I wanted to write this post during VeganMoFo 2013 as it's something I've been thinking about a lot over the last year or so as I've become more aware of vegan issues and animal rights, and last week the blog post I read from the Crabby Crafter about her prison-style serving plates finally prompted me into action.
Those who know me in person will be aware that I am a political activist, although so far I have predominantly active with peace and environmental campaigns rather than vegan/animal rights ones, and this shapes a large part of my life. So much so, in fact, that my research project for my PhD, which I am currently about halfway through, involves interviewing activists in Scotland for their life stories and then working with these to understand more about their lives and campaigns. Some of the activists that I have interviewed have spent time in prison, although most have not. Despite the fact that going to prison is not something that I plan to do at any time in the near or indeed distant future, hearing about other people's experiences has really prompted me to consider how vegans may cope in prison.
Here in the UK, the Vegan Prisoners' Support Group (VPSG) exists, in their own words, to provide "help, support, and information for vegans detained either in police custody or within the prison system in the United Kingdom", working closely with the Vegan Society. They produce regular booklets and guides for both prisoners and prison staff about vegan philosophy and practice which may affect their incarceration, as well as an occasional newsletter. They are an excellent organisation and one well worth supporting!
There are other ways that you can support vegan prisoners without necessarily giving money, though. Whilst as far as I am aware there are currently no animal rights prisoners being held in the UK, there are a number currently being held in the USA, including Marie Mason, Eric McDavid, Steve Murphy, Justin Solondz and Walter Bond (clicking each of their names will take you to their current support page). Regardless of whether you agree with their campaign aims or choice of tactics, I hope that you would agree that they should have the right to access vegan food in prison, as well as vegan clothing, personal care and other items. Recently there has been a campaign to ensure that recently imprisoned animal rights activists Kevin Olliff and Tyler Lang in Illinois have access to vegan supplies and particularly vegan food, which has already begun to show some signs of success. Each of the support pages gives a number of different ways in which you can help support these activists whilst they are in prison.
Personally, I like to write letters to prisoners. I don't just write to animal rights prisoners; I also write to people imprisoned for peace actions such as anti-nuclear protests, for example, and people imprisoned over human rights issues, such as during Amnesty International's annual 'Write for Rights' campaign. Every person who I have ever spoken to about being in prison for what they feel is a matter of conscience, whether they are someone I have met through my research or through activism or letter writing has said the same thing: that being in prison can feel incredibly isolating and hard, and receiving correspondence of any kind, even just a short postcard or greetings card, can really make their day.
It really does just take a few minutes to write to a prisoner, and I sincerely encourage you to give it a try, wherever you are in the world. If you're interested in doing so, I've included a few links below to help you get started:
- SchNews: DIY Guide to Writing to Prisoners
- Vegan Prisoners Support Group
- Animal Liberation Front Supporters' Group (maintains a list of animal rights prisoners in the UK and abroad)
- Bite Back Magazine (maintains a list of animal rights prisoners)
- Brighton Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) (one of the most frequently updated UK ABC sites which maintains a list of contacts for political prisoners around the world)
- Amnesty International's 'Write for Rights' campaign