Monthly Archives: October 2016

my house

I have been asking the interns to flex their creativity and practice writing exercises on things that come up for them as we discuss and work on various issues here at the YW.  Sara offers this as a creative exercise but I think that it points to many of the ideas that circulate as we discuss the issues of poverty, incarceration and racial justice.


What are houses built from?

I grew up in a small red block house in the Southside off of Valencia Rd and Nogales highway on Corona Rd. The house was built in 1959 with three bedrooms and 1 bathroom. The yard had two large palm trees and a large mesquite tree which my brothers and I loved to climb. There were large rose bushes that my mother and I would pick flowers from to brighten up the house and a sidewalk leading to a chain link fence that I would draw and practice my writing with chalk. The backyard had a large block grill that my father and uncles built as a gift to my mother. The inside was small and modest for the five people who lived there, but there was always something to do. The TV always played Aladdin and Pocahontas on a never ending loop, and there was always fresh hot food. There was life in that house.

So much life that this small block house became a place for others. The neighborhood kids who always visited because they knew it was safe, happy, and there was always something to eat. This small house was built from something more than the block and cement than created its structure. It was built out of wisdom, strength, and compassion. It was made from extreme coupons, food stamps, and WIC checks kept it going. It was built on dinner at 5:00pm with ice cream for dessert, and the best birthday cakes a child could ask for. It was made so that children that entered this house were never cold, hungry, or unsafe. It was made so that the children who entered this house could be creative, be smart, and be happy.

It was a house built from never wondering or worrying where the parent was, the parent was always there. It was not worrying when the next meal would come or if children would be adequately clothed. This house was built on something indescribable. It was a house built on the same limited resources as everyone else in the street, the neighborhood. This house was predetermined to build career criminals, teen parents, and drug addicts based on the kind of people who live there. Yet it built a business and business owners. It built community. It built creative writing and thought. It built public servants dedicated to advocacy. This small house on Corona Rd. situated in a high stress community was built from much more than block and cement.


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The YWCA of Southern Arizona is part of a Get Out the Vote campaign. Get Out the Vote is a non-partisan campaign intended to increase voter engagement in Southern Arizona. The campaign peaked on September 27th, National Voter Registration Day but will continue with a social media campaign until Election Day on the 8th of November.

GOTV Southern Arizona 2016

Get Out the Vote is a coalition of community partners who came together to create a voter engagement campaign. As the intern working on the Get Out the Vote campaign I was able to learn a lot from our community partners. There are over 25 partners so there is wealth of knowledge to pull from. However, working with the community partners was sometimes a challenge because of schedules and different goals. At times, there were a lot of different opinions and acknowledging all opinions while coming to a common goal was challenging.

I found myself managing the social media portion of the campaign. The social media campaign is important because most young people, a target of the Get Out the Vote campaign, get election news from social media. Additionally, I tried to encourage getting registered to vote online and getting the mail-in ballot. Young people typically do things online because it is more convenient. Going to a polling place on election day is not always the most convenient so encouraging people to get mail-in ballots could increase voter turnout.

The Get the Vote Kick Off event was held on voter registration day at the YWCA. The Kick Off was an awesome event. Community partners showed up and we were able to capture great images for our social media campaign as well as get some folks registered to vote. Unfortunately, local media did not show up, despite numerous calls and emails to them. We are left with the dilemma of how to market ourselves to the media in order to get them to show up to future events.

Overall, I was able to learn a lot from the coalition members and from working on the Get Out the Vote campaign. I was invited to become a member of the League of Women Voters and created many connections with different agencies. Additionally, I have gained vital experience working within a coalition. In total, the Get Out the Vote campaign registered 640 voters collectively. This Friday, October 28th, is the last day to request an early ballot. Election day is November 8th. Get Out the Vote!

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Pusha T & Ava DuVernay Discuss the Importance of ’13th’ Documentary | Complex –view interview
Eva DuVernay’s new documentary film, 13th,  speaks to so many of the issues that have emerged in our ongoing public Mass Incarceration series, here at the YWCA Southern Arizona.The Next Session will take place on Wednesday, November 16th from 6-8pm at our Frances McClelland Community Center, 525 N. Bonita Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85745.Our last speaker of the 2016 cycle, will be Caroline Isaacs of the American Friends Service Committee.  She will be speaking about Sentencing Reform.
We hope that you will join us for this conversation if you are able.

A Brief History of the Convict Lease System:
A Precursor to our Modern Prison Slavery System

Much of the discourse going on at the YWCA of Southern Arizona is about the current prison system and the exploitation of prisoners for free labor. This current issue mirrors the often hidden history of the convict lease system that occurred after the Civil War in the period from 1865 to 1928.

The 13th amendment abolished slavery however; this would be undermined in a variety of ways. One of the ways it was undermined was by the prison system because of a clause in the 13th amendment. The 13th amendment states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been dully convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”[1]. The 13th amendment made it perfectly legal to use convict labor, another form of slave labor.

Prisons had been virtually destroyed by the Civil War. Thus, southern governments came up with the convict lease system, a system where they leased out convicts to corporations to use for free labor. This could be a brick factory, a coalmine, a railroad system, or even a farm. Once leased business owner controlled the convict’s life and they could do anything they wanted to the convict. The injustices suffered within the convict lease system were equal to those suffered by slaves before the war[2].  And make no mistake these convicts were primarily African American.

But it’s okay because they were criminals, right? Most of the convicts were not in fact, criminals. The “Black Codes”, were a series of laws passed after the Civil War. These laws restricted the activity of African Americans and they could and would be imprisoned for frivolous offenses. Bernard Kinsey, a descendent, describes the convict lease system saying, “And when I say convict I don’t even mean convict, I mean people who did no more than walk down the street and were picked up when the magistrate was coming tomorrow”[3]. In other words, normal behavior was criminalized for African Americans. Hundreds of thousands of African Americans were exploited with the convict lease system.

It is important to be aware of this because many people think slavery died with the 13th amendment and the Civil War. That is not the case; it has existed in our country for decades and continues to exist in our current prison system to this day. We need to examine history to be able to examine where we stand today.






Valerie Denogean

Valerie Denogean is MSW PAC student at ASU. She was born and raised in Tucson. She is interested in prison-reform, immigration, education-reform, politics, inequalities because of race and gender. However, currently she is interested in Eco-Feminism and how the treatment of women connects with the state of the environment, the treatment of animals, and our food. Valerie likes to run, hike and swim. She swam competitively for the Guilford College Quaker Swim team. She likes to travel and hopes to use her Social Work Degree in Northern Virginia after graduation.

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Making the Connection


Tomorrow, we have a conversation that has been almost 10 months in the making.

Late last year, Madeline joined our Advocacy Committee.  She spoke about stitching together stories and creating space.  That conversation led to many about the placemaking that is happening here at the YW.  Conversations that helped us to expand our ideas about social and racial justice to include the economy and people who are system involved, environmental work around water and imagining a more just and peaceful world community.  We spoke and thought about food, jobs, art, immigrants, leadership, and how we can imagine working outside of the multiple silos that exist; silos that that do not reflect the complex lives that we, or the communities that we work in solidarity with, lead on a daily basis.

Tim took up the banner of wanting to have dialogue between folx that are working in Social Justice and those that work in Environmental Justice.  What would it look, sound and feel like to have them speaking together, in public.  What sparks might occur?  What collaborations might emerge?  This is a continuation of the work that the Southern Arizona Green For All Coalition began years ago. We hope that it is one of many such conversations to continue into the future.

At a recent retreat, our Board and Staff wondered what might be said about our work in 100 years.  A long time board member, said something that made everyone take a moment and rethink everything.  (I paraphrase) They cared and worked to make change to protect the environment and the planet.  We realized that without a fierce eye on the challenge at hand, namely, to confront and transform the economic and political systems that violate our most basic human rights and threaten the survival of our planet–our vision of a thriving community is incomplete.  So, we are working and thinking differently.  It is clear that these connections are not new but it is critical that we all begin to think a lot bigger and much more expansively in order to address the many issues that our communities face. Together, we have a lot of work to do, and the YW Southern Arizona has a vision of how we are going to chart a course for a second century of change.

We hope to see you tomorrow and as always we hope to hear your thoughts.

What:  Environmental Justice & Social Justice: Making the Connection Supporting One Another – Enhancing Our Effectiveness  (A Program of the YWCA Advocacy Committee)
When:  Wednesday, October 19, 2016 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Where:   YWCA of Southern Arizona 525 N. Bonita Avenue Tucson, AZ
Who:  Social Justice Organizations:  Blue Corn Project/UA, Mt. Calvary Baptist Church Social Justice Ministries, Tierra Y Libertad Organization/Changemaker HS, Community Food Bank 
Environmental Organizations:  Center for Biological Diversity  National Parks Conservation Asso. Saguaro National Park Sierra Club  Sky Island Alliance
How Much:  Free/Open to the Public
For Additional Information: Tim Wernette (520) 615-3405;

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YWCA Voter Guide

YW Voter Guide

Election Day – Get Our 2016 Voter Guide

We’ve teamed up with YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix to create this 2016 Voter Guide for Arizona women – and everyone who cares about issues that matter to women.

Early Ballots should begin to trickle in tomorrow.

We hope that this guide helps you get informed.

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Reflections on Reframing Justice– Entre Sueños: Voices from the Inside/Out

I am sitting here listening to Dra. Grace Gamez’ words.   Her words, like always, are ringing in my ears, hitting my heart, impacting my thoughts.  They are flowing from students’ mouths, under the theatrical direction of Marissa Garcia.
My dear friend, Marissa, is directing the students as they prepare their roles as a Greek chorus.  They are preparing to tell stories.  Telling the stories of other children.  Children who lost their childhoods.  Reframing Justice is a courageous set of stories that center the experiences of people who were imprisoned as children, tried as adults.  It is an honor for us to present this work here at the YWCA.
The following is an excerpt of an OpEd that Grace and I worked on earlier this Summer.  We never finished it for publication in this form, but with Grace’s permission I have submitted it here for your consideration. 


Formerly incarcerated/convicted people are systematically denied agency around the stories told about their lives—their identities are reduced to stigmatized labels such as, “inmate,” “prisoner,” “ex-con,” “offender,” “felon,” and finally “bad.”  It is only by allowing ourselves to see, hear, and feel life at the margins, that we can retrieve the fullness of people’s histories and experiences.  What we might name “fugitive histories” are those lost stories and silences of entire parts of our communities with the effect of dulling the collective knowledge of our national identity.  Historical erasure has led to laws, practices and beliefs that constantly constrict the possibilities for the same communities. Personal stories about the human punishment system bring to life the reality of how people experience incarceration, criminalization, and penal policy/legislation in their daily lives.  Truth-telling as James Kilgore asserts, is a central component in moving towards a vision of transformative justice.  Human stories about topics that are silenced or stigmatized have the power to impact policy and drive practice.    Everyone can radicalize the spaces they inhabit- in the way they think, the ways they choose to engage in conversation and with whom. Where you are, is where you begin.

In Ghostly Matters (2008), Avery Gordon writes, “to study life one must confront the ghostly aspect of it” (p.7). In other words, to understand life, to shift directions, perceptions, and ultimately-discourse- we must engage hauntings; we must actively listen to the silenced.  The stories, experiences, and the knowledge of people who have been system-involved must be central in efforts to alter the course of our carceral system.

Shifting away from a punishment-as-justice paradigm requires diverse approaches that include

  • changing the social/political discourse
  • systematically attacking persistent racial disparities and penal and social policy reforms that do not expand the reach and power of the punishment system
  • Statutory and paradigmatic changes will be impossible without a sustained people’s movement

Transformative shifts require an informed and empowered community that is motivated by justice.  Thus, to modify the structure, power, and flow of resources we need to work toward cultivating caring communities by fostering connectedness, and (re) humanizing both the harmed AND the person who harmed- because both are our neighbors.  Morally and politically we must include and address the needs of everyone impacted by the system, particularly those who face acute marginalization- including gender non-conforming people, LGBTQ, families of formerly incarcerated and convicted people, and perhaps most difficult–people with violent or sexually-based offenses.

When Frederick Douglass said, “No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without finding the other end fastened about his own neck” he was speaking about the interconnectedness of our communities. In other words, your oppression is my oppression, your captivity is my captivity, your brokenness is my brokenness, and your fate is my fate. Conversely, your joy is my joy, your healing is my healing, and your freedom is my freedom- your redemption, my own.  No one escapes the injustices of our current system.  The continued discourse of punishment-as-justice imprisons us all and reduces us all to “bad” people.

What does it mean to be human? How does the law work to make distinctions between whom is/not human?  How does the law subvert humanity to intensify suffering?  Is humanity borne equally by all?  What is the relationship between injury and personhood?  These questions are imperative to understanding the intent and impact of the criminal punishment system.

Confronting the behemoth that is our carceral system is overwhelming.  However, the answer to “what can I do?” could be as simple as sharing a meal and talking about issues around incarceration with people that you care about, if you own a business–or have friends that do– you can make a commitment to hire individuals with a conviction history. These engagements are some of the ways that we create community because it is closeness that breeds compassion and change. The immediate goal is not merely accomplishing a set of reforms; it is creating a more just world that embraces complexity, redemption, compassion, love, and hope.

We hope that this compassion and hope is what Reframing Justice: Entre Sueños will generate in the hearts of audiences here in Tucson on October 15th and in Phoenix on the 19th.  We hope that you will join us.

Entre Suenos – Oct 15

Reframing Justice

Entre Sueños: Voices from the Inside/Out

Oct 15, 2016 • 6:30 p.m.
Reframing Justice Theater@YWCA
YWCA’s Frances McClelland Community Center
525 N. Bonita Ave • Tucson 85745
Suggested Ticket: $5


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Race to Justice Book Club-Oct 12, 2016

We are feeling the weight of Baldwin’s words today as we watch our brothers and sisters struggle for survival in Haiti.  His conversations around time, kingdom, Equalité, empire, all ring as we watch the desperation of families who need water and food.    We send our thoughts to you.
His invocation of personal responsibility hit my heart as I see the events in the world today.  His voice of 1963 rings in my mind as I consider that we must proceed with courage and strength in the pursuit of justice.  
In Community,

We started this book club as a means of having a common language to share ideas around race.  Our first text, New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander yielded a great conversation that continues in our work at the YWCA.  The last month has seen the convening of our 7th panel/community conversation on the issue of mass incarceration and this week we eagerly await the American Friends Service Committee’s storytelling event led by our friend, Dr. Grace Gamez. We hope to see you there.

Entre Suenos: Voices from the Inside/Out by Reframing Justice                                                 October 15, 6:30; $5 at the door
Entre Suenos: Voices from the Inside/Out by Reframing Justice Theatre.

A live storytelling theatrical event featuring six storytellers who share one thing in common: all have experienced Arizona’s criminal punishment system. Three of the storytellers are currently incarcerate and three are now navigating life on the ‘outside’.
Sat Oct 15, 2016
YWCA Tucson, 525 N Bonita Ave, Tucson, AZ 85745

This work has become a calling for us.  Together, Sara and I spend much of our time discussing the interventions that we can make to help raise voices and make spaces for people who are system involved here at the YW and at the Pima County ReEntry Coalition. The book club session around Alexander’s book helped our colleagues and friends see the connections between our Anti-racism work and the struggle to eliminate our carceral state.

This month, our text is Baldwin’s classic, The Fire Next Time.

In this text, we see the articulation of so many themes and concepts that Alexander championed in the previous text.  We see Baldwin utilize concepts that Dubois articulated in 1891 quoting Douglass from 1881. We see that the messages, struggles, pain and resistance of yesterday not only does, but must, inform the struggles for resistance of today.

In reading and listening to this text, the frustrations and pain of the personal are also articulated in such clear and beautiful language that I found myself in tears at times.  The soul of the artist is revealed in his recounting of his struggle with faith, love, choices and place in the world.  We hope that you will join us, but if you can not please do take the opportunity to read this text.    We look forward to our conversation this morning and we hope that you will gather your friends to your table and have this conversation as well.

Here are a couple of documents to help out that Sara has put together.  Join our conversations, have your own.  Together, we can make a difference.

In fact, we believe that ONLY together will we make real systemic change and help to shape a future of peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.  Let us know what you think.


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BLM and Anger


I have the incredible opportunity to work with 2 fantastically intelligent and accomplished interns from the ASU School of Social Work, Sara Galaz and Valerie Denogean.  Together, with our colleagues from the Latina Leadership Initiative, led by Alba Jaramillo,  we are working on the Racial Justice and Human Rights for the YWCA of Southern Arizona.  Valerie and Sara are taking a respite this week as part of their Fall Break, but Valerie sends this postcard to us from North Carolina, where she attended undergraduate. We send the families and communities of North Carolina and Haiti our thoughts and hopes for real recovery.
Thank you for your support and we look forward to your comments,
In Community,


Greensboro, North Carolina was my home during undergrad. It is a beautiful city with beautiful culture. I love the South. However, the news right now from North Carolina is troubling. I have friends and peers protesting in Charlotte because of police brutality. Additionally, recently Greensboro police have been criticized for targeting African Americans.

The worst part is that I cannot say I am surprised. The South is where millions of African Americans were forced into slavery, where the KKK originated, and where confederate flags are still proudly flown. Unfortunately, racism is deeply rooted in Southern history and culture. This has resulted in the loss of African American lives in the hands of the police.

So often I hear people describe the Black Lives Matters (BLM) protesters as angry, immature and/or as thugs. The only one of those descriptors I would agree with for the Black Lives Matter group is angry.

And I have to ask is it any wonder that they are angry? Is it any wonder my friends in Charlotte are angry when police target them and harass them? Is it any wonder they are angry when this leads to injuries and/or death?

In “The Uses of Anger” Audre Lorde wrote, “My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, on that anger, beneath that anger, on top of that anger, ignoring that anger, feeding upon that anger, learning to use that anger before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life. Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight of that anger. My fear of that anger taught me nothing. Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing, also. Women responding to racism means women responding to anger, the anger of exclusion, of unquestioned privilege, of racial distortions, of silence, ill-use, stereotyping, defensiveness, misnaming, betrayal, and coopting”.

Anger is not always a bad thing. Anger is a powerful force and to be angry as a woman or a member of minority group is akin to being alive. I offer my solidarity to the Black Lives Matter movement and hope that they succeed in channeling anger into real and lasting change.

Valerie Denogean is MSW PAC student at ASU. She was born and raised in Tucson. She is interested in prison-reform, immigration, education-reform, politics, inequalities because of race and gender. However, currently she is interested in Eco-Feminism and how the treatment of women connects with the state of the environment, the treatment of animals, and our food. Valerie likes to run, hike and swim. She swam competitively for the Guilford College Quaker Swim team. She likes to travel and hopes to use her Social Work Degree in Northern Virginia after graduation.

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