A Brief But Spectacular take on women with incarcerated loved ones

Gina Clayton-Johnson is the founder and executive director of Essie Justice Group, a nonprofit that supports women with imprisoned loved ones. She shares her Brief But Spectacular take on helping to end the harm mass incarceration causes for families.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Gina Clayton-Johnson is the founder and executive director of Essie Justice Group, a nonprofit that supports women with imprisoned loved ones.

    And, tonight, she shares her Brief But Spectacular take on the power of sisterhood.

    Gina Clayton-Johnson, Founder and Executive Director, Essie Justice Group: I went to law school because I thought that that was going to be the place where I could find answers and solutions and tools and access and all of this — all of this — all this resource.

    But then, when I went, in my very first year, someone who I loved was sentenced to 20 years in prison. And this completely changed my life and my perspective on what was happening to families, to Black people, to this country because of mass incarceration.

    In the last 40 years, we have seen an increase of 500 percent of people incarcerated in this country. One in four women in the U.S. has a family member in prison, and, for Black woman, one in two. We incarcerate more of our own people than any other country on this planet by far.

    We surveyed thousands of women across the country. The through line for all of the women that we interviewed was isolation. And so our response at Essie Justice Group is to build a sisterhood. We do that through organizing. We do that by connecting women to one another and policy change work, bringing about systemic solutions.

    Essie Justice Group is a loving and powerful community of women with incarcerated loved ones who are fighting to end mass incarceration's harm to women and families.

    Essie was the name of my great-grandmother. She moved in the Great Migration from the South to the West to look for opportunities that were not present where she lived. We were going back to my grandmother and asking her with a lot of curiosity, how was it that her mom did it?

    This ancestral solution kind of fell into my lap, because she explained she had sisters, blood sisters, who lived around the neighborhood. When she needed to pick up an extra shift at work and someone to take care of the kids, she had sisters who could fill in for her.

    She had sisters who understood what it was to be a Black woman at that time. She had sisters. She had a community. And that is exactly what mass incarceration is depriving women, Black women, brown women of every single day.

    We hear women tell us every single time they receive a call, they graduate, they're part of our sustained community that the work that we are doing together is lifesaving.

    And I know that to be true. I wish people would start by seeing women with incarcerated loved ones, just seeing that we exist, so that women with incarcerated loved ones are incorporated into social change agendas, to policy conversations. We are not having conversations about the harm impact or the power potential of this group. And that needs to change.

    My name is Gina Clayton-Johnson, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on women with incarcerated loved ones.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That is a powerful message.

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