Anika Bowie in 2019 Minnesota Women's Press story (photo by Sarah Whiting)

Voices on Transformation

We asked several women to respond to this question: “Why are you involved in transformative justice?” 

We also asked several women to share their experiences with transforming discarded objects.

Anika Bowie (photo by Sarah Whiting)

Anika Bowie

My focus for several years has been on the lives of families, especially those with young children impacted by the criminal justice system. I want us to be more aware of the collateral consequences that impact everyone’s lives when non-violent crimes are given prison sentences. I want more people to understand how difficult it is for returning residents to redeem themselves after their sentence is served. These are individuals who often do not have the power, agency, or resources to best represent themselves.

It is part of my mission — as the daughter of someone who was incarcerated for a non-violent crime — to improve our system of support and advocacy. I believe we need to decriminalize marijuana use and allocate equity funds to restore the lives of families negatively impacted by drug laws and racial profiling practices. I believe we can do a better job supporting families, rather than separating them in the courtroom — which serves no one in the long run.

To be a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable society, we often look at race, gender, and sexuality as a spectrum of protected classes. Yet the convicted individual is unprotected, and our government’s laws disenfranchise families for several generations. More than 53,000 Minnesotans are currently on felony probation or parole — without the right to vote, secure housing, or the ability to find sustainable employment. Neighborhood Justice, Dispute Resolution Center, and the city of St. Paul recently joined forces to implement the Neighborhood Justice Program, a restorative justice model to provide a community-based, victim-centered alternative to traditional prosecution in addressing crime. St. Paul is the third city in the nation to adopt this alternative model. A 2018 California study found that Neighborhood Court costs up to 82 percent less than prosecution. I’ve attended community circles and provided feedback on the program.

Community policy is a continuum of conversations with under-represented constituents. The people closest to the problem are closest to the solution.

Deborah Jiang-Stein

My work with women in prisons around the country is driven by my commitment to transformative justice as a means to help repair harm and work towards change in systems of incarceration. I especially focus on women in prison and the children and families left behind.

I work from a foundation that every human being is sacred and deserves moral and humane treatment.

Transformative justice work is internal, relational, and structural, and needs to be ongoing. Over the last ten years I’ve spoken inside 15 prisons and reached 40,000 incarcerated women. I’m doing it by the numbers, to reach as many prisons as possible with my message that dignity and hope belongs to every woman, man, and child. I was born in prison. The trauma and fallout from that beginning has evolved over time.

Sometimes I use my life story as a starting point to disclose that personal transformation can lead to becoming an agent for change. I believe that no matter where we come from, or what we’ve done, it’s possible to move beyond any current circumstance and create an empowered identity and become a positive force for change. I founded the unPrison Project to organize around three areas. We work to create programming for women in prison that will help skill-building and inspire hope. We work to build public awareness and involvement. We work in public advocacy and legislative efforts related to needs of women prison, especially mothers.

The generational impact when a parent is sentenced to prison creates layers and cycles of trauma that perpetuate inequity and injustice, racism, unemployment, and poverty. If justice is about rightness in the process of law, what I question is how we intersect justice with moral and humane treatment. We have a collective responsibility to confront and dismantle the root causes of incarceration, and pave the way for comprehensive outcomes to decarcerate the U.S., which imprisons more people than any other country.

Laura LaBlanc

I feel lucky to have been raised in a family that taught me to think. A great deal of us blindly cooperate with a culture that sees life as something to discard, not value. Tonight as we sleep, 2.2 million Americans are housed in exile in state and federal prisons, jails, and detention centers. Some have undoubtedly earned their spots — although the wild picture of race in America that is starkly painted there makes me question that.

Few, however, have earned the inhumane conditions, the long sentences, or the lack of a path to redemption. Those are our failures, not theirs.

I am part of the local group IN Equality. We all share a personal experience with the criminal justice system, as a victim, defendant, convicted, wrongfully convicted, incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, recovering professional, family, friend, or ally. We are working to transform a culture of punishment to one of accountability, love, and problem solving. We hope to move mountains and believe we can. We recruit, coach, and support people from our network to be an active, assertive voice in Ramsey County criminal justice reform, at the policy and practice levels. We are also beginning to establish healing and truth-telling tribunals in the community, to create space where we can honor the stories of injustice at the hands of the justice system.

Flower Power is our day of gathering and imagining. We are looking for 1,000 people to join us on August 2. It is about hope, connections, and beauty — to make visible the broad impact of mass incarceration. We work on a hill at the top of Mounds Park in St. Paul, which overlooks the river and downtown. It is a space that has had power long before this land was known as America. We are there from sunrise to sunset. People can come any time to bring a bouquet of flowers to mark that incarceration has touched them. We have talented artist who will do magic on the hill with the flowers. Come join us, sit with us, imagine, and build a world that finds inhumanity intolerable in any form.

Emma Freeman 

There are so many beautiful things out there just waiting to be found. I’m an artist, so my approach to thrifting and saving beautiful things comes from my deep love for colors, textures, and patterns. I can spot something I love from a cluttered aisle in a thrift store and pluck it out of the sea of discarded items. I love doing that over and over, piece by piece, following my passion and intuition to tell me what to get and what to pass on. I bring all of those individual things into my shop, Polka Dot, and set them up alongside my own art in a curated, fresh way that tells a lovely and inviting visual story.

Many people who visit my shop tell me that they get overwhelmed at thrift stores, or don’t have time to sift through hundreds of things to maybe find one thing they like. But they believe in shopping secondhand. I’m doing the digging for them.

Giving items room to breathe in a bright, colorful, clean space makes each piece stand out. I get excited watching colors and textures dance next to each other. I get inspiration for my own art from looking at discarded clothing, textiles, books, and dishes. This process fuels what colors and subjects I explore in my own art, which then feeds what colors and patterns I’m drawn to when I’m searching for treasures. It’s all connected. 

Details: polkadotmn.com

Stacia Goodman

“Green Spirals,” Stacia Goodman

As far back as I can remember, the flotsam and jetsam of life has fascinated me. I spent endless hours as a kid scouring the train tracks that ran through my tiny hometown in northern Minnesota. I’d search for the cast aside, broken, or mismatched curious oddities of life that no one else wanted. I couldn’t believe my luck in finding random keys, colorful shards of glass and bottle caps. Where others saw trash, I saw treasures.

It wasn’t until my mid-30s that I finally found a way to honor those treasures and transform “the broken.” After years of taking occasional art classes, I stumbled into making mosaic art. I’d found my passion — and a way to give my findings a second chance at being seen and valued again. Today, I’m a professional commercial mosaic artist. My work (sometimes as tall as two stories) appears throughout the U.S. in hospitals, universities, government buildings, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. For practical reasons, I can’t always “upcycle” my treasures. But the commissions I love most are those that let me practice the spirituality of transforming the broken or salvaged into beautiful artwork. We all deserve a second (or third or fourth) chance!

Details: staciagoodmanmosaics.com

Instagram:  staciagoodmanmosaics

Kathleen Conroy 

I am a puppeteer. The very nature of my artistic endeavor is transformative. I have the power to bring inanimate objects to life. Through my work, I tell stories that educate, entertain, and enlighten. I am an artist who can shape wood into a figure for a human-like marionette, turn foam and fur into a grumpy or silly cookie monster, and mold latex into creatures from a galaxy far, far away.

Something which once appeared lifeless can breathe, talk, and move. My puppets can convey thoughts, feelings, and emotions, which allow them to empower, heal, and inspire.

Now, as director for the 2019 National Puppetry Festival, I’m helping to bring together master and emerging puppet artists who are eager to acquire new knowledge, preserve puppetry arts, and engage the community in their practice.

Details: puppeteers.org/national-puppetry-festival-2019