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These Bars Can't Hold Us Back: Plowing Incarcerated Geographies with Restorative Food Justice



Mass incarceration entrenches racial and class inequality and segregation. Before, during, and after low-income people of color enter prison, they experience a range of barriers and biases that make it difficult to break out of the prison pipeline. This article investigates food justice and restorative justice activists in Oakland, California who are intervening at the point of reentry. I argue for the significance of teasing out the connections between food and carceral politics as a way to expand the practice and understanding of food justice. Specifically, I show how the incarcerated geographies of former prisoners, that is, perspectives and experiences that result due to the prison pipeline, motivate the formation of a restorative food justice. The associated healing and mutual aid practices increase social equity by creating spaces to overcome the historical trauma of mass incarceration, produce living wage jobs, rearticulate relationships to food and land, and achieve policy reforms.
These Bars Cant Hold Us Back:
Plowing Incarcerated Geographies
with Restorative Food Justice
Joshua Sbicca
Department of Sociology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA;
Abstract: Mass incarceration entrenches racial and class inequality and segregation.
Before, during, and after low-income people of color enter prison, they experience a
range of barriers and biases that make it difficult to break out of the prison pipeline. This
article investigates food justice and restorative justice activists in Oakland, California who
are intervening at the point of reentry. I argue for the significance of teasing out the
connections between food and carceral politics as a way to expand the practice and
understanding of food justice. Specifically, I show how the incarcerated geographies of
former prisoners, that is, perspectives and experiences that result due to the prison
pipeline, motivate the formation of a restorative food justice. The associated healing
and mutual aid practices increase social equity by creating spaces to overcome the
historical trauma of mass incarceration, produce living wage jobs, rearticulate relationships
to food and land, and achieve policy reforms.
Keywords: food justice, food movement, mass incarceration, racial justice, prisoner
reentry, restorative justice
Food justice and restorative justice activists across the United States are collectively
fighting for policies, developing programs, and creating living wage work that
supports formerly incarcerated people as they reenter their communities. While food
justice takes as its starting point tackling social inequities that relate to food, restorative
justice offers tools to heal from the trauma of incarceration. Combined they offer a
unique set of strategies to stanch the flow of people into prison. For example, the
New York cooperative Milk Not Jails fosters urbanrural ties between upstate dairy
farmers living in communities facing prison closures and city-dwelling low-income
communities and communities of color with high rates of incarceration. Another orga-
nization called the Freedom Food Alliance runs a bus cooperative that offers roundtrip
rides to families in urban communities who want to visit friends and family in rural
prisons when they purchase a package of food from local farmers. In California, a
broad-based coalition of 140 organizations, including prison reform, anti-hunger
and food justice organizations, successfully repealed the lifetime ban on food stamps,
basic needs support, and job training for people with drug-related felony convictions.
These cross-movement collaborations expand the field of food justice struggle by
responding to interlocking structural inequalities with integrative solutions that sup-
port those coming out of prison. As these examples show, food justice practice is far
more than increasing access to affordable and healthy food for low-income
Antipode Vol. 00 No. 0 2016 ISSN 0066-4812, pp 121 doi: 10.1111/anti.12247
© 2016 The Author. Antipode © 2016 Antipode Foundation Ltd.
communities and communities of color. In fact, they reveal the political necessity of
linking together food justice and restorative justice practices that help integrate, reha-
bilitate, and heal formerly incarcerated people. Given the reach of mass incarceration
into the same urban communities where food justice activism predominates, the im-
prisonment of low-income people of color is a pressing problem. Therefore, I focus
this article on the expansion of food justice practice. Many food scholars have suffi-
ciently critiqued self-proclaimed food justice activism and scholarship for failing to ex-
plicitly address social inequities (Bradley and Herrera 2016; Cadieux and Slocum
2015; Guthman 2008). Moreover, what passes for food justice practice may in fact
not advance social justice. Even if activists accept the need to confront structural in-
equalities and power asymmetries, and work toward social justice, most notions of
food justice only see how this pertains to peoples relationship to food. Severing food
justice from other social movements, both in scholarship and in practice, runs the risk
of misrepresenting the particularities of how place-based networks strive to solve so-
cial problems.
In this article, I argue that to understand the expansion of food justice activism
scholars need to attend to forms of oppression and social experiences that
foreground strategies for racial and economic justice (McCutcheon 2013; Ramírez
2015; White 2011). In particular, incarcerated geographies, namely the experiences
and perspectives that result due to living in heavily surveilled and policed spaces
before, during, and after prison, inform the development of what I refer to as
restorative food justice. Mass incarceration devastates low-income communities
and communities of color by locking up and then exploiting the acquired
economic, cultural, and social capital. This exacerbates poverty and segregation,
unsettles families, squashes innovation, and pathologizes historically marginalized
social groups. Restorative food justice practices emerge in the process of working
with formerly incarcerated people and reflect their desires to heal from the trauma
of incarceration and improve their economic position. These practices are grounded
in a strategy that increases opportunities to break free from the prison pipeline.
Therefore, the food justice movement should heed these and other strategies that
prioritize addressing structural inequalities.
To help tease out the process by which activists in Oakland, California are
broadening how to think about and do food justice, as well as the benefits of their
approach, I answer two related questions. First, what inspires food justice activists
to address problems related to mass incarceration? Second, how is food justice
activism reimagined to increase social equity at the point of reentry? I develop my
answers by investigating the relationships between formerly incarcerated people,
the food justice organization, Planting Justice, and their allies. After providing the
structural context of mass incarceration and a discussion of how fusing restorative
justice practices helps reimagine food justice, I present the experiences and per-
spectives of formerly incarcerated people at each stage of the prison pipeline. I then
analyze how the restorative food justice practices of Planting Justice and some of
their community partners support the reentry process.
I find that the incarcerated geographies of those moving through the prison
pipeline generate restorative food justice practices, which dovetail with a number
of food justice strategies needed to intervene against structural inequalities
© 2016 The Author. Antipode © 2016 Antipode Foundation Ltd.
(Cadieux and Slocum 2015). Planting Justice acknowledges and challenges historical
trauma and inequity, creates non- and despite-capitalist relationships with land,
and commits to fair labor standards. In short, my case reveals how sensitivity to
the needs of those reentering their communities disrupts the prison pipeline and
advances social equity. The restorative food justice practices at the crux of this
disruption reflect new social movement networks built on healing and mutual aid
that offer new ways to do food justice.
Mass Incarceration, Reentry, and Historical Trauma
Much like it is important to understand how the plantation complexinforms
contemporary forms of violence that produce black geographies and influence
how activists do food justice (Ramírez 2015), dissecting mass incarceration can
reveal how it produces incarcerated geographies. Specifically, there are many
communities subject to a prisonizedand often racialized production of space that
shapes social experiences, worldviews, and identities (Shabazz 2015). The pervasive
system of mass incarceration in the United States criminalizes and regulates the same
low-income and black and Latino/a communities (Carson 2014; Wacquant 2009)
disproportionately experiencing a range of institutionally racist practices, food
inequities, and traumas (Cadieux and Slocum 2015; McClintock 2011). Perhaps
more importantly, it is a racialized means to politicize crime and exacerbate a range
of barriers to adequate education, employment, food, housing, and political
participation (Alexander 2012; Pager 2007). The experiences, then, of those subject
to social and spatial modes of control while living in particular neighborhoods,
going to prison, and then often coming back into these neighborhoods (Herbert
1997; Hipp et al. 2010; van Hoven and Sibley 2008) can inform how food justice
activists intervene and generate new practices.
A brief history of this system of mass incarceration reveals a confluence of factors
that produce psychosocial trauma and economic disadvantage. The punitive
predilection for criminalizing poor people and people of color and locking them
up in record numbers accelerated in the 1980s with the War on Drugs, deindustri-
alization, and neoliberal counterrevolution (Pager 2007; Wacquant 2009). Behind
the rollback of social services and rhetoric of getting tough on crimewere a series
of capitalist crises that drove prison expansion, the greatest of which took place in
California (Gilmore 2007). Elites reorganized four surpluses into a prison fix: finance
capital that was no longer going to military investment; rural farmland that became
available because of drought and development pressures; labor as a result of
deindustrialization and recession, particularly for blacks and Latino/as; and state
capacity due to a waning military Keynesianism that required putting taxes from
delegitimized social programs to work. In short, instead of investing in social
services and other public programs money went to prisons, and one way to deal
with unemployment became imprisonment.
This prison boom exacerbated racial hierarchies in cities such as Oakland. Blacks
and Latino/as are disproportionately stopped, searched, and arrested
(BondGraham and Winston 2015). They are also disproportionately represented
in Alameda Countys prison population (Duxbury 2012). Although incidents of
These Bars Cant Hold Us: Restorative Food Justice 3
© 2016 The Author. Antipode © 2016 Antipode Foundation Ltd.
violent crime have fallen and property crimes continue to outpace all others
(California Department of Justice 2014) criminalizing poverty remains a prominent
This masks the role of the state and capitalists in producing economic
crises and cleans upthe streets of low-income communities and communities
of color through imprisonment (Wacquant 2009). Budget priorities are therefore
instructive. In 2010, the state paid $47,000 a year per prisoner, and in total $7.9
billion (Vera Institute of Justice 2012). For comparison, the state spent about
$12,000 per university student, and in total about $12 billion from the general fund
(Johnson 2012).
While economic self-interest and institutionalized discrimination drive arrests and
imprisonment, prisons also generate inequality by removing people from their
communities. This disrupts local labor markets and possibilities for economic mobility,
aggravates already existing health problems due to stress and shaky access to
healthcare, ruptures family structures, furthers household disadvantage, and
marginalizes former felons from civic life (Wakefield and Uggen 2010). Moreover,
when people reenter their communities they are subject to state surveillance,
further social exclusion and stigma in terms of benefits, employment, and housing,
and higher than average rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (Goff et al. 2007;
Pager 2007; Petersilia 2003; Travis 2005).
Most people do not live in heavily policed and poverty ridden neighborhoods
made worse by high levels of incarceration (Clear 2007). Therefore, people who
can translate their experience of incarceration and the challenge of reentering their
communities are imperative to developing solutions. Activists committed to food
justice and restorative justice are working alongside formerly incarcerated people
in Oakland, which deepens their attention to incarcerated geographies at the point
of reentry. It is at this point where merging restorative practices with urban agriculture
can intervene in structural inequalities and reimagine food justice.
Reimagining Food Justice through Restorative Justice
A passion for social justice connects food justice and restorative justice activists. In
Oakland, both prioritize the immediate needs of low-income communities and
communities of color and work to reform policies and practices related to reentry.
The resulting forms of mutual aid respond to Gilmores (2007:28) definition of
racism as the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of
group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death. As Kropotkin (2009) and
generations of anarchists have shown, the strategies and organizations that emerge
out of mutual aid practices set the foundation for advancing social justice. In
this case, both sets of activists recognize the structural drivers of racial hierarchies
that disproportionately harm certain bodies, hold institutions and political elites
responsible, and develop community-based empowerment strategies and alterna-
tives. Together they offer a creative means to reimagine how to reduce vulnerability
to the racialized historical trauma of imprisonment.
On the one hand, food justice strives to eliminate and challenge social inequities
within and beyond the food system. In this way, it carries on the legacy of racial
justice movements such as the Civil Rights and environmental justice movements,
© 2016 The Author. Antipode © 2016 Antipode Foundation Ltd.
while developing new strategies that incorporate food-related concerns. Food
justice advocates for the right to healthy food that is produced justly and sustainably,
recognizes diverse cultural foodways and histories, promotes democratic participa-
tion and control over local food systems, and equitable distribution of resources in
the food system (Alkon and Agyeman 2011; Cadieux and Slocum 2015; Gottlieb
and Joshi 2010; Hislop 2015). Understood broadly, the food justice movement
creates equitable alternatives and engages in policy battles to improve the conven-
tional food system, and uses food as a tool to advance social justice. This includes
democratically run food co-ops with fair supply networks that offer affordable
and healthy food for all, campaigns that support food and farmworkers, and direct
action to prevent land grabs (Harrison 2011; Knupfer 2013; Myers and Sbicca
2015; Roman-Alcalá 2015). And as this article shows with reentry work, it includes
developing cross-movement ties based on local assets and needs.
On the other hand, restorative justice promotes healing. Although practices vary,
it focuses on the needs of victims, reintegrates offenders, and works with the local
community to rehabilitate victims and offenders (Marshall 1999; Wright 1996; Zehr
1990). As such, it rejects the carceral logic of exclusion and segregation inherent to
mass incarceration. The roots of these practices lie in some forms of indigenous
community-based restorative justice (Johnstone 2013). In sentencing circles the
community engages deliberatively, often with the victim, to address a crime and
restore peace. In healing circles prisoners or the formerly incarcerated create a
space to undertake individually and collectively their victimization and crimes. In
restorative conferences communities of care intervene with youth before any court
proceedings to try and solve the problem (Walgrave 2013). These restorative justice
practices are powerful not because they can supplant a retributive criminal justice
system, but because of the strong social bonds that emerge through voluntary
association. These bonds are the basis for transforming selves, communities, and
the criminal justice system (LeBel et al. 2015; Opsal 2012).
Recent practices in many places around the world indicate that the new articulations
of food justice in Oakland are part of a wider movement to develop methods for
increasing social equity at the point of reentry. Restorative justice is merging with
greening justiceinitiatives (White and Graham 2015:3). Successful practices with
formerly incarcerated adults in Australia, England, Norway, and Native American
youth in the United States foster a connection to nature through food and garden-
ing, develop green job skills and certifications, and facilitate ties to local social
movements. These initiatives help create a foundation for psychosocial healing,
empowerment, and community reintegration, outcomes that parallel restorative
justice goals (Graham and White 2015; Hynes 1996; Pudup 2008). For example,
working in gardens and growing food has psychologically and socially restorative
properties (Kaplan 1995; Saldivar-Tanaka and Krasny 2004; Söderback et al.
2004), and the visceral capacity to mobilize bodies into a social movement
(Hayes-Conroy and Martin 2010).
On their own, restorative practices may simply reflect a do-good politics that fail
to address the drivers of various inequities (Koopman 2008), but when combined
with a food justice politics grounded in mutual aid that recognizes and works
against oppression, activists are better positioned to reduce power asymmetries
These Bars Cant Hold Us: Restorative Food Justice 5
© 2016 The Author. Antipode © 2016 Antipode Foundation Ltd.
(Cadieux and Slocum 2015). Strategic interventions will vary by place, but the
marginalized experience of imprisonment often means that resistance emerges in
the interstitial spaces of capitalism and institutionalized racism (see also Bradley
and Galt 2014 on the work of Dig Deep Farms & Produce). These interstitial spaces
offer the freedom for resistance to grow and corrode the foundations responsible
for problems like mass incarceration (Gibson-Graham 1996; Omi and Winant
2015; Wright 2010). As I contend in this article, food justice activists are blending
in beneficial restorative justice practices. First, supporting people with jobs can lead
to the formation of pro-social replacement selvesand therefore a reduced
likelihood of reoffending (Opsal 2012). Second, in reentry work it is particularly
helpful when formerly incarcerated people become wounded healers(LeBel
et al. 2015). That is, people who work with those who have been to prison.
Whether these wounded healers are co-workers or leading healing circles, they
can translate their experiences and needs, and tell stories that weave people and
movements together (Davis 2002). These cross-movement ties show how a restor-
ative food justice can expand mobilization space through an express commitment
to revaluing and working alongside a largely discarded population in order to resist
mass incarceration.
In what follows, I further elaborate on how incarcerated geographies inspire the
expansion of food justice activism, and highlight the role food plays as a tool in the
reentry process. After a discussion of my methods, I explain how formerly incarcer-
ated black men identify and critique oppression before, during, and after prison.
Their experiences with institutionalized racism, segregation, and confinement
inspire the response of Planting Justice and its community partners. Therefore, I
next identify the formation of a restorative food justice predicated on healing and
mutual aid practices. These two sections demonstrate the tight coupling between
an analysis of racialized trauma that stems from incarcerated geographies and the
co-development of alternative relationships to land and food labor standards that
create new opportunities for formerly incarcerated people.
Embeddedness with Planting Justice
My relationship with Planting Justice goes back to 2008, before its founding, to
conversations with friends who became staff members about what to name the
organization. At the outset, the founders decided that the organization would use
food to blend commitments to environmental, economic, and racial justice. In a
sense, they saw food as a proxy for basic human needs and therefore a means to
contest social inequities. Because activists in Oakland ascribe the origins of the food
justice movement to other social justice movements (Alkon 2012; Sbicca 2012), it
felt natural to link a range of social struggles. Consequently, Planting Justice aims
to be more than a food justice organization. It is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and
cross-class organization with wide-ranging political commitments to social justice,
which it channeled early on through the problem of mass incarceration. In March
2009, a month before the founding of the organization, they started working inside
San Quentin State Prison with the Insight Garden Program, a decision that has since
shaped their food justice imagination.
© 2016 The Author. Antipode © 2016 Antipode Foundation Ltd.
As a member of the board of directors for the first four years, I saw how the
organization evolved to address the trauma of imprisonment for those formerly
confined in San Quentin. Key to this evolution was a commitment to creating living
wage work and alternative relationships to land. These are some of the hallmarks of
radical food justice practice (Bradley and Herrera 2016; Cadieux and Slocum 2015).
The organization developed a fee-for-service permaculture-landscaping program
called Transform Your Yard.
As part of a reentry program where people first
participate in horticultural therapy in prison through the Insight Garden Program,
when they return home they receive living wages to work on teams installing and
designing edible landscapes and gardens. Clients, mainly homeowners, pay in full
for about three-quarters of these installations, while the organization subsidizes or
installs for free the other quarter for low-income people or community-based
organizations. As of April 2015, Planting Justice had installed 315 edible landscapes
or gardens, 80 of which were free (Burke 2015). This program shuffles capital from
middle and upper class homeowners to create full-time jobs starting at $17.50/
Such well-paid work is also supported by a team of canvassers, some
formerly incarcerated, who fundraise throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. These
two self-generated cash flows account for two-thirds of the budget, while one-third
of the budget comes from grants. These strategies are essential to the development
of a restorative food justice that can monkey wrench the prison pipeline.
Between 2012 and 2015, I worked on a case study of Planting Justice. This
included 35 interviews with Planting Justice board members and staff, 11 formerly
incarcerated, and their community partners involved in restorative justice work.
My first set of interviews was exclusively with affiliates of Planting Justice over a
two and a half month period in the summer of 2012. During this time, I worked
2040 hours a week in a range of organizational capacities and spaces. For
example, I canvassed on the streets of the East Bay, built edible landscapes
throughout the Bay Area, and designed evaluation methods in an office in Oakland.
Although my fieldwork ended in 2012, I continued to gather and analyze press
reports, organizational documents, blogs, and social media until 2015. I completed
a second phase of interviews during the summer of 2015. This set of interviews
included some formerly incarcerated staff members and community partners
involved with restorative justice, such as people at the Insight Garden Program
and Pathways to Resilience.
Before moving on, I want to acknowledge the praxis informing Planting Justice. A
few of their organizers developed the metaphor of compost the empirethrough
an engagement with the many social inequities present in Oakland and the work of
Gloria Anzaldúa and Grace Lee Boggs (Garzo Montalvo and Zandi 2011). Rejecting
simple do-gooder politics, this reflects a belief that oppression never lasts because
people resist and undertake building new models in the shell of the old. The goal,
then, is to reclaim spaces such as gardens, farms, and kitchens to advance economic
and racial justice. They write, What we have found as organizers in the movement
for food justice is the need to intervene and find more ways to transform waste into
Life through spiritual activism(Garzo Montalvo and Zandi 2011). They respond to
a system of mass incarceration that discards millions of low-income people and
people of color at the point of reentry with tools such as permaculture design
These Bars Cant Hold Us: Restorative Food Justice 7
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and community organizing. The following two sections identify how incarcerated
geographies inform what constitutes composting the empire, and how food
becomes reimagined as an instrument for social justice.
Incarcerated Geographies and Oppression in the Prison
Most formerly incarcerated staff members at Planting Justice or those who have
completed restorative justice programs with allied organizations are black, so
their experiences are particularly relevant. Their incarcerated geographies map
onto a prison pipeline that disproportionately removes members of their com-
munity and exacerbates racial hierarchies. On the one hand, many blacks live
in and reenter spaces where they are criminalized and racialized by the current
carceral regime, spaces riddled with problems such as poverty and food ineq-
uities (Cacho 2012; Rios 2011; Shabazz 2015). On the other hand, while in
prison and upon reentry they face coming to terms with decisions to commit
crime, whether because of addiction, peer pressure, or out of economic desper-
ation (Petersilia 2003; Travis 2005). Below I discuss and contextualize their chief
concerns, critiques, and analyses, which form the basis for developing restorative
food justice practices.
Before Prison
Formerly incarcerated people challenge those who draw a line between personal
responsibility and crime by pointing out racial and economic inequities embedded
in their neighborhoods. Like many others, Barry, a middle-aged black man who
suffered from drug addiction, had few opportunities where he grew up. He first told
me about how his drug addiction resulted in incarceration:
once you use drugs then you do a lot of procrastinating Id say. Because you are on the
substance youll say I wanna do this, I wanna change my ways.You notice that it
never pans out. You always find another reason to go back into the hole.
He went on to note, however, that drug programs overlook how economic insecurity
perpetuates drug use: if you dont have a place to stay, and you dont have a
stable income, you are not going to be clean and sober on the streets.This leaves
people with few options to escape, a reality that stems from the carceral power of
politicians and law enforcement committed to confinement strategies in low-income
black neighborhoods (Shabazz 2015). Barry suggests, some people dont mind
being incarcerated because they have no money, no transportation, they dont
have no food and they dont have no house.He concludes his thought with an
affirmative Black Lives Matter Movement frame that rejects the carceral power
producing these incarcerated geographies: it is not just black lives that matter,
its brown lives, everybody thats being oppressed, actually.
Linda, who is Latina, and a former probation officer and correctional case
manager, recognizes many of the same challenges identified by Barry: the system
is rigged against them. It is designed for them to fail It is really stressful out
© 2016 The Author. Antipode © 2016 Antipode Foundation Ltd.
there.She arrives at these conclusions by recalling what formerly incarcerated
people tell her:
Dont feel sorry for me; give me a job so I can feed my kids.They dont need your
sympathy. They dont need food stamps. Another thing I hear too is that people want
a job they are proud of People want to make more money than they can hustling
on the street.
This anecdote suggests that pathologizing people for living in poverty ignores
disinvestment in neighborhoods with large numbers of low-income people and
people of color. It is also the kind of story that leads to the development of
restorative food justice practices that link healing to gainful employment. Linda contends,
Its really not so much about morality and bad people No, people need to survive.
In addition to economic disparity and criminalization, many of the men I
interviewed spoke of the historical legacy of slavery that is reanimated through
the mass incarceration of black people. Reflecting on the nature of this structural
racism, a middle-aged black man named Saul asserts:
I still dont believe that we have a fair shake Im being punished for something I had
nothing to do with, bruh. I wasnt around, whatever was happening in history four
hundred years ago. That aint have anything to do with me So for me to be penalized
not just me but all of us in general, as a whole, for us to be held back, held down,
treated the way we have been treated, all these years, bruh? We did nothing wrong
to deserve the stigma, the treatment, and everything that weve been getting all
these years.
Committing crimes, then, does not take place in a vacuum. The policing of black
people is a continuation of the historical trauma of the plantation economy, made
worse by the fact that neighborhoods with high arrest rates often lack public investment
that would help people avoid entering prison to begin with. The experiences and
stories relayed by people like Saul, Linda, and Barry challenge ascribing immorality into
decisions to break the law by highlighting the criminalization of low-income people
of color. Incarcerated geographies begin in places that prevent people from being
law abiding because the state deems these places and the impoverished people
who occupy them more worthy of punishment than protection (Cacho 2012).
During Prison
The confinement of prison is only the formalized outcome of a larger system of mass
incarceration that targets low-income people of color (Alexander 2012). Most of
the men I spoke with ended up in San Quentins H-Unit. Lindahl (2011:8) describes
H-Unit as:
five large prefabricated warehouse-style dorms[that] circle a concrete exercise yard
and house 200 prisoners each in bunks. The men are generally serving sentences
for between one and ten years [T]hey tend to be younger than their counterparts in
North Block [where people convicted of violent crimes serve life sentences] and serve
sentences for drug-related offenses, possession of an illegal firearm, theft, burglary,
and/or assault, to name a few crimes.
These Bars Cant Hold Us: Restorative Food Justice 9
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The prison is also overcrowded. The New York Times (2013) reported:
In 2011, the United States Supreme Court found that the overcrowding [in California
prisons] had gotten so badclose to double the prisonsdesigned capacitythat
inmateshealth and safety were unconstitutionally compromised. The court ordered
the state to reduce its prison population by tens of thousands of inmates
San Quentin was built for 3000 prisoners, but at the time housed over 5000
prisoners (Light in Prison 2016).
Once incarcerated, people experience further marginalization and sociospatial
control. Strict prison rules and physical layout tightly regulate behavior, such as
mealtimes, mandatory work shifts, breaks, who one associates with, and whether
one receives adequate or even any healthcare treatment (Irwin 2005). On top of
these conditions, California prisons offer few rehabilitation or mental health
programs and over 65% of prisoners return within three years (Petersilia 2008;
Pew Center on the States 2011). Jamal, a young black man who was in San Quentin
for robbery surmises that these conditions perpetuate problems:
Well when you go to prison, its a sensory deprivation camp for however long that
youre in there. So when you get out, youre back in the concrete jungle you still
got that mentality of …“I have to survive and I have to get this money, get this job,
get this whatever.
The formerly incarcerated carry these and other feelings of restriction and dispossession
due to the experience of imprisonment.
A chief grievance about the conditions of confinement was that prisons exploit
prisoner labor. Saul was particularly incisive about this state of affairs:
Take prison we call that modern day slavery. And I say we because I just left there, and
they paid us crow. Some of the jobs that we do, they should get paid contractors, big
money to do that shit. They paid us peanuts. We had to do electrical jobs that you
should be paying somebody at least 13, 17, 27 dollars an hour to do you paying
me 75 cents. Come on bruh! And then Im working eight hours. Come on bruh! And
thats just one job We make all the clothes, all the furniture, all the food They give
us crumbs its insulting Now when I say I dont wanna do it you gonna write me
up, and give me some more time in prison because I dont wanna work, basically, for
nothing Thats injustice inside the prison system!
One of the attributes, then, of incarcerated geographies is that economic exploitation
intersects with criminalization.
Attention to the convergence of these structural problems inside prison compels the
development of a restorative food justice that recognizes the power of horticultural
therapy. Such work inside prison complements what Planting Justice does during
reentry. The Insight Garden Program and Planting Justice convinced prison officials
at San Quentin to allow four raised vegetable and flower beds for permaculture and
restorative justice classes in the H-Unit. This success follows the expansion of
programs and the inclusion of other voices in the decision-making process at San
Quentin over the past 10 years. As of 2010 there were 63 programs, including drug
and alcohol treatments, spiritual practice, health and literacy education, yoga, and
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art classes. Carole, a white woman with the Insight Garden Program recalled how
prison officials were concerned with water usage given Californias drought, But
instead of Okay, were gonna shut your gardens today, you cant water your
garden,they invited us to the prison to brainstorm solutions.These few oases
inside prison open up the space for prisoners to start the healing process and
develop skills to successfully reenter their communities. Nevertheless, as I show
below, life after prison is inherently difficult.
After Prison
Even men who go through rehabilitative programs in prison, participate in restor-
ative justice practices, or engage in food justice activism still experience discrimina-
tory laws and policies that allow other forms of control to replace the physical bars
of imprisonment. Most people currently under correctional control in the United
States are not in prison. In 2013 there were 6,899,000 people under correctional
control, 67% of whom were on probation and parole (Glaze and Kaeble 2014).
They often reenter the same criminalized communities, what Shabazz (2015) refers
to as a prison-like environment, and face the same policing, surveillance, and
poverty that put them in prison to begin with, only this time with the added
pressure of a criminal record (Petersilia 2003). The challenges these people face
include finding employment and housing, emotional and social travails that come
with reconnecting with family, and navigating institutions that perpetuate stigma.
The men I spoke with repeatedly emphasized the ever present threat or
experience of poverty and alienation. Jamal told me, The hardest thing is coming
home we being shut out of jobs or voting or housing or food stamps or
any of the myriad things that we shut out of by having a criminal offense.The daily
grind of these economic struggles coupled with problems like post-traumatic stress
disorder make it hard to escape a cyclical prison pipeline. Jamal explains some of
this psychological trauma:
Folks are coming back mentally disabled it takes some time to trust people, it takes
some time to get relationships with people like on some real healing, you know, it
takes time and a lot of the times folks dont got time because they trying to get their
housing, theyve got all of the other stuff that society tells us that we need and thats
a necessity.
In the process of conducting some interviews, I witnessed how economic support
from the state can be undermined by criminalizing people on parole, which perpetuates
the marginalization of people deemed immoralfor committing a crime (Cacho
2012). During a phone interview with Gene, a middle-aged black man, he was
taking the bus to Contra Costa County Housing Authority to find a landlord who
would not discriminate against someone with a criminal record. He had to hang
up and call me back while he dealt with this. Once back on the bus he told me,
Ive been searching almost six months now for an apartment with a Section 8
voucher that will pay a landlord $1,200 a month for a one bedroom. Thats the sort
of thing to me that is broken.Gene went on to share, I have a nine year old
daughter, but I have a court order to see her a couple days in the week. I dont have
These Bars Cant Hold Us: Restorative Food Justice 11
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a place to bring her, I dont have a lot of money Im working just to pay child
support, man.In true Kafkaesque fashion, the formerly incarcerated navigate a
state that offers support that can be undermined with discriminatory practices or
other state mandates.
Constant surveillance of parolees can also thwart the desire to participate in
publically visible activism to reform the reentry process. To reject the carceral
logic superimposed on black communities, a logic that relies on a steady
supply of black bodies to send to prison, can be risky. Referring to the
conflict between being on parole and engaging in advocacy with Planting
Justice, Saul states:
its really actually hard for me to get out there and protest and get involved with a lot of
things that theyre doing out in the community because say Im public speaking, I run
into a policeman or woman whose gonna grab me up they can send me to jail I
dont have time for that, man.
Moreover, employers might closely monitor the performance of someone
convicted of a felony. Gene used to advocate for more community-based services
money for reentry work, but feels that having a job now prevents this advocacy:
Im in my probation period [at work], so I cant be running back and forth
between this and that like I was.Therefore, the healing and mutual aid network
described below becomes vital during reentry.
Restorative Food Justice Grounded in Healing and
Mutual Aid Practices
Incarcerated geographies reflect the carceral forms of violence, discrimination, and
marginalization experienced before, during, and after prison. Planting Justice and
the community partners who make up Pathways to Resilience have paid attention
to this reality as they devise ways to meet immediate needs and advocate for struc-
tural reforms. As noted above, the greatest challenge for most of these men is
returning from prison. It is at this point where activists see an opportunity to disrupt
the spatial logic of incarceration. In response to racialized experiences of poverty
and exclusion they have devised a restorative food justice grounded in healing
and mutual aid, which uses food as the vehicle to reverse the trend of
accumulated disadvantage. The associated practices help address historical
trauma with living wage food work and through non- and despite-capitalist
relations to land. I build on this analysis of an expanded form of food justice in
the remainder of this section.
The Process of Expanding Food Justice
Although none of the 17 formerly incarcerated people who have worked for Plant-
ing Justice have returned to jail, the typical focus on recidivism rates to measure the
rehabilitative efficacy of the criminal justice system and non-profit programs over-
looks the more important metrics of economic, social, and psychological well-be-
ing. While lower recidivism appears to correlate with models that meld restorative
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justice and food justice, the benefits of creating healing spaces with formerly incar-
cerated people, reconnecting to family, nature, and food, and well-paying and
meaningful work provide a foundation to resist mass incarceration (LeBel et al.
2015; Opsal 2012).
The expansion of food justice practice in Oakland that makes
such resistance possible acknowledges incarcerated geographies by creating spaces
to undo the sociospatial and psychological forms of confinement.
In 2013, Planting Justice and a number of other partners (The Green Life,
Earthseed Consulting, Wildheart Gardens, Impact Hub Oakland, United Roots,
Sustainability Economies Law Center) developed a two-year pilot program called
Pathways to Resilience. They asked, Could an integrated program of culturally
relevant, experiential permaculture design education; meaningful, values-aligned,
and entrepreneurial work; and wrap around services reduce recidivism by
healing and restoring participantsconnections to the community and the
environment?This project was funded because of the passage of California
Assembly Bill 109, which was part of the 2011 Public Safety Realignment. To
help reduce state spending and prison overcrowding, counties were given more
discretion in how they spent accompanying funds for rehabilitation. Many
counties expanded their jails, but some came under public pressure to provide
funds for reentry programs. In addition to an 18-month program in San Quentin
that served 250 participants, they offered a reentry program for two cohorts that
focused on psychosocial healing and graduated 21 permaculture designers,
many of whom went on to get living wage work or start businesses. Given the
collective commitment to cultural relevancy, the program also contributed to
the expansion of the network of black permaculturalists, thereby deepening the
integration between food justice and restorative justice.
Healing circles anchored the Pathways to Resilience program. In a circle
everyone can see everyone else, which fosters psychological and social connectivity.
These circles also reject the spatial logic of segregation and incarceration. They
offer a space to address the trauma of prison and create new social networks.
Both inside and outside of prison, many of the people I spoke with discussed
the importance of having safe spaces to address their own victimization, the
crimes they committed, and their vision of the future. Carl, who helps facilitate
healing circles explains, Were just allowing them to be in a space, see the
space created, create the space, and then come when theyre ready to come.
Speaking to the power of this space, Gene reflects, I felt safe and secure [I]
ts like a platform that I could use to either dump some stuff in peoples lap I
was dealing with from the week or what I had been through It was a time
to be able to get things out so I could grow and move on.Joan, a white
woman who worked with Pathways to Resilience and is an expert on the
restorative justice process says, theres a sort of collective wisdom that comes
out of that circle process [that is] giving people a sense of community.These
circles foster solidarity and trust with those going through the reentry transition
and build connections with those wanting to improve their lives.
The ritual of sitting in a circle is buoyed by other rituals. What is taking place
in Oakland confirms Marunas (2011) suggestion that these rituals counteract
the degradation of incarceration because they are symbolic and emotive, are
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repeated as necessary, involve community, focus on achievement, and involve
wiping the slate clean. The culmination for each cohort of Pathways to
Resilience participants is a rites of passage ceremony. As one participant noted:
We opened the day in circle, with the sound of drums, as one community member lead
us in a ritual of calling in the four directions as well as the earth and sky to set the space
as sacred. Another member encouraged us to speak aloud the names of our family,
ancestors, and important figures that have shaped our lives and whose shoulders we
stand on. Each of us also had a chance to put our own voices in the circle each
expressing the gifts and offerings we bring to the circle (Planting Justice 2014).
The graduates of the program then wrote down something that they wanted to release
from their past. They individually approached a golden bowl full of fire and incense,
dropped in the paper and then announced what they wanted to let go of. Afterward
they walked through an archway of the entangled arms and bodies of family and
friends and received a crystal from one of the Pathways to Resilience educators.
The rites of passage ceremony crystalizes one stage of healing and sets the
foundation for entering into food justice work. The deep internal and interpersonal
engagement required by Pathways to Resilience empowers formerly incarcerated
people to then participate in prefigurative urban agriculture projects that help re-
imagine our relationship to food and expand the practice of food justice to chal-
lenge incarcerated geographies. Restorative justice deepens the work of food
justice by calling attention to the institutionally racist realities of mass incarceration
and offering ways to meet the immediate needs of people inside prison and upon
reentry. In brief, although food justice activists are committed to social justice their
typical methods and skills are insufficient to work with formerly incarcerated people,
which therefore necessitates fusing restorative practices. At the same time, food jus-
tice activists at Planting Justice have a deep understanding of agriculture and creat-
ing viable economic paths, which offers opportunities for deeper healing and the
necessary resources for economic mobility.
Work in general and quality work in particular is important for desistance and
providing people coming home from prison an opportunity to develop a positive
self-identity (Maruna 2001; Uggen 1999). Planting Justice helps make such
outcomes possible. In reference to his job as a food justice educator and
permaculturalist Anthony Forest, a Pathways to Resilience participant and Planting
Justice staff member beams, It makes me feel good to know that I am needed
today(Endangered Ideas 2014). As Jerry, another black middle-aged staff member
most people getting ready to get out of prison, thats what theyre looking for. Theyre
looking for a job, and for most people that get a job, itll change their life Im making
$20 an hour. What do I wanna do crime for? So thats what we do for guys that get
out, to take care of themselves, take care of their families.
Mutual aid in the form of living wage work supports the food justice movements in-
terventions against social inequities. These alternative agricultural models reflect the
movements commitment to economic, social, and political goals over those simply
having to do with food (Cadieux and Slocum 2015). By putting social justice first,
Planting Justice also links meeting pressing needs to other ancillary benefits.
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Food becomes an innovative tool in the restorative process when it links working
with plants to healing individuals and building community. Reflecting on these
transformative experiences, Jamal says:
Its just something magical, man; something spiritual happens when you are able to
grow your own food and sustain yourself especially coming out of prison, weve been
deprived of certain human rights theres nothing better getting out of prison than to
build a relationship with the earth to really go down and become grounded in that.
Food justice activism that promotes the restorative properties of urban agriculture is
a bulwark against the carceral logic that might otherwise wrap these men back into
the prison pipeline. Central to this activism is also the way it strengthens community
bonds. Knowing the empowerment they feel individually, the edible landscapers and
permaculture designers at Planting Justice enjoy providing free gardens to
community based organizations and low-income families, often in the same
criminalized communities of color staff members come from. They see how these
private edible landscapes serve non-market social functions (e.g. rehabilitative
space) and how the free gardens built in public spaces or for non-profits increase
cross-cultural collaboration and civic participation (Baker 2004).
To foster mutual aid and achieve some of the aforementioned outcomes,
restorative food justice entails open communication grounded in anti-oppression
Speaking to this openness, Joan contemplates, Im really getting that
wisdom from the men who have been formerly incarcerated, whove been
paying close attention to what their needs have been since theyve been out.As
a result, Planting Justice and some of its partners work to remain reflexive in the
midst of creating greater economic stability. Another white woman named Simone
Im a person with white skin and Im impacted deeply by privileges that come to me
because of that and impacted and influenced by a culture of fear around people of color,
especially African-American people. And we live in a country where what we have is built
on stolen land and stolen people and we have not acknowledged that we cant
even begin to heal from it if we dont acknowledge it Im very humbled to be able
to be part of this work. Its not something that I couldve earned or deserved Im
receiving deeply and its changing me.
The process of mutual aid requires an acknowledgement of how ones social
position is embedded in histories of oppression. That is, supporting the healing
process means changing oneself. The mutual benefit of working with plants,
deepening community bonds, and reflexivity is a reduction in power asymmetries.
The last important characteristic of restorative food justice is community organizing.
As others have shown, engaging in food justice work can help people learn
democracy(Levkoe 2006), which is important given laws that politically disenfran-
chise ex-felons. Gavin Raders, a white co-founder of Planting Justice, identifies the
historical precedent for their strategy, Black Panthers, United Farm Workers, Gan-
dhi, and all these kinds of movements around the world have used food and land
to fight for peoples rights(Burke 2015). The organization uses a food justice cur-
riculum at high schools to sensitize students to the power of social movements.
These Bars Cant Hold Us: Restorative Food Justice 15
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They also canvass in public places to raise money for the organization and aware-
ness about racial and economic inequities. In all these efforts, staff members who
have been imprisoned are entering these spaces to tell their stories, which illumi-
nate the human toll of the prison pipeline and the kinds of reentry strategies that
work. Public engagement, such as the 52,000 people they have canvassed since
2012, helps increase the number of people who can be asked to support reentry re-
lated political campaigns. For example, Planting Justice worked on the Jobs Not
Jailscampaign as part of the Alameda County Coalition for Criminal Justice Re-
form. This campaign eventually secured 50% of the AB 109 Public Safety Realign-
ment budget for community-based reentry programs and services. Before 2015,
most of this money (6277%) went to the Alameda County Sheriffs Office for run-
ning Santa Rita Jail (Levin 2015). Such victories reinforce the need for restorative
food justice practices to tie together education, storytelling, and community
Restorative food justice practices in Oakland, California are not just fostering
individual resilience for formerly incarcerated people, but reflect strategies aimed
at disrupting the prison pipeline at the point of reentry. This includes both the
development of socially just practices in the shell of current sociospatial arrangements
and an engagement with the state to demand programs that create good job
opportunities, housing, and food. Given that food justice is ultimately about social
justice (i.e. equity), scholars need to do more to elevate how activists navigate and
alter structural conditions. There are always a set of intersecting inequalities or
barriers to address in tandem with food in order to achieve food justice. In this case,
because Planting Justice and parts of its activist network respond to the incarcerated
geographies of those they work with, food justice becomes linked to reentry work,
prison reform, living wage campaigns, and fair housing statutes.
When taken together the relationship between the perspectives of formerly
incarcerated people and the healing and mutual aid practices identified in this
article amount to a refutation of food first orientations to food justice. If you were
to only read critiques of the food justice movement this might be considered an
outlier (Guthman 2008). But as others have shown there are many ways activists
do food justice (Hislop 2015), not all of these ways foreground social justice or
work toward transformative change (Cadieux and Slocum 2015), and that the
social change process is riddled with challenges (McClintock 2014; Sbicca 2014).
What is still unclear in all of these discussions is the role that food plays in projects
that claim they are doing food justice. For decades, scholars and activists have
sought to elevate the importance of addressing social inequities if there is to be
any change in the food system (Allen et al. 1991). The problem is that the food lens
has often clouded the strategies and tactics necessary to advance social justice. For
example, food insecurity becomes about food access instead of poverty and capital-
ism, or deforestation to grow soy becomes about environmental conservation in-
stead of neoliberal trade regimes and colonialism. Consequently, many self-
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proclaimed food justice activists have cocooned themselves within the food move-
ment without a sense that strategic alliances with other movements are necessary in
order to address the structural causes of social inequities.
All of this is not to say that problems in the food system and in the food
movement are unimportant. Rather, depending on the circumstances food has
been used both as a tool for oppression and for liberation. Without an explicit
articulation of contemporary inequities activists may miss opportunities to bridge
sociospatial boundaries, fight for policies, and devise local solutions necessary to
transform the conditions behind food system problems. At the same time, food is
a multifaceted tool. While gardens and potlucks can certainly build community,
scholars should also attend to how contemporary movements such as the Black
Power Movement and Food Not Bombs have used food to challenge social and
economic inequities (Heynen 2009, 2010). As the former Chairwoman of the Black
Panther Party, Elaine Brown, clarifies the reason for employing formerly incarcer-
ated people at her farm in West Oakland, Im not in the farm business Imin
the business of creating opportunities for Black men and women who are poor
and lack the education, skills, and resources to return to a community that is rapidly
gentrifying without economic avenues for them in mind(Henry 2015). This
commitment mirrors the work of Planting Justice and Pathways to Resilience. Be-
cause all of these activists are foregrounding the experiences of the imprisoned, a
more expansive and imaginative notion of food justice is emerging. The resulting
initiatives are what revitalize life and compost the empire.
I want to express my deepest gratitude to the many organizers, both formerly incarcerated
and their allies, who took the time to share with me. Your daily commitment and practice
inspired the writing of this article. I also want to thank Tara Opsal and my interdisciplinary
writing group at CSU for comments on earlier drafts, as well as the four reviewers for their
constructive feedback and suggestions.
Between 1990 and 2014, there were over 100,000 drug arrests a year.
Although some scholars and activists have drawn connections between gardens, prisons,
poverty, and race (Hynes 1996; Pudup 2008), this has not been framed in relation to the food
justice movement.
The ratio of violent versus property crimes in 2014 was roughly 3:17. Official statistics
kept by the California Department of Justice do not include drug crimes, only drug arrests.
For more information on the Insight Garden Program, see http://insightgardenprogram.
The founder of permaculture, Bill Mollison (1988:ix), defines this as the conscious
design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity,
stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape
and people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs
in a sustainable way Permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material,
and strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit all forms of life.
Although it took a number of years, all staff members have full-time salaried positions
with health insurance.
Interview demographics: 14 white, 13 black, 5 Latino/a, 3 Asian, 23 male, 12 female. I
These Bars Cant Hold Us: Restorative Food Justice 17
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have changed the names of participants given the sensitivity of some of the topics covered. I
only use real names if there is a publicly available record.
Only one person who went through Pathways to Resilience was reincarcerated.
One of the leaders of the Pathways to Resilience program helped start the Black Permaculture
Network. Their solidarity statement links racial, economic, food, and environmental justice
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These Bars Cant Hold Us: Restorative Food Justice 21
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... As Pinsky (1980) notes, communities play an important role in mobilizing and working toward rehabilitating for a new life. Scholars working on community initiatives around growing food to address race violence and incarceration (Sbicca, 2016), indigenous food movements (Corntassel and Bryce, 2012), and politics of food sovereignty (Hoover, 2017) underline the significance of attending to social experiences to engage with rehabilitative practices. ...
... desires to heal from trauma . . . and improve their economic position" (Sbicca, 2016). ...
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Lemon farming promoted as rehabilitation programs in western Assam has generated income for villages that were deeply affected by ethnic conflict in the 1990s. Rehabilitation is tied to an economic logic linked with the market and a profit-driven measure of development. In the absence of an official reconciliation process on the ground, these economic initiatives have become an ambitious and attractive model for the Indian state to rebuild societies that have witnessed violent ethnic conflicts in Northeast India. Drawing from fieldwork carried out between 2016 and 2019 around Manas National Park, an area within the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts in western Assam, this article examines the experiences and impacts of lemon farming and focuses on practices of rehabilitation on the ground. The process of restoration includes communities living in the villages and the animals inside the park simultaneously. We show how communities are seeking to create connections with the land and their surroundings to overcome trauma and rebuild their lives. Specifically, we focus on lemon farming and the experiences of human–elephants relationships in Manas to highlight how these accounts produce an integrative account of rehabilitation in post-conflict societies. In the backdrop of militarization and structural violence, rehabilitating communities and animals is not a straightforward story. It entails proposing new theoretical frameworks to understand how reconstructing lives and the land is also about transforming relationships between humans and animals under circumstances that are often challenging. Ongoing lemon farming practices and living with elephants in Assam requires envisioning ways of belonging and living on the land and at the same time recognizing the boundaries.
... This work comes predominantly from the fields of criminology, psychology, business, public health, agricultural, horticultural, and environmental studies, and the corrections industry, itself, hoping to elevate prison gardens as a new pathway for recidivism reduction, "rehabilitation," public health, and "personal transformation" (Wright 2010; should be a priority, given the persistence of the carceral institution, yet problematic logics of punishment and control, the most ubiquitous being the recidivism framework, always seems to weave their way into the narrative. The very few social science studies that take a look at prison gardens through a critical lens include Sbicca (2016;, on how prison gardens oppose the carceral state, as well as Brown (2014) . The vast majority of these studies take the subject of focus to be the individual "offender," much as all "rehabilitative" prison programs take the mentality, behavior, or knowledge of incarcerated people to be the object of transformation. ...
... In its kinship with urban agriculture and community gardens, the prison garden similarly represents a geography under immediate threat of co-optation by oppressive logics while also representing radical possibilities for resistance. This food and carceral intersection has been explored by Sbicca (2016; in his articulation of restorative food justice, from which I take inspiration. The notion of moments of resistance is also inspired, in part, by Leitner's work (2012) studying small-town rural Minnesota, in which she explores "spaces of encounters" between white residents and racialized immigrants and how, through these encounters, logics of dominance began to unravel. ...
Gardening has long found its way into the American prison, but, in recent years, prison garden programs have achieved an unusual measure of popularity. In the perpetual reform of the penitentiary, this represents a programmatic turn in carceral administration back toward the “rehabilitation” of incarcerated people, the garden expected to “transform” them to reduce recidivism rates. This turn coincides with the rise of prison greening and sustainability initiatives, which are symbolically and politically linked to urban greening and sustainability. These moves present many contradictory implications which place the prison garden squarely within a dialectical process of exploitation and resistance. On the one hand, the (un)sustainable prison garden is permeated and limited by the logics of green racial capitalism: racialized accumulation by sustainability capital; a socioecological fix, which provides institutional legitimation through symbolic capital and justification for racist recidivism narratives; the depoliticization of carceral violence by the prison/urban greening alliance; and nefarious forms of carceral discipline and control. At the same time, prison gardens present radical possibilities through moments of resistance by: facilitating the survival and humanization of incarcerated people; incorporating tenets of a critical pedagogy; and developing carceral food justice practice. Given that this is a severely underexplored topic, I attempted to explore a breadth of possibilities and limitations in depth, opening up theoretical and empirical insights to inform future research endeavors. To this end, I draw insights from scholarship on urban political ecology, racial capitalism, carceral geography, food justice, and critical education studies.
... This history is but one example of the role of community gardens in local empowerment and resistance against displacement and marginalization (Anguelovski 2013;Bradley and Galt 2014;Mares and Peña 2011;Sbicca 2016;White 2011). On New York's Lower East Side, community gardens served as a prefigurative space where city dwellers developed a collective alternative political consciousness, recasting their relationship to the city from victims to empowered actors (Eizenberg 2016). ...
... Research in other cities has come to similar conclusions, characterizing gardens as spaces central to the production of citizenship and reengagement with the democratic process (Ghose and Pettygrove 2014;Pudup 2008). Beyond countering alienation and marginalization from political institutions, scholars have documented how urban agriculture projects are conduits for resisting environmental racism, cultivating ethno-racial empowerment and recognition, and developing community-based economic development projects (Anguelovski 2013;Bradley and Galt 2014;Mares and Peña 2011;Minkoff-Zern 2012;Saldivar-tanaka and Krasny 2004;Sbicca and Myers 2017;Sbicca 2016;White 2011). In fact, New York City community gardens have been sites of community mobilization on issues of green space, urban planning, and affordable housing (Eizenberg 2016;Martinez 2010). ...
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There has been a vibrant community gardening movement in New York City since the 1970s. The movement is predominantly located in working class communities of color and has fought for decades to turn vacant land into beneficial community spaces. However, many of these communities are struggling with gentrification, which has the potential to transform access to and use of community gardens in the city and the politics around them. Drawing on separate multi-year ethnographic projects, this article compares two community gardens in food insecure communities in Queens and Brooklyn: one that is undergoing gentrification and one that is not. We analyze how race and class transformations in each community shape the trajectories of urban agriculture spaces, specifically the ideologies, agricultural practices, and daily interactions among gardeners and as well as between gardeners and nongardeners. We find significant differences in how the two sets of community gardeners conceptualize the purpose of their gardens, particularly in constructing them as green spaces, agricultural production sites, and tools for achieving food justice. We argue that these differences can be best understood at the intersection of the personal histories of individuals, the organizational settings in which the gardens are embedded, and each neighborhood’s history of urban renewal and gentrification. Our findings show why some community gardens in food insecure communities adopt a food justice vision, while others do not, and how gentrification can amplify racial and class tensions within community gardens and between gardeners and nongardeners.
... Several scholars have noted a growing interest in connections between food and prisons (Godderis 2006a(Godderis , 2006bSbicca 2016;Smoyer 2015Smoyer , 2019. These connections have been explored through several key framings: food as rehabilitation (Jiler 2009;Moore et al. 2015;, food as a means to express one's identity and status (Smoyer 2015;Stearns 2019;Van Hagen 2020) and food as a tool of repression and alienation (de Graaf and Kilty 2016;Earle and Phlips 2012;Gibson-Light 2018;Jones 2017;Watkins 2013;Vanhouche 2015). ...
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Centering the perspectives and lived experiences of incarcerated persons, this article considers the ways food is used as a tool and site of contestation and possibility within federal prisons in Canada. Focusing specifically on the implementation of and resistance to the Food Services Modernization Initiative, I explore food as “contested terrain” within carceral systems, making visible a range of tactics of resistance employed by incarcerated persons, from testimonials and official complaints to direct collective action. In analyzing these actions and narratives, I reflect on the importance of both food justice and prisoner justice to transforming carceral food systems and call for greater acknowledgment of carceral food systems within food movement discourses and campaigns.
... Action-oriented approaches to radical food geography aim to engage directly with such social movements to imagine and pursue social and ecological transformations. For example, Sbicca (2016) utilizes the concept of restorative justice in examining crossmovement collaborations that create integrative solutions to structural inequities for those leaving the prison system. In another example, Tornaghi and Van Dyck (2015) reflect on their experiences of political gardening in the UK that pursues a radical urbanism grounded in solidarity, rebuilding the commons, and rethinking human-environment relationships. ...
Radical geography research, teaching, and action have increasingly focused on food systems, examining the scalar, sociopolitical, and ecological dynamics of food production and harvesting, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste. While academics have contributed significantly to these debates, the success and progress of this scholarship cannot be separated from the work of practitioners and activists involved in food justice and food sovereignty movements. This paper draws together the voices of scholars and activists to explore how collaborations can productively build the evolving field of radical food geography and contribute to more equitable and sustainable food systems for all. These perspectives provide important insight but also push the boundaries of what is typically considered scholarship and the potential for impacts at the levels of theory and practice. Reflecting on the intersecting fields of radical geography and food studies scholarship and the contributions from the scholar-activists, the authors share a collective analysis through a discussion of the following three emerging themes of radical food geography: (1) a focus on historical and structural forces along with flows of power; (2) the importance of space and place in work on food justice and food sovereignty; and (3) a call to action for scholars to engage more deeply with radical food systems change within their research and teaching process but also in response to it.
... As a form of political urban activism, urban gardening initiatives are often in contrast to the pervasive neoliberal planning of city life (Sbicca, 2016), which produces the erasure of public spaces and commons, the decrease of social cohesion and solidarity links, the privatization of leisure and free time activities and subjugation to exploitative food regimes. Not accidentally many urban gardening initiatives are described as forms of "contested spaces" or "right to space" ( Schmelzkopf, 2002 ), "actually existing commons" ( Eizenberg, 2012b ), counteracting and resisting rigid social doctrines ( McKay, 2011 ) or inventing new forms of quiet activism ( Pottinger, 2017 ). ...
... As a form of political urban activism, urban gardening initiatives are often in contrast to the pervasive neoliberal planning of city life (Sbicca, 2016), which produces the erasure of public spaces and commons, the decrease of social cohe- sion and solidarity links, the privatization of leisure and free time activities and subjugation to exploitative food regimes. Not accidentally many urban garden- ing initiatives are described as forms of "contested spaces" or "right to space" ( Schmelzkopf, 2002 ), "actually existing commons" ( Eizenberg, 2012b ), counter- acting and resisting rigid social doctrines or inventing new forms of quiet activism ( Pottinger, 2017 ). ...
Purpose The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the invisible incarcerated women population who are convicted of a crime and serving a sentence in a residential correctional facility in the United States (US). Even though correctional populations have been declining in the past years, the extent of mass incarceration has been a significant public health concern even before the pandemic. Moreover, the global spread of COVID-19 continues to have devastating effects in all the world's societies, and it has exacerbated existing social inequalities within the US carceral complex. Methodology/Approach We base our findings on data collection from two comparative clinical sociological garden interventions in a large Southeastern women's prison and a Midwestern residential community correctional facility for women. Both are residential correctional facilities for residents convicted of a crime. In contrast, in prison, women are serving longer-term sentences, and in the community corrections facility, women typically are housed for six months. We have developed and carried out educational garden programming and related research on both sites over the past two years and observe more closely the impact of COVID-19 on incarcerated women and their communities, which has aggravated the invisibility and marginalization of incarcerated women who suffered a lack of programming and insufficient research attention already before the pandemic. Findings We argue that prison gardens' educational programming has provided some respite from the hardships of the pandemic and is a promising avenue of correctional rehabilitation and programming that fosters sustainability, healthier nutrition, and mental health among participants. Originality of Chapter Residential correctional facilities are distinctively sited to advance health equity and community health within a framework of sustainability, especially during a pandemic. We focus on two residential settings for convicted women serving a sentence in a prison or a residential community corrections facility that offers rehabilitation and educational programming. Women are an underserved population within the US carceral system, and it is thus essential to develop more programming and research for their benefit.
In the United States, many people of color recently released from prison are likely to be food insecure. The intersections between race, food security, and release from prison are starting to be recognized. However, food justice should be informed by the perspectives and work being done by returning citizens and people of color. With the help of EMERGE CT, a transitional employment social enterprise for returning citizens in New Haven, Connecticut, I collected food access survey data and narratives of crewmembers at EMERGE to explore these issues. I merged restorative justice and food justice frame­works into one framework to develop an initiative that focuses on the availability of healthy, sustainable, and culturally appropriate food for returning citizens and addresses the social trauma that is perpetuated through both the food and prison systems. Further, I write about the importance of compensating food system leaders of color. I provide insight on the challenges in planning such a program. I discuss why we need to amplify the voices of returning citizens in food justice work. Lastly, I consider how these collaborative, cross-movement coalitions develop creative ways to re-envision equity.
Over 277,000 African Americans migrated to Chicago between 1900 and 1940, an influx unsurpassed in any other northern city. From the start, carceral powers literally and figuratively created a prison-like environment to contain these African Americans within the so-called Black Belt on the city's South Side. A geographic study of race and gender, this book casts light upon the ubiquitous—and ordinary—ways carceral power functions in places where African Americans live. Moving from the kitchenette to the prison cell, and mining forgotten facts from sources as diverse as maps and memoirs, the book explores the myriad architectures of confinement, policing, surveillance, urban planning, and incarceration. In particular, it investigates how the ongoing carceral effort oriented and imbued black male bodies and gender performance from the Progressive era to the present. The result is an essential interdisciplinary study that highlights the racialization of space, the role of containment in subordinating African Americans, the politics of mobility under conditions of alleged freedom, and the ways black men cope with—and resist—spacial containment. A timely response to the massive upswing in carceral forms within society, the book examines how these mechanisms came to exist, why society aimed them against African Americans, and the consequences for black communities and black masculinity both historically and today.
In recent years, American shoppers have become more conscious of their food choices and have increasingly turned to CSAs, farmers’ markets, organic foods in supermarkets, and to joining and forming new food co-ops. In fact, food co-ops have been a viable food source, as well as a means of collective and democratic ownership, for nearly 180 years. In Food Co-ops in America, Anne Meis Knupfer examines the economic and democratic ideals of food cooperatives. She shows readers what the histories of food co-ops can tell us about our rights as consumers, how we can practice democracy and community, and how we might do business differently. In the first history of food co-ops in the United States, Knupfer draws on newsletters, correspondence, newspaper coverage, and board meeting minutes, as well as visits to food co-ops around the country, where she listened to managers, board members, workers, and members. What possibilities for change-be they economic, political, environmental or social-might food co-ops offer to their members, communities, and the globalized world? Food co-ops have long advocated for consumer legislation, accurate product labeling, and environmental protection. Food co-ops have many constituents-members, workers, board members, local and even global producers-making the process of collective decision-making complex and often difficult. Even so, food co-ops offer us a viable alternative to corporate capitalism. In recent years, committed co-ops have expanded their social vision to improve access to healthy food for all by helping to establish food co-ops in poorer communities.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of jailed Americans leave prison and return to society. Largely uneducated, unskilled, often without family support, and with the stigma of a prison record hanging over them, many, if not most, will experience serious social and psychological problems after release. Fewer than one in three prisoners receive substance abuse or mental health treatment while incarcerated, and each year fewer and fewer participate in the dwindling number of vocational or educational pre-release programs, leaving many all but unemployable. Not surprisingly, the great majority is rearrested, most within six months of their release. As long as there have been prisons, society has struggled with how best to help prisoners reintegrate once released. But the current situation is unprecedented. As a result of the quadrupling of the American prison population in the last quarter century, the number of returning offenders dwarfs anything in America's history. A crisis looms, and the criminal justice and social welfare system is wholly unprepared to confront it. Drawing on dozens of interviews with inmates, former prisoners, and prison officials, the book shows us how the current system is failing, and failing badly. Unwilling merely to sound the alarm, it explores the harsh realities of prisoner re-entry and offers specific solutions to prepare inmates for release, reduce recidivism, and restore them to full citizenship, while never losing sight of the demands of public safety. As the number of ex-convicts in America continues to grow, their systemic marginalization threatens the very society their imprisonment was meant to protect.
Victor Rios grew up in the ghetto of Oakland, California in the 1980s and 90s. A former gang member and juvenile delinquent, Rios managed to escape the bleak outcome of many of his friends and earned a PhD at Berkeley and returned to his hometown to study how inner city young Latino and African American boys develop their sense of self in the midst of crime and intense policing. Punished examines the difficult lives of these young men, who now face punitive policies in their schools, communities, and a world where they are constantly policed and stigmatized. Rios followed a group of forty delinquent Black and Latino boys for three years. These boys found themselves in a vicious cycle, caught in a spiral of punishment and incarceration as they were harassed, profiled, watched, and disciplined at young ages, even before they had committed any crimes, eventually leading many of them to fulfill the destiny expected of them. But beyond a fatalistic account of these marginalized young men, Rios finds that the very system that criminalizes them and limits their opportunities, sparks resistance and a raised consciousness that motivates some to transform their lives and become productive citizens. Ultimately, he argues that by understanding the lives of the young men who are criminalized and pipelined through the criminal justice system, we can begin to develop empathic solutions which support these young men in their development and to eliminate the culture of punishment that has become an overbearing part of their everyday lives.
Farmers markets are much more than places to buy produce. According to advocates for sustainable food systems, they are also places to "vote with your fork" for environmental protection, vibrant communities, and strong local economies. Farmers markets have become essential to the movement for food-system reform and are a shining example of a growing green economy where consumers can shop their way to social change. Black, White, and Green brings new energy to this topic by exploring dimensions of race and class as they relate to farmers markets and the green economy. With a focus on two Bay Area markets-one in the primarily white neighborhood of North Berkeley, and the other in largely black West Oakland-Alison Hope Alkon investigates the possibilities for social and environmental change embodied by farmers markets and the green economy. Drawing on ethnographic and historical sources, Alkon describes the meanings that farmers market managers, vendors, and consumers attribute to the buying and selling of local organic food, and the ways that those meanings are raced and classed. She mobilizes this research to understand how the green economy fosters visions of social change that are compatible with economic growth while marginalizing those that are not. Black, White, and Green is one of the first books to carefully theorize the green economy, to examine the racial dynamics of food politics, and to approach issues of food access from an environmental-justice perspective. In a practical sense, Alkon offers an empathetic critique of a newly popular strategy for social change, highlighting both its strengths and limitations.
An examination of political conflicts over pesticide drift and the differing conceptions of justice held by industry, regulators, and activists. © 2011 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All rights reserved.