LETTERS FROM THE EDITORS
Incarceration Issue of ZEKE Magazine
Published September 2023
Dear ZEKE Readers:
I am so excited to have been offered the role of guest editor for this special edition of ZEKE magazine dedicated to one of the biggest issues we face as a country — mass incarceration. Many of you may not think often of the carceral system, believing it has minimal impact upon your life. But in reality a third of all Americans are in some way connected to the carceral system.
We’ve been led to believe that we need prisons and jails to keep us safe. That without them our communities will suffer. But our communities are suffering because of them — especially impoverished communities, mostly filled with Black and Brown people. These communities have been stripped of countless members to feed the machine of the prison industrial complex. A system that harvests our children as they are locked up at ages as early as 10 years old!
For prisons and jails to truly keep us safe, the individuals that enter the system would need to be receiving proper support and treatment for what led them to prison in the first place. That way when people are released, they can be contributing members of society. Yet, rehabilitation has long been an afterthought inside a majority of the prisons across America.
Today, many prisoners are simply being warehoused and abused through disciplinary measures such as solitary confinement and then dumped back into our communities with little or no resources. Leading them right back to the only thing they know — a life of crime and violence so they can survive.
We must demand more. We can reconstruct the system to reshape people. We can offer people a hand to rebuild their lives and a way to process their traumas and hardships rather than punishment and ostracizing them from being a member of our communities.
Often the people who fill our jails and prisons are only there because of the traumatic experiences they’ve been forced to endure throughout their whole lives, or the lack of investment and opportunity offered to them. We must fix that by building the commUNITY we want to live in, one that’s constructed from love and unity; not hate, abuse, and division.
This issue of ZEKE will offer you a view into the lives of those impacted by the carceral system. Through testimony and imagery, you’ll be given a deep look into the lives of those most impacted. The photos will display the rawness of those suffering and will hopefully inspire you to fight against this draconian structure.
We are in this fight together, so let’s educate ourselves to understand the harms we are causing through the use of jails and prisons, and let’s demand better!
A little over three months ago, while looking for someone knowledgeable about the criminal justice system in the U.S. to be guest editor for this issue, I saw an opinion piece in the New York Times by Christopher Blackwell titled, “Two Decades of Prison Did Not Prepare Me for the Horrors of County Jail.” His bio said that he is an incarcerated writer and a co-founder of the nonprofit Look2Justice. I immediately shot off an email to Look2Justice to see if they could recommend someone. To my surprise, two days later I received an email from Chris from prison saying he was interested. Thus began an enduring working relationship, friendship, and education on the topic of this issue of ZEKE.
More than 100 emails and a dozen phone calls later (Zoom is not an option), I am so thrilled to present this special issue of ZEKE Magazine. I am truly indebted to Chris and the many writers and prisoner advocates whom he introduced me to. In addition to Chris’s essay “Incarceration of a Nation,” do not miss the extraordinary piece by April Harris “Open Eyes Within Hidden Places” about her own indignities experienced while currently incarcerated. In addition there are seven deeply moving photo essays, an interview with Jamel Shabazz, and book reviews. I also want to thank three people whose names do not appear anywhere else since they are not writers, photographers, or editors but were invaluable in facilitating communications with incarcerated writers—April Nonko, Robert Jensen, and Jessica Schulberg.
Before closing, I want to inform our readers of the redesigned ZEKE website (www.zekemagazine.com). We are finally recognizing that we have very important content to share and we want to make it more accessible by creating a full web version of what you see in the print magazine.