Barbara Kessel’s acceptance statement of the 2016 James R. burgess, Jr.-Susan Freiberg Humanitarian Award given by the 2016 Martin Luther King, Jr. Countywide Celebration Committee:
“I am happy for this opportunity to remind the audience that as we sit here today, some 2.3 million people are shut away from us with every avenue of communication severely limited. As you check your smart phones, think for a moment what it would mean to have no access to the Internet. Then think of being locked up with very limited access to books, magazines, newspapers, radios, and classes. I often receive letters from men I have worked with in the jail, who went on to prison hoping to use their time to educational activities and found that they were denied any access. One such guy, said he was not even allowed to go to the library until he had been there six months. But this is not just for lack of resources. Part of the punitive control that is the rule of the day is the limit of all forms of communication, as tightly as possible. One prison official rebuffed my offer of books by saying, “We have mostly lifers here at Stateville, so they don’t need to read.”
This gratuitous cruelty is carried on, day in and day out, in my name and in your name. We are told it is for our protection and we pay for it through taxes. “Not in my Name,” I say. It does not protect me that millions of people are silenced, not supposed to communicate, even with authors of books. We will find ways in, like water finds and makes cracks in rock.
So it is in the spirit of joyous subversion that I have worked alongside beautiful people in these organizations – Books to Prisoners and Three R’s that feed the state of Illinois prison system (prisoners and libraries) with tens of thousands of books. The system resisted; we persisted. Five years ago, the Illinois Department of Corrections told us to try a pilot project in one prison, but today chapters of Three R’s all over Illinois supply twenty prison libraries with books. Books to Prisoners sent out its 100,000th book a year ago.
It is on behalf of all the Illinois incarcerated, and all of my dear prison and jail activist colleagues, who say “Not in Our Name,” that I accept this 2016 James R. Burgess, Jr. – Susan Freiburg Humanitarian Award.”