Prison Renaissance was formed in 2015 by Emile DeWeaver, Rahsaan Thomas, and Juan Meza. Begun while the founders were incarcerated and active in the Bay Area, Prison Renaissance is a platform for incarcerated artists and authors to support artistic and personal growth. The aim is to center the voices of incarcerated people within ongoing conversations about criminal justice reform and celebrate the insights of incarcerated people in activist and creative circles.
When we think “prisoner,” we think poor person, we think minority, we think oppression. Why don’t we think journalist, economist, legal scholar? …Why don’t we think pregnant woman? . . . I think we’re blinded by the spectacle of [incarcerated peoples’] struggle, the spectacle of their poverty, the spectacle of their racial oppression, and that’s blinding us to the actual people who are inside. We are as creative as you, we are as diverse as you, we dream like you. We are you. —Emile DeWeaver, Prison Renaissance cofounder
Prison Renaissance is an abolitionist organization that fosters the leadership, healing, and creativity of incarcerated individuals. The title of their collaborative sound installation Metropolis draws attention to the fact that, if gathered together in one location, the more than 2.2 million people incarcerated in the US prison system would make up the fourth largest city in the nation. In the audio installation, a small number of the people in this immense, if dispersed, city discuss their areas of creative expertise, drawing attention to their identities as artists, writers, and poets. Out of sight but all around us, the voices of the incarcerated echo within the architecture of the museum.
Emile DeWeaver became a published writer, community organizer, and co-founder of prisonrenaissance.org while serving a 67 year to life sentence. Gov. Brown granted him clemency in 2017. Emile is interested in internalized systems of oppression and how they prevent us from building and maintaining effect models of justice. He guest lectures at social justice venues and in universities about his written work, what he calls liberation models, and what he calls the lying fiction of criminality. His written works comprise over 50 published articles, essays, short stories, poems, plays, and curricula. His community organizing includes education and communication campaigns to pass four senate bills and Proposition 57. His organization is the first nonprofit founded and run by incarcerated people. Their aim is to take prison administration out of prison programs as a step toward prison abolition.