A rarely acted-upon cause is gaining attention within the University and the greater Middletown community: prisoners’ rights. Resisting Imprisonment for a Safer Existence (RISE), under the leadership of Jodi Almengor ’16, is a revitalized movement with a concise, streamlined objective, taking inspiration from a previously existing student group known as Rise Up.
“[RISE is a] grassroots student of color lead and organized direct-action initiative to resist oppression by community-based educational outreach events, workshops, and trainings both on and off campus,” the program’s description reads.
After returning from a gap semester in California where she worked with a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of prisoners, Almengor felt inspired to foster a grassroots cause at the University.
“I was exposed to a lot of dark realities about not only prison conditions and the treatment of prisoners in this country, but also how people end up in prison and the systematic injustices in our society,” Almengor said. “There is definitely work to be done.”
Newly inspired, Almengor returned to campus and created the group with the help of friends she had met while participating in other student groups. Almengor explained her motivation to spread awareness about the injustices surrounding imprisonment in the United States.
“I came back to Wesleyan with a real drive to want to make an effective impact,” Almengor said. “I really wanted to do something community-based and collective that brings in my friends and anyone else who wanted to help out and make it accessible. At a very basic level, we can all agree that police brutality and oppression exist, and those are things that are very palpable… We can understand that, and we know that it’s a lived reality and not just a theory we talk about.”
Almengor used the framework of the previous student group, Rise Up, which also focused on prisoners’ rights, as a springboard for her vision. By expanding its domain beyond the scope of Rise Up to include more students of different and diverse backgrounds, she hopes to attract further interest in RISE.
Almengor will use the resources offered by the University in order to foster solidarity and momentum for her cause. She aims to incorporate the contributions of others, making RISE more of a group-integrated effort rather than a singularly leader-based endeavor.
“My vision is that this is a student-run, accessible, enjoyable, and real project,” Almengor said. “It’s about community, and community is about taking what everyone has to offer and making something beautiful out of that.”
Slamming ’13, another member of RISE, hopes that the group will bring more cohesion between the University and Middletown communities.
“Wesleyan has a very deep impact on the surrounding community, and we should use our resources to empower our neighbors,” Slamming wrote in an email to The Argus. “Because we have access to education, resources, and funding, programs that we initiate can help others learn their rights and break the cycle of incarceration that plagues too many communities across the nation and globe.”
The group hopes to partner with the University’s Center for Prison Education on future project, and will facilitate “know-your-rights” training in both English and Spanish in Middletown.
“At the very least, knowing your rights is a source of empowerment in this system, and even if you don’t believe in it, we can all agree that everyone should have at least that [knowledge],” Almengor said.
Through educational outreach, the group intends to impart information regarding how to undermine systematic oppression, specifically with regard to imprisonment.
“We’re all students, and we can all agree that having an education is an empowering, a formative, and an important experience,” Almengor said. “Most prisoners don’t have access to that, and keeping a whole population of people uneducated isn’t beneficial for anyone.”
RISE Executive Manager Ana Castro ’15 became involved because the premise of the group resonated with her passions concerning social justice issues and systematic oppression. She sees the group as a way for students to act, beyond the theory discussed in academic contexts.
“We are very action based, and we’re going to bring an opportunity for students who are passionate about this to actually do something concrete—more than just discussing these ideas in classrooms,” Castro explained.