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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Why the nationwide strike against ‘modern-day slavery’ may not reach Illinois. And why it's already here.

Posted By on 08.25.18 at 06:00 AM

The barbershop run by inmates at Stateville Correctional Center is one of the few vocational opportunities in IDOC. - FRANK VAISVILAS/SUN-TIMES
  • Frank Vaisvilas/Sun-Times
  • The barbershop run by inmates at Stateville Correctional Center is one of the few vocational opportunities in IDOC.

On August 21, incarcerated people in at least 17 different states launched a 19-day "strike" in response to an April riot at South Carolina's Lee Correctional Institution that left seven inmates dead. Organized by a South Carolina-based group of incarcerated individuals calling themselves Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, the strike was rolled out with a list of ten demands challenging conditions of "modern day slavery" at state and federal jails and prisons and immigration detention centers. The demands, circulated on social media and endorsed by more than 150 allied groups, are as follows:

1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.

2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.

3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.

4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.

5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.

6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.

7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.

8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.

9. Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.

10. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count!
The organizers wrote that the protest would be enacted through peaceful sit-ins, refusals to work, commissary boycotts, hunger strikes, and other nonviolent means of resistance. But it's the strike of prison work that seems to have attracted heightened media attention.

In some states prisoners are required to work difficult or dangerous jobs—such as fighting wildfires, farming, and manufacturing—for little or no pay. In others, private prisons contract with private companies to provide cheap labor. But in Illinois (where there are no private prisons), prison work is actually so scarce that inmates may not be striking against it.

Until the mid-1990s, the Illinois Department of Corrections had a robust vocational training program and on- and off-site job opportunities for inmates. In more recent years, however, prison jobs, apprenticeships, and educational programs have all but disappeared. Most inmates in IDOC now spend more than 20 hours a day confined to their cells—even if they're not technically in solitary confinement or segregation, according to Alan Mills of the Uptown People's Law Center, which regularly represents IDOC inmates in civil rights lawsuits.

"Unlike many states where the problem is prisoners are forced to do jobs that are horrible with very little money, in Illinois prisoners are made to sit in their cells with nothing whatsoever to do," Mills explains. Because of this, jobs are highly coveted among his IDOC clients. Many feel that "even if a job is poorly paid it's an improvement to confinement," Mills says.

Brian Nelson, 53, who works as a prisoners' rights coordinator at UPLC and who was incarcerated at IDOC between 1982 and 2010, agrees that Illinois prisoners are unlikely to be striking specifically against prison work.

"In the 80s, when I first got locked up, there was a lot of jobs, a lot of industries in IDOC, and almost everybody had a job or went to school," Nelson says. He recalls a furniture factory at Stateville; a broom, mattress, and cigarette factory at Menard; street sign and license place manufacturing at Pontiac. Medium-security facilities had telemarketing centers and farms. Then IDOC was hit with a combination of state and federal budget cuts and scandals about leniency toward inmates—most notably salacious video revelations of Richard Speck, convicted for murdering eight women in 1966, using drugs and bragging about having "fun" in prison.

Both Mills and Nelson say the Speck scandal gave IDOC a pretext to crack down and curb jobs and other programs. Just a couple of years before that, the Clinton administration eliminated Pell grants for prisoner higher education through the 1994 crime bill, which also ratcheted up the war on drugs. IDOC made promises about expanding programming for inmates once it removed "troublemakers" from the general population and put them into the newly constructed Tamms "supermax" in 1998, but that never transpired.

Pay for jobs in IDOC kitchens, laundries, law libraries, and facilities maintenance varies. Nelson recalls jobs like gallery sweeping paying $15 per month, and kitchen jobs paying between $25 and $35 per month. The factory jobs were better paid, up to $300 per month.

Nelson spent two years in the late 1990s in a New Mexico prison (part of Illinois's Interstate Compact Agreement to transfer prisoners to other states for security reasons). There he was trained as a tailor and remembers having consistent work and opportunities for free movement. "Everybody out there was given trust until you messed it up," he recalls. He got to keep 30 percent of his paycheck for commissary, a portion of his earnings went into a victims' restitution fund, and another portion was saved on prisoners' behalf "for when you went home." When he came back to IDOC in 1998 he went straight to Tamms, where there was no work at all, and he spent the next 12 years in solitary confinement.

Nelson says he knows about 100 other people who've left IDOC. "Out of all my friends that have been released only three of us have a full-time job. Most are on social security." He says the lack of education and training in prison are to blame, and it causes many formerly incarcerated people to give up hope once they get out.

IDOC spokeswoman Lindsey Hess couldn't confirm the number of inmates currently employed at prison jobs or with partner organizations. In an e-mail, she said the department had not had any reports of "offenders participating in this strike."

In addition to the scarcity of prison work, another impediment to the prison strike in Illinois could be the notoriously harsh repression of prisoner organizing. Mills and Nelson both shared stories of crackdowns on politically and religiously motivated organizing attempts at IDOC. "If more than three prisoners are seen talking together they can be charged with gang activity," Mills says. "They lose their jobs and they'd get sent to solitary."

Mills says members of a Christian group at Menard were charged with "unauthorized organizational activity" for holding a prayer meeting on the prison yard in the early 2000s. At Pontiac in 2013, an inmate who discussed principles of anarchism with someone else was accused of gang activity, sent to months of solitary confinement, and had "good time" (which earns early release) revoked. Nelson recalls the severe punishment of a group of inmates at Pontiac that same year who held a hunger strike against living conditions and indefinite solitary confinement. One of the hunger strikers was cited "for us being outside the prison [in solidarity]," Nelson says. "They took a year good time from him and gave him a year of solitary."

But artist and activist Monica Cosby, who was incarcerated between 1995 and 2015, says the disincentives for organizing and the lack of IDOC reports of coordinated participation in the nationwide strike doesn't mean that inmates aren't actively resisting their conditions. "Our resistance lives in us all day long because we choose to be alive [in women's prison]," she says. "We cook for each other, we celebrate with each other when one of our kids graduates high school, or goes to prom, we cry with each other, we love each other."

In addition to harsh punishment for political organizing Cosby says incarcerated women face retribution for the refusal of guards' sexual overtures. The danger isn't just winding up in solitary confinement or losing a release date, but losing coveted visits with children. "When [correctional officers] come at us and make sexual advances and we say no and know what can happen to us when we say no—that's resistance," Cosby says.

In her experience across Illinois's women's prisons, jobs were also scarce and paid between $15 and $150 per month. Cosby was in a cooking and baking apprenticeship program for about six years and made at most $65 per month, but the program "got destroyed" in the early 2000s. Some jobs may seem like good opportunities but required indignities some inmates didn't want to submit to. "If it was a job I might have been interested in but knew I'd have to be strip-searched to go in or come out, I didn't want to do it," Cosby explains. That kind of resistance—while individual and not apparently organized, still counts, she says. "It's resistance every day."

Cosby thinks many people erroneously think women don't organize in prison, but that in fact the social bonds people form are in themselves a form of organizing. "The fullest relationships I ever had, I had in prison," she says. "There's this massive communication and cooperation, it just doesn't look as dramatic."

She recalled a friend named Victoria taking her own life while she was at Logan—"IDOC killed her by suicide," Cosby says. At first, she recalls, "they wouldn't let us have a funeral or memorial service for her. And when we were allowed to do the service we weren't allowed to say her name."  In response, the women organized to wear something purple—Victoria's favorite color—on a specific day. It was to remember their friend "and to say fuck you to the warden." An action like this is among the many ways people in prison protest on a daily basis, "and it's just as powerful as any other, just as legitimate."

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How the 1968 DNC protests in Chicago ‘killed’ protest folk singer Phil Ochs

Posted By on 08.25.18 at 06:00 AM

Phil Ochs during a 1967 Vietnam protest outside the UN building in New York. - MICHAEL OCHS
  • Michael Ochs
  • Phil Ochs during a 1967 Vietnam protest outside the UN building in New York.

It probably seemed like a gloomy joke when Phil Ochs put an image of his own tombstone on the cover of his 1969 album Rehearsal for Retirement with an inscription that read: "Born El Paso, Texas; Died Chicago, IL, 1968."

The grave, which also featured a black-and-white photo of Ochs—rifle slung over shoulder—standing in front of an American flag, was an obvious reference to the radical leftist folk singer's role in the bloody protests outside the Democratic National Convention 50 years ago this week. Specifically, Ochs was in Chicago to help plan and participate in the Youth International Party's (also known as Yippie) "Festival of Life" protest in Lincoln Park. He was among a core group of organizers arrested as they tried to publicize their own candidate for president, a pig.

Ochs witnessed all of the violence and chaos in Chicago while the Democratic establishment, guarded by a small army of Mayor Richard J. Daley's troops, chose pro-Vietnam war candidate Hubert Humphrey. The singer saw it as the "final death of democracy in America."

"It was the total, final takeover of the fascist military state—in one city, at least," Ochs said in an interview in New York shortly after the DNC. "Chicago was just a total, absolute police state. A police state from top to bottom. I mean it was totally controlled and vicious."

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Friday, August 24, 2018

Noise punks Running and jazzy folk guitarist Ryley Walker release an unexpected collaboration

Posted By on 08.24.18 at 12:01 PM


New York label Dull Tools, run by members of Parquet Courts, has given the world a tape of an unlikely Chicago collaboration: four untitled instrumentals by noise punks Running and pastoral jazz-folk guitarist and singer Ryley Walker. In 2016, which now feels like a lifetime ago, Walker and all three members of Running holed up in the home studio of engineer Cooper Crain (from Cave and Bitchin Bajas) and laid down the tracks on Running & Ryley Walker. (They'd initially plan to title it Walking, and I'm still sorry they didn't.)

The songs' variety of styles—nasty, fried ambience, dissonant Krautrock, rhythmic postpunk—find a bizarre middle ground between the two artists' sounds, less harsh and more controlled than Running but far more raw than Walker. The tape's highlight is the second track: its simple, pushy psychedelic punk showcases mind-bending guitar interplay between Running's Jeffery Tucholski (those are his explosive blasts of distortion in the left channel) and Walker (whose complex chords dance in the right channel). They bounce off each other beautifully—as you can hear below.

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People of Culture will be taking over the DuSable Museum this weekend

Posted By on 08.24.18 at 06:00 AM

Tunde and Dupe will be hosting the red carpet. - COURTESY EFE IYARE
  • Courtesy Efe Iyare
  • Tunde and Dupe will be hosting the red carpet.

After moving to Chicago from Nigeria in 2014 to pursue a master's in marketing from Roosevelt University, Efe Iyare recalls the culture shock he had. "I realized that there was a huge bias about me being African and what that represented," he says."People had no idea, just based off what they have seen in the media, where I came from or my culture." The experience left him feeling inspired. "I felt obligated to represent [Africa] in my own way. It was my responsibility to show people the true colors and true values that Africa represents," Iyare says. So in 2016, he took to social media and decided to create an Instagram page, Culture Power (@culture_power), "to promote African culture and diversity." Now, two years later, the page has more than 1,200 followers, and Iyare’s efforts to foster cultural competency are growing beyond the Internet. Culture Power will be hosting its first event, People of Culture, this Sunday, August 26, at the DuSable Museum of African American History.

For Iyare, the history and significance of the DuSable Museum to Chicago's black community made it the perfect place for People of Culture. The evening's happenings will be based around music, dance, and fashion. A red carpet will kick off the event, followed by a light dinner and networking session, music performances, and a fashion display; the night will close with a talk.

The occasion will "show success stories and people from the continent who are doing extremely well," Iyare says. A few notable people who will be in attendance are Tanzanian fashion designer Rahel Mwitula Williams, Senegalese businessman Elhadji Gueye, and Ghanian Instagram fitness guru Jehu Graham. There will also be 12 musicians performing, which is very important to Iyare. "They don't necessarily have that audience and platform to promote like rock stars or African-American rappers, so this is the thing that will give them that platform for them to promote their talents," he says.

Iyare hopes that the event will attract not just Africans but those who are interested in learning more about the continent and what its countries have to offer. Anyone who wants to learn about and celebrate the African culture is welcome; tickets are available on the People of Culture website.

The event flyer - COURTESY EFE IYARE
  • Courtesy Efe Iyare
  • The event flyer

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Pedro the Lion at Thalia Hall, and more things to do this weekend

Posted By on 08.23.18 at 06:00 AM

David Bazan of Pedro the Lion - RYAN REYNOLDS
  • Ryan Reynolds
  • David Bazan of Pedro the Lion

There's a lot going on in Chicago this weekend—here's some of what we recommend that you check out.

Thu 8/23-Mon 8/27: A much-anticipated pop-up Glossier store opens at 114 N. Aberdeen in the West Loop this Thursday, where visitors can purchase the brand's makeup products as well as interact with installations that teach visitors more about the brand, created in partnership with local artists. Mon-Fri noon-8 PM, Sat-Sun 11 AM-7 PM

Fri 8/24-Mon 8/26: The Radicalization Process is a performance-art theatrical adaptation of Antigone, looking at revolutionary acts through the lens of 1960's and 70's America. "Originally inspired in 2014 by the activist movements sparked in the wake of high-profile killings of unarmed African-Americans, The Radicalization Process has taken on additional significance since the 2016 presidential election," writes Reader critic Dan Jakes. 7:30 PM, Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219-21 S. Morgan, $10

Fri 8/24: David Bazan's on-again, off-again band Pedro the Lion is back and playing at Thalia Hall alongside H.C. McEntire. In the words of Reader critic Leor Galil, Bazan and his band "excel at the kind of touching emo that both reaches the genre's heights and circumvents its lows." 9 PM, Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport, $22-35, 17+

Sat 8/25: Local experimental pop duo Ohmme perform at Thalia Hall with the Hecks and V.V. Lightbody. "They sculpt a sound that's rich yet agile, and summon a virtual orchestra using only their voices and guitars," writes Reader's Peter Margasak of the group. 8 PM, Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport, $12, all-ages

Sat 8/25: As part of the weeklong Dog Day performance series, saxophonist James Brandon Lewis brings his versatile jazz to Constellation, backed by locals Ben Lamar Gay, Kent Kessler, and Avreeyal Ra. 4 PM, Constellation, 3111 N. Western, free, 18+

Sun 8/26: Flamingo Rodeo, the side project of Ne-Hi singer and guitarist Mikey Wells, is releasing its first full-length record, Said Unsaid, this Monday and celebrating with a show at Empty Bottle. 8:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, free

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The owners of the Pierogi Wagon are selling their food truck business—on Craigslist

Posted By on 08.23.18 at 06:00 AM

The Craigslist ad selling the Pierogi Wagon
  • The Craigslist ad selling the Pierogi Wagon

For sale by owner: a big yellow diesel-powered step van. Extras include a Chicago food truck license, a website, several social media accounts with more than 10,000 followers, pierogi-making equipment, training, and access to special recipes for the Polish dumplings.

It's not unusual to see a vehicle for sale on Craigslist. But Damian and Jessica Warzecha's ad is different because the husband-and-wife food entrepreneurs are selling their entire Pierogi Wagon business along with the truck—all for the asking price of $25,000.

The catch? You have to continue running it as Pierogi Wagon. Nothing else.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

In Stephen Markley's debut novel, Ohio is more than just a political football

Posted By on 08.22.18 at 06:15 PM

Stephen Markley and his debut novel, Ohio - COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR
  • Courtesy of the author
  • Stephen Markley and his debut novel, Ohio

Since the election of Donald Trump, Ohio has served as a sort of political Rorschach test. Depending on the ideology or affiliation, some squint and see the state as the avatar of humble, plain-speaking "Real America." Others view it as a downtrodden place that embraced Trumpism after being abandoned by Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. Then there are those who see a state of racist white people are angry about the crumbling foundation of white supremacy.

But former Chicagoan Stephen Markley hopes his novel—named after his native Great Lakes state—will help readers think of Ohio as not just a swing state but a diverse, complicated region full of flesh-and-blood people. It's a book that attempts to be both a murder mystery involving four former classmates who return to the fictional town of New Canaan and a social critique about a place devastated by social, political, and economic upheaval over the last generation.

Out this week, Ohio (Simon & Schuster) is an ambitious debut of fiction from Markley, whose last book was a boozy, irreverent travelogue of a stint in Iceland (Tales of Iceland, or Running With the Huldufólk), written in 2013. Prior to that, in 2010, was Publish This Book: The Unbelievable Story of How I Wrote, Sold and Published This Book. The 34-year-old native of Mount Vernon, Ohio, cut his teeth as a freelance writer in Chicago, with jobs including a gig as a columnist for RedEye, then attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Before making a Chicago stop on his book tour on Thursday evening, Markley spoke with the Reader about his topsy-turvy career, the politics of military service, and, yes, Ohio.

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The Looney Toons have seen better days on the gig posters of the week

Posted By on 08.22.18 at 06:00 AM


Francisco Ramirez
SHOWS: Apocalypse Hoboken reunions at Chop Shop on 7/13, 7/14, and 7/15

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Lana Turner shines as FilmStruck's Star of the Week

Posted By on 08.22.18 at 06:00 AM

John Garfield and Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice
  • John Garfield and Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice
Lana Turner is rightfully remembered for striking performances in her mid- and late-career melodramas, but her range was wide. She was cast in early ingenue parts, traditional dramatic films, period films, comedies, and even had some horror and musical detours. Her status as a Hollywood star, though, was cemented due to roles in classic film noir. A glimpse of Turner's talents can be seen in her films available on FilmStruck, where she is currently "Star of the Week." Here are five with which to start:

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Freud was making his first impact on American popular culture when MGM assembled this 1941 version of the Stevenson tale, and Spencer Tracy's good doctor is clearly suffering a bad case of repressed something or other. Under Victor Fleming's direction, it's sober and turgid but far from unwatchable, thanks exclusively to the caliber of the performances (even though Ingrid Bergman, the sluttish barmaid, and Lana Turner, the pure-hearted fiancee, seem to be playing each other's roles). With Donald Crisp, Barton MacLane, and C. Aubrey Smith. 114 min. —Dave Kehr

The Postman Always Rings Twice
John Garfield, drifting down the California coast, is waylaid by a shimmering Lana Turner and her plot to murder her husband. Adapted from a novel by America's finest pulp writer, James M. Cain, this 1946 film is a key work of the postwar period, dripping with demented romanticism and the venom of disillusionment. Tay Garnett directed, finding the pull of obsession in every tracking shot. 113 min. —Dave Kehr

Green Dolphin Street
Good sister (Donna Reed) battles bad sister (Lana Turner) for possession of a New Zealand plantation. It climaxes, famously, with Turner giving birth in the midst of a spectacular MGM earthquake (which won an Academy Award for special effects). Victor Saville directed; Samson Raphelson adapted the bestseller by Elizabeth Goudge. With Richard Hart, Edmund Gwenn, and Van Heflin (1947). 141 min. —Dave Kehr

The Three Musketeers
The MGM version of 1948, with Gene Kelly as a balletic d'Artagnan and Lana Turner, perfectly cast, as the villainous Lady DeWinter. George Sidney's engagingly incontinent direction makes it fun, though his usual problems with pacing ultimately take their toll. With Van Heflin (in an unaccountable Method funk that never matches up with the rest of the picture), Gig Young, June Allyson, Vincent Price, Angela Lansbury, Frank Morgan, and Keenan Wynn. 125 min. —Dave Kehr

The Bad and the Beautiful
Vincente Minnelli will always be known and loved for his musicals (Meet Me in St. Louis, The Band Wagon), but the melodramas he made in the 50s are no less accomplished and often more personal. The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) is superficially a typical Hollywood “inside story” chronicling the ruthless rise of an aggressive producer (Kirk Douglas), loosely based on Val Lewton. But under Minnelli's direction it becomes a fascinating study of a man destroyed by the 50s success ethic, left broke, alone, and slightly insane in the end. Douglas is surprisingly good as Minnelli's manic everyman and is well supported by (believe it or not) Lana Turner and Dick Powell. Scripted by Charles Schnee; with Walter Pidgeon, Barry Sullivan, Gloria Grahame, Gilbert Roland, and Leo G. Carroll. 118 min. —Dave Kehr

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Sunday’s Kultura Festival filled Logan Square Emporium with the food and arts of the Philippines

There's a lot more to the culture than Spam, you know.

Posted By on 08.21.18 at 08:14 PM

Rapper and spoken-word artist Ruby Ibarra performs. - PAT NABONG
  • Pat Nabong
  • Rapper and spoken-word artist Ruby Ibarra performs.

This past weekend, Emporium Logan Square was turned into an ephemeral Filipino neighborhood that featured Filipino-American chefs, artists, dancers, activists, and performers.

Where other ethnicities have distinct neighborhood identified with them—Chinatown, Greektown, Pilsen and La Villita—"We don’t have our exact community space. . . . We don't have a Filipino town," says Natalia Roxas, a photographer behind the food and culture website Filipino Kitchen. Four years ago "in a drunken spur" Roxas came up with the thought of a Filipino-specific event. The Kultura Fest blossomed into something bigger as she talked to people in Chicago's Filipino-American community.

"It's that need of having a community space and coming together to really appreciate and highlight all these people that are hidden in different kitchens and difference scenes," Roxas says. "It feels like our community here is struggling with that."

But Sunday's festival drew people from all over the midwest as well as a chef from Portland, Oregon, and artists from the Bay Area. Filipino pride was palpable in the room as Filipino-American artist Ruby Ibarra rapped about the beauty of having brown skin.

The event's success has inspired Roxas to try to branch out to other cities next year. "We want to be able to serve and create this space for underresourced communities throughout the country. I think this is a really good platform to highlight different talents," she says. v

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Rosie Flores Szold Hall, Old Town School of Folk Music
August 25
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