Episode 10 - The Chicago Torture Justice Center




Damon Williams: All right, everybody. We're hoping in the lab, but this feels like we're coming home in the truest sense. We've traveled over this land, talking to experiments. I'm going to go ahead and be honest and be bias, we are now going to address documents, converse with my favorite experiment, a space that I not only appreciate on an ideological level, but in my personal life, and my own work and so deeply inspired and moved, and encouraged and grounded by the Chicago Torture Justice Center, and the legacy that it comes from and the possibilities that it's making in the world.

We got some folks here hoping in the lab with us that I love even more than I love the work. These are two of the most phenomenal, brilliant organizers, movement people and some of the most dedicated spirits and souls. With us, we have the amazing Mark Clemens and the phenomenal Aislinn Pulley from the Chicago Torture Justice Center.

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Damon: We're going to start the conversation with a two-part question for both of y'all as we always do, and it's centered around time. In this time, how is the world treating you, and how are you treating the world, Mark and Aislinn?

Mark Clements: Well, how the world is treating me? Everything is great. How am I treating the world? With dignity and respect and love.

Daniel Kisslinger: I see. Aislinn?

Aislinn Pulley: How's the world treating me? It's treating me with its normal ambivalence, [chuckles] but I'm still marveling at the majesticness of it and in awe of the fact that we exist in this multiverse. That's how I'm treating it. [chuckles]

Daniel: The opposite of ambivalence.

Damon: You're giving it all. It's giving you ambivalence. [laughs]

Daniel: Like, "No, if you don't want to be amazed by me, I'm amazed by you. Take that."


Damon: All right, so we're in the lab and we want to ground the listeners in. This is a long 40, 50-year tradition of this work and both of y'all obviously come to it from different experiences and different positions. When we talk about survivor-led reparations and we talk about torture justice, what was each of y'all's hypothesis entering into that work? What was your imagination of what is possible? What were the hopes? What were the ideals aiming for when started in this effort, this fight, this lineage of reparations?

Mark: My imagination is exceeding due to the fact that some of the things that we have accomplished, I never could see it being accomplished, but we did accomplish it. I think that the mothers of people that have had to suffer behind the prison walls, I think they're very happy right now with the direction of the Chicago Torture Justice Center, considering the struggle that it took to achieve it with men and women being first tortured around 1972 and that extending until Jon Burge had been fired.

Well, after Burge had been fired within the Chicago Police Department, we had a system that basically ignored the fact that Black and Brown people were being taken down to police stations and literally tortured until they confessed to crimes, and which many of them did not commit. I believe that even if individuals are deemed to be guilty of offenses, based upon them being taken down to police stations, I believe, solely that charges are to be dismissed against those individuals. Police had no right to do this, they had no right to do it to me in 1981.

I wish the system would have listened back in 1981 when there were only 23 known torture survivors, but we know that in the '80s and '90s, torture really took off. Looking at the reparations, this was a achievement, and which I believe that all people that have had to battle for any fairness within the criminal justice system can really say that "Hey, guess what? We achieved something and we achieved it for the people."

Damon: That's so powerful. Aislinn I'm going to throw the same question to you. Obviously, Mark comes to this work through his experience and through his life and through his own testimony. For you, as just the liberatory superstar that you are, I'm going to try not to overpraise you, but it's going to be hard, for you as an organizer and a movement builder, what was your hypothesis as you were first being grabbed, being activated, being organized into advocacy for survivors?

Aislinn: I was trying to think about it. I remember being in shock when reparations passed. Even going into City Hall when we knew it was going to be passed, I was still like, "I got to see this. I can't believe we've got this," because of, I think, the way my parents, who are organizers, they're all older now and retired, so they're not really doing a whole lot organizing, but I grew up around it.

I had an idea around revolution, you have to overthrow the system in order to really get any big wins, and then it was like, "Oh, we can actually get wins on the road to changing the whole system." You can still get wins, it's not only that. We can have harm-reductive things while we're fighting for complete systems change. I was just sitting in that disbelief and awe realization, like, "Oh, it's possible to do something that has never been done before."

I guess my hypothesis was that we had to have systems change. I had such deep respect for Mariam, so I was like, "I'm going to trust this recharge group. I don't know these people, but I'm going to trust this." I would come away shocked after every meeting and so impressed, like, "Oh my God, everyone's working together." It was totally different culture of organizing. It was almost a- I was going to say faith, but I don't mean that in a spiritual sense really, but more like, "Let's see what happens. Let's be a part of experimenting and maybe this can turn into something great."

I guess maybe the ultimate hypothesis was the belief in the people. I have always felt and trusted that we are brilliant and are the solution. Maybe that was the undergirding hypothesis of, "Let's see what happens. The people are brilliant."

Daniel: I want to trace a little bit- we've gotten into both of it actually, in your answers, but a little bit of that path to the convergence that has led to that win and then the work that's come since. Aislinn, because you alluded to it, let's go to you first here. What was the shape of the fight around this particular struggle when you entered? How did we get to the point where Reparations Ordinance was even on the table?

Aislinn: I remember I first started hearing about Jon Burge and torture when I was around 14-ish. I was at an action and this little white lady, Mark knows the name of this person, but I always forget, came up to me and was really emotional, was like, "Do you know torture is happening?" I was used to being around organizers who are not from Chicago. I'm an adolescent at this time so the divide was just very pronounced because what I was living through had no relation, too. I just thought this was some crazy white lady, but then I started seeing the coverage.

It was in my consciousness, in my periphery, for a while as I saw it increase, and then, was it 2014? after Damo was killed, I had known Mariam by that point for maybe almost 20 years or something and she put out the call for recharge. I had, by that point, watched Oakland uprise after Oscar Grant. I remember Amadou Diallo in New York. Rekia had just been killed and I remember, Chairman Fred was at the funeral. I remember watching that. Trayvon had happened. I started becoming way more curious about why it seemed like US policing was extra specially violent to Black folks in a way that I didn't have theory to make sense of.

It was something that I had always struggled with growing up where these folks, these organizers who are not from Chicago, not from the city and couldn't make sense of gangs. All my friends were in gang. Every single person I dated was in a-- that Chicago life. It just started becoming more like, "I need to make sense of this. I have theory around revolution that I grew up in hearing about struggles in other countries, liberation struggles," but it didn't make sense to me. I became very, very curious. I couldn't make sense of the why. Why were police in this country so intent on killing Black folks?

Then my best friend growing up, we were in the same class from eight years old through high school. We lived right next door to each other. Her brother was killed in our senior year by CPD. I was holding all these experiences that I had and did not have the understanding for the why. It was that confusion that was really a driving force for me. Mariam was just someone who I always had just deep, deep respect for and where I could be curious with her and try to figure these things out. She got the class divide of these other organizers. I had left organizing for some years because of that. I could bring these questions and actually engage in real exploration around it.

When Damo was killed and the response-- his community and his friends got together, it was a convergence of where I had been really trying to figure things out. It was like a puzzle piecing together when I joined recharge for myself. When eight young folks who went to Geneva, charging CPD with genocide and torture, came back, Project NIA, People's Law Office, survivors like Mark, and others were like, "Now is the time. Rahm Emanuel is the most weak he has ever been. This is the first time a mayor had been forced into a runoff in almost 50 years in the city. We're on the footsteps of the Ferguson uprising and all of this political opening happening."

It was really the brilliance of Mariam and Joey and Mark and Anthony and Darrell Cannon who were like, "Now's the time. Let's get this Reparations Ordinance that had been thought dead, stuck in the Rules Committee for three years. Let's get it out of committee, organize, and force Rahm Emanuel to pass it." I was always down to fight. My kind of upbringing is you fight back. It's the principle of it. You fight back. You fight back. You fight back. I didn't think we would win, I didn't, and we fucking won.


Aislinn: I was so surprised. I was like, "Holy shit." Thank God I wasn't leading anything.


Daniel: Sometimes you just have to be someone who shows up. You don't have to be someone who thinks it will win. You don't need everyone to think it will win.

Damon: We'll talk a little bit more about what that win means as we discuss what the center is doing now. I just want to transition to you, Mark. You, in your hypothesis story, talk about the community that formed and the awareness that formed from folks' experience, so before activists were able to be moved or before that little white lady was able to be brought to tears, and I don't want to make fun of her being moved by this-

Daniel: It's just an inciting incidence.

Damon: Right. It is moving and you should be tearful when you actually learn the depths of it.

Daniel: I pictured Jane Elliott by the way. That was the picture that came into my head.

Damon: [laughs] It's just like, "Do you know? Why do you have blue eyes?"

Daniel: "Don't you know?"

Damon: [laughs] All right. Mark, I want to get your story because for me, if my memory serves correct, you were the first survivor that I ever heard speak and teach me about, this is not something in the past, the living flesh and blood is right here in front of you and here is your reality that you are unaware of. Can you tell the story of, whether it's personally or collectively, how the understanding of violence and trauma that you experienced personally then, started to be recognized as a collective experience or a communal experience?

How did the community form mostly inside? What was it like as the outside organizing community started to really recognize the seriousness and take it on with the fervor that Aislinn just named?

Mark: First of all, I always label it as, the police started this with me as an African American kid not going to school, not capable of reading or writing, and now finding myself, in 1981, locked inside of an interrogation room held incommunicado.

Damon: At 16 years old, right?

Mark: Yes, 16 years of age and held incommunicado of my parents and basically reaching the realization, "Hey, we're poor." Being poor that meant that I had to be represented by members of our Cook County Public Defender's Office who would never investigate. Being sentenced to a juvenile natural life, that means forever inside of the prison system, absent any form of parole, that pushed me to fight. Once achieving some educational achievements that I never thought that I would achieve, it opened a whole new reality that not only did we torture people inside of our interrogation rooms, but we locked young kids on death row and we tortured them through forms of death penalty.

Sitting inside a prison for 28 years, it was my dream and my privilege to come out and to, at least, fight for those men and women that still had to remain, always keeping at the forefront of my little old mother and realizing just how hard it was to get people to understand that, yes, Chicago police officers did torture people stemming from 1972 up until 1991 when Burge was suspended. Those tortures didn't stop, however.

Through subordinates of Jon Burge, which most people ignore coming out of the prison system, looking at the reality now, Trayvon Martin being brutally killed, it helped me to reflect back to when I was sitting in the prison cells looking at how Rodney King had been terrorized by police. Torture reparations to me, was not a surprise due to the fact that throughout the history of torture, city officials have always tried to cook up some type of idea or scheme to basically get past the large majority of torture cases.

57 people being tortured are the heirs of what we call Chicago police reparations. Out of those 57 cases, it was a smaller percentage than seven people that were working jobs. Now, approximately half of those individuals are working jobs. I'm not going to say that this is 100% the work of the Chicago Torture Justice Center, but I think that people have progressed a little bit since getting torture reparations. I make it clear that torture reparations is slave reparations. How can you replace 28 years of someone's life through $100,000 and the services that is being provided? All of us came out comatose as to the result of trauma.

People say, "Well, you all came out and you were affected as to the result of trauma, now you're out of prison." No, being out of prison, it really made the problem even worse. They experimented on many of us, and their experiment was to ensure that we would never, ever be able to make it out here in this society. These little old mothers who basically wouldn't give up are the ones that wear the crown of torture reparations.

Now, there were many other organizations that this could not be achieved without their assistance, but it was really the little old mothers who would sit at the tables and say, "We can do it," when no one else felt that we can do it. I did not initially support torture reparations, and I'll explain why. I didn't initially support it because I felt that $20 million would not correct this problem, even though we received less than the $20 million.

Looking at some of my brothers and some of my sisters and how they've had to survive, I was working for the campaign to end the death penalty, so that means I had a job. Many of them did not have a job. Many of them had no income. Many of them had no direction. I looked at this as being a start to give them at least some opportunity due to the fact that the system really messed all of our lives up. They terrorized us.

Many people don't even understand having electrical shock boxes connected to your genitals, and to your testicles, having them grabbed and squeezed, being called "little nigger boy", being attached with these alligator clips to certain areas of your body once they have been heated up, cigarette burns being found on people's body, meaning police officers taking cigarettes and putting cigarettes out on human beings, even throwing one individual outside of the window of area…violent crimes on the Southside of Chicago, and claiming that the individual fell out of the window that he tried to escape.

These police officers really, they created a culture of decay to the African-American and Latino community that we're still yet fighting to rebuild. So many fathers and so many mothers being incarcerated, and people fail to realize how the community is impacted based off of these crooked cops. Torture reparations, to me, is a start, and we really need to start to take an honest look at torture reparations, and repairing the harm that these police officers, as well as our prison systems, as well as our prosecutors, our public defenders, they all provided this function of services to Black and Brown poor people. I say that we need to hold them all accountable, of course, starting with the Chicago Police Department.

Damon: So much there. I want us to move into these learnings of what reparations is, and can be. There's the city ordinance that is explicitly and intentionally named Reparations, but through that ordinance, the center has been continuing on this process of repair, that is not controlled by those who are responsible or need to be held accountable. It is led by the community.

In that, I think, CTJC is at a global forefront of understanding as these demands for repairing genocidal, colonial, carceral harm across the world, understanding what that really looks like on a day-to-day, and how beautiful but also complex that can be.

I want to, one, just for folks listening, name what was in the ordinance. One, a public acknowledgement of torture and of the harm to the promise of a memorial, which we are still working to bring into life, three, investment in city college education for survivors, their children and grandchildren. Obviously, a payment that came down to $5 million for 57 people. Just do the math on that. Not $5 million per person, for 57 of the hundreds of folks that we know, who have been tortured. Last but certainly not least, the building of a resource center, which was loosely defined. That work of building Chicago Torture Justice Center has gone through a few iterations, but now is in a longer-term home.

We've talked about the violence and how horrible this history is, but what is the actual work? Because they're not going to do it. What is the actual work or what have you learned from providing resources, having larger political thrust and movement-building and creating a communal container for folks who have shared in a collective experience of harm?

Aislinn: I want to just add, there's one more part of the Reparations Ordinance, which is the curriculum. It included creation of a mandatory teaching of the history and legacy and continuing problem of Chicago policing and the violence that it perpetuates, which is supposed to be taught in all 8th and 10th grade social studies classes. That also was a really, really huge win, part of what I think was so transformative about our Reparations Ordinance.

What's really the least important part was the financial part because the $5.5 million, or whatever that amount was, is such a pittance. It resulted in maybe a maximum of $130,000 for people for whom they had not received any other financial settlement. There is another survivor who only ended up getting $5,000 from that pot because they had received other settlement money. The monetary amount was nominal and really insulting, but it was the other things that were really revolutionary and transformative.

A learning that I continue to have is around how important it was for the ordinance to not be focused solely on money. Some of what Mark was talking about when he said the $20 million was referencing the earlier drafts of the ordinance the city negotiated down. A lot of our national conversation around reparations is solely fixed on money, which limits our imagination when we talk about what is truly owed.

The experience of torture, but also just the experience of criminalization and incarceration, that millions and millions and millions of people have lived through and are living through right now, destabilizes lives, including the individual incarcerated, but also that entire family. The community, the society has tremendous impact from that. That is invisibilized. I think part of what I'm learning and have been learning with the work of the center is how massive the consequence of state violence really is.

One act of violence that a state agent, be it a police officer, a correctional officer, a Customs Border patrol, the wide variety of people who participate in law enforcement in this country, has such an impact on a social level that we, in the dominant conscience, have no awareness for yet. I think our movement, that all of us are collectively involved in, is really creating awareness and consciousness for how world-shattering state violence is on the physical person.

We understand that people are locked in cages. We understand you physically cannot go home, and be with your family. Beyond that, what also happens internally, the PTSD that is incorporated, even with incarceration, the desensitization of understanding what's happening inside your body, even with hunger and light sensitivity, being on institutionally regimented times of eating, being released from that then having to feed yourself, it's a whole relearning process of, "Oh, this is a hunger pain."

The socialization that happens and then de-socialization that happens, all of the overwhelming sense of being unsafe at all times, both inside the cages, and then upon release, knowing that at any time, because of how policing works, because it comes straight out of slavery, our system is very adept at re-incarcerating people at the drop of the dime, so that real threat of, "I am out here," but the fragility of it.

We see that now, even with the Reparations Ordinance with, in Illinois, the Pretrial Fairness Act, which enabled Illinois to become the first state in the country to ban cash bail for a number of causes, not completely but for a number of reasons. We see how, quite literally, the fraternal order of police has been attempting to re-incarcerate survivors. They have petitioned our state's attorney, Kim Fox, over and over again, they've introduced legislation. Their intention is to re-incarcerate people who have been exonerated. That fear is not just a consequence of PTSD, as in its past. It's a present fear because we know it's a very real possibility.

Damon: Yes, it's just traumatic stress.

Aislinn: It's just traumatic stress, exactly.

Damon: It's not post.

Aislinn: It's not post. [chuckles] Mark lived through during the beginning of the pandemic in quarantine, he was targeted by the Illinois State Police. They went searching for him, went to his sister's house, then his girlfriend's house, who's now his wife, arrested him, hit him out in the suburbs. They do this. This is the normal operating of how policing works. People come out, survivors come out, and anyone incarcerated comes out knowing that. There's so many learnings just on how broad of a societal consequence our reality of incarceration has, continuing to foster feelings of being hunted and never being safe.

Daniel: I love how you began that answer starting with the limitations and sometimes the disruptions of the money component being forefronted while at the same time, of course, holding the reality that people's economic position is also very tenuous and how that informs the revolving door of that, and that targeting.

I think in larger public discourse for people who aren't in a relationship with people who have been targeted, who have been incarcerated, you see that front-page news story of the settlement and you go like, "Oh, well that's a lot of money," therefore-

Damon: Good for them.

Daniel: -things have been addressed. I think that that kind of knee-jerk reaction is also very connected to ideas of how funding gets directed to the police of like, "If we pump more money toward this thing that will address the problem, and here are these aberrations. We cut a check and then we can just keep things moving as normal."

Coming out of what I heard from both of y'all, it feels more concrete to me of the vast difference between the settlement and repair, and that the repair happens in the acknowledgement and the attempt to redress and respond to all of these other levels, whether that's on the psychic, socio-emotional, communal, intercommunal, familial levels, what actually happens to people. Starting from a place of, how do we responsibly and meaningfully, as organizers, gather that information in connection and then take that and say, "No, no, no, no, this is what needs to be responded to, and we're demanding that response with the term set by the people who are affected"?

Does that ring true? How do y'all see that distance between the way conversations around settlement and repair work, I think, really more so the way that conversations around money can derail the conversation?

Aislinn: Well, the settlement language just comes from the legal framework. It's completely devoid of any real humanity. In our law, it is greatly influenced, of course, by Britain, but in practice, our law comes out of the slavocracy. So much of our legal framework directly was created out of white men figuring out how to parse out wealth that they were accumulating through the slave trade.

It makes no sense for a child who was murdered by police enduring torture as if that alone answers the harm in any kind of real way. It answers material needs in terms of people's ability to pay the immense cost that it takes to live in the United States because we don't have universal healthcare, we don't have universal higher education, we don't have guaranteed income, we don't have many of the employment provisions that many other countries have, little to no safety net here for people, and especially for people who are historically oppressed and impoverished.

I don't want to dismiss the importance of financial compensation because it's within the context of this country, but it doesn't do anything to actually prevent the ongoing occurrence of whatever the injustice was. In many ways, the system uses financial sediments as an attempt at a band-aid to quiet people down, to nullify people, so that they don't fight more for criminal convictions or worse in the eyes of the system, which would be a reconfiguration or an overthrow of the whole system that produced it.

The settlements are complicated for that reason and people deserve it. I will never go against a family. I will never go against a survivor who receives it. They deserve it and more. I do truly believe in the redistribution of that wealth. It's not their wealth anyway, it's our wealth anyway, and more. However, where I'm feeling intuiting is the way that US capitalism exists.

Because the public comments has been attacked so heavily over the last 40, 50 years through the rise of neoliberalism and all of the consequential aspects of it like mass incarceration and policing, our relationship as a society to money is, I want to say perverted, but I don't really know of a healthy relationship to money. [laughs] There's an over-importance on it that the money will be the rectification. It's an aspect of, but it is not going to redesign the systems. It doesn't, at all, do that.

Daniel: In fact, sometimes more money can create more problems as we've heard.

Aislinn: Oh, for sure. I know more money, more problems, give it up to '90s hip hop. Even just looking at BLM and all the controversies over-- and there's so many, even with the uprising, we look just the movement for Black Lives as a whole, the uprising, many people's response to that was donating to orgs which is great.

I'm not saying that people shouldn't have, people should, but that is so often the first thing that we have access to because of the way that we're socialized in this country, instead of, "Okay, now we need to get rid of prosecutors. Now we need to get rid of all these judges," and completely reimagine a legal system that is not tied to property, completely overhaul our whole municipal government, all the things, which takes so much more labor, so much more thought work.

Damon: Community, you can donate by yourself. You don't have to talk to anybody. You don't have to be responsible. You can just click.

Aislinn: Yes. I think it's a muscle that has atrophied our ability to be in community and really struggle through trying to figure out solutions and struggle together. The settlement versus other things brings all that up. It's not going to replace freeing them all.

Daniel: It's not going to serve the role of some of the other things that the center does. Maybe this is an opportunity to talk about some of the types of support and healing and how y'all think of that as part of the mission of the center.

Damon: We developed our politicized healing definition out of a two-day workshop co-facilitated by Prentis Hemphil land Mark-Anthony Johnson, who are both somatics practitioners and organizers and educators out of generative somatics as well as BOLD, which is Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity. We came together, we brought staff at the time, which was only five people or something like that.

The Survivor Leadership Council, but also other survivors, just a part of the family and other community members and stakeholders came together and we created this definition that basically, in essence, says that our healing is political and our political organizing is also a part of our healing work. We live them in a symbiotic way. We often ask the question, who does it serve if you are unwell?

That question is deliberate because it highlights the political nature of wellness, of unwellness, and opens us up to being able to really get a little bit deeper underneath the skin, in the marrow, of why the state has invested so much of its resources in creating trauma and sickness in our people, and how working to be well, working to heal, is also a revolutionary act and is a necessary part of us working to dismantle these systems.

The pervasiveness of violence, that is the system, means that it lives deeply, deeply inside of us. It's important for us to have that awareness and really struggle with being able to identify how it lives in us, how it affects our relationships. We really are striving to struggle collectively and to be in deep relationship with each other in ways that foster senses of safety so that we can uncover, "This is a way we can connect, and this is a way that connection enables us to work better together to create the world that we want that is less violent, more liberatory, hopefully, more life-inducing and nurturing."

Daniel: I want to get into the nitty-gritty of that real quick. What are a couple of the practices that are in that spirit, whether that's somatic practices or how y'all communicate for people? I'm thinking about listeners who are in coalition community organizing space and are trying to figure out, "How do we treat each other and communicate in healing ways?" What have y'all learned that's, for your context at least, effective or helpful that comes out of that practice?

Damon: Well, we are, right now, doing a year-long embodiment training course with the whole team. Damon explicitly asked this question and I kept forgetting to answer it. Our team now-

Daniel: One of 8 million questions.

Damon: There's a lot of questions over here. [chuckles]

Aislinn: Our team now has-- we were originally four and then five, and now we are 16, I think. We are half formerly incarcerated survivors. That is really important for us.

Damon: Just to pull that out, what Mark estimated, of the 56 or so folks included in the original ordinance, was that seven people had employment in total. What you just named is that eight survivors are employed just with the center. Just for folks listening to track that growth in progress. Sorry, that's just exciting some to know. [laughs]

Aislinn: We're doing this yearlong embodiment leadership course with Alta Starr, who was one of the founders of BOLD, another somatic practitioner, amazing brilliant thinker, writer, longtime organizer in Harlem, New York. We've been doing these monthly sessions with Alta. Some of the practices we have learned are around how to say no. We're often, in our dominant culture, not well versed in being able to give embodied answers to requests, so how to give and receive requests, how to say no, how to say maybe, how to say yes, in a way that is embodied, where we can feel our full dignity, feel our full width, our full length, feel our back and our history.

We also have, as a part of this yearlong training, been working on being able to feel embodied, feel centered, feel grounded and being aware of when we are in situations which is, in our daily lives, pretty constant, when we have grabs that move us from that center, that move us from feeling grounded, how we can return back to that and understanding that we are able to reach our highest selves. By that, I don't mean that in a woo-woo way, but in literally our highest evolutionary parts of our brain, our prefrontal cortex, we're able to access critical thinking and long-term reasoning when we feel safest.

How can we find and be in practice of figuring out how we can, both individually and collectively, foster these senses of safety so that we can be in relationship functioning from those places, and when we're not, to have awareness of, "Oh, I'm feeling a grab which is triggering my sympathetic nervous system to respond in a particular way, which means that I might be feeling fight, flight, flee," and have awareness around that so that it isn't an ambiguous thing, but something that we're able to identify?

I am in fight mode right now. I'm not feeling safe. There's something that's either happening inside my body or externally or both that is giving me a sense of un-safeness, which doesn't mean that it's actually real. It's that my nervous system is sensing that. All of that works to expand agency, both for the individual and the collective so that we can have more choice in how we are with each other.

What we aim to be is to be a part of the larger movement to end policing in all of its forms, to end state violence in all of its forms. We are actively trying to be in more choice, more awareness around how we can be a part of that movement. That involves our own ability to be embodied, our own ability to be able to feel what's happening and have awareness of what's happening.

Damon: For you to follow up on that question, Mark, of, "What are some of the practices?" I just want to like frame it some more. You mentioned the Survivor Repair Fund, which everyone should support if they have the resources, and Aislinn mentioned the embodiment work. What are some other of the processes, practices, services, and resources that happen within the scope of the center that make you the most proud as someone who is a part of this community, and also undergoing your own healing journey while advocating for your comrades and loved ones?

Mark: The number one would rest upon the fact that we have a clinical team that is able to at least communicate with individuals and to provide them with forms of therapy. In the African-American community, we have never really seen these types of services unless we have left our community. I think that the reentry program with the center is very, very encouraging able to now be able to assist individuals leaving up out of our prison system is very, very important and trying to keep them in community with the center. As I stated earlier, we now have two additional organizers with the center. This allows me an opportunity to now just rest a little bit.

Damon: You're the hardest working man in movement, Mark. [laughs]

Mark: It called having your hands into too many pots, but the bottom line of it is-

Damon: Mark, I'm sorry to interrupt. You might hold the record for double-Zooming.


Damon: I've seen you double-Zoom probably at a higher rate than anybody else. I'm sorry. Go ahead. [laughs]

Daniel: Oh my God.

Mark: Well, let me tell you, it's my honor. A lot of people would never understand that because they're not wearing the shoe of the survivor. Sitting inside of the prison cell since the age of 16 years old, and then the system opening up the door, the first thing I really wanted to figure out is, "Man, what's wrong? Do the people hear us?" Well, I begin to learn immediately the people are hearing us. It's issue with how do we get the people up so that they can be responsive to some of these needs and some of these cries?

I am very, very encouraged by the direction of the center. I encourage all torture survivors, including the community, to get up and to stand with us in areas where that maybe you may see us lacking in. Let's talk about it and let's see if we can correct that to be able to help the community. In a overall picture here, I believe I was born as a fighter. That means when I popped out, I was holding up a protest sign, said, "Let's go get them."

Being able to have the opportunity to work with so many amazing people, having the opportunity to watch so many people walk out of the prison system, man, it's been a dream come true. I realized that the actors, when they come up with this great movie and they say, "Well, it's a dream come true," they're speaking about their royalties out of it. I'm speaking about the royalties in saving human lives from suffering inside of our prison system, where that so many people did not give a damn about them.

Really, to have a torture justice center, I ask that everywhere around the globe that you begin to not only pay attention to the Chicago Torture Justice Center, how about fighting to get what we have achieved in your particular states? I think this is very important. We're short about 15 Chicago Torture Justice Centers in Chicago alone.

Damon: In hearing that we need 15 CTJCs, and then we need to change the first letter a bunch. We need some A through Z-TJCs.

Daniel: All across, from the Anchorage Torture Justice Center to the-- I'm trying of this Z city, well, 'Zoo for Kalamazoo. Is that close enough, for the 'Zoo?

Damon: [laughs] We can take that. We can shout out the 'Zoo.

Daniel: All right. Thank you very much. Shout out the 'Zoo for no reason.

Damon: I want to be considerate of y'all time and prompt y'all to a final question. Just to add in there as, not only an appreciator and observer, but as a participant in the work, the thing that I have observed as transformational and so powerful, and I think could be easily taken for granted is really immaterial. It's not just organizing space for political fights or advocating for other folks to be released, or when the call goes out, showing up the ability the center has to just convene survivors.

When it happens, it's like, "Oh, this is what we're supposed to be doing." You can move past, "Oh, if we weren't doing this, there would be no gathering, no convening, no sharing of testimony outside of the informal network that exists of folks being inside together, folks coming from the same neighborhood, they'll love and checking in on each other," but to be able to sit in a circle, and even if the agenda ain't, everything's checked off the box, seeing the power, the healing possibility and then the hope that comes from 4, 5, 12, 25 folks that have experienced this horrible, horrible, tragic violence coming together and not just advocating for their humanity embodying it, living with each other in true community.

I just wanted to add that testimony as a participant and observer of the work that we and y'all doing lead. With that, unless you have anything, Daniel or help me frame this, I just want to give y'all a little legacy thing, I'm sorry. There's a new organization of formerly incarcerated young people that has emerged called R.E.A.L that sees themselves explicitly in a revolutionary context that I've worked with, and I hosted there, launched a fundraiser a few weeks ago.

In talking to them, they know about this history in the center. They do a lot of reentry programs, as well as classes in the youth prisons while also advocating to close them. One of the things that they did, in figuring out what reentry looks like is, explicitly in the legacy of CTJC, have launched a repair fund for youth returning home from incarceration. They're now, shout out to R.E.A.L, as a youth survivor repair fund that is explicitly paying homage and sees itself in the legacy of CTJC. I just wanted to give you all that.

Now my long-winded conclusion that I'm inviting y'all to is we talked about the methods, talked about repair funds, we talked about embodiment circles, we talked about even some of the political fights that have to go on. From those methods, what are some of the conclusions y'all have from sitting in the work? In those conclusions about what torture justice look like, what repair reparation looks like, what further hopes do you have that weren't possible when you first entered the work? Where do you see it? What are your conclusion? What do you see going forward?

Daniel: Especially for folks who want to build something like this in their own space.

Damon: Exactly.

Mark: Aislinn?


Damon: What are your conclusions?


Aislinn: Oh, man. First, I want to say I didn't know that about this new group, this new org, R.E.A.L. That brought tears to my eyes. That's so beautiful. I guess it's that we are brilliant. Whoever is in that "we" for the listener, we are who have allowed us to survive. We have always taken care of each other. That's how we survived slavery. There's such brilliance there that is not acknowledged.

Part of why I'm really drawn to somatics work is because it has an acknowledgment of that. There are so many resilience practices that we have been doing for years, for decades, for centuries, and acknowledging that is a part of owning it, is a part of raising awareness. There's a radical aspect of how we have survived that is inspiring, and that includes the coming together in the ways that we have always built community despite the mechanisms of the state to keep us apart and separate us.

Damon, as you were talking about the coming together and experiences of that, I just was remembering when we were at the breathing room garden last year.

Damon: Yes, it was last year, but what is time? [laughs]

Aislinn: Right. [chuckles] It was about maybe 30, maybe, survived, maybe 40, I don't know, came and we were trying to begin a conversation around expanding reparations. We didn't get through the check-in question, and it felt so right to let it happen that way, that people were seeing each other, many of whom, for the first time, were seeing each other outside of incarceration. It was so moving to witness people hugging after being inside for decades and being finally on the outside and seeing that reconnection. This is also after being in quarantine. All the isolation of that.

Damon: Also just to bring it full circle, there were also mothers present. Mothers whose children had been incarcerated for decades, who were still inside, were able to see the possibility of, one, "My son is coming home," and, two, that "There is this community and this movement that supports me and us." Watching that recognition happen in real-time was mind-blowing.

Aislinn: I guess I'm sitting with just the power of being in community. I don't feel that I've fully been able to articulate it or have been able to sift out all of why it's so powerful, but there's just so much power and fostering community and being together. That's one of the most rewarding and healing aspects of the work. We really do need each other to heal, and we heal together.

Mark: I'll say by 2027, and yes, we're going to have to still fight to make sure that the doors here remain open, but I'd say by 2027, the torture center will have a staff of at least 25 torture survivors on staff. We will have what would be considered as the kickoff to any type of protests, any type of court-type project, any type of project that we want, and it will be led by survivors. That's one angle.

The second angle is that we will have the opportunity to witness, probably within the next two or three years, a nice percentage of torture survivors who will walk out of the prison system. I do say freed them all but I also look at just how evil and corrupt our criminal justice system is. The fight continues. Whoever is left behind, that don't mean that we're not going to be constantly struggling and fighting for them but I just grew to always understand it's always someone that is left behind when you're dealing with these institutional racist people. I learned that word from you, Brother Damon, using institution.

Damon: [laughs]

Daniel: That's a legacy right there.

Damon: Yes. [laughs] I find that hard to believe, but I receive it and appreciate that.

Mark: You should just call them straight out, IDOC, Cook County State's attorneys. I just think that right now we're in our little so-called glory because we're watching people actually walk out of prisons and whatnot, who we felt would never ever get out of prison. They are walking out. I think with the Safety Act when it does take effect in January, it's going to be a lot of empty prison space.

That's going to start the new next wave of how the system is going to attempt to come out with all sorts of different laws to re-incarcerate people for just minor offenses, but the struggle definitely continues. The community is great, the tortured survivors that are going through their situations, we want them to know that we are there for them. If no one has given the Chicago Torture Justice Center phone number, let me do so. 773-966-6666.

In closing, Brother Damon, guess what? I love all of these wonderful people. The struggle definitely continues. I'm hoping and I'm praying in the next few years that we see another attachment of Chicago torture reparations.