Organizing update from the Bend the Bars Organizing Committee

We are less than three weeks away from Bend the Bars, a Midwestern Convergence in Support of Prisoner Struggles. #BendTheBars

We would like to take an opportunity to highlight some of the ways that this convergence is a unique opportunity for strengthening anti-prison organizing in Ohio, what you can expect from joining us, and how to get the most out of the weekend.

A Unique Opportunity:

This convergence is a grassroots all-volunteer initiative hatched in the minds of a loose network of prisoner-support people around the Midwest. The idea emerged in correspondence with prisoners who are calling for outside organizers to build broad support for militant inside-out organizing. You can read that call, here.

“Militant”, to us, is not a synonym for “violent,” but describes an orientation toward dismantling or abolishing systems of oppression (in this case, the prison industrial complex), which is in contrast to fixing or reforming repressive institutions. It is important to remember that these distinctions can get muddy and complicated on the ground. Critical Resistance is a network which has deliberated quite a bit about the ways that fights for prison reforms can be approached from an abolitionist perspective and vice versa. You can read more of their thoughts, here, as you develop your own.

“Inside-out” organizing describes organizing initiatives that are primarily composed of convicts organizing amongst themselves for collective liberation, and calling for direct support and solidarity actions from outsiders. One of the few established points of consensus between our organizers is that the direction and orientation of anti-prison work should follow from the needs and tactical priorities of people most directly affected by incarceration: people who are incarcerated. Our commitments to inside-out organizing have made us aware of the day-to-day struggles facing prisoners as well as inspired by the desire of people under such heavy handed repression to risk life and limb by standing up to confront prison slavery and white supremacy through collective action from behind bars.

The Bend the Bars organizing committee has been blessed by the input of prisoners, former prisoners, and long-standing prisoner support people as we prepare this convergence. Huge thanks to them for their contributions and guidance. Not only do they have excellent perspectives on the upcoming strike, they have saved us dozens of hours of chatting up and familiarizing ourselves with organizations and individuals who represent themselves as prisoner support initiatives but who, in practice, abuse both their access to grant funding as well as the prisoners and ex-prisoners who reach out to them for help. While our funds and logistical support are stretched quite thin, we can safely say that we are inviting you to an event saturated with the voices of prisoners and former prisoners who stand in resistance to the state’s attempts to appropriate the voices of oppressed peoples and neutralize dissent.

September 9th will not be the first time that prisoners in Ohio have taken great risks to push back against the domination of the prison industrial complex. Most famously, in 1993 prisoners organized across racial and religious divisions to shutdown Southern Ohio Correctional Facility for eleven days with no outside support. SOCF, usually referred to as “Lucasville,” is an important case study because it demonstrates that the state will not negotiate with prisoners, that the mainstream media will demonize collective action as “rioting,” that law enforcement will do everything in their power to destroy the lines of communication between prisoners and outside supporters, that the courts will pursue death sentences for principled prisoners, and that the prison system will respond to movements for convict unity and liberation by building more prisons and isolation chambers before there is any consideration of adjusting sentencing guidelines, overcrowding, brutality, educational opportunities, or any other grievance raised by people who are incarcerated. We also know that the state adopted this posture toward prisoners of its own volition, not in response to legitimate security threats, and it will continue to attempt to deepen and reinforce conditions of despair and misery if prisoners don’t take collective action.

This September, we will show prisoners in resistance that there are outside supporters for their struggles. Bend the Bars will serve as an opportunity for outside supporters to develop the perspective and skills necessary to demonstrate that solidarity effectively. We need to show our most oppressed people that their lives matter to us. We need your help to do that.

All convergence attendees will have an opportunity to table throughout the weekend and introduce their work at the Saturday morning plenary to promote their organizations and initiatives as well as recruit potential volunteers and collaborators. “Prison issues” are not discreet categories of social injustices, but rather an important intersection for all of them. This includes queer and trans peoples’ struggles, anti-racist struggles, labor struggles, economic struggles, immigration struggles, drug policy struggles and housing (especially anti-gentrification) struggles. We hope that you’ll be inspired to represent your engagement at the convergence and learn about opportunities for including the voices of prisoners in your organizing, if you do not, already.


-Please Register! For the love of all that is good in this world please press the button marked “Please Register!” on our website! We are trying to feed everyone and house our out-of-town guests. This is a substantial challenge for an all-volunteer crew so please register as soon as possible.

-Consider hosting an out-of-town guest or two if you live in Columbus and have space in your home and transportation to the convergence available. Let us know that you can do this by making a note in your registration form.

-Please spread the word! We have flyers and posters available for you to distribute. Even if you don’t have time to participate in the full convergence, we welcome anyone to our public demonstration and march on Saturday evening (the 27th). We have scheduled an amplified call with a prison rebel to start our march, as well as a speech from a former prisoner (of 28.5 years) who participated in collective action several times while he was inside.
-If you are interested in participating in a low-stakes discussion about the prison industrial complex prior to the convergence please get in touch. We have one event scheduled for the 15th at M.I.N.T. in Columbus that you’re welcome to participate in. We will be glad to do our best to schedule more. The convergence space will be an excellent opportunity to hear from prisoners, former prisoners, and prisoner support people as we coordinate and prepare for the 9th, but we will not have time to make the case for abolition as an ideological position. One resource relevant to local struggles is Derrik Jones’ film The Great Incarcerator. It features a half-hour introduction to mass incarceration, as well as an hour-long overview of the Lucasville Uprising and its aftermath. Parts 1&2 are available to view for free, here and on YouTube.

-If you are excited about Bend the Bars and want to present other forms of community-based anti-incarceration initiatives like alternatives to calling the police, transformative justice, restorative justice, policy initiatives, and electoral races please come prepared to table and introduce your efforts so that convergence attendees know who you are and how to find you in the future. We will also have written resources (mostly developed by prisoners) available to inform groups who intend to address the Ohio General Assembly and the ODRC about prison issues.

Thanks for your time and we’re looking forward to seeing you later this month.

-Bend the Bars Organizing Committee

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New Posters and Social Media available for download

Feel free to download and share!

More posters for Bend the Bars and the Sept 9th Prisoner Strike will be uploaded later, as well- look for new posters and a finalized schedule. Check out the Flyers/Posters tab.



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The National Lawyers Guild endorses the 09-09 Convict Strike!


NLG Stands with Prisoners in Struggle, Endorse IWOC National Prison Strike in September

Today, prisoners across Alabama have ended a 10-day strike that started May 1 (International Workers’ Day) to protest unpaid labor and horrendous conditions, already reporting retaliation by prison officials. On September 9, 2016, the National Lawyers Guild will join Support Prisoner ResistanceThe Free Alabama Movement and The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) in a Call to Action Against Slavery in America. On that day—exactly 45 years after the Attica uprisings—we will support a national work stoppage led by prisoners across the nation. Join us in supporting their freedom from forced labor!

This Call to Action was written by prisoners in Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, and Virginia who are calling attention to contemporary exploitation of their labor as prisoners. Their choice in using the language of slavery reminds us that the Thirteenth Amendment did not abolish slavery and involuntary servitude when used “as punishment for a crime.” Acknowledging that slavery invokes a specific history of oppression and anti-Blackness in the United States, the prisoners consciously address the racism of contemporary policing and prisons, which disproportionately impact communities of color and especially Black and Native American communities. The IWOC Call to Action reminds us all that “Certain Americans live every day under not only the threat of extra-judicial execution—as protests surrounding the deaths of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and so many others have drawn long overdue attention to—but also under the threat of capture, of being thrown into these plantations, shackled and forced to work.”

In order to achieve their goals this fall, the IWW’s IWOC needs additional free world support. They write, “A prison is an easy-lockdown environment, a place of control and confinement where repression is built into every stone wall and chain link, every gesture and routine. When we stand up to these authorities, they come down on us, and the only protection we have is solidarity from the outside.”

The National Lawyers Guild is proud to support IWOC’s Call to Action, and we hope you will join us in lending your support to incarcerated organizers. As part of our 2015 Resolution Supporting the Abolition of Prisons, the NLG is committed to working towards a world in which prisons are obsolete. This work includes supporting the rights and organizing of prisoners, including calls to support their strategies and demands. Please join us in supporting the Call to Action Against Slavery in America this September.

Read more about the upcoming national prison strike in this pamphlet.

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Bend the Bars Registration

In order to accommodate and plan a successful convergence, please fill out the form below and encourage others to also!  We look forward to seeing you in August.


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Bend the Bars Conference Organizing Update

Thanks for your interest in Bend the Bars!

This event is only one month away! We hope we’ll see you there!

Our scheduling is shaping up, proposals are coming in, and we will have an honest-to-goodness registration button on our website within 24 hours. Here is some of the programming that we are looking forward to:

-A presentation from experienced representatives of #Black Lives Matter, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, and Support Prisoner Resistance. This panel will articulate the intersections between these organizing initiatives as well as the strategic opportunities available to their collaboration.

-Videoconferencing breakout sessions with convicts to address inside-out organizing, conditions of confinement, trans&queer resistance, restorative justice, convict unity, and the Free Alabama Movement program.

-A public demonstration featuring an amplified call-in from a SuperMax prison in Ohio.

-Primers and workshops on prisoner support skills like navigating mail room censorship; producing and distributing publications inside; processing large volumes of mail; how to open an IWOC branch or start a books to prisoners program in your region.

-Primers on the lessons learned from past prison rebellions and their strategic importance today.

We are still accepting and soliciting proposals for content. If you would like to contribute, please RSVP ASAP to

Content Evaluation: We will evaluate proposals based on the author’s proximity to the content they are presenting, as well as its proximity to the struggles of people who are incarcerated. Our intention is to center our gathering on the struggles of prisoners and develop our programming from there, rather than attempting to articulate every expression of anti-prison work equally. Please send us an email if you want to check in before making a proposal.

Trigger Warnings, Content Warnings, and Safe(r) Spaces: We insist that participants refrain from using triggering and graphic descriptions of traumatic experiences gratuitously or for shock value. We cannot, however, ask the convicts, ex-cons, or other directly-affected individuals who are contributing to this convergence to censor their expression of their experiences. Dehumanization, torture, abuse, and sexual violence are integral to prisons, not exceptional, and we believe that hearing our comrades express their experiences is an essential part of honoring their humanity. We are developing a plan for providing safer spaces and skilled support people to the best of our ability. We are also open to your suggestions and contributions in this regard. Please send a note to with the subject heading [safer space] if you have a suggestion or contribution that you would like us to take into consideration.

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It’s Going Down: strike overview and radio interview

Please read and share these articles published by It’s Going Down!

The first is an overview of the upcoming September 09 prison labor strike.

The second is a link to download a radio interview on The Final Straw with a Bend the Bars organizing committee member. The interview starts 12 minutes in.

Strike Against White Supremacy: Mobilize for the September 9th Prisoner General Strike

Final Straw: Bend the Bars Conference


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You are invited!


Greetings from Columbus, Ohio!

You are invited to Bend the Bars 2016, a Midwest convergence in support of prisoners’ struggles.

When: August 26-29

Where: Columbus, OH

What: A weekend of workshops and discussions on prisoners’ resistance, the national prison strike starting September 9, and broad opposition to prisons, along with a public demonstration in solidarity with ongoing prison struggles.

Who we are: a group of individuals involved in prisoner solidarity work in the Midwest.

Who it’s for: We hope to assemble a diverse group of individuals, groups, and organizations that are united by a desire to work against prisons, in support of our friends and family members who are locked up, and prisoners who are organizing themselves and acting up on the inside. Long-term supporters, former prisoners,  prisoners’ families as well as those who are just starting out and wanting to learn more are all encouraged to attend.  (Party-based organizations and politicians are discouraged from attending.)

If you plan on attending:
1.If you want to come to Bend the Bars, please RSVP with how many people will be attending and what kinds of accommodation you will need.  The website will be updated as more details of the convergence come together, but feel free to contact us with any questions.

2. The organizing process for the convergence is ongoing, so we want to hear from you! What activities, structure, and content do you want to see?  Specifically, we will have several slots for workshop sessions throughout the weekend.  What discussions do you want to be a part of?  Do you want to talk about the work that you’re doing? What projects and initiatives do you want to learn more about? Some topics we are interested in are supporting prison rebellion and prisoner organizing, support for individual prisoners, resistance to maximum security units, resistance to solitary confinement, prison publications, and literature distribution. Let us know if you would like to put something together!

We are also still planning evening and social activities, so please share what else you would like to see over the weekend, like a panel talk, potluck, reading group or film screening.

Contributions from prisoners are an indispensable part of a convergence like this. If you are in contact with anyone on the inside, get a letter or statement from them that they’d like to be read aloud. Better yet, arrange a call-in for the weekend! We’d love to hear from them and we would like to make their words and their actions as prominent as possible.
bendthebars(at) riseup (dot) net

(Please share & pass this along!)

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Bend the Bars 2016

On September 9, 2016, prisoners across the U.S. are initiating a wave of strikes and other forms of resistance to confinement and forced labor. It’s vital that we get organized on the outside to meaningfully support their resistance.

Bend the Bars will bring together a diversity of people who have a stake in supporting prisoners’ organizing and fighting against the prison system. We envision two days of workshops and discussions to share skills, meet each other, and build our strength. Throughout these days, we’ll highlight the voices of prisoners and ex-prisoners. And, importantly, there will be a public demonstration to make sure prisoners know that we have their backs.

More is coming soon! Details, invite, workshops, logistics, and more!

Save the date: August 26-29
Columbus, OHIO
bendthebars (a)

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