While prisoners nationwide embarked on a two-week strike this summer, Amani Sawari was responsible for helping to ensure inmates and people on the outside had the information they needed to participate in, and stand in solidarity with, the strike.
When did you start getting involved in activism and advocacy?
So, after I graduated from the University of Washington is when I really started to get involved. I studied law, economics and public policy … so a lot of my classes had to do with the connections between race/crime/and law. That was actually a class that I took and through that class is when I saw: Ok, media representation plays a huge role in the way that people are treated politically. So I started getting involved in prisoner advocacy work through social media. When I started my website the summer after I graduated, I was posting articles about how prisoners deserve to have human rights, and how their rights aren’t properly being protected. Prisoners then found my work on social media and asked me to represent them in the national prison strike. In 2017, I was writing a newsletter to prisoners that was going out on a monthly basis in preparation for the, “Millions for Prisoners” march, which happened August 19th, 2017, and so that’s how prisoners sort of built up this trust for me and learned about me … I built a reputation in that community. And this year is when they asked me to represent them for the national prison strike, which included my writing another newsletter [“Solid Black Fist”] that went out every other week throughout the strike and then also collecting endorsers from groups and organizations across the country… and doing solidarity updates for those endorsers. Keeping them up to date on what JLS wanted. Jailhouse lawyers called the strike and I was really just the feet, doing the footwork, amplifying their voice and making connections for people on the outside.
What do you see to be the most pressing issue impacting people who are incarcerated today?
The fact that their dehumanization is a regular part of corrections protocol. Many people say, “I would have never allowed slavery, I’m not like the people who were complicit to violence during the slave era.” However we can see that these statements aren’t true in the simple fact that so many of us are allowing slavery to happen and are complicit to the violence that happens in prisons. This change in ideology must be adjusted in order for prisoners to receive the support from the public needed to make real transformative changes in our criminal justice system.
In today’s political climate, what changes do you hope to see in the future regarding prisoners’ rights?
We hope to see reinstatement of good time in all states, recension of the Truth in Sentencing laws, recension of the Sentencing Reform Act, recension of the prisoner litigation reform act, reinstatement of pell grants for prisoners in all 50 states, to name a few, are changes that we expect to see in the next few years.
What would you tell someone who wants to support this movement?
At this point in the movement what I’d tell people is what JLS is really trying to get across: We need to be educating our legislators and our communities about what prisoners’ demands are. So prisoners are demanding the right to live, and to live in a space that is comfortable (not luxurious!) but comfortable.
Where they feel protected, safe, are being served edible food and have access to classes and programs and rehabilitation. I would really encourage people to look up the 10 demands of the national prison strike — they’re very concise — and get behind one that really resonates with you. The demand No. 2, an end to prison slavery, is one that a lot of people really connect with and stand behind. If there’s one that you really, really feel like you can stand behind, reach out to your legislators. Whether it’s through Twitter or Facebook.
What inspires you to continue doing this work?
The community that I’ve been able to be a part of — passionate prisoners full of knowledge and wisdom, constantly encourage me and inspire me to continue working hard on their behalf.
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