Degrees of Visibility & A Future Without Prison

Atlanta stands as a unique city in many ways. It’s thriving music scene, it’s diversity, beautiful weather, and it’s constantly working, too busy to hate lifestyle. Atlanta is also the only American city with a Federal Pen inside it’s city limits.


from the atlanta time machine


The building dominates the landscape at the end of Boulevard, stark and imposing and unforgiving. It’s a shock to many people to find the structure there, right next to home of the best tacos in the city, colloquially known as ‘The Prison Tacos’.


  I have lived near the prison for seven years, and walked by it to buy beer on countless weekends without a thought, without thinking about the thousands of people living behind bars. There are neighborhood myths, from the 1980s, when Cuban prisoners — political dissidents, anti revolutionaries, criminals, and happiness seekers Fidel Castro released to the sea in the Mariel Boatlift, sick of their indefinite imprisonment in Atlanta, rebelled and rioted for eleven days. It has held storied criminals within it’s walls, from popular mobsters like Whitey Bulger and Al Capone, to political provocateurs Eugene V. Debs and Marcus Garvey, and government officials convicted of bribery, financial mismanagement, and organized crime.


Under the Three Prisons Act of 1891 Penitentiaries in Atlanta, Leavenworth, Kansas, and McNeil Island, Washington were opened. The facility at McNeil Island has since closed, and the facility at Leavenworth has been downgraded from it’s infamous ‘super max’ status as of 2005. Atlanta remains unchanged in function since it’s opening in 1902.


Currently, the United States Penitentiary, Atlanta holds approximately 2,320 men, with 468 of them residing in the prison camp. All of those who seek to work in the Federal Prison system must be trained and evaluated at FLETC, (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center), which is located in Glynn County, Georgia. United States Penitentiary, Atlanta is also the federal transfer point for prisoners, holding between eight and twelve prisoners awaiting trial elsewhere or imprisonment elsewhere.


It was truly a surprise to me that Georgia housed so much of the prison mechanism – in the city in which I live, and in the state that I live. Prison has come under greater scrutiny, from the connections made between Atlanta’s skyrocketing HIV/AIDS rate, to the imbalance in our budgets, people in all areas of Georgia life are talking about prison, and now with Ava Duvernay’s new film 13th, the whole world is talking about mass incarceration in the United States.
Degrees of Visibility, the art project from Ashley Hunt in collaboration with Critical Resistance and other abolitionist groups, envisions Degrees as a platform to organize against the prison industrial complex and imagine it’s abolition. Degrees of Visibility exhibit is part of Profiles in Abolition, a national series of events intended to reinvigorate a critical understanding of the prison industrial complex and inspire us to take practical and creative steps towards a liberated future – free of policing, imprisonment or mass surveillance. Atlanta and Southern based organizations Project South, Solutions not Punishment and Southerners on New Ground bring forward this event in order to highlight their work to dismantle the violent systems of policing and imprisonment while fostering community based resilience.


WonderRoot stands at a delicate touchpoint for many of these issues. After arts funding for the state was cut by almost 90% in 2015, WonderRoot’s youth programs and affordable art making resources became even more important, as it has been proven that art classes and music classes help keep kids in school, and the longer kids are in school the less likely they are to be incarcerated. WonderRoot is located in Reynoldstown, a historic black working class neighborhood that is currently staring down the rapid effects of new development, inflating house prices and generational loss. Not just generational loss as in the history and presence of the neighborhood in the city, but a real, generational loss of black men and women from all public life.


WonderRoot is committed to hearing, validating, and preserving our local history, from Reynoldstown all the way down Boulevard to USP, Atlanta. We are extremely excited to bring Critical Resistance to WonderRoot to speak about an issue that directly affects the kids we work with, the adults that teach here, and the many people we cannot reach, behind bars.


Find out more about our programming with Degrees of Visibility and Critical Resistance here.

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