February 15, 2014 at 5:02 AM

Onto-Cartographical Hope Springs Eternal

'It's also a most exciting time to be a prisoner-rights activist.'

By Frances Madeson

Written Word, Spoken Word

Creatively Searching for Dignity, Justice and Laughter in Unusual Places

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Levi Bryant's new book Onto-Cartography: An Ontology of Machines and Media is available for pre-order, which is very good news for activists everywhere. As the title indicates his original theoretical concept is a way to map being, maps that can help one to see things as they really are, and better locate the sites and pathways for possible change.
 
 
In his own words:
 
The “onto” of “onto-cartography” refers to the word “ontic,” from the Greek ὄντος, denoting materially existing entities, substances, or objects. “Cartography,” of course, is the practice of constructing or drawing maps. An onto-cartography would thus be a map or diagram of things—and more precisely things and signs–that exist within a field, situation, or world.
 
By “situation” or “world” I mean an ordered set of entities and signs that interact with one another. A world or situation is not something other than the externally related entities and signs within it, but is identical to these entities and signs.
 
Onto-cartography is thus not a map of space or geography—though we can refer to a “space of things and signs” in a given situation or field and it does help to underline the profound relevance of geography to this project insofar as onto-cartographies are always geographically situated–but is rather a map of things or what I call machines. In particular, an onto-cartography is a map of the spatio-temporal gravitational fields produced by things and signs and how these fields constrain and afford possibilities of movement and becoming.

(The whole of the talk can be found here for those of you like me who yearn for an affirming theory largely verifiable in one's own experience—lived, dreamt or imagined.)
 
Because what I'm mapping right now is the possibility of substantive change in New Mexico in various spheres—in ecosystems in which LamyLaBahada and the Ortiz Mountains are situated, all currently acutely at risk from the predations of oil & gas, basalt and gold mining industries, respectively. A second community meeting is scheduled in Lamy tonight with a thrilling agenda item: under consideration is the possibility of joining forces in a regional alliance. What is that but a kickass spatio-temporal gravitational field about to seriously constrain Power's usual moves?
 
It's also a most exciting time to be a prisoner-rights activist. Under the aegis of New Mexico Women's Justice Project a public meeting to strategize how most efficaciously to push back against the notional plan to expand the women's prison in Grants has been called. One Billion Rising Santa Fe has embraced our initiative and I will be speaking at the Roundhouse on V-DAY, adding my voice to others calling for justice and an end to violence against women in New Mexico. Our bold text (Bette Fleishman's and mine) will be included in the memorial resolution presented at Legislature.
 
Further we have been invited at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 19 to appear on The Julia Goldberg Show, a local politically-focused talk radio show hosted by the former editor of the Santa Fe Reporter. Under her editorial leadership the weekly newspaper published Fallen Woman, an exposé of the Women's Prison in Grants conducted in 2008 by Silva Talji, an important foundational layer upon which we can build.
 
In addition, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and ACLU of New Mexico released their joint study of the uses of solitary confinement in prisons and jails in New Mexico: INSIDE THE BOX. I have read the report in its entirety (it's only 18 pages) and their recommendations must be urgently put forward along with our demand that the RFP for the expansion of the Women's Prison in Grants never see the light of day!
 
From page 3 of their report:
 
New Mexico urgently needs to reform the practice of solitary confinement in its prisons and jails. The NMCLP and the ACLU-NM urge New Mexico to adopt the following reforms:

1. Increase transparency and oversight of the use of solitary confinement
2. Limit the length of solitary confinement to no more than 30 days
3. Mandate that all prisoners are provided with mental, physical and social stimulation
4. Ban the use of solitary confinement on the mentally ill
5. Ban the use of solitary confinement on children
 
Children!
 
Concerned that the Department of Corrections was not meaningfully addressing the documented suffering of the prisoners under their care, especially if the intention was to expand the women's prison, I phoned Steven Robert Allen, director of public policy of ACLU-NM. He assured me that the response was more nuanced and pointed me to the meeting minutes where Inside the Box was presented at Legislature and discussed. In Allen's view the fact that Corrections has brought in the VERA Institute to review the practices around solitary is an enormous positive. He told me that the department has already committed to a 50% near-term reduction in the use of solitary.
 
While welcome news of course, I wondered at the arbitrary number as opposed to a set of principles by which practice could be evaluated—what if 85% of prisoners currently languishing in solitary could justifiably be released, or 89%? What relevance would the 50% number have in that instance? Allen doesn't see it as a numbers game.
 
“VERA Institute has an amazing track record in achieving systemic change; I am somewhat optimistic about the commitment at the State level. Secretary Marcantell is taking positive steps in the right direction,” Allen said.
 
More worrisome to Allen are the 29 counties with detention facilities, jails and municipal lock-ups where basic data are not collected in a standard or uniform way.
 
“We do not have a homogeneous situation. We need a unified standard for use of solitary confinement at every level in New Mexico. Perhaps that is something that could be remedied by passage of a State law in the Legislature,” Allen said.
 
Judging from the November minutes, I wondered about semantics. “The counties are defining solitary in some Cool Hand Luke kind of way, where they throw a prisoner in a hole or something,” Allen explained. “So of course they can say, 'We don't have solitary in our jails.'”
 
But the $15.5 million jury award to Stephen Slevin who was confined to solitary in Dona Ana County for over two years and a suit settled with Valencia County this week resulting in an award to Jan Green of $1.6 million fly in the face of those demurrals.
 
And finally, another powerful site of onto-cartographical hope resides in Albuquerque. Young Women United has initiated a Kickstarter campaign–Everyday Struggles, Everyday Strength–to raise $2,000 to produce a short educational video about women and addiction, hoping to help reframe the issue of substance abuse away from criminality to a more rational response. This is a key component for our fight because 75% of the women in prison in Grants are there for non-violent drug charges. 
 
We hope to see you in Santa Fe on the 19th! Details below:
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