For the past couple of months, Madison resident and teacher, Moses Prasad has been holding a weekly protest on Wednesday afternoons in front of the Capitol Corn Popper (127 State Street) to draw attention to proposals for a new Dane County Jail. Now that it’s winter, the protests take place on Saturdays at 1 pm. Prasad started this practice shortly after the Dane County Sheriff’s office released the results of a study both indicating a need for new or renovated jail facilities and outlining plans for building. Many Dane County residents, like Prasad and also Teresa Uyen Nguyen, a UW post-doctoral fellow and coordinator for LGBT Books to Prisoners, who regularly joins him at the protest, believe a new jail is a bad idea. I asked Prasad and Nguyen a few questions to get an idea about why they are doing this weekly protest.
1. First, tell me a little bit about yourselves.
Moses Prasad (MP): I’m a concerned citizen who wants our government to respond to our community needs. I’ve lived in Wisconsin most of my life so I know our history. I’m a life long educator and professional teacher, too.
Teresa Uyen Nguyen (TN): Like Moses, I am a concerned citizen. I want to inform and engage our community about this issue. I’m a social science researcher too.
2. Why did you decide to start doing this weekly protest?
MP: We want to engage the public in this conservation and inform people about the issue as it is currently debated by our government. The criminal justice system has been tearing apart families and shaming them sometimes for very little misbehavior.
TN: I started protesting with Moses to support the effort of increasing our community’s understanding and engagement with this issue. I think our government’s plans to put more money into locking up members of our community is unjust, oppressive, and misguided. The government, in partnership with the community, can better serve and support its members through more just and racially equitable alternatives to incarceration.
3. What’s your primary message?
MP: Look at what’s happening. Three out of 100 adults are dealing with the criminal justice system (on probation, parole or in jail or prison.) We have continually been locking up more and more people for almost 40 years while the crime rate has been the same or LOWER. We’ve decided to lock up people for drug abuse and called it a “War.” And now its about economics. It’s said that the “prison system has become more about economic factors than criminality.” It’s a system going out of control and eating up a lot more of our resources. And institutional racism is in all parts of the criminal justice system. It may very well be the clearest example of racism in Wisconsin.
4. Who are the kinds of people you’ve been able to talk with while doing it?
MP: Mostly people who are the most informed will communicate with us. Others who have been involved with the system or have family in the system. Some who see tax dollars going into a system are tired of the increases in the budget. It’s amazing how supportive people are of us when we protest.
5. Why is it important for ordinary people to engage in these kinds of actions?
MP: Having a voice in our community and government is a healthy response for each individual. Telling publicly our community, government officials and neighbors of our thoughts, wishes, demands, hopes and dreams is the beginning of changing things for the better. The criminal justice system is now considered by many to be unjust. Ordinary people are feeling the injustice in this system. To take actions against an unjust system is the right thing to do.
If you’re interested in joining the weekly protest, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or show up on a Saturday at 1 pm.