Victory Bus Rides
Where farmers and political prisoners come together to serve prison families
BY JALAL SABUR, Farmer, Activist and Herbalist with Sweet Freedom Farm and the Freedom Food Alliance
In 2009, along with activists from Brooklyn, I started visiting Herman Bell (freehermanbell.org) when he was transferred to Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsberg, NY after taking a deal in the San Francisco 8 (SF8) case. This agreement played a part in paving the way for the dismissal of charges against four of the SF8. Since 2011, myself and other farmers from upstate NY have been visiting Herman a few times a year with the intention of figuring out how to address the intersections between farming, food access and prison abolition. We were truly inspired by the work Herman was doing with the Victory Gardens Project from 1995 to 2005 and we wanted to figure out a way to recreate that transformative work. The Victory Gardens Project was started by Herman, farmers Carol Dove and Michael Vernon, and a number of volunteers to build a collaboration between inner city and rural communities in the northeastern United States. They used food as an organizing tool, by growing vegetables and distributing them free of charge back into the communities as well as educating folks around the prison-industrial complex and political prisoners.
The Victory Bus Rides grew out of our discussions with Herman because a lot of prisoners talked about the financial hardships their loved ones face visiting them in prison. In New York state, 90 percent of prisoners are in upstate New York prisons and 75 percent of prisoners are from seven neighborhoods in New York City. So in 2011, we bought a school bus as part of the VROOM Bus Cooperative to deal with some of the displacement that happens when you take people out of their communities and away from their families. We came up with the idea to take families to our targeted prisons for the price of a food package. Each package is filled with local, nutritious vegetable staples that families can either bring in as a care package for their incarcerated loved one or keep for themselves. The inclusion of food in this journey is an important piece in connecting the prison-industrial complex to our equally inequitable, racist food system. It provides an opportunity to nourish a community, spark a conversation, increase the relationships between urban and rural residents, and create a lens in which we can begin to examine the larger systemic issues facing us today.
Get on the Bus
When families step on to our bus, they are becoming members of our Community Supported Agriculture program. They pay $50 per food package, which can be paid for with food stamps. Once members pay for the food, it includes a ride for two people to one of our target prisons. We have targeted three New York State correctional facilities (Sullivan, Woodburne and Eastern) in our pilot year given our existing relationships with political prisoners housed within them. One of the other political prisoners we have been working with is Robert Seth Hayes. Seth Hayes has been very vocal in expressing his frustration at the lack of health services and access to healthy food he needs as a diabetic in prison, an issue we hope to address through our program. His health issues recently became an urgent matter, please check http://www.jerichony.org/sethmedical.html for updates.
Goals Moving Forward
Some of our short-term goals are expanding to service families in all five boroughs and the Hudson/Harlem Valley, increasing visits from once a month to twice a month, and eventually doing trips once a week. We will take our travel time as an opportunity to dialogue with families on the prison-industrial complex, using Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, so we can build on movements to end mass incarceration. Also, we want to open a space to have a conversation around food and farming and offer farm visits to interested parties. We want people to rethink the relationship between urban and rural communities: instead of urban folks thinking about upstate New York as a place where prisons are, to start thinking about the benefits of having connections to farms and rural communities. In the long term, we want to make sure this is a model that can be replicated for other farms and prison advocacy groups in other areas to transform our communities.
To learn more about the Victory Bus Rides, to visit loved ones on our bus or to support us, please contact: email@example.com or 917.704.3354.