THIS IS THE COMMUNITY WE NEED TO CREATE
This essay is a narrative collage in the folkloric tradition, weaving together stories from staff and community members at Fathers & Families of San Joaquin (FFSJ), men and women, elders, youth and in between. These are also stories about FFSJ's work, method and approach to community development and community design. FFSJ serves the Stockton community through culture-based alternative social service programs for youth, elders and families. FFSJ also works to organize community to make policy and social justice change. The storytellers who lend their voices to this essay were responding to the question of what planners should know about and be doing about policing and prisons in their community.
SHUT IT DOWN
The prison system hasn’t changed since it started. Lock you up throw away the key. This is a billion dollar machine, and they thrive on us messing up, and getting locked up. They thrive on these harsh punishments. There’s no reason for another prison. They ain’t doing nothing for us, they ain’t doing nothing for our people. We don’t need to build no more prisons. We need to build homes for our families, for our elders. We need to build schools, and libraries. If you’re going to come build a prison, we also want a homeless shelter, we want an elder shelter, we want libraries, you better come correct, there’s no reason for another prison. I couldn’t tell developers anything, but don't build one.
And when you get out, the new racism, the new Jim Crow is having a felony. You can’t just lock people up, and then they have no plan when they get out. You get a month parole planning, and you get out. Actually, you got to be gamed up, educated. Prisons make all this money, have some programs, have some schooling. Something where they’re going to get a job. And work on their healing inside. If you haven’t worked on your healing inside nothing's gonna happen.
Our youth have talents, but they’re worried about obstacles. There is a real deep sense of fear and anxiety about the possibilities of negative things that could happen due to the environment, atmosphere and the condition that they’re living in. People are scared they’re gonna get locked up. People are scared to speak on immigration because they’re gonna get locked up, scared they’re gonna get deported. We’re always scared, and I don’t want to be scared no more. I remember hearing from my mother that you gotta come inside when it gets dark because the Cucuy is gonna get you – the boogeyman. The boogeyman to me, because of my own experience, was a white man, in a blue suit, with a badge. They would come in and they would wreak havoc in our communities. They would come in, and kick in doors, and people would just disappear, and I did not know the reason why. And then I would go to their schools, and they say these are the good people, which means that we are the bad people. It was a spiritual, emotional, physical, psychological attack that was very effective. Stockton has had two police killings in one month, January 6 and January 27. Two men killed by cops. I’m getting to the point where, now I’m really angry. I went to a police community forum, and it’s like always having to be careful about what we’re going to say. I’m up there, have the mic in my hand asking a question to the Chief of Police, and I have to watch what I say. Because we’re always scared, and now I’m like I don’t want to be scared of you no more stop killing our people.”
"We didn’t matter in their planning, the architects of yesteryear, to them we were disposable commodities. With that racism and oppression it separated us from our sacredness, and they created a confused state of being, and a disassociation, and a disconnection."
We also need to recognize the inequality of power and accountability for this grand design. We are still getting blamed for what they have designed for us. We didn’t matter in their planning, the architects of yesteryear, to them we were disposable commodities. With that racism and oppression it separated us from our sacredness, and they created a confused state of being, and a disassociation, and a disconnection. We knew there was something wrong with their plan. We knew that we were the targets of this increased policing in Black and Brown communities, this legislative hate. We knew that the human condition could not be cured with guns and coercion, but we did not know how to articulate what we saw. I'd been groomed for prison my whole life. I mean I was visiting my brothers, my uncles, my tíos, my dad in prisons. Raised in a visiting room. My daughter, my son, raised in a visiting room. I was groomed to prison, it was nothing new to me the first time I went to prison. I wasn’t scared, I was at home. I feared for my life sometimes, but it was natural. That’s what I want, to break that cycle to where it's not the norm to go to prison.
You asked a question about community development and city planning, and what they should be doing. I feel like community needs to be involved in everything. Community should be the driving force, and the leaders of anything, any decision that is made, any program that is implemented, any school. Anything that’s built, community needs to be involved, and that’s completely not the case right now. Decisions are made every day that affect us without even taking the time to listen to the pain, and listen to the cries, and listen to what’s really happening. When you stop giving people a space, a place, they stop to show up. For us that’s important, in spite that they don't give us a place, that we still show up ‘cause they’re making decisions about us.
You can’t go to City Hall, the Mayor's office, the Chief of Police and have these discussions, they ain’t gonnna hear you. But people come to us because they trust that the work that we’re gonna do is gonna be real. We have love for this community 'cause we feel attached to it, that’s why we're here. We have trust in this community, we have our word, we have our palabra. We activate people, we don't close their eyes. We have a lot to offer in terms of our organizing potential we have a lot to offer in terms going into concentrated communities of color and really creating alternative economic models, and creating different kinds of strategies to green the community. The community is out here going to policy forums with us. They're out here advocating for Prop 47 and Ban the Box. We’re opening their eyes, giving them all this information that’s not shared with them. We are at a point now that we can take all of our collective knowledges and capitals in our communities, and integrate them into this movement. With policy analyses and development, and personal and spiritual development.
"People come to us because they trust that the work that we’re gonna do is gonna be real. We have love for this community 'cause we feel attached to it, that’s why we're here. We have trust in this community, we have our word, we have our palabra."
Also at this point we are no longer manufacturing anything. What are we creating? What is labor now? What is it that we are creating that contributes to society? There is a lot of things that I don’t understand, that I am trying to learn, things like derivatives, which is a new way of saying people are getting wealthy off of nothing. I don’t understand it. What have you produced that is contributing to our common good and wellness? I think we need to really revitalize the teachings of our ancestors and sustainable communities. Grow our own food, grow our own economic base. Create our own educational system that works for our kids of color. They have talents that they are just not focusing or concentrating on. We have young people who love art, who love technology, who love architecture, who love doing mechanical work, carpentry and masonry. They have all of these different talents. We want to strengthen their focus on cultivating their gifts, and to turn their hustle into a spirit of struggle. Instead of always seeking instant gratification, we want to change that into struggle. The essence of life, everything that has life, comes from the struggle.
It's important as well to create our own designs for our communities, creating public space and reclaiming public space like FFSJ. The most sacred work we can do is just to reach out to each other, and I’m just thrilled and humbled that I can be part of such a beautiful space. And it ain’t no prejudice in here, like you do see most places. It’s like a family, it’s like how God intended for it to be. This is the built environment that we need to create, where our elders are respected, where the women are honored, children are protected, and the boys and men have a place in the movement. Those are the kinds of communities that I want to be a part of.
HEALING THE HEALERS
It’s not just about the way that we work with people, our approach, and the things that we do every day. It’s also about ourselves as workers in the community, and there's so much to do. There is way too much to do, and not enough people to do it. I was laying in bed this morning and having back pain. I don’t think it’s anything medical. I think it’s just like my body telling me to slow down. So also being in self-care being gentle to one another, loving one another. We all have them, the people that are doing this good work, we have these back pains. It's our spirits. We see all this struggle, everybody comes in here with everything, and the stuff wears on us. We’re doing a very deep work with the community, and really with ourselves as well. Working with the youth is a healing for us, and it’s a healing for them. Working with them helps us work out our own problems.
We gotta help our women too, you cannot do anything without the mother. Especially seeing that the majority, if not all of our young people that are coming in are being dropped off by women and being picked up by women. Women are also the most left behind in the prison system. Men don’t take their kids to see their moms. Women usually take the kids down no matter what. They’re taking the BART or whatever, they're out there doing it. But the women, they’re not getting anything, not seeing their babies. So we can’t ignore the women, and we gotta let women lead sometimes and trust them.
Also women are tired, they have carried the burdens of all these generations for far too long on their own without any support from the brothers, or their sons, or their partners or their fathers. We are coming to realize that they had it right all along, and we need to come into alignment with that and not further disrespect, disempower, diss them, because they are the life givers, and the future of our communities. Our women need their protectors. Our first line of defense is gone, we need to bring them home. It’s time for women to have a little bit of a break. They took care of us for a long time.
I’ve done the best I can do despite my shortcomings, but I’m still learning. I’m trying to learn how to be better. Not even just better, I’m not satisfied with doing better. Now I just want to be well, and it takes a long time to heal. I remember one time on MLK Day, I asked my son what do you know about him? And he goes “Well I know Martin Luther King’s like you.” And I’m thinking “Like me?” And he goes “He helps people like you do. He’s a good guy.” It felt good hearing that. That was a point of healing, that he sees dad as a good man. And I have to keep it up every single day. I gotta heal, and talk about it. I gotta just be a man of my word.
Fathers & Families of San Joaquin has worked in Stockton California for just over ten years. At FFSJ we are doing systems change work and doing healing work. Providing a safe space, community and resources for youth, parents, elders and the formally incarcerated.