In prisons across the U.S., people use something called a kite to communicate. They fold up forms or scraps of paper and communicate their requests to prison administrators. This video is part of a larger installation art project to raise awareness of the suffering imposed upon incarcerated women and people at Huron Valley Women’s Prison in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Siwatu-Salama Ra was forced to give birth while incarcerated and she shared her experiences of pregnancy, birthing, and struggle to breastfeed her son through written kites, electronic messages, and phone calls. She also helped gather kites of experiences from other women and people inside to get the word out about inhumane conditions at the women’s prison.
In addition, people inside Women’s Huron Valley have been writing to us about their visions for a Michigan focused on healing and transformation, not perpetual punishment. And, their visions for what would make conditions at the overcrowded women’s prison better, NOW.
Kites on Kites: Shadow to Sky
1. A toy consisting of a light frame with thin material stretched over it, flown in the wind at the end of a long string.
2. Prison terminology for a written message-- whether a letter, a torn piece of paper, or a medical form. Kites are the primary tool of communication between people who are incarcerated, as well as the formal way to express needs and concerns to prison authorities.
Kites on Kites: Shadow to Sky is a multimedia installation that combines writing, publication, print, sculpture, video, and sound. It is an ongoing collaborative project between Detroit artist-activist collective Complex Movements and Detroit activist Siwatu-Salama Ra and the Freedom Team.
For this installation, Siwatu’s written kites that she sent from prison are superimposed on the sculptural form of box kites traditionally flown in the sky. Video footage includes Siwatu’s first reactions to witnessing the kites after her release from prison.
The concept is inspired by Siwatu’s words and experiences while unjustly incarcerated. Siwatu was imprisoned while pregnant and forced to give birth under the watch of armed prison guards. Siwatu is now all the way free and continuing her fight to liberate and advocate for all others impacted by the injustice system. The Kites on Kites project aims to amplify Siwatu’s reflective writings while imprisoned, as well as the voices of others who are incarcerated pregnant mothers, women, parents, and caregivers.
Brief history and background
Huron Valley Women’s prison has been chronically overcrowded for the last 6 years. In addition, the number of people being sent to prison who are pregnant has been on the rise. The coalition working to address these problems is united in the belief that prisons are not conducive to healing, transformation, or accountability. People who find elements of those concepts do so in spite of prison, not because of it. We are working toward creating the community care necessary to truly deflect and divert pregnant people and caregivers of children from prison and jails.
In all actuality, prisons foster the conditions for abuse, neglect, and misuse of power. In overcrowded prisons, these problems are exacerbated and the conditions become unsafe and difficult for the people who are caged and the staff who are responsible for keeping them caged.
While we build on community power toward a world without prisons, we are committed to making sure people who are incarcerated are treated with as much kindness, respect, and recognition of our shared humanity as possible.
Senator Erika Geiss has worked diligently with us to develop legislation that will directly address the treatment of imprisoned pregnant people and create a mechanism for community oversight at Michigan’s one women’s prison.