History. Joint Effort is a community group of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated folx and their allies involved in mutual solidarity and mutual aid within the prisoner and ex-prisoner community. Joint Effort started as a sub committee of the BC Federation of Women and has been going into the prisons designated for ‘women’ in the lower mainland since 1979. We have been part of decades of social justice movements – their rises and declines in moments of growth and moments of mere survival. Our collective strength and our ability to negotiate tough bureaucratic systems accounts for our endurance. Our diverse approaches allow us to get a lot done with limited resources. We are an independent group who do not accept state or church money, and this has taught us to connect and work meaningfully and purposefully, with limited financial resources.
Currently, Joint Effort includes members located in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. Each of us are contributing different work within our context as well as supporting the original group’s work in Vancouver.
“Joint Effort is exactly what prison abolition groups should be about … the women with lived experience determining the content and direction of the group. Of course, that’s an over-simplification, but I think its super important to put the women with lived experience in the driver’s seat!! I am not talking about myself here, but the women who’ve done time know what they need and what the experience is really like. Of course, everything is so much more complicated than I can put into words, but I do think the numero uno thing is giving the women with lived experience a voice. I always thought Joint Effort did that. J E asked the women inside FVI what they wanted the women visiting to do. So the women inside would determine the programming. I know arts and crafts would often be their wish and so it should be. They need an outlet for both their creativity and their frustrations.” – Ann Hansen, 2022
Joint Effort works to create connections between people in prison and various communities and organizations “outside” the prison. Historically, our work on the “inside” consists of organizing discussion groups, bringing in reading materials, various workshops and music, theatre and sports events. We have worked with the Inmate’s Committee and the Native Sisterhood to support their activities. In our weekly visits we created a space where people from “inside” and “outside” can communicate around issues of mutual interest, where respect and confidentiality are practiced and where people can speak their mind and be supported.
Joint Effort has also been involved in sharing knowledge gained from our work and experiences with imprisonment to the broader public as well as lobbying the government on various issues, most recently: covid, the floods in the lower mainland and the issue of reliability clearance.
Prison as a tool of oppression. We acknowledge that Join Effort’s work takes place are on traditional and ancestral territories that have legacies and protocol that do not allow for prisons. Prisons have been a key tool of colonization, capitalist and settler expansion, anti-Black and other racism, and oppress our individual selves and our communities. They brutally undermine Indigenous sovereignty. The enforcement of hierarchical power structures that disadvantage the unwaged and unhoused to the benefit of the other classes, and break apart low-income (intersectionally Indigenous, racialized, queer, Two Spirit, Trans, gendered, gender non-conforming and disabled) community’s capacity to support each other inter-relationally violates the natural law of existent beings: water, land, air, animals, humans, plants which are interconnected.
Our work supports a vision of community without prisons, recalling those times aside from the relatively recent past, when prisons were inconceivable.
Protesting Reliability Clearance. In 2018, the CSC instituted a new set of questions on the clearance forms needed for outside community members to be able to enter the prison. Joint Efforts response was to refuse to provide the info demanded on the new forms and thus stop going into the prison as a group (some individuals working with Joint Effort continued to go inside under the auspices of a different educational program). This new enhanced reliability clearance includes exceedingly invasive questions such as: finger prints, credit check, names of room mates, associates and family members, xxxxxx. This reliability clearance effectively excludes anyone in Joint Effort who does solidarity work with migrants and undocumented.The new reliability clearance has been effective in preventing many allies from being able to go into the prison. With the reliability clearance status, only economically privileged, white, fully documented people would be able to meet those requirements and we would allow ourselves to be classified and divided and conquered from people that this state targets. If your group only has white middle class people who don’t raise any red flags, then you are not truly a ‘community’ group.
The nature of advocacy and solidarity in a genocidal system is that we are always trying to get inside to break the isolation, to connect and form movements for justice and liberation from oppression – while the system is always trying to frame our involvement to support their system. There comes a point when our efforts to advocate and be inside are so co-opted that it undermines the fact that we come from and continue to support liberation movements.
Alongside the reliability clearance, the COVID-19 pandemic also has closed access to prisons and created a whole set of new issues facing prisoners. We want people inside to know we are thinking about them and advocating for mass release of prisoners in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. For these reasons, Joint Effort’s work has been limited to that which can be done from the “outside”. Most currently, Joint Effort’s work has been providing support for people coming out of prison, writing support letters, going to parole hearings, accessing and distributing resources, doing gatherings and discussion groups in public spaces. Joint Effort members also do research alongside prisoners in order to support their critical lived expertise of the penal system. Check out our projects page, blog and instagram for recent work that we are doing.
Committed to mutual aid Joint Effort recognizes the injustices of the capitalist system and how the financial privilege one person has is at the expense of another. Most of us, particularly white settlers, have a great debt to repay and our work doesn’t even begin to talk about this on the level of reparations.
The Future. Recently, there have been some changes made to the clearance requirements and Joint Effort is hopeful that invasive questions will be removed and that we will be able to enter the prison again, once covid restrictions are lifted.
As we continue with the Pen Pack/Out Pack project, Joint Effort has other projects that support artisans and the Inmate Committee inside FVI, and that support people transitioning out of prison at Anderson Lodge Halfway House. We are also doing a theatre project and co-writing for publication.
Article about Joint Effort by Meenakshi Mannoe: Supporting Joint Effort, Topia: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 43, 2021.