Tori Wolfe-Sisson Holding healing space outside of the Etowah Detention Center in Alabama during the We Want Freedom Solidarity March. April 2016.
Tori Wolfe-Sisson holding healing space outside of the Etowah Detention Center in Alabama during the We Want Freedom Solidarity March. April 2016.

Over the weekend of April 2nd and 3rd, members of Southerners On New Ground attended We Want Freedom: Resisting Criminalization in the Southeast, a regional gathering in Birmingham, Alabama, to discuss the intersections of police violence, mass incarceration, unjust immigration enforcement, and the disproportionate criminalization of Black, Brown, LGBTQ, and Immigrant communities in the South. Sunday, after the gathering, folks caravanned over to Gadsden, Alabama, and held an action outside of the Etowah Detention Center, where the hundreds of people imprisoned within its walls experience some of the worst conditions in the country.  Below are some insights from two of SONG’s members:

I can only be reflective. My words can be constructive. My thoughts destructive, if I can channel them into malevolence. Here I stood today in freedom. No monstrous clang from a steel door. No berating guard to continually strip me of my humanity. No small glass covered crack in my wall being the only membrane between I, and the “good”. For was it not Plato who compared the son’s ever expanding rats to benevolence? To Good?

But if I am in a cage with no light, then where is my good?

Do the shadows entail bad, for darkness is bad, right? I stood on that sidewalk and looked up at the Brown digits waving back down at me. “Thank you,” I interpreted each wave to mean.

-Mel Groves, SONG Member

Driving back from the Etowah Detention Center my head hurts a little. I am feeling tense and maybe hungry or dehydrated. While we were in front of the detention center, the police made four trips, horseback trips, between the activists and the imprisoned people. The police made a show of their power by riding as a gang of four threatening us with each hoof beat.

As the detainees responded to our presence, some of them were forcefully removed from the windows. We waved to each other, we showered love to each other, and affirmed beauty as a necessity to our humanity through cement, glass, and across a street.

As I held the healing space, apparently two detained people jumped into the screen to show us that they could see and hear us. There was a moment where the solidarity was so potent, the imprisoned men shouted, “What do we want?” as the protesters screamed, “FREEDOM!” The sage and lavender smoke smoldered sending prayers of release into the winds as Bayard Rustin’s candle flickered affirmation to the “angelic troublemakers.”

-Tori Wolfe-Sisson, SONG Member

More Photos of the We Want Freedom Convening