Don't Mock the 'Big House': Engage with Current and Former Prisoners on KP's Future

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United Way KFLA stays the course, launching KP concert store and thinking about future concerts

As you are aware, a teach-in was organized and a petition launched asking the United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington and its partners involved in the #RTBH / Rockin' the Big House concert and on-going #KingstonPenTours to not mock the 'big house' and engage with current and former prisoners on #KP's future. Our petition has now reached over 200 supporters and we need your help to spread the word to help us generate more support, because those behind the KP concert aren't getting the message.

After taking stock of our concerns, a website selling Rockin' the Big House KP concert swag complete with hats and sweaters with the event date on it made to appear as prisoner numbers (which strip people of their identity when they enter CSC penitentiaries and other sites of human caging, leaving a #stigma that often stays with criminalized people years after they've served their sentences) was launched on September 24. In an interview yesterday, the United Way KFLA is even mussing about doing a future benefit concert, perhaps at KP.  It appears the United Way didn't understand or doesn't care about the stigmatizing implications of tapping into #sensationalism and #voyeurism through #prisontourism and prison-themed swag, despite making statements committing to a respectful treatment of the dark history of Canada's first penitentiary (see the quotes at the bottom of this post).

If you haven't done so already, please consider signing our petition and sharing it with others because this way of 'commemorating' human suffering as a means of raising funds in a stated effort to prevent and address the impacts of poverty, trauma and abuse needs to stop.


Excerpts from Wei Chen's interview with a United Way KFLA spokesperson on CBC Ontario Morning on 9 September 2019 (minutes 9:20-15:15 following Linda Mussell's critiques of the KP concert). 

"…from our side we do understand the impacts of incarceration. Kingston, more than any other community, has a number of prisons here. And the impact of incarceration on the individual, on families, and on the community is pretty significant, and our agencies deal with this almost every day. So yes, we are aware. A lot of the money from the tours, the portion of it that we get, go towards youth homelessness so that we can prevent some of the issues that lead to youth ending up in the criminal justice system. So it’s all about prevention and making sure we prevent some of the impacts of poverty, trauma, and abuse that are happening…

...As for the concert itself, this is a decommissioned prison. It has not been operational for six years. We are using the front courtyard… We are not… making it frivolous… Our committee is certainly going to acknowledge the dark history of this penitentiary and all penitentiaries across Canada. And we have our MC Paul Langlois, who has been working with our committee and the production people to make sure that it is a very respectful message that comes across that day...

...I think it is important to have a dialogue, because that [i.e. dishonouring the people who have suffered at KP] is certainly not our intention, nor has it ever been to disrespect or minimize the dark history and the complexity of suffering. We continue to work with the impacts in our community. At the United Way, we have invested in youth homelessness very intentionally. We are working with a very high population of vulnerable women. We’re working with a lot of the issues that result from poverty, trauma, and abuse, and we want to avoid people getting into the criminal justice system. So yes, we are completely aware of this. So I do not believe that this event, in a decommissioned space, is going to be anything other than raising funds for a good cause..."

Journal of Prisoners on Prisons
2 years ago