
Leonard C. Jefferson is a great-grandfather, Vietnam war veteran, and self-taught illustrator, painter, sculptor, poet, and musician who survived 37 years behind walls. Born in Pittsburgh, PA, he spent a significant part of his childhood in Longview, a small city east of Dallas, TX. Growing up under Jim Crow, he explains, “the absence of depictions of Black people” prompted him to make work that would “fill this racist, cultural void.” From early on, his mother, a church pianist, encouraged his passion. Today, his paintings draw inspiration from his experiences and observations of everyday life, as well as from Black history, current events, popular media, and nature photography. Like the trailblazers who ignited the Black Arts Movement (approx.1965-1975), Mr. Jefferson considers his work to be a practice of personal and cultural liberation. His paintings do more than depict his experiences. They portray the beauty and complexity of Black life, and stage radical critiques of American society and the practice of law enforcement. Mr. Jefferson currently lives and works in Rhode Island.
Dr. Lisa Biggs is an actor, playwright, and performance studies scholar originally from the Southside of Chicago. A former member of the Living Stage Theatre Company, she has appeared in productions at the Kennedy Center, Lookingglass Theatre, Woolly Mammoth, the African Continuum Theatre, ETA Creative Arts Foundation, and many more. In addition, she has toured her original theatre/dance works across the U.S., including productions at Links Hall, DC Arts Center, Baltimore Theatre Project, the National Black Theatre Festival, NY Hip Hop Theatre Fest, and Cultural Odyssey. Her most recent play, After/Life, premiered in Detroit in 2017 in conjunction with citywide events marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit rebellion. At Brown, Dr. Biggs currently serves as the John Atwater and Diana Nelson Assistant Professor of the Arts and Africana Studies. Her forthcoming book, The Healing Stage: Black Women, Incarceration, and the Art of Transformation, is a combined ethnography and history of four theatre programs for women incarcerated in the U.S. and in South Africa that use theatre to encourage individual, community, institutional, and cultural healing.
Update as of October 26, 2022: Raquel Baker will no longer be participating in this program.