Pathways to Status

yellow background with blue hands reaching each other. the text reads "keep families together"

By: Mac Scott

Illustration provided by 2019 Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative

Before I list out the different pathways, I want to give a brief overview. First of all, my name is Mac, I work as a licensed immigration consultant for the Multiethnic Law Firm Carranza LLP. I am also a member of the migrant justice group. No One Is Illegal and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

The immigration system is extremely political. It is based on a history of racism/colonialism, classism, ableism, ageism, sexism, and homophobia. It was, and continues, to be built on the idea of stolen land.

This is an important lens to use when looking at the pathways people can pursue status here. In essence, if you are white and middle class/rich, coming here is much much easier. Unfortunately, each status holds traps for people targetted by oppression; for example if you are a queer person claiming refugee status you will be forced to prove you are queer, if you are a woman being sponsored by a male partner, you will be forced to choose between getting status and staying in the relationship or leaving and losing your status. If you have any very visible disabilities or ailment you face a lot of barriers even in attaining status, so many don’t even try to apply

The system also has created a pyramid of status. Those with citizenship have full rights, those with permanent residency (the right to stay here permanently) have most rights, those with visitor, worker or student status have few rights, those without any status have very very few rights.

Finally, I must give the standard warning that this does not constitute legal advice. If you or a friend or family member is planning to make an application it is best to consult with a lawyer or licensed consultant.

For more information consult cic.gc.ca or the Immigration Refugee Problem Regulations.

Getting Status From Outside Canada

  • Economic Class
  • Refugee Class
  • Family Class
  • Humanitarian Class

There are several ‘streams” to apply to come to Canada with permanent residency. There are the economic class, family class, refugee, and humanitarian class. I will briefly cover each of these, along with the problems associated with each.


Economic Class

Express Entry

 This is the most used of the economic class applications. It replaces the so-called “points system” which replaced an earlier system in which race was an open category. It has many requirements:

  • You must have very good English and/or French
  • You must have a year’s experience doing paid skilled work (management position, positions requiring a university education, skilled trades, etc.); and
  • Without a job offer, you have to prove you have sufficient funds to settle in Canada.

To apply you first must take an English language or French Language test with a certified test agency. A list is available on the Immigration Refugees Citizenship Canada [IRCC] website cic.gc.ca. You then create a free online profile at cic.gc.ca. You will then be rated based on your work experience, education, language skills, Canadian experience, and age. Once every two to three months, IRCC picks the top-rated people and invites them to become permanent residents of Canada. If picked, you have 90 days to do the application which is then usually processed within six months.

One way to avoid this lottery is to have a job offer where the employer has made a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). This means they apply to Employment Skills Development Canada (ESDC) to have it verified that the hire will have a neutral or positive impact on the Canadian economy. If you have such an offer you are automatically invited to become a permanent resident.

Like all these classes, you need to not be inadmissible to Canada. No criminal record, no security threat to Canada, sufficient funds to survive, no major medical issues or disability, and your spouse and children also must meet these criteria.

In-Home Caregivers

You have to get a job offer to take care of children or people with high medical issues in their homes. This job offer needs an LMIA where the employer has to show ESDC that they could not find a Canadian to fill the position. They have to pay a fee of $1000. The worker has to have either a six-month course in the field or one year’s work experience. You then get a work permit.

After working at least 2 years out of a total occupancy of 4 years, you can apply for permanent residency, you can apply for permanent residency. You must have proficiency in English or French, and you must have a degree, diploma, or other educational certificate from a one year program in Canada or elsewhere.

Business Class

These are for people who can make a substantial investment in a government fund that funds Canadian Businesses ($800,000), people who have managed a large business and can prove they can create the same here in Canada (employing two or more people, creating large profits, etc.), or people who have one year’s experience at a world-class level in cultural or athletic activities. This class also includes farmers who can show they will come here and create a farm.

Refugee Class

The person has to be outside their country of origin and been issued a certificate as a refugee by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. They then need a sponsor:

Government Assisted Refugees

 This is where the Canadian government agrees to look after the refugee or refugee family for the first year in Canada. Canada sponsors very few refugees, only around 10,000 a year. In contrast, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon have taken in around 2-3 million.

Group of Five

 Five Canadians and/or Permanent Residents agree to look after the refugee or refugee family for the first year. They need to show they earn enough to do so or that they have the money in trust.

Sponsorship Agreement Holders

 Certain organizations have signed agreements to sponsor refugees (Sponsorship Agreement Holders) they agree (sometimes along with community organizations or individuals) to take care of the refugee or refugee family for the first year.

From experience, refugee sponsorship processing times can take up to 5 years. The processing time starts the day they receive your complete application and ends when they make a decision. You can find up-to-date official processing times using the following website: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/application/check-processing-times.html. 

Family Class

This is where a Canadian citizen or permanent resident sponsors their family. The sponsor cannot be on welfare, cannot be on disability (unless they are sponsoring their children or spouse), must earn a certain amount of money (unless they are sponsoring their children or spouse), cannot have a serious criminal record and must be over 18. People can sponsor their:

Spouse

 Including common-law partner (living together for a year or more) and conjugal partner (together in a very serious relationship for a year or more but unable to be together due to circumstances beyond their control i.e. Prison, border separation, etc.).

Dependent child

 Must be under 22 and financially dependent on the Sponsor, or over 22 but financially dependent due to a disability.

Parents/Grandparents

 It takes a long time – sometimes over 5 years.

Others

 Very very rarely can you sponsor other family members, usually only if they are your only relative alive.

Humanitarian Class

Humanitarian Assisted Abroad

Similar to the refugee sponsorship program, except affected by a serious humanitarian crisis.

Humanitarian Applications

Able to show there are serious compassionate reasons why the person should be allowed to come to Canada. However, IRCC is not required to process the application.


Getting Status From Inside Canada

  • Refugee Claims
  • Humanitarian Application
  • Spousal Sponsorship

Refugee Claims

If someone gets to Canada, somehow (very difficult if you are from the global south and not rich), you can present yourself to an immigration officer and say you can’t go back to your country of origin because it is unsafe. This is because Canada has ratified (made into Canadian Law) the United Nations Convention on Refugees. You will lose whatever status you had and become a refugee claimant (you have a right to health coverage, to a work or study permit, and do not have to leave until you have your hearing and lose). After a year or so, you will have a hearing in front of a tribunal (a pseudo-court- the Refugee Protection Division) where you will have to prove that if returned to your country of origin either:

(This one is easier to prove than the next) You will be persecuted (i.e the state or others will seriously hurt you or discriminate against you) on the basis of your race, nationality, politics, religion or social grouping (this includes things like your gender, your sexuality, your disability, etc.), that the police can’t protect you, and that there is nowhere in the country that you can be safe; or

That you face a risk of serious harm or mistreatment, a risk to your life or a risk of torture (pain applied to get information or certain behaviour, either by the state or with the state ignoring it). Again, you have to prove that the police can’t protect you and that there is nowhere in the country that you can be safe, but also that the risk isn’t due to the lack of medical treatment (unless it is due to discrimination, i.e. You can’t get HIV treatment due to homophobia).

Humanitarian Application

You have to prove there are significant compassionate reasons why you should be allowed to be a permanent resident in Canada. Until there is approval (takes one year), you can be removed. If you are approved, you can get a work permit or study permit (but you have to pay for it). You can also stay at this point. It then takes about a year to get your permanent residency.

The things they look at are: hardship (this is different than risk in the refugee class, i.e a person that identifies as lesbian might not have been attacked in their country of origin but may not be able to get housing, employment, social services – this can be considered a hardship); establishment (how long have you been here? Are you working? Have you completed educational courses? Do you have friends here? Are you volunteering? Etc.); defacto family members – people you are close to and who are not spouses or children, but you are extremely interdependent (this could be chosen family); best interests of children directly affected (how will removal affect your kids?); and public interests (i.e. is it really a good idea to deport a woman pursuing charges against her abusive partner?).

Spousal Sponsorship

A spouse (including a common-law spouse) can be sponsored by their Canadian Citizen or permanent resident spouse. The problem is it can take 1-2 years and gives the sponsor a lot of power over the person being sponsored. If the relationship ends, the sponsorship is over (note, however, that there are options and no one should remain in an abusive relationship).

So looking through this, what is clear? In my view, it’s hard for poor people and working people from the global south to come to Canada. My great grandparents were farmers and workers, they came easily, they were white. LGBTIQA+ gets exposed to oppression in this system, either overtly or subtly. Women get stuck in abusive relationships, people with seriously visible or expensive physical/mental health-related issues are not even considered.

We can build an inclusive system, where people are not deported or detained, where borders are open, not just to trade but to people. We can recognize Indigenous title to land and provide reparations. But we need to organize. There is work being done through OPIRG Guelph on these issues, and check out toronto.nooneisillegal.org. Freedom to Move, Freedom to Leave, Freedom to Stay!

When the Forgotten Resist

black and white photo of a stack of letters onto of fanned out pile of mailing envelopes

by Mina Ramos

On September 17th 2013, 191 immigration detainees at the Central East Correctional Centre (CECC) in Lindsay ON collectively went on a hunger strike. At the time, it was one of the largest prisoner hunger strikes in Canadian history and the first time immigration detainees in Canada protested for their rights en masse. Since then, detainees incarcerated in Lindsay, ON have been fighting alongside former detainees and allies to put an end to immigration detention in Canada.

Background on Immigration Detention

At the very basics, immigration detention is a tactic used by the Canadian government to jail migrants. Many immigration laws have been changed in the last 5 years that it doesn’t matter if you are undocumented, a refugee claimant, permanent resident or citizen. As long as you weren’t born here, you can be subjected to immigration detention.

Here’s an overview of how people become immigration detainees in Canada:

  • They commit a crime in Canada. This can be any type of crime. It doesn’t matter how long they have lived here; their status can be taken away and they can be placed in immigration detention
  • They had some sort of visa and it expired. Maybe they were applying for permanent residency, maybe they were waiting for another visa to be processed. Doesn’t matter. If they are caught, they will be placed in immigration detention.
  • They show up at the airport to make a refugee claim, but the government thinks the claim is a fraud or that their papers or identity aren’t real/true. They will get arrested at the airport and be placed in immigration detention.

The government likes to call immigration detention, “administrative hold”. They say this because technically immigration detainees aren’t actually serving time for criminal offenses. Canada has just decided that they don’t deserve to live in Canada anymore and keeps people detained until they find somewhere to deport them to. Even if someone commits a crime with a prison sentence, they first serve the sentence for their crime and then get put under immigration detention. The problem is, “administrative hold” can mean anywhere from 2 days to 10 years and detainees never know if they are going to win their case and be given bail in Canada or deported back to a country where they: a) are in danger b) have not been to in years c) have never been to at all

Because detainees are technically not serving time, the government also gets away with never giving detainees an actual trial. They have something called a “detention review.” It happens once a month and is the only way a detainee can get out of detention. Instead of a judge, they have a randomly appointed member of the Immigration Review Board (ie. The people who helped to put them in jail in the first place) who meets with detainees over something similar to skype. The whole process is such a joke and the release rates are so low that in June of 2014 detainees in three different prisons including the Central East Correctional Centre boycotted their reviews for the month. To give a statistical view of release rates; in 2013, 7,000 people were held in immigration detention but only 711 or 9% were actually released. In fact, Canada is one of the only “western” countries in the world that doesn’t have a set limit on how long someone can be detained for. It is all based on the detention review process.

In the past eight years, over 100,000 people have been held in immigration detention. Hundreds of these detainees are children. In 2013, 205 children were detained in Canada’s immigration holding centres. Although there are 3 designated immigration holding centres (with a fourth being built in Toronto as we speak), almost a third of all immigration detainees are also held in maximum security prisons. Despite some of the obvious human rights issues with immigration detention, millions of dollars are invested in maintaining this system. Canada Borders Services Agency (CBSA) who play a huge role in detaining people has had their budget balloon from 91 million dollars in 2010 to 165 million dollars in 2014-2015.

To be clear, immigration detention does not affect immigrants coming to Canada equally. 90% of immigration detainees at any point in time are racialized and approximately 75%-80% of all detainees are black. It becomes quite apparent that race plays a huge role in terms of who is profiled and targeted for immigration detention and who isn’t.

Detainees Organizing from Inside the CECC

In August of 2013, the ministry of public safety decided to merge a bunch of detainees from different prisons across Southern Ontario into one unit at the CECC in Lindsay ON; a maximum security prison.

The detainees who had been moved were angry. The move had happened without warning and the majority of them were now hours away from their lawyers and family. Unlike many jails across Canada there was no rehabilitative programming and no opportunities for paid work. With the average prison wage rate of 3 dollars a day across Canada, prison work is nothing to boast about. To go from that to nothing however, was a shock. On top of this, the detainees were being subjected to inhumane living conditions. This included constant lockdowns (which basically means never being let out of the cell), rotten food and mould in the cells and showers.

It was under these circumstances that their hunger strike began in September 2013. The detainees in Lindsay ON were in a unique position. They had previously been scattered across Ontario and for the first time they were clumped together in a large group. They started to talk. They realized that immigration detention itself was extremely problematic. They began to question why they were being held in maximum security prisons when they didn’t have charges or why there was no limit to how long they were being detained. They noticed that because they were on immigration hold, they were not getting equal access to the bail program even if/when they had someone to bail them out. Within the first week of the hunger strike, immigration detainees re-focused and changed their demands drastically. They were now focused on 3 things:

  • 1 – End arbitrary and indefinite detention: Implement a 90 day maximum to detention. If removal (deportation) cannot happen within 90 days, immigration detainees must be released. This is recommended by the United Nations, and is the law in the United States and the European Union.
  • No maximum security holds: Immigration detainees should not be held in maximum security provincial jails.
  • Give immigration detainees fair and full access to legal aid, bail programs and pro bono representation.

Detainees connected with migrant justice organizers on the outside and a phone line (which continues to run to this day) was started to keep up active communication with detainees in Lindsay ON. The collective hunger strike officially ended in the beginning of October but detainees continued to organize. Over the last two and a half years they have drafted and snuck out collective statements and petitions against immigration detention, boycotted their detention reviews, held cell walkouts, had fasts, held meetings to negotiate with CBSA and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and done an exuberant amount of media. Despite all of this, nothing has been done to change any of the laws in respects to immigration detention.

Transformative Justice and Immigration Detention

I have worked on the phone line that connects to detainees since September 17th 2013 and have seen how remarkable their organizing has been. It is difficult to sustain organizing in a prison, let alone when you are also at threat of being deported. Despite this, the guys continuously take risks to speak out and come up with new ideas to fight for their freedom. They hold range meetings and educate new detainees when they are brought in about Canada’s immigration system and why immigration detention is unjust. Packages sent in by allies which contain a history of immigration detention, actions that have been taken to fight against it and media coverage on immigration issues are used to help educate new detainees about their situation.

Apart from the organizing aspect, the detainees look out for each other.  Many of them do not speak English and have a hard time advocating for themselves. Often, older detainees will work to try and connect non-English speaking detainees to those that can speak their language to help translate when they need to make phone calls and speak to their lawyers. Although the guys do fight, whenever someone is sent to segregation they call the phone line to check in to see if their friends have called from segregation and are okay. In 2015, when Abdurrahman Ibrahim Hassan died while locked up at the CECC, migrant justice organizers already knew what had happened before he was officially pronounced dead. This was because the guys worked together to know exactly what was going on when Hassan was originally taken out of his cell.

The phone line set up to maintain a connection with detainees and allies on the outside has played a huge role in laying down the foundations for a transformative movement. Although the line was started to hear and support the organizing being done by detainees, it has morphed to be much more than that. Overtime the line has helped to open up many different dialogues that might not have taken place otherwise. For example, in the beginning of their organizing, mental health was something that was rarely brought up by detainees. Through conversations on the line, mental health became a huge topic. As the guys felt less isolated, they opened up about mental health issues both on the line and with each other. In 2015, detainees collectively asked to be individually assessed by a psychotherapist to see how they have been mentally affected by immigration detention.

Although it still has a focus on organizing and bringing up things that come up in the jail, for some the line has also become a place to escape from immigration detention and talk about light hearted things. For others it has become a place to talk about systemic issues. A typical phone line day can look like getting into a debate over why detainees constantly state that they are not criminals and instead exploring the idea of prison abolition, to talking about dating and relationships and the first thing to order in terms of food once they get out of jail. As someone who is queer it has been such an indescribable experience coming out to detainees over time through the phone line and getting into all kinds of discussions around misogyny, patriarchy and homophobia. Since coming out as queer I have always had such a jaded view of cis straight men and at this point spend most of my Tuesdays getting into deep discussions with cis straight men that are deemed by the state as “inadmissible” to Canada but have more brilliance than the politicians who are demonizing them.

I will admit, the movement around immigration detention in Ontario has major fallbacks. Possibly the biggest shortcoming is the fact that at the moment there are very few black people involved in the movement who are not former detainees. This is not the fault of black organizers and community members but rather of migrant justice organizers who have historically failed to reach out and create genuine connections with different black communities or have straight up pushed out black folks from migrant justice organizations. The irony of working with mainly black folks in jail but having little to no black allies on the outside to connect to is too real. Over time, it has become a huge reality check for organizers working with detainees at the CECC to own up to the anti-black racism rooted in the migrant justice movement as it exists and begin to change dynamics that have led up to this. Although I write this article to demonstrate the transformative aspects of this movement, there is clearly a lot more work to be done.

Although many people remain locked up and too many have been deported, there are a few who have been successful in being released from immigration detention since 2013. Just last week, a group of former detainees and people running the phone line gathered for the first time as a group to hangout, eat food and strategize how to continue organizing with those on the inside. The guys exchanged news about different detainees still in jail, joked about sueing CBSA and gave each other advice on how to navigate getting ID’s, work permits, mental health resources…all kinds of things.  The feeling of people being together, some of us meeting each other in persyn for the first time is hard to explain in words. We couldn’t stop taking pictures joking about who would be the first one to post on Instagram. No one actively voiced what we were all feeling until after the hangout. The laws might not have changed but the fact that two and a half years later, the struggle to be free and the connection through the phone line has created deep bonds between the guys themselves and us on the line. Bonds that the system hasn’t been able to break despite their best efforts. That people are still so committed to fighting and through the fight have learnt so much about themselves, each other and the ways that we relate to each other as humans is beautiful. That this means we are winning. If that’s not transformative I’m not sure what is.


mina sitting on a the ground with her arms behind her and smiling

Mina Ramos is a queer mixed race Latina. She is passionate about ideas, thoughts and issues that centre on migration and the movement of people. She also enjoys listening to all kinds of music and occasionally dabbles in making music on her own.

School – to – Prison Pipeline

illustration of the school to prison pipeline complex

How does the education system and the school-to-prison pipeline contribute to the over representation of black people in the Criminal Justice system?

by Chinwe Nwebube

The school to prison pipeline is a term used to describe the push of students out of schools and into prisons and represents a failure in our current education system. Black students are disciplined more harshly and often achieve lower marks due to disparities in teaching and treatment. Therefore, the school to prison pipeline can be considered a leading factor in the overrepresentation of black folks within the prison system. At its core, the school to prison pipeline is a result of the education system’s inability to meet the needs of its students. Specifically, the presence of anti-black racism in the education system has resulted in the large flow of the pipeline. Anti-black racism is global, insidious, and pervasive. It is the hate and fear of black people which in turn, drives national politics. This increases the representation of black people in prisons. Due to a system that is fundamentally driven by the dehumanization and exploitation of black bodies, there is a lack of effective and unbiased systems within the school. Ultimately there is a disparity between the degree of discipline between white and black students. A school system rooted in anti-black racism, discriminatory discipline and discrepancies in quality of education are factors that will be further examined in order to understand the role the pipeline plays in moving black youth directly to juvenile facilities and prisons.

School System Rooted in Anti-Black Racism

Critical race theory states that racism is a “normal and ingrained feature of our landscape” because racial privilege and related oppression are deeply established from both our history and our law (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). The legal formation of race has produced systemic economic, political and social advantages for whites (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). The abolition of slavery did not abolish the hidden racism in the law, but rather, created new methods of redirecting the law in favor of whites (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008).

The ideal instructor in society is one that has the ability to teach without bias or influence from the educational systems; One that would provide equal and substantial instruction to all students. Evidently this is not the case, as societal hierarchies and power dynamics based on race play too strong of an influence. The majority of instructors today in the United States are white women. These instructors often enter the education system with preconceived notions regarding students of colour and of low socioeconomic status (Irizarry 2010). Their curriculum reflects this idea and reinforces these stereotypical identities rather than challenge concepts of discrimination and oppression (Irizarry 2010). Due to this traditional Western mindset, many teachers are aversively racist. Aversive racists claim that they do not hold prejudice based on race however subconsciously feel unease towards people of colour (Irizarry 2010). Since instructors are unaware of their ineffectiveness in the classroom, it is difficult for change to occur in these institutions. The products of aversive racism in the classroom are disparities in the discipline and teaching of white students compared to students of colour.

Discriminatory Discipline

The school to prison pipeline flows in one direction. When black students are involved in the criminal justice system, it is difficult for them to re-enter the education system. There are policies set in place that encourage police presence at schools as well as harsher tactics, and automatic punishments that result in suspensions (Teaching Tolerance 2015). These “tough on crime” policies are large contributors to the flow of the pipeline (Teaching Tolerance 2015). Studies show that African Americans have a higher chance of suspension, expulsion and arrest than white students (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). Black students only make up 16% of the overall juvenile population in the United States yet make up 45% of juvenile arrests (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). When students of colour and white students commit the same offence, students of colour have a higher chance of being suspended, expelled or arrested for committing the same act (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). For example, in 2006 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Native American students claiming discriminatory discipline towards these groups of students (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). They alleged that it is was three times more likely for a Native American student to be suspended and twelve times more likely for them to be reported to the police, than a white student (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). The ACLU found many instances in which discriminatory discipline occurred (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). For example, a Native American student was arrested for putting a white student in a headlock and stating “he would break his neck”. However, a white student told a Native American girl that he wanted to “kill Indians” and see her “blood all over” and was not arrested (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). In another example, regarding the case of Sherpall v. Humnoke School District No. 5, the federal court found that the Arkansas school district discipline system was racially discriminatory (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). Teachers in Arkansas referred to black students as “niggers”, “blue gums”, and “coons” (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). It has been argued that higher rates of expulsions for students of colour may correlate to high rates of bad behaviour in school (Skiba et al. 2002). If so, the disparity in punishments would not be of racial bias (Skiba et al. 2002). Since there have been no such studies investigating this theory, one cannot argue that high rates of disruptive behaviour is valid reasoning for the disproportionality in punishments (Skiba et al. 2002).

The aversive racists placed in a teaching position, though subconscious, feel unease towards students of colour. These teachers have preconceived notions of blackness being threatening and dangerous due to an inherent fear of black people. This has been reinforced through a singular narrative that describes a monolithic black experience. They have a deep rooted fear of black students: a result of our country being built on the foundation of anti-black racism. In order to eliminate the threat of black students in the school permanently, they are lead into prisons by any means possible. As previously discussed, this includes more tough-on-crime policies and harsher disciplinary action. The close surveillance of poor black neighborhoods by police is a strategic way to target these communities and schools. As a result of white supremacy, black folks live in conditions that have made them more vulnerable to criminal activity and arrest. Discriminatory discipline can be considered a leading contributor to the school to prison pipeline ultimately resulting in a higher incarceration rate of black individuals. Discriminatory discipline is only a factor because of the creation of aversive racists due to an anti-black racist rooted education system. If anti-black racism could be eliminated from the education system, it is possible to greatly decrease the overall flow of the pipeline.

Discrepancies in Quality of Education

Higher incarceration rates are a combination of “tough-on-crime” policies in the criminal justice system and a lack of quality education that provides needed skill for employment (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Hirschi’s control theory states that society is a set of institutions that act to control and regulate rule-breaking behaviour (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). If an individual is bonded to society and conventional activities, they will not engage in crime (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). People abide by the law because they are tied to conventional society by social bonds; Social bonds are the degree to which an individual is integrated into the ideals and social ties of the community (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). The weaker the social bonds, the more likely an individual is to engage in crime (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). The lack of involvement in conventional activities results in a higher chance of crime participation (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). Unemployment due to a lack of education will decrease the degree to which an individual is involved in these conventional activities (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). As a result, one is more likely to engage or be exposed to criminal activity (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). Studies have shown that schools with large populations of black students have fewer resources than schools serving mostly white students (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Minority students are often segregated within schools and are targeted more as a result (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Many of these schools are so overpopulated that they have a more complex schedule that shortens school days and school years (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Exclusion from the classroom disrupts the student education and removes them from a structured environment, which can increase the likelihood for deviant behaviour (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). The most unequal education system lies in the United States as it provides students with significantly different learning opportunities based on social status (Hammond-Darling 2005). For example, Goudy Elementary School in Chicago which served mainly African American students, used fifteen-year-old textbooks, did not have any science labs, art or music teachers, and had two working bathrooms for 700 students (Hammond-Darling 2005). In the neighbouring town of New Tier that is 98% white, they provided its high school students with superior labs, up to date technology, multiple gyms and an Olympic pool (Hammond-Darling 2005). Also in 2001, students in California’s most segregated minority school were five times more likely to have under qualified teachers than those in predominantly white schools (Hammond-Darling 2005). Attention to these systematic differences is vital to improve the overall education system. If people do not recognize that students have different realities based on their social status, policies will continue to be created on the notion that it is the students, not the school circumstances that are the root of the unequal education.

White supremacy is the belief that white people should control society due to the belief that they are superior to all races. It is critical to also note that this belief of superiority is upheld by different systems of oppression such as patriarchy, capitalism and heteronormativity1. As mentioned previously, racial privilege and related oppression are ingrained features of our history and therefore are ingrained features of our present. White people dominating our society includes them dominating our education system.

1. A worldview that promotes heterosexuality as normal or preferred sexual orientation. The way in which gender and sexuality are separated categories based on a hierarchy.   

As a result, it is predestined that whites should have a better education than all other races. This includes better teachers, teaching facilities and materials. Education lays the foundation for the direction of people’s lives; it is necessary for social, political and economic participation. Since the system is created in order for white people to have the best education, they are technically the only race “fit” to participate in society. That leaves the rest, namely the black population, uneducated and therefore unable to participate. With this criteria, only one system is deemed “appropriate” for black individuals to contribute to: the prison system.

The school to prison pipeline is a main contributor to the over-representation of black people in the prison system. There is a discrepancy between the degree of discipline and quality of education between white and black students. Programs are being put in place in order to abolish the structure of the education system. For example, the Cradle to Prisons Pipeline is a campaign to reduce detention and incarceration by increasing support and services that are a necessity for children (Children’s Defense Fund 2015). This includes access to quality early childhood development, education services and accessible health and mental health programs (Children’s Defense Fund 2015). The Black Community Crusade for Children (BCCC) also aims to dismantle the pipeline through education by expanding programs like Freedom Schools designed for black students (Children’s Defense Fund 2015). The Black Lives Matter movement also inspires communities to fight against the school to prison pipeline as an example of structural racism (Rethinking Schools 2015). When oppressive power structures that are structural and institutionalized are ignored, the over representation of black people in prisons is normalized (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). When the law ignores racism, black people continue to be abused, manipulated and exploited while the structural persistence of racism is ignored (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). In society it is important that we aim to establish equity as opposed to equality. Equality disregards power dynamics that are prevalent in society (ie. white supremacy, anti-black racism, etc.) and seeks to treat everybody the same. We must learn to recognize and navigate through these relationships. Ultimately the school to prison pipeline is rooted in anti-black racism. This must be fully addressed and eradicated to fix the system permanently.

References

Brewer, Rose M., and Nancy A. Heitzeg. 2008. “Racialization of Crime and Punishment: Criminal Justice, Color-Blind Racism, and the Political Economy of the Prison Industrial Complex.”American Behavioral Scientist 51(5): 625-644.
Children’s Defense Fund. 2015. “Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign”. Last Modified November 2015. http://www.childrensdefense.org/campaigns/cradle-to-prison pipeline/?referrer=https://www.google.ca/
Gender and Education Association. 2011. “What is heteronormativity”. Last Modified November 2015. http://www.genderandeducation.com/issues/what-is-heteronormativity/
Hammond-Darling, Linda., Joy A. Williamson., and Maria E. Hyler. 2007. “Securing the Right to Learn: The Quest for an Empowering Curriculum for African American Citizens. The Journal of Negro Education 76(3): 281-296.
Hammond-Darling, Linda. 2004. “The Color Line in American Education: Race, Resources, and Student Achievement.”Du Bois Institute for African American Research 1(2): 213-246.
Irizarry, Jason M. 2010. “Redirecting the teacher’s gaze: Teacher education, youth surveillance and the school-to-prison pipeline.” Teaching and Teacher Education 26(5): 1196-1203.
Kim, Catherine., Daniel J. Losen., and Damon T. Hewitt. 2010. The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Structuring Legal Reform, 34-50. New York: New York University Press.
O’Grady, William. 2011. “Classical Sociological Explanations of Crime”. In Crime in Canadian Context: Debates and Controversies, Second Edition, 88-115. Oxford University Press: Toronto.
Oxfrod Dictionaries. 2015. “Heteronormative”. Last Modified November 2015. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/heteronormative
Rethinking Schools. 2015. “Black Students’ Lives Matter: Building the school-to-justice pipeline.” Last Modified November 2015. http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/29_03/edit293.shtml
Skiba, Russel J., Robert S. Michael, Abra C. Nardo., and Reece L. Peterson. 2002. “The Color of Discipline: Sources of Racial and Gender Disproportionality in School Punishment.” The Urban Review 34(4): 317-342.
Teaching Tolerance. 2015. “The School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Last modified March 2013. http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-43-spring-2013/school-to-prison

Black and white Headshot of Chinwe smiling

Chinwe Nwebube is a second year Nigerian-Canadian student majoring in Human Kinetics at the University of Guelph. She currently acts as the Communications and Promotions Officer on the CJ Munford Centre Collective, a center for racialized students on the University of Guelph campus. After witnessing the outburst of racism that took place after an on campus rally in the fall, she was motivated to further investigate institutionalized racism. This resulted in her writing this essay about anti-black racism within the education system and its contribution to the over representation of black people in the prison system.

Coming Home: An Interview With Tina Reynolds

by Savannah Taylor

I had the privilege of chatting with Tina for the second time for The Peak about her work with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in the state of New York. My intention upon interviewing her was to chat on what has led her to where she is today. Admittedly, I expected a play-by-play account of all the brilliant advocacy work she has done. However, what ensued touched on something much more beautiful and something many of us can relate to… Family and sisterhood.

Do you wanna introduce yourself and what you do?

Tina: I am the co-founder and chair of WORTH (Women On the Rise Telling Her Story), which is a volunteer organization that is led and run by currently and formerly justice-involved women. We’ve been around since 2008, and we’ve done some phenomenal things, like changing legislation and policy and bringing about laws that impact women who have experienced incarceration. Two years ago, I began working at The Child Center of NY to develop and implement A Vision for Tele-Visiting (AVTV), a program that offers the logistical, emotional, and wraparound support to assists families in maintaining meaningful relationships during a parent’s incarceration and preparing for a successful reentry into family and community life. We provide reentry support, family support along with youth activities, leadership development and tele-visits, as well as mental health support and wraparound services, such as job placement assistance and benefits counseling. The Child Center has a powerful community presence, reaching more than 26,000 children a year. It’s located in Queens, NY, which includes neighborhoods where the numbers of children impacted by parental incarceration are among the highest.   What better place to offer services to children with justice-involved mothers?

So WORTH, from what I remember from the last time we chatted, came out of your own experiences from being incarcerated, correct?

Tina: Yes! WORTH came out of the experiences that I had and many other women had from our incarceration. We came out of prison with a feeling that there was not much ready for us to become successful and remain out in the free world. So, we began by having conversations amongst ourselves to see how we could support each other and support our sisters coming home.

Did you wanna touch more on your new program that WORTH is focusing on now?

Tina: We are focused on our partnership with The Child Center to provide services through AVTV, which in turn focuses on mothers and children within New York State Facilities, for women in NYC who are housed in Bedford and Taconic correctional facilities. We also offer tele-visiting services within Rikers Island’s Rose M. Singer Center for women, where we offer services to families, youth, and mothers with children. There is this tele-visiting boom happening within the nation, and not all programs are thinking about the relationship between the child or family member and the justice-involved person. Here in New York, there are organizations like The Osborne Association, Hour Children, and The Child Center who always put the child first, and honour the relationship between the child and his or her parent.

It is important to offer supplemental services to physical visits–although it is very important for children to see, feel, and touch their parent through physical visits–in addition to offering families a safe space to heal and move forward with their lives. We have three sites in Queens and a tele-visit can basically be done every day. We facilitate visits in Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities, as well as Rose M. Singer centre in Rikers Island 1.


1. Westchester, Bedford, Taconic and Rikers Island are all prisons located in the Tri-State Area

It’s interesting because the program originally started out with the focus on just the state facilities, but after talking with the CEO of The Child Center, Traci Donnelly, she agreed we should offer tele-visiting to women with children because there was the possibility of continuation of services if Mom was transferred up state. She also envisioned us working with youth and opening visits up to families.

Before you were with WORTH and before you started organizing, who was Tina? What was Tina up to?

Tina: (laughs) well that’s a long time ago. I really did not know who I was; I knew who I wanted to be, though. I knew I wanted to help women and children. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, so I became involved in an organization and began sharing my story about my experience as an incarcerated woman. I had been home for about 12 months? I began pursuing an undergraduate degree and raising my last two children and reuniting with my other children, changing my life through the love of others and being really grateful for being out. So my primary focus was on my family because I have seven children and I’d been out of their lives for so long. In the first 5 years, my efforts were to basically reunify with my own children. To establish a relationship with them or assist them with establishing a relationship with each other. They were raised by various family members throughout the tri-state area…so they were pretty much dispersed throughout New York and New Jersey. Reunification is difficult and challenging. I had to swallow my pride, be strong, give voice to my emotions, and remain humble. My main focus was for my children to have a relationship with each other, grow and live happy lives. I am happy my family stepped in and supported them through my incarcerations.

It sounds like you had a very solid foundation of focusing on your family unit. Did that carry over to your advocacy work and WORTH?

Tina: It certainly carried over. My family experiences through my incarceration and the unification process with my children certainly intersected with my work. I often found myself speaking with sisters who had experienced the same situations and the challenges of unification with their own families and children. They were facing the challenges of the choices their family members had made who were taking care of their children in their absence. So, I always wanted to make sure I focused on those issues in regard to reproductive health but also family stability once Mom came home. Because it’s so important! Mothers tend to think about their children during their incarceration. They think and wonder about their safety and who their friends are and whether they’re faring well and things that they have missed as far as conversations–as well as, the “firsts” in any child’s life; regardless of how old they are, there are always “firsts” that happen in your child’s life that you are definitely missing if you are incarcerated and you can’t get those times back. So, I’ve always been about doing the work but also realizing that there are challenges around re-establishing relationships with those you love. And continuing to strengthen those relationships as you are out, being true to yourself and asking your children to be true to themselves and coming up with some specific guidelines of how you would engage with them and how to be with them. Since you being there physically is such a big missing in their lives during incarceration, even if you see them regularly, speak with them regularly during your incarceration, you are still not there. Each one of my children are different people and each one of them have/had different needs. While they wanted me in their lives, there were certain things that they wanted from me and I had to realize my own limitations. Not always monetarily, but emotionally, because as I was growing through my process of being home, I was also growing through my process emotionally   of being the person who I am today. I hadn’t really spent that much time learning who I was, and so I could do things but I wasn’t attached to the emotion behind the things I did.   I wanted to be attached to the emotion; those were the most difficult challenges because I had spent so much time without feelings in order to survive in a very selfish and selfless world.

How do you feel like your communication/unification process has changed since you started your advocacy work to now?

Tina: Well, basically, so much has happened in my advocacy work in relation to my children. I’ve been an editor in an anthology, Interrupted Lives: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States, where I shared a story about my last daughter and reuniting when she was 20 years old. Now, some 9 years later, she is in my life and she has three children and is married. My other children have gotten married. My daughters were married first and have strong and stable relationships with their husbands. My sons are not married yet. My children and I have always communicated, and my communication is unique to each child. I speak with some more than others. However, we have always communicated. It has transformed over the years into a relationship of dignity and respect and love. My advocacy work is all my children see and know I do, they observe my commitment and dedication to others.   They are an integral part of my growth. Advocacy is an integral part of my growth, sisterhood is a big part of who I am.

Do you feel like WORTH is a place for women to come and rebuild things that have been lost or forgotten while they were incarcerated?

Tina: So even WORTH has transitioned and transformed into something different. We closed our office in Manhattan a few years back and now we’ve been working specifically on this tele-visiting. . Our mantra has always been “once you’re a member of WORTH you’re always a member of WORTH” because it’s a volunteer organization. Women were inspired and moved towards gaining employment and seeking a higher education while volunteering at WORTH. It’s always been a volunteer program and because of our movement women have gone on and done different phenomenal things for themselves in their lives. They come back and touch base and we end up being in certain spaces together. We were able to join as a group of women to the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls and the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples Movement. It is always inspiring to meet so many women across the nation who have been impacted by incarceration and gone on to do phenomenal things. So, WORTH has grown as I have grown, and it hasn’t looked like something that I wanted in the beginning, but when things transform, it’s just like relationships with your children. You have this idea of how this relationship is going to be. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s gonna turn out like that. So, how do you adjust to the ways in which it does turn out and how can you keep moving forward knowing that that’s your position in the world and that’s the purpose you’ve been placed here for? So, through the transition of WORTH, in many ways, it’s not where we were before, but what can we look like in the future? So working within the prison now, we’re looking at it from a perspective of having leadership coming out of the facilities we are offering services in. Having the women come in and join us in this process and guide us from that place (because we’ve been home a lot longer) where they see the impacts of incarceration on themselves and their families being different within this world of social media and technology. We have to give folks that are coming out a safe space and a chance to be fully self-expressed.

How would you describe WORTH now then? Is it still a sisterhood?

Tina: It is still a sisterhood! It is always and will always be a sisterhood of women. There are so many women who have been a part of WORTH that it will never not be a sisterhood. Because of our experiences–some of us have experienced incarceration together, gone through education together or organized together. So, it will never not be a sisterhood… We are continuing the work moving forward, we’re just doing it differently. It’s sort of transformed into something else.


Tina Reynolds
Tina Reynolds is Co-Founder and Chair of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH). WORTH is an association of formerly and currently incarcerated women who have been empowered by their own experiences while involved in the criminal justice system and beyond.  Reynolds has received a Master in Social Work from Hunter College and is currently an adjunct professor at York, CUNY in the Behavioral Sciences Department teaching “Impact of Incarceration on Families, Communities and Children” and Human Development.

Transformative Communities

A Conversation with Tina Reynolds

By: Savannah Clarke

Tina Reynolds was in Guelph on February 24th to speak on a Transformative Justice panel to explore the work that herself and other Black women are doing in their communities to keep each other safe, to resist police violence, and build alternatives to prisons. She took some time to sit down with our interviewer Savannah and share some knowledge.

Savannah: Can you start off with your name and some background on what you do and who you are?

Tina: My name is Tina Reynolds and I am a social worker, a junk-lecturer, I live in Brooklyn, New York. I teach at York College in New York City in the behavioural science department and I’ve been doing that for ten years. I have experienced being in prison and I have been an activist and advocate for over twenty years. Advocating for women, children and families and specifically changing the perception of women as they’ve been impacted by the criminal justice system

S: So what is the importance of meaningful relationships in the work that you do?

T: In 2004, we started an organization called Women on the Rise Telling Her Story (WORTH). One of the things that we did for our first strategic meeting was to make an agreement amongst ourselves that our relationships as women who have been impacted by the criminal justice system mattered and had to be put first. That we were stepping out and doing something that was very unique. We were collaborating with our sisters whom we had left behind. Within our own lives we were making a way for them to be able to have some stability once they returned. So, our relationships in establishing those conversations moved towards a co-creative, inclusive, collaborative vision of the organization and the way at which we would do our advocacy work. We knew many people working within the human services and criminal justice services. Some of us had gone back to school and received our degrees. We saw that the resources that were most valuable were ourselves and that we could actually leverage some opportunities for our sisters coming home through our positions in the work that we were doing. The relationships we established in these organizations and amongst ourselves became really important and vital in us assisting women and being there as a resource for when they came home. So relationships are really important.

S: It sounds like it sort of builds the foundation for your organization?

T: Absolutely. We built a foundation and moved through our relationships differently. We’ve all had our experiences that were different from our prison experiences. Within those prison experiences that we had, we came with our own individual passion around the impact and effects of our own prison experience. WORTH was never a mono-issue organization. We always held up and offered opportunities for women and saw that there was an need for dignity and for understanding for how every women served their time and how it is that they came home and what it was that impacted them the most and what drove them to do this work from a passionate place. Usually it was an issue that impacted them terribly during their incarceration that they fought really hard and adamantly for when they came home.

S: Earlier you mentioned your sisters and doing work for those that have been left behind, how do center the voices of those who have been most marginalized in our communities? More specifically from your perspective on working with women in prisons.

T: The organization is called Women on the Rise Telling Her story. It’s our her-story, it’s our linage, our story. Our stories are so important and they can mean different things for different people. What we’ve done with centering our stories is allow ourselves to be seen as experts and to see ourselves in dignity. We’ve been able to see ourselves as women who have had the prison experience and most importantly are not those experiences that we’ve had. We’ve taken our experiences, shaped and molded them to be shared with other people in ways that could be used for presentations, literature, journals, books and poetry. We make sure that we are in the centre of that and how we get that place is an understanding that it is necessary to be fully self-expressed. Full self-expression comes about in many different ways. We’ve centered our voices through full self expression, the dignity offered through others and it’s putting the story in the center.

When we use to open up our office in the morning, we would come in and the first thing we did was sit around a table that was in the middle of the kitchen, in our office in Manhattan. Now our office in is Queens but that Manhattan office was so special to the needs that we had as women. There were times when would come in and we would sit around the table and debrief from the day before of our organizing efforts or whatever it was that we were working on. Often times we didn’t start working until after noon because we just had the need to be in conversation, to hear each others voices and opinions. To find out about what mattered, our children, our challenges and barriers. From one issue to the next, we committed ourselves to doing better and dedicate ourselves to the issue and what is of our passion. They were really great times.

S: So, you mentioned earlier that you own your experiences and that you get to shape and decide how they are used. How do you work to change the narrative of how people see prisons in our communities?

T: For myself, I think that the narrative of prisons had to change from a place where I felt like I was being rescued when I sought out resources after prison. The idea that I had was that prisons were a place of punishments and that notion stands today. It is within our society that we rely on this particular environment to punish people, rehabilitate people and a place where it is politically entangled within various things in our society. It is part of a system that takes the freedom away from people. [However], it is also part of a system that takes the freedom and life of those that are in our communities. It makes [people in our communities] bound to that particular system. If there is a person they love within, they cannot live their lives as if it does not exist. The prison narrative, for me, is looking at it from the context of what has been done to brown and black people throughout our history.This is an environment, a place and a space specifically for those same things to happen under the guise of punishing because someone has committed a crime. Often times the idea of crime is one where there has not been a crime committed at all. There has been more of an issue of criminalizing of people. So, when we think about the things people do and the reason why they were arrested for things that they do is because we have not held our systems of the way in which we are policed, the department of corrections and other systems that prohibit us from being full human beings – have not been held accountable. We have not asked them questions, taken lead or held our power. As long as we continue to not take our power we have a narrative where we feel it is necessary to have prisons within our community and within our lives. I believe in prison abolition. I think there is a way for us to end incarceration. I believe there are ways for us to heal and have difficult conversations. I believe that there are people who commit crimes and I think we should have equality around that. If the rules bend for one, we have to understand that they are stronger and more stringent than the other. So we have those two paradoxes to look at. The conversation around punishment is more important in our society, I think, then the narrative of prisons and what they stand for.

S: What are some challenges that you’ve faced in the work that you do and how did you overcome these challenges?

Tina: The challenge of the work is being at peace with women. Working with women, for me, was the biggest challenge. It was one that I did with joy and I still do with joy. It is that humility that needs to be full and in the center. It is checking ones’ self and your intention. It’s the debriefing and being able to listen to others. As well as, truly being inclusive. It is being able to apologize, rededicate and recommit yourself to being a stand for what it is that you are doing and for those that you are doing it with. Knowing that you need to be a good follower as well as a good leader.

S: My final questions is, do you have any advice for our generation when working on this movement? We’ve talked a lot about exchange of knowledge, how do we build this movement that is intergenerational?

Tina: When I first started college, I always thought about the intergenerational impact of mass incarceration. Now I know that there is an intergenerational impact of mass criminalization of a people, on black lives specifically. When I first heard of #blacklivesmatter, I thought about how it was that all lives mattered and I was excluding myself again. [This is because] Inside, around the trauma that I’ve experienced it’s always been about exclusion of self and inclusion of others and not looking at myself, specifically as a black woman, as my life mattering. I’ve had to take that on in many instances that I’ve had to do this activism work where I’ve had this internalized fear. So, the intergenerational aspect of moving this movement forward, because it’s not a new movement, is including all black and brown people. It is the inclusion of all black lives. It’s the inclusion of all women, trans and queer women. It’s the inclusion of all folks that have been oppressed and dehumanized. It’s the inclusion of trans folks, queer folks, youth and their voices. It’s the inclusion of having folks being able to create and imagine, what it might look like that’s different. It is not being ashamed of what it is you’ve done as a person [ but instead] having it propel you to be fearless of the shame and the guilt. And to understand, especially young folks, that these conversations are happening with all people. Showing up in different spaces is not something that is thought about or planned…it’s happening. The universe is answering and offering. It is creating a space for these conversations, meetings and connections to be made because it’s really important. A friend of mine has always said to me what is very integral to activism are the three C’s. They are to have clarity, remain capable, and maintain compassion. So, the three C’s, for me, are those things. To be really clear and to sit down and be still and to think about what it is that I need to do next and how it is that I’m transforming… as well as other things are transforming around me. Being patient, loving, kind, consistent, available, flexible, a person that is listening, a person that is hearing and involved. Just being.


Tina Reynolds
Tina Reynolds is Co-Founder and Chair of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH). WORTH is an association of formerly and currently incarcerated women who have been empowered by their own experiences while involved in the criminal justice system and beyond.  Reynolds has received a Master in Social Work from Hunter College and is currently an adjunct professor at York, CUNY in the Behavioral Sciences Department teaching “Impact of Incarceration on Families, Communities and Children” and Human Development.