“A price tag on their freedom”

Dear Catalyst Community,

We owe you all a HUGE thank you!! Several weeks ago we launched a campaign to raise $100,000 for the Black Mama’s Bail Out bit.ly/covid19-bailouts, a Black feminist-led initiative to reunite Black mothers and caregivers with their families instead of allowing them to be exposed to possible illness and even death. With the support of hundreds of people, we surpassed that goal! 

We have been asked now to redirect our efforts, to raise money for two local bail funds:

  • CA Black Mama’s Bail Outs: Can you help us close a $16,000 gap to bring someone home by Mother’s Day? California has the highest average bail amount in the country (5-10 times the national average), making it that much harder to bail folks out in this state. We need all the help we can get to raise the money to #FreeBlackMamas — we don’t want to leave anyone behind! You can donate to the CA Black Mama’s Bail Outs here: bit.ly/CABailOuts2020  
  • Philadelphia Community Bail Fund (PCBF): After a woman incarcerated in the Philadelphia jail died of Covid-19 recently, PCBF has intensified it’s campaign to bail people out. You can donate here. Last week we spoke with Braden Alum Cara Tratner, a core organizer with the PCBF. Cara spoke about the community’s efforts to bring people home during this pandemic. You can find a full transcript of our interview with Cara below, and you can hear from a woman who was bailed out recently through PCBF: Luz is HOME!

Prisons were sites of public health crises before COVID-19. They will become sites of mass death if people are not released. Donating to a bail fund is one way to directly impact lives and reunite Black families in the midst of this crisis.  

Love and solidarity,
Molly McClure

Transcript of interview:

Donna Willmott: We see so many reports around the country about the horrible toll this pandemic is taking on incarcerated people.  Could you talk about the conditions in the Philly jail? 

Cara Tratner: Similar to all around the country in this time of crisis, the Philadelphia jails have essentially locked down. People are locked in their cells over 23 hours a day. They are only able to get out for 15 minutes and have to choose between taking a shower or making a phone call. Sometimes people are not able to leave their cells for multiple days at a time.

They’re not being given PPE, their food quality has worsened, they’re now being served rotten food and cold food instead of hot food. Nothing is being done to control the spread, the city and the jail are covering up what’s happening in there, which is what we see happening around the country as well.

DW: Do you know how many cases they’re reporting?

CT: There have been over 100 now. There are significantly more people who are likely positive already in the Philadelphia jails than what they’re reporting. There’s already the first reported death of one 48-year-old woman who was due to be released in August but they denied her motion for early release, and she unfortunately passed away. So we’ve already lost one person, and we are sending a lot of love to her family. It’s motivating us to take action because we know these jails are literally death camps for Black and Brown people and will continue to be. Everyone I’ve talked to is being denied medical treatment. That’s particularly terrifying knowing that people have underlying medical conditions.

DW: What are the community demands right now?

CT: The Philadelphia Community Bail Fund is demanding that they free them all. That they free every person,  that they house every person, and that they provide safety and health and well-being for folks. More specifically we are demanding that they free everybody who is held on a county sentence, who is held on cash bail, everybody who is held on what’s called a detainer for a probation violation, or some kind of probation case, and that they free all youth from any youth facility in the city. And we’re demanding that the Mayor, Mayor Kenny of Philadelphia actually take action and use his power, that the judges use their power, and that the District Attorney – every official should be using every power that they have to release people as quickly as possible.

DW: I’ve seen some really powerful, dramatic footage of some of the actions that people have organized. Can you talk about that?

CT: We’ve had a lot of building of power in Philadelphia, of community coming together to demand that the city take action. This is one of the seeds of hope right now, that there are advocates, and community members, and people who are formerly incarcerated, and loved ones of people on the inside who are all joining together to say that we are not going to sit back while this is happening. We’ve had car protests where we’ve blasted the voices of people on the inside who want to share and break the silence of what’s happening in there. We’ve been able to uplift their stories, and make a lot of noise and force the city to listen to us. We’ve stopped traffic, and had an action where we delivered a coffin to the courthouse and forced the judges to know that this blood is on their hands, that their inaction is leading to murder. We’ve directly confronted the judges who have not been releasing people. We’ve had virtual town halls and briefings, and have brought in leading clergy. And there’s been union support in Philadelphia, the Correctional Officers union, the healthcare union and the social workers union have all come out saying that people need to be released. There is a sort of consensus, I would say, among the people of Philadelphia that this needs to happen, but there are a lot of blocks to it happening because we know the system is designed to abandon Black and Brown folks and let them die in moments like these, and that’s why we’re continuing to push.

DW: The work you all are doing is so, so important. I saw the very moving footage of the vigil you had outside of the jail after Ms. Yvonne Harris died inside. And the women inside flicked the lights on and off as a way to communicate, to say that they heard you, they knew you were there. It was incredibly moving. I think one of the hardest things for anybody who is locked up is to feel like you’re being abandoned, that nobody cares. What you’re doing to make sure that people inside know that they aren’t forgotten is incredibly important. 

How can people support these decarceration efforts? And in particular, can you talk about the urgency of the Black Mamas Bail Out campaign?

CT: Thank you. There’s been unbelievably powerful inside organizing, seeing all the ways that people are resisting, literally risking their lives to share their stories and to support people around them. To me that has been by far the most transformative part of this movement work for me personally, just being in touch with people who are inspiring me to act because of what they’re doing, in the conditions they’re in, to support each other to communicate with us to organize together.

There are a lot of ways people can support this work now. The Black Mamas Bail Out is a national action envisioned by our movement leaders at National Bail Out, including Mary Hooks from Southerners on New Ground. The Philadelphia Community Bail Fund has participated, this is our third year. We started early and are fundraising more aggressively than we ever have because of the urgency. We are in touch with Black mothers and caregivers, and trans and cis women who are experiencing a level of violence and harm and horrific conditions and are telling us they are terrified of dying soon. We’ve been able to bail out more people than we have ever in the past, and the need is still there.

We have Black women and mothers on our list who we still haven’t raised enough money for. It’s really hard to know that someone has a price tag on their freedom. With enough money they could be home, but they’re still in a cage. 

We can’t wait for the city to act when we know, honestly, that they probably won’t act soon enough. Join wherever you are locally, find ways to be in solidarity. There’s incredible work happening all around the country now to demand release. You can look at the #FreeThemAll national hashtag, or your local bail fund or other organizations to support that work.

DW: Thanks for taking time to talk with us, Cara. We send love and solidarity to the folks who are locked up and need to come home. Free ‘em all!

CT: Free ‘em all! Thanks to you and everyone who is putting love and energy into this too. We’re in this together.