Of the many ways to define InLiquid’s Art For the Cash Poor event, one can look at it as a form of activism. We always say it: it’s more than an art fair. We celebrate community through the gathering of artists and artisans. We celebrate art by encouraging our community to buy locally-made crafts. But what Art for the Cash Poor has also found success in is raising social awareness in celebrating the achievements of our amazing Chair Members. In our seventeenth celebration of Art for the Cash Poor, it is with great pleasure we welcome Hannah Zellman, Program Director for Institute for Community Justice at Philadelphia FIGHT and an activist at the intersection of HIV & mass imprisonment, as our honorary Co-chair Member.
This Friday, at our Art for the Cash Poor Kickoff Party, we will be celebrating her induction to the InLiquid Board along with our second Honorary Co-chair member, Chris Bartlett of the William Way Community Center. We were able to chat with Hannah, as we discussed everything from unique forms of activism to affordable healthcare.
Elizabeth: As a Social worker, grassroots organizer, and activist, what has been the most unique strategy you have used in creating the social awareness of mass imprisonment and inmates with HIV?
Hannah: A central strategy to bring these issues to the forefront is to highlight and amplify the voices of those most directly impacted. At ICJ, a powerful example of this is achieved through Prison Health News, a quarterly health newsletter that goes out to thousands of prisoners across the country. PHN works to prioritize the work of people in prison, who have a vast range of expertise about their own health. This mirrors the world changing work of HIV treatment activists – folks living with HIV and their allies – who, in spite of being without medical degrees, became the experts on the science of HIV and HIV treatment, and by doing so they changed the course of medical research and treatment for HIV. People living with HIV in prisons and jails are running support groups, folks living with diabetes are publishing guides on managing diabetes within the confines of a prison setting, individuals living with HCV are leading the charge to make HCV treatment (and the cure!) accessible to individuals on the inside.
Elizabeth: You have the Beyond the Walls: Prison Health Care and Reentry Summit coming up on June 15th. As the Coordinator of the summit, what kind of community-led responses do you expect to see and could you elaborate to our readers what the summit is?
Hannah: The Summit is a day-long conference with over 40 workshops, and includes access to critical resources, an art exhibit featuring art of currently and formerly imprisoned artists, and a robust workshop track that includes workshops designed by or in partnership with currently imprisoned folks, and where the voices of folks on the inside are heavily featured through audio, video or live call ins. Bringing those voices to the Summit is one of the most powerful ways that we can respond to the crisis of mass imprisonment. By including them in the conference we are able to build community and connection in spite of the ways in which imprisonment divides, separates and isolates. There is an enormous amount of content at the Summit, but we work to prioritize community led responses to mass imprisonment. I’m particularly inspired by the work being done by former prisoners to build organizations, engage in mentoring and skills building, and create opportunities for employment, personal growth and leadership amongst the communities most impacted by mass imprisonment. There are also powerful movements in Pennsylvania, including CADBI, the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration, which is working to end death by incarceration, known as life without parole sentencing. CADBI’s leadership is designed as an inside-outside collaboration, and the momentum of that work is largely spearheaded by people serving DBI sentences in Pennsylvania prisons. Similarly, people in prison and their loved ones are working alongside lawyers and policy makers to respond to the Supreme Court decision that said that mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences were unconstitutional, and that the decision could be applied retroactively and require re-sentencing.
Elizabeth: Philadelphia FIGHT has made tremendous change in the care of patients with HIV. Now as an honorary co-chair here at InLiquid, how can we (the artists of Philadelphia) play a role?
Hannah: One of the most powerful things that happens at the Prison Summit each year is the Art as Resistance gallery, which highlights the creative contributions of all those fighting to end all intersecting systems of oppression that perpetuate mass incarceration and all forms of state violence. In Pennsylvania prisons where individuals who speak out against an unjust system are silenced through the use of solitary confinement, art can be a tool to subvert all forms of state sanctioned silencing. The Art as Resistance gallery pulls together the work of Philadelphia community organizers and individuals incarcerated in Pennsylvania prisons to lift up the voices of those who have been silenced and to shed light on the harmful effects of mass incarceration on our communities. I think that artists likely already recognize the transformative power of art, and there is a long history of creative expression being used as a tool to affect social change. I want to encourage all in the art community to be thinking about the fact that not all individuals have access to the tools needed to creatively express themselves, that much that is created is done so in ways that we don’t often get to see, and that creating art can be a revolutionary form of expression.
Elizabeth: Out of the many achievements Philadelphia FIGHT has made, which is your favorite and what new goals has it become a catalyst for?
Hannah: I can’t pick a favorite! But, there is some really incredible work happening right now at FIGHT that I am inspired and activated by. In the last 30 years this epidemic has changed radically, and now we are closer than ever to realizing the possibility of a world without HIV. We have a robust toolbox for prevention, treatment is more effective than ever, and the voices and power of people living with HIV continues to propel this progress forward.
One of the most exciting advancements right now is PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) which is a biomedical prevention tool. Individuals can take one pill once a day and their likelihood of acquiring HIV is virtually zero. Our Youth Help Empowerment Project (YHEP) Health Center is home to one of the largest PrEP programs in the city, and is doing groundbreaking work to ensure that all young people have access to this critical prevention tool. PrEP has literally changed the landscape of prevention, increasing folks’ sense of empowerment and control over their sexual health.