By Jeanne Vacaro
As activists know all too well, crafting a political message and effectively mobilizing an audience is an elusive task. In The Real Cost Of Prisons, Lois Ahrens and her contributors beautifully stage a difficult dialogue—about mass incarceration, mandatory sentencing, and the “war on drugs”—with comics. Comics are an accessible, popular form of education, and most importantly, addictive, and hence become a subversive way to raise awareness. The Real Cost of Prisons Project has distributed 115,000 comics to the incarcerated, affected families, and social justice organizations free of charge. Comics are just one part of the organization’s mission to end mass incarceration; since Lois Ahrens founded organization in 2000 a coalition of artists, activists, and researchers has produced and distributed educational materials about the costs—material and affective—of the prison industrial complex and it’s devastating impact on family preservation, women’s reproductive rights, rural economies, and much more.
“What does it cost to lock up 2.3 million people each day in the world’s biggest prison system?” ask Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Craig Gilmore in the introduction to The Real Cost Of Prisons. In addition to the staggering economic costs (the U.S. spends $60 billion per year on prisons) that could otherwise be directed at health care, public education, and other social services, the human costs are immeasurable. In the comic “Prisoners of a Hard Life: Women and Their Children,” illustrated by Susan Willmarth, we learn about the cost of incarceration for women and their children:
- One out of every 109 women in American is incarcerated, on parole, or on probation.
- Half of all women in prison are incarcerated more than 100 miles from their families.
- Seven million children have a parent in prison, on probation, or on parole.
- Seventy-nine percent of all women in New York State’s prisons are Black or Hispanic.
The Real Cost Of Prisons documents the vital efforts of the movement to end mass incarceration, and is an exceptional resource for all activists seeking creative ways to build and sustain a political movement.