Two weeks into the new year, I am celebrating another tour around the sun. It's a somewhat bittersweet celebration, as I am troubled daily by the march of fascism, the constancy of bigotry and the climate catastrophes that await us in the months and years ahead. I am also haunted by the realities of sexual violence in our society, and our communities, that have been highlighted in recent weeks. But as heavy as my heart has been lately, I am exceedingly grateful to be here on Earth, staring down another year of figuring out what it means to live a meaningful life in this chaos.
Thanks to organizer and author Mariame Kaba, some of us were able to begin 2019 in a spectacular manner, by raising $492,164 for community bail funds around the country. The #FreeThePeopleDay effort was first launched at the end of 2017, on New Year's Eve, when Mariame decided that she would spend New Year's Eve raising money for community bond funds, which bail people out of jail and also help propel the movement to end cash bail. As someone who has always enjoyed supporting Mariame's ideas, I invited myself to tag along and help out. #FreeThePeople 2017 raised about a quarter of a million dollars for bail funds around the country. This year, we hoped to raise $300K for local bond funds, but with weeks of preparation and generous matching funds, we exceeded our expectations, raising almost half a million dollars to free people from cages.
The stories we have heard since, about people who have been freed thanks to the funds that were raised for #FreeThePeopleDay 2018, have been more moving than I can say. The influx of cash bail funds have experienced has allowed them to secure the release of people who otherwise would have remained incarcerated. I have not asked for permission to share the specific stories of immigrants, young people and families whose lives were changed for the better by this effort, but I have wept more than once hearing the details.
Every day, hundreds of thousands of people are incarcerated in US jails simply because they cannot afford bail. For people in immigration detention, being caged can make deportation much more likely. For people locked in county jails, pretrial incarceration can greatly increase the chances that they will be convicted or agree to a plea for a crime they may not have committed.
If you were part of #FreeThePeopleDay 2018 in any capacity, I thank you. If you missed that opportunity (or even if you didn't), I invite you to join me and my friend, organizer Holly Krig, in celebrating our birthdays by raising money that will allow incarcerated mothers to talk with their children on the phone. Mothers in state prisons are an average of 169 miles away from their children. Calls can also help mothers establish regular contact, which is crucial for moms working to reunite with their children when they are released. We have already reached our initial fundraising goal of $1500, but every penny donated now will increase the number of minutes these moms can spend talking to their children, and I don't know about you, but I tear up at the thought of us collectively making that happen.
When I was younger, I thought there were answers to questions like, "What is the meaning of life?" Now, I know better. We author the meaning of our lives every day, both individually and collectively. We don't get to choose every story point, but we do get to decide who we are and what our time here on Earth means. Time is the most finite resource we have. As someone who struggled with an active addiction to heroin in my 20's, I never expected to see the age of 30. But here I am, turning 38 today and trying to make the most of the time I've been given. So, for as long as I am here, I will work to empty cages and to offer comfort to imprisoned people who we are not yet able to free. It's a good way to live. And while I don't believe I will see the fall of this carceral system within my lifetime, the struggle to dismantle it is an end in itself. That struggle is, for me, at the heart of a life worth living. I am grateful to be on that path, and to people like Mariame, who helped me find my way.
I am excited to see what year 38 of this life of mine brings. Onward.