by Karn Saetang
There are few things more American than prisons. With a prison population almost the same size as Houston (our country’s fourth largest city) at over 2 million people, US capitalism relies on the labor of those 2 million individuals. We’ve been exposed to prisons on TV, film, music, books, and most forms of media. Many of us have been incarcerated ourselves, have family members or friends who are or have been locked up. Yet this huge segment of our population is still fighting to be seen. In 2016, one of the largest US prison strikes in history took place (against prison labor and slavery), and there have been numerous organizing efforts led by inmates against prison labor and slavery throughout history, but rarely do we hear about these movements on the news.
“Unfortunately, sometimes what sells is what seems to matter most; when programs like ‘Locked Up’ and ‘Hard Time’ use fear and intimidation to capture viewers and drive up ratings, ultimately it only does more harm than good. Public perception is important to the overall ‘Big Picture’ of the criminal justice system,” says Johnny, Asian Pacific Family Club (APFC) member at Oregon State Penitentiary.
Prisoners are somehow the some of most and least visible members of our country.
And much like the fact that API’s are one of the fastest growing populations in the country, we’re also one of the fastest growing populations in our prisons. It’s also one of the many things stigmatized and invisibilized within our communities. While APANO is working to organize against the many systems and institutions that are harming API and other communities-of-color, we also understand that the reality is we, and many of our members, still have to live, work, learn, and operate in these institutions. And as part of that work, we’ve been working with the Asian Pacific Family Club (APFC) at Oregon State Penitentiary. APFC’s most recent effort is a project that is organized and led by inmates. Since 2014, APFC members have been working to build a Japanese healing garden inside the prison grounds (the first of its kind in the country).
“Our hope is that through our hard work and strong determination, we can not only improve ourselves, but also show the community that we are men and women on a journey working to restore the harms of our past,” says Johnny, “As we move along on this journey of self-discovery and self-improvement, hopefully our efforts will be recognized as progress and public perception as well as the culture of corrections may begin to shift.” And the club members see this garden as a restorative space and a space of healing. They’ve been working with one of the designers of the Portland Japanese Garden to design the garden, which was recently approved. Now all that stands in the way is the fundraising, and we would like to ask YOU to help US raise $80,000.
“We wish not to be defined by the events that brought us here, but rather as men and women we are working to become.”
You can help make Asian Pacific Family Club’s healing garden a reality by sending a check to:
DOC Central Trust
P.O. Box 14400
Salem, OR 97309