July 22, 2020
From all of us who have lived in a world that did not accommodate our disability, in a society that is not accepting of the skin we live in and for all of the times we have been misunderstood, we want you to know that we see you and we support you.
While the country has been grappling with both racial injustice and a national pandemic, it appears that you are directly facing the racism and ableism on an individual scale that the country needs to solve on a national level.
We believe you are a survivor of institutional violence and we are outraged that during a pandemic you and your mother were required to attend court in person and that you were put into an institutional setting. We are outraged that you were held to a different standard than your classmates, who also were not logging into online learning. While they did not participate you were held to a punishment of potential death from COVID-19 exposure. We are outraged that your disability was not accommodated in regards to the change to online learning or acknowledged in the reaction by Judge Mary Ellen Brennan. We cannot know for sure, but those of us that are white and disabled feel confident that for similar “crimes” we would not be called a “threat to (the) community” and we are all horrified at the racist violence enacted upon you as you navigate the juvenile justice system.
Furthermore, we are outraged that your sentence of no phone and no internet was not revisited even before entering the institutional setting. As humans, we all need connection and COVID-19 has been isolating for us all. When your initial punishment was delivered, you had socialized outside of your home by attending school. To isolate you from all of society by making you stay in your home with no connection to the outside world is cruel. We know we reached out to people outside our homes more during the stay at home orders. We know that we took up hobbies online. None of your crimes were internet related crimes. The goal was to hit you (a teenager) where it would hurt while on probation and that punishment should have been revisited when the stay at home order was enacted. We read you told your case worker you stayed up late online, we wonder, well, what else were you going to be doing?
On Monday, Judge Mary Ellen Brennan said you were “blooming” at the detention center and made the decision to keep you there. We are all too familiar with the use of violence against our disabled bodies in attempts by society to change our behaviors, with no regard to the harm that is inflicted. If Judge Mary Ellen Brennan wants you to “bloom” she can dig into the ground and uproot the long held ableist belief that controlling individuals with disabilities behaviors can be done with no regards to pain or danger inflected on our disabled bodies. She can pour nourishment into your home life, with a circle of support that addresses the barriers in your life. She can provide opportunities for therapy via Zoom. She can provide tutoring. She could ask the school to evaluate the delivery of education for students with disabilities.
For those contained inside a greenhouse which holds a high potential to contract a deadly virus, one blooms in spite of their surroundings due to their own determination to survive, not because they are caged.
We at Her Power! Her Pride! struggle to determine the best action to take to support you. So we write to say, Grace, we know we have not met, but we don’t need to in order to know what has happened to you is unjust. You matter.
Signed In Solidarity,
Her Power! Her Pride!
Her Power! Her Pride! works directly with teen girls with disabilities through a unique, four-day event designed to promote critical thinking about society’s messages, eliminate shame, develop leadership skills and encourage self-acceptance. This event is built on the best practices of the disability justice community and emerging research in female development, and goes beyond self-esteem programming to provide a venue for real self-empowerment. This event is ran by teen girls with disabilities and women with disabilities.
Background: As reported by ProPublica.org, Grace is a 15 year old young woman with disabilities that lives in Michigan. In May, a judge ruled that Grace had violated her probation by not completing her online coursework after her school had moved to remote learning. Grace has remained incarcerated since. In addition to being disabled, Grace is Black in a predominantly white community. On Monday, Judge Mary Ellen Brennan reviewed the case and determined that Grace would remain in the detention center until at least early September. The judge reportedly stated that Grace is “blooming” at the detention center and this indicates she is where she should be. She further added that by doing so it offers the opportunity to break the cycle of domestic violence the teen and her mother have been caught in for the last several years, in reference to the fact that there have been several reports of arguments that led to Grace scratching, biting or hitting her mother.
Image description: red square box with the text #freegrace across the top. bottom half of box has a drawing of arm with a fist in the air. Behind the fist drawing is a drawing of swirls in the corner is the Her Power! Her Pride! logo