Reframing Justice

Reframing Justice is an ongoing multimedia storytelling and public education initiative led by incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, convicted people and their loved ones. Through multi-media storytelling, research, coalition building, and community outreach, directly impacted people challenge and shift the narrative around what justice requires. With the Reframing Justice Project, people who have been system involved are positioned to assume leadership positions and direct conversations around mass incarceration, re-entry, and policy/legislative change in Arizona. The stories are linked to AFSC’s website, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. In addition to print media and radio, our social media platforms are used to communicate public speaking events and current legislative pursuits.

Here you can watch the flagship video introduction into Reframing Justice. And below, you can find a thoughtful analysis of the genesis of this project, by AFSC Program Coordinator, Dr. Grace Gámez.

Storytelling is a tool that has be relied upon throughout time. Stories are used to build nations, and to pass on norms and values. Stories have the power to marginalize as well as mobilize. Stories create community, can shape identity, and always construct meaning. We experience stories in our bodies – we feel them, it is how we connect to others, how we process our past and present and how we begin to envision an unknowable future.

However, people who have been system involved frequently lose control over their own story – the story about who they are, where they have been, what they deserve is interpreted through their “rap sheet”. Their story begins at their conviction, and they become reduced to one-dimensional characters – “inmate” “offender” “felon”- they are discussed population.

Reframing Justice began by reflecting on the role of story in the criminal legal system and the idea of legitimacy. We ask “Who gets to tell what stories, to whom, and under what conditions about the criminal punishment system in Arizona?” Reframing Justice is a multi-media project of intentional storytelling. Our goal is to work towards “de-storying” the narrative and acceptability of justice as punishment and social abandonment, and “re-story” justice as radical love and connectedness.

The stories of people who have been system involved are a tremendous resource. People frequently forget data, but rarely forget a story. Kini’s story, the first video in this series, touches on many of the common pathways into the criminal punishment system for women. And raises something more troubling, which is that certain populations – namely poor, people of color, mentally ill, substance addicted, and children suffering from parental incarceration – are not readily viewed as survivors of trauma even though they may well be, and as a result they are excluded from support services.

Ultimately, Kini’s story forces us to think deeply about what “justice” means. It challenges us to consider a human justice system that deals with the complex and fragile problems that define the human condition. Imagine a system that instead of relying on punishment, works to solve habitual social problems (racism, poverty, access to education, medical and mental health services). Social transformation begins with the stories we tell about the world we want to create.