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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