POWER (People Organized To Win Employment Rights) visits Fired Up!

Members of Fired Up! and POWER outside the San Francisco County jail

Fired Up! is hard at work building with other grassroots social justice organizations in the Bay Area. In August, Three Breazell and Melissa Lemus, two interns from POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights) came to our weekly self-empowerment group at the jail. POWER started in 1997 and builds the power of working-class African-American and Latino communities in San Francisco through various campaigns and struggles for economic, environmental, racial and gender justice. During their visit, Three and Melissa shared with our members the organization’s vision, work and opportunities to participate. Together we engaged in a lively discussion about POWER’s “Transit to the People” campaign to make MUNI (San Francisco’s public transportation) free for all youth. We discussed how this campaign is tied to economic and racial justice, whether or not it would have an effect on our member’s day-to-day lives and what is challenging about our neighborhoods. Thank you POWER for building with us!

Below is a reflection from Three Breazell after visiting Fired Up!

There wasn’t a day I had feared more than the day I had to step foot into a jail. They teach us very young that jails and prisons are where all of the “bad” people go. We then grow up seeing our close friends and families being taken and put away like the rest of the demonized “bad” people. We somehow continue on with life blindly believing the saying “You do the crime, you gotta do the time.” And somewhere in sync with that lesson, you then are taught to learn from other’s mistakes and to never disobey the law…or else you, too, will end up in jail cell. I had obviously done a very thorough job of internalizing all the ideas about jails and prisons, and most tragically developing a fear of the brothers and sisters that looked just like me. When the day came that POWER would present to the womyn inside SF County Jail, I was mostly worried about witnessing inhumane conditions much worse than the heart can bare. But surprisingly, what I walked into was a classroom with 9 of the most vibrant womyn I have ever met! The amount of passion, knowledge and strength the womyn have is so refreshing to witness. Not only is it refreshing, but it’s very liberating. It may seem a bit contradictory to use the word liberating to describe 9 womyn in orange jumpsuits inside SF County Jail, but it speaks to the strength of the womyn that Fired Up! is working with. Even while being caged in a facility designed to eliminate freedom in one’s life, the moment we got to discussing real issues, had you been in that room you could hear how liberating it felt for the womyn inside SF County Jail to have an hour to be free to speak from the hurting heart and to connect their hoods’ struggles. I learned so much that day talking to the womyn. I learned about myself. I learned about some of the conditions and struggles of womyn in jail. I learned about the power and importance for organizations like Fired Up! in doing work with social justice organizations like POWER inside of county jail walls. I was reminded of the hundreds of thousands of powerful fighters that are still inside counting down their sentences until the day they are given back their freedom. I was touched by the amount of energy, love and community that I witnessed inside the Womyn’s Pod of SF County Jail and the amount of trust that has been built between the womyn from Fired Up! and the womyn awaiting their freedom. I left that day hoping that I would be able to visit the womyn inside again and build relationships around the familiar foundation of being on a constant search for our freedom from this oppression.

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About FIRED UP!

Fired Up! is a grassroots network of people who have been or are currently, behind the walls of SF County Jail building community with others who are committed to breaking down the barriers those walls produce. In September 2011, two former prisoner members of California Coalition for Women Prisoners began a weekly "Personal Empowerment" group for women and male-identified people at SF County Jail. Six months later, nearly a dozen people go inside weekly and several members, who have been released, are part of our collective as it takes shape on the outside. There are members in the jail who have attended Fired Up! meetings every week since it began. Together, we seek to build a vision of community rooted in principles of healing, self-determination, and social justice movement building.
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