Why don’t you introduce yourself?
My name is Johnny Perez. I am from the Bronx by way of Havana Cuba, and I’m here with The Campaign for Alternatives to Long Term Isolated Confinement, also known as CAIC.
How did you start working with CAIC?
I connected with them through my day job—which is at the Urban Justice Center. I work specifically for the Mental Health Project. I am their re-entry advocate, so I connect people who are returning from prison to society with a number of services. A lot of these people were released directly from solitary back into society. A few of my colleagues are also members of CAIC.
I also have a direct experience with solitary confinement so I have a unique perspective where I can utilize past experiences to inform, advocate, and change hearts and minds around the issue of solitary confinement.
What is the work CAIC does on a day to day level?
We hold a lot of community forums, discussions, and rallies. We try to change the hearts of minds of communities who are both directly and vicarious affected by the issue of solitary confinement. We have legislation right now that we are trying to garner support for called the HALT Act: Human Alternatives to Long Term Confinement. On a day to day it looks like lots of outreach, contacting legislators, maybe going to a church and screening a documentary and having a discussion. It looks like urging people to contact legislators, getting people angry. Anger is a strong motivator for getting change to occur. People are find it hard to believe that there might be someone in the box right now who is not coming out for another ten years. He’s put in a cell with no direct sunlight, no representation. No access to services like education, drug treatment, anger management. People are placed in solitary arbitrarily. But we also get the opposite reaction; some people think the issue doesn’t affect them.
So what kind of work is CAIC doing this week at SPACE?
Our primary objective is to find some creative solutions to how to connect people who are presently in solitary with our campaign. We believe that stories or narratives put a human face to the statistics. This goes a long way to changing hearts and minds. It’s difficult, as access is limited to people in solitary. So we’re getting creative in our thinking. We’d also like to brainstorm ways to collaborate with the other groups here for the Creative Solutions Symposium. Figuring out ways to help each other, sharing knowledge and experience.
Strength in numbers…
Yeah, everyone here is connected someway, somehow to social justice. It’s like a huge puzzle. And everybody is doing a different section of the puzzle. So, there have to be ways we can collaborate.
Do you have a favorite place on the farm?
I like the lake! I jumped in the lake. I think I’m the first person from the Symposium to jump in the lake. My other favorite space is the hammock. Believe it or not, I’d never laid on a hammock before getting here.
You’re next level relaxing right now.
Yeah. I was telling my colleague: I feel so productive. We spent an hour and a half working and we brainstormed so many different things. We came up with so many questions—and questions open up the possibility to solutions. It’s great. There are no tall buildings, no pollution, grass everywhere. How can you come here and not create? I’m also a poet, in addition to being an advocate. I’ve already been inspired to write some new pieces. I hope to walk away with a few poems inspired by SPACE.
Well, the last question we ask everyone is: if you could be reincarnated as any farm animal. What would you choose and why?
Black sheep, of course. There’s a lot of symbolism and parallels to my own life. I spent thirteen years in prison, three of them in solitary. And now I’m doing this work and trying to impact people on a different level. The black sheep, it’s rare and unique but it’s still a sheep—just like every other sheep. There’s a certain humility to that. We think we’re unique—and we are—but we’re unique just like everybody else is unique. I don’t know about eating grass, or having my head shaved, but you get to lay around and relax and you stand out. You’re probably oblivious to the fact that you’re even a black sheep at all.