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Remote exchanges of transformative justice

Student book club with Cook County Jail perseveres amid a global pandemic


Derek Potts
Derek Potts, an archives processing assistant at DePaul and liaison for the book club, picked up copies of "We Will Not Cancel Us: And Other Dreams of Transformative Justice" from a local bookstore to deliver to Cook Country Jail. (Image courtesy of Derek Potts)

DePaul's Students Against Incarceration's book club with Cook County Jail has faced challenges due to the pandemic. However, determined members and supporters are continuing to make the experience possible remotely.

“People see the book club as an engaging form of community building, so it's drawn more attention lately," says Anne Scoltock, a DePaul student and coordinator for the club.

Founded in 2017, the SAI student organization began its book club with CCJ during the 2017-18 school year. DePaul students are paired with CCJ book club counterparts to exchange thoughts on a text the club read together. SAI originally founded the book club to increase engagement between outside and inside community members beyond the Inside-Out-program and outside of a traditional classroom setting.

Scoltock, also a communications and research fellow at Parole Illinois, a coalition focused on changing perceptions and policies related to incarceration, notes the COVID-19 pandemic has ended almost all programming for incarcerated people in Illinois.

“Those at CCJ have been on lock down, with no time outside or other basic activities they had access to before," she says. “That's why SAI felt it was more important than ever to continue the book club during these times."

A silver lining to the club's current remote format is an increase in membership. Previously, only 10 DePaul members and 10 CCJ members could participate due to CCJ regulations regarding in-person meetings. By operating remotely, with all exchange happening strictly via email, the club has been able to double in size; 40 participants now share thoughts and conversation about the club's book choices.

This quarter, Blue Demons chose to read “We Will Not Cancel Us: And Other Dreams of Transformative Justice," by Adrienne Maree Brown. Once approved by the CCJ program coordinator, the Steans Center funded the books and Derek Potts, the club's liaison, delivered them to CCJ.

“As a member of the book club, I get to hear student experiences and as well as from those inside Cook County Jail," says Potts, an archives processing assistant in the DePaul University Library. In his role, Potts is responsible for the university's prison collection material. “It is interesting and rewarding to see their perspective on life in relation to the readings."

After DePaul and CCJ pairs are made, weekly reflections are collected and distributed accordingly. Discussion questions this quarter have included: Brown writes about “communicating without manipulation." What are barriers to this type of communication in your own world? How does communicating this way relate to “cancel culture?" What do you think about “cancel culture" and the way that Brown describes it?

SAI has gained great momentum with the book club and hopes to continue this pen-pal style model through the summer.

“We hope Cook County Jail will have more access to technology in the future," Scoltock says. “Though ideally, we can be back inside as a large group someday."

To learn more about the SAI Book Club, follow SAI on Instagram @saidepaul​.​