The country of Slovenia has a population of roughly 2.1 million people. What if I told you that the United States had an entire country’s worth of people behind bars? That is why we need to talk about mass incarceration. According to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), the U.S. incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world. In fact, the United States has almost 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, despite making up only 5 percent of the world’s population.
What does that mean for the criminal justice system? Severe overcrowding, strained state budgets, and an ever increasing demand for prison beds. Although violent and property crimes have fallen dramatically in the past few decades, the number of people who are incarcerated, on probation, or on parole have increased to over 7 million people in the U.S. Why?
The “tough on crime” politics in recent decades have spurred a flurry of fear-induced policies. Many of these policies are racially-biased, including the “war on drugs” and the criminalization of drug use. The ACLU also notes that the school-to-prison pipeline has contributed to this national trend, where “children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.” Policies in school such as zero-tolerance have essential isolated and targeted students whose behavior doesn’t fit the expected. This coupled with the inadequate resources of failing public schools (often in “less affluent” areas) have unequally targeted minority youth—specifically black male youth—who are funneled into the system. After looking at all of the layers that go into this issue, one can ask themselves: how are we to ever fix this?
Despite all of this gloom, things do appear to be getting better in some respects. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the past decade has seen a wave of reform, with prison admission rates declining by 24 percent since 2006. Although this sounds great, the decline varies from one county to another, and from one state to another, showing how much the conversation surrounding mass incarceration is needed. Many states have made great strides towards prison reform, but others have made little to no progress in terms of such policy.
Alternative Service Breaks works to challenge and break the bubble than many of us live in as students who are privileged to receive a college education. ASB plans trips across the US to allow students to engage in different cultures while serving the community, focusing on issues such as this. For our Alternative Spring Break trip of 2019, we will be traveling to New Orleans to tackle the complicated issue of mass incarceration. Through education, service, and reflection, we hope to become more educated on this topic and work towards creating meaningful change that has been observed in some states in recent years. If you would like to join us in this endeavor, the application will be open until February 3rd at 11:59PM. The first step in challenging inequality is admitting it, confronting it, and educating ourselves about it.
The link to apply is: https://orgsync.com/96382/forms/351819.
Our third day in Chicago began our actual service opportunities for domestic violence. Waking up bright and early, we started off our day by making a visit to the Chicago Domestic Violence Legal Clinic. As we walked through the doors, we were greeted by Presiding Judge Sebastian Patti. The DVLC has provided free assistance to low-income individuals in Cook County and is dedicated to using the legal system to combat domestic violence. The organization is comprised of staff members and volunteers, providing a variety of legal services for those affected by domestic violence. Judge Patti gave us a personal introduction to the clinic and what they do and then stepped out while the volunteer coordinator for the DVLC let us participate in a volunteer training session with people who were training to be legal advocates.
During this training session, we got a more thorough look at what domestic violence is, what are factors that contribute to it, and what some common misconceptions are of domestic violence factors and those who are victims of domestic violence. The training also included an in-depth look at Orders of Protection, Illinois’s version of Emergency Protective Orders. These are essentially court ordered no contact agreements, stating that the victim cannot be contacted by the abuser or else the abuser can be arrested. After the training, our group had the opportunity to observe Judge Patti hear actual Order of Protection cases and judge on them. We were given the opportunity to realize that domestic violence can look and feel like many different things, including married couples, non-married couples, parents and children, neighbors, and other types of domestic violence situations. We also got to observe a diverse array of cases, including different sexualities, ethnicities, ages, and physical disabilities that all affected the outcome of the case.
After this educational morning, our trip participants headed to an organization called Sarah’s Inn. Sarah’s Inn is a community-based non-profit whose mission is to improve the lives of those affected by domestic violence and to break the cycle of violence for future generations. Their focus is on ending relationship violence through crisis intervention, community education, prevention programs for children and adults, and programs for convicted abusers. We had the opportunity to do over 40 hours of individual work for this organization in just one afternoon—painting porches, sanitizing toys, creating care packages for a Women’s Day celebration, and taking inventory of food pantries. Our participants had a wonderful time volunteering, taking pride in their work while also enjoying their time with other participants.
Although the day was long, it was rewarding. The members expressed their gratitude in reflection at the end of the day, citing just how valuable teamwork is when an organization needs to get a lot of work done in a short amount of time. We were in awe of the progress we made, and are ready for Day 4 of our week in Chicago.
Co-Director of Alternative Service Breaks– ELSB @ UofL
Sophmore Education major @ UofL
Dedicated, passionate, considerate, “mom”
Can you explain your position and role in this service trip?
“My position for this organization is as Alternative Service Breaks co-director. This means I am the administrative part of the board and work with our advisor Pam Curtis and my other co-director Angel to make decisions for ASB. As co-director, I also oversee all ASB’s committee chairs, board members, and trip participants to ensure that they get the most out of this program. For this specific trip, I was the trip leader for Spring Break 2018. I coordinated every aspect of the trip from where we were going to what we were doing.”
What does domestic violence mean to you/what was your inspiration for this trip? Why did you pick this service site?
“I wanted to do a trip on domestic violence and work with amazing organizations so Chicago was a logical choice. Domestic Violence is a chronic issue and no one is immune to its effects. It is pervasive in that it affects individuals regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, age, or socioeconomic class. The reason I planned this trip was to make students on campus more aware of the issue of domestic violence. I think many times we get this idea of a stereotypical domestic violence victim and I wanted the trip participants to see domestic violence in a different light. That is why I chose to work with organizations that helped with victims of domestic violence that were already part of a marginalized group. At KAN WIN, we helped survivors and their families from Asian American backgrounds. This allowed the trip participants to see additional challenges that an immigrant faces while trying to leave a domestic violence situation. Other organizations we worked with included Sarah’s Inn that worked with Hispanic Americans and the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic that helped people from lower socioeconomic statuses. This allowed us to explore how domestic violence crosses cultures and has different effects on different individuals.”
Before this trip, what did you think of when you thought of the “master narrative” of domestic violence? What aspects of this trip challenged your previous conceptions of domestic violence?
“This trip questioned many of my preconceived notions about domestic violence. I largely based my idea of domestic violence on what I had experienced as a survivor. However, working with domestic violence victims from already marginalized categories made me realize the vast effects that domestic violence has outside of emotional and physical abuse. Many of the victims we worked with could not reach out for help from their abusers due to immigration status, financial reasons like potential homelessness, or religious reasons like being shunned from their community.”
What was the most rewarding aspect of leading this trip?
“The most rewarding part of this trip was watching all 14 of us be truly interested in learning about domestic violence and discovering things we never had thought about. Every evening after service, we did group reflections where we debriefed about the day. My favorite thing was listening to all the participants be able to tell me at least one thing they learned or challenged their conception of domestic violence at the end of every day. This way, each trip participant was able to hear 13 other perspectives about the service we did that day besides their own personal account.”
How has this trip helped you grow personally?
“This trip was a blessing. I was able to open up and share my whole story as a domestic violence survivor to a group of people that I really trust. Yes, we had an amazing time on the trip and had many fun memories but I now have 13 people that I am forever connected to because they went through this immersive learning experience with me.”
What is something important to you about domestic violence that you would like to share?
“If there is one take away I want people to know about domestic violence is you can never fully understand what a person is going through. Domestic violence isn’t identical for every victim and every victim faces unique challenges that can impact them for a lifetime. It is important to remember that it is never easy to leave a domestic violence situation. The “why does she stay” question is irrelevant because you can never fully understand the strings that tie a victim to their abuser. It is up to the victim to cut those strings and we as a culture need to indoctrinate a more loving/caring approach to domestic victims in order to let them know they are not alone.”
For the second day of our Spring 2018 Alternative Service Break (ASB) trip to Chicago, Illinois. As we awoke from a restful night after our 5-hour drive to the windy city, we began our excursion day by going to the Garfield Park Conservatory. This free nature exhibit featured sections for different environments of plant life and our trip members explored the different plant life for several hours. Many of the trip members were fascinated by the flower exhibit (especially considering the possibilities for photo ops).
After a morning of beautiful scenery, we ate lunch at a local Resturant called Turkey Chop. This restaurant is a small business that is social-justice orientated, donating part of their profits to pour directly back into their neighborhood.
After wrapping up our time at the restaurant, our group headed to the famed Millennium Park. The scenery was beautiful, and all of the students especially enjoyed the visit to “Cloud Gate”, or as they would like to call it, The Bean. Afterward, we explored the Chicago Cultural Center, taking a look at local artists from Chicago, how the city comes together through art, the themes of diversity and unity within the artworks, and looking at how different people express themselves in their culture through art.
Getting our fill of greenery and beautiful local art, the group took public transit to Navy Pier, where the students had the opportunity to explore the pier and gaze out to Lake Michigan. Some of our members rode the Ferris Wheel, others explored the different shopping opportunities, and others went out to the lakefront of the pier to take in all of the water. Afterward, the group members went to the limited time prism exhibit, where an art display of spinning prisms created a beautiful scene at night.
To finish up our excursion day in Chicago, the ASB’ers headed back to Christ’s Vineyard (our temporary home for the week) and picked up some authentic Chicago style pizza for dinner that night. During dinner, the group gathered for a reflection on what we had seen that day and how we may carry these into our week of service on domestic violence. There was a great discussion on the pervasiveness of homelessness in the area, how this may be connected to domestic violence, and the importance of free programs like the Chicago Cultural Center and the Conservatory was essential to providing access to resources that people may otherwise not have access to. Overall, the group was exhausted but ready to head into Day 3, the first day of service!
ASB develops active citizens on our campus and in our community through immersive service-based trips.
Co-Director: Parin Rekhraj
Co-Director: Meera Sahney