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Fight Toxic Prisons Group Holds Fourth Annual Convergence In Gainesville This Weekend

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The fourth annual Fight Toxic Prisons Convergence will be held in Gainesville from Friday through Monday.

Panagioti Tsolkas, co-founder of Fight Toxic Prisons, said they chose Gainesville because of the number of prisons in north Florida.

“North Florida is also a place where prisoners have been very active and organizing to push back against (the abuse),” he said. 

Each day’s events will take place at a different location. Friday will be at the Civic Media Center and Saturday at Gator Wesley. While Sunday morning’s location is still unknown, the convergence will be at the MLK Center in the evening. Monday’s events will take place at the Alachua County Jail.

The convergence will include various free events, such as speakers, panels, workshops, protests and cultural activities, ending with the Father’s Day Bailout.

The first Fight Toxic Prisons Convergence in 2016 was held in Washington, D.C. In 2017, it was in Texas, and in 2018, Pittsburgh was the host city. Tsolkas said the average turnout for the convergences is about 200 to 300 people.

Activists at the Fight Toxic Prisons Convergence in Washington, D.C. in 2016. (Jordan Mazurek/Fight Toxic Prisons)

Registration opens at 10 a.m. on Friday at the Civic Media Center, and throughout the day attendees can go to presentations and workshops. The first day will end with the No Borders Fest where there will be music, poetry and guest speakers.

Breakfast will be served at 9 a.m. on Saturday at Gator Wesley followed by activities and break-out sessions. At 1 p.m. lunch is served, and prisoners have the opportunity to call-in to talk about their experience and tell their stories. Afterward, there will be more break-out sessions such as learning about prisoner solidarity during disasters, queer prisoner experiences, and many others. Dinner is at 6 p.m. with a call-in from Mumia Abu-Jamal, a political activist and journalist, and other guests. The last activity of the day is a variety show open mic, where anyone is welcome to show off their talent.

On Sunday, breakfast is at 9 a.m. followed by sessions and workshops about different issues that surround prisons. Lunch with prisoner call-ins will be at 1 p.m., and the workshops resume at 2 p.m. Attendees will gather at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Center by 6:30 p.m. for a capoeira demonstration before dinner at 7 p.m. The last event of the night will be OnaMOVE! A Story of Black Liberation, Love and Resilience where keynote speakers from the #MOVE9 crew will tell their stories.

The convergence ends Monday with the 352 Father’s Day/Juneteenth Bailout and Rally at 10 a.m. Breakfast will be provided at 8 a.m. prior to the rally at the Alachua County Jail.

An activist holds up a sign at the Fight Toxic Prisons Convergence in Washington, D.C. in 2016. (Jordan Mazurek/Fight Toxic Prisons)

According to the Facebook event page, the bailout and rally are launched in the spirit of our ancestors who fought for freedom. Fight Toxic Prisons is taking donations through donorbox.org. As of Wednesday, the organization raised $3,730.50 out of the $20,000 goal. The money raised goes toward paying the bail of those who can not afford it in Gainesville.

Margaret Bell-Watters, a mother that Fight Toxic Prisons has involved in its campaign, hopes that her 38-year-old son, Gerald Bell, will be able to come home after Monday’s bail-out and rally. Bell was arrested on March 20 on a felony drug trafficking charge and two misdemeanor possession charges, and his bail is set at $700.

“By having the conference (in Gainesville), we use that as one way to give a voice to prisoners,” Tsolkas said.

About Kylee Gates

Kylee Gates is a general assignment reporter for WUFT. She can be reached at news@wuft.org or (352)294-6397

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