Resources on Justice: Sarah Ross

Open Engagement has invited a group of contributors to make this year’s blog into a timely resource for organizing, moving forward and thinking creatively during particularly unjust times.

In light of our current reality and to align with this year’s conference theme of JUSTICE these blog posts will feature strategies, testimonies, literature, art and instructions as tools for working and living in the world as we know it.

The 2017 blog project, Resources on Justice, will grow over time, be published incrementally and will feature responses from a wide range of participants including activists, writers, thinkers, artists, teachers, arts professionals, community leaders, cultural workers, and more. It is an inclusive and accessible platform to think through the conference theme, introduce dialogues specific to the conference’s host city, as well as instigate ideas that can be applied beyond the context of this conference.

Sarah Ross is an educator and artist whose work uses narrative and the body to address spatial concerns as they relate to access, class, anxiety and activism. She co-founded the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project (PNAP), a cultural project that brings together artists, writers and scholars in and outside Stateville prison to create public projects concerning segregation, criminalization and incarceration. During this time Sarah worked closely with local artists, activists, lawyers, torture survivors and scholars on Chicago Torture Justice Memorials—a recent four-year campaign for reparations for survivors of Chicago police torture.



CR has been around for almost 2 decades now. I learned about them in the mid 2000s, and in 2007 I went to the 10 year conference in Oakland. Their framework trained me up on what abolition is— and their work has made prison abolition a much more common term, idea, and vision. They put out The Abolitionist newspaper, which goes to thousands of people in prison and published an edited volume called Abolition Now. I recommend reading both. Plus they have lots of tools on their website to think about how to teach abolition and ways of addressing harm that don’t rely on punishment, prisons and policing.


I’ve followed the work of INCITE for a while and appreciate their analysis of ‘carceral feminisms’. In the 2000s I worked with people who identified as women, and who were surviving domestic violence and I saw how social service systems relied on police and prisons as a solution to violence, not the source of it. INCITE’s work succinctly understands this. Furthermore, their work helped me more deeply understand how (the figure of the) white woman has been— and continues to be —used as a reason to criminalize and lock up more and more people of color. INCITE’s work names this racism and resists it— and builds much needed resources and support for women, trans, and queer people of color.  


There are so many people and groups doing work with and by young folks. I am excited about these projects because they are leading our future! I’ve followed Youth Justice Coalition in Los Angeles from afar and only seen them speak a few times, but when I did, I was blown away. These young folks articulated the ways they solved problems without policing, fought for better education and housing, and organized against the use of gang injunctions and other policing tools that so heavily surveilled them. In Chicago, Project NIA, founded by the amazing Mariame Kaba, has done similar work that focuses on how criminal legal systems ensnare young people. Project NIA has created tons of circular resources, developed workshops, started peace circles, and hosted exhibitions. In 2011 I attended a summer workshop around the PIC that Project NIA hosted. I learned so much with other organizers and see their work show up in the world in powerful ways today— like the work of Page May who is a cofounder of Assata’s Daughters a grassroots collective project project that, among other things, offers political education, black feminist theory and organizing training to black girls.  


I’m a big fan of law projects in Chicago like the People’s Law Office, Transformative Justice Law Project, Uptown People’s Law in Chicago, The Children and Family Justice Center, Center on Wrongful Convictions, Cabrini Green Legal Aide, Metropolitan Tenants Organization and others. They represent and believe people when others won’t, they sue state systems for misconduct (or worse) and are able to use the law for us, when so often it’s used against us.


There are also many awesome education projects that offer free or low cost education to people. Centro Autonomo, Sister Jean Hughes Adult High School, the Michael Barlow Center, the Odyssey Project, even Chicago City Colleges offers free GED classes and some free college credits. Free and affordable education, housing, and healthcare are some key ways to build communities of care necessary to ending segregation, prisons and policing. We might see this connection more clearly by looking at this rise in gun violence in Chicago and the state’s inability to pass a state budget, which has, for 2 years resulted in little to no funding for basic, life sustaining services.