The Real Cost of Prisons Project and Comic Books


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AlterNet has an interview with Lois Ahrens who is the Founder/Director of The Real Cost of Prisons Project (RCPP) and has been an activist/organizer for more than 40 years.  The organization works on prison reform and uses workshops, a website that includes sections of writing and ‘comix’ by prisoners, a daily news blog focused on mass incarceration and three comic books that were first created in 2005: Prisoners Town: Paying the Price, by artist Kevin Pyle and writer Craig Gilmore; Prisoners of the War on Drugs, by artist Sabrina Jones and writers Ellen Miller-Mack and Lois Ahrens; and Prisoners of a Hard Life: Women and Their Children by artist Susan Willmarth and writers Ellen Miller-Mack and Lois Ahrens.

So far 135,000 of the comics have been printed with 115,000 sent to prisoners and various organizations.  One of the comics is out of print due to funding, but all three are available as pdfs.

Ahrens had this to say in her interview with AlterNet as to why the organization picked comic books to talk about the issue:

The comic books were created to communicate complex ideas in language that could be easily understood despite the fact that they are filled with information, research, analysis and a glossary. We wanted them to look and feel like comic books since people are not intimidated by comic books.

Initially, my goal was to create useful materials for organizers working to challenge and change punitive and destructive drug policies, activists opposing the building of new prisons and jails, as well as educators, and health workers. After publishing the comic books, we realized that prisoners were extremely interested. Comic books have been sent to prisoners every day since April 2005, with many requesting that comics be sent to family members and other prisoners.

The comic books place an individual’s experience in a political context by describing how the prison system is built on racism, sexism, and economic inequality. They include alternatives to the current reality so that readers can strategize and act to make change no matter where they are. The goal of the comic books is to politicize.

It’s a length but very interesting interview and I encourage you to read it.  You can download the three comic books to read yourself here.