Pennsylvania has the highest incarceration rate in the Northeast, with the city of Philadelphia accounting for a notably outsized portion of those numbers (a portion that becomes even more outsized when we focus on those individuals who are serving the harshest sentences). For example, Philadelphia County alone has 2,694 people sentenced to death-by-incarceration (DBI), which comprises just over 50% of those sentenced to DBI in the state and is the highest total of any county or parish in the country. Because Philadelphians suffer due to the high incarceration rates of their community members and loved ones, it is our intent that as Holobiont Laboratory grows in size and scale we will prioritize employing individuals returning to the city from prison. These individuals often encounter additional difficulties in obtaining employment due to having been previously incarcerated.

Pennsylvanians who are incarcerated within the state prison system are frequently required to produce an “approved release plan” – a formal blueprint for their return to the community that is colloquially referred to as one’s “home plan” – prior to their release by the probation/parole board. Such “home plans,” as defined by the state, are always very narrowly circumscribed. One’s “home” is limited to the physical dwelling in which a person places their bed and material belongings; further, all of the labor and responsibility for securing said “home” falls upon that same incarcerated individual who, while still being held inside prison walls, often has few or no available resources with which to secure it.

At the Holobiont Laboratory, we strive to understand “home” in a much more holistic, vital, and life-affirming sense – as an interdependent environment and complex network of relationships whose production must therefore also come from all of us collectively.

Making the Connections

  • When we look at total global carbon emissions, the aggregate historical emissions produced by the United States make up over one-fifth of the world’s total, eclipsing that of every other country. And if we add to that picture a map of where the most singularly toxic and polluting industrial sites are located across the U.S., we find that they are overwhelmingly concentrated in poor Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities of color.

  • When we look at global rates of mass incarceration (both in this moment and across the past four decades), the number of individuals imprisoned in the United States makes up over one-fifth of the world’s total, eclipsing that of every other country. Poor Black, Brown, and Indigenous community members are disproportionately represented at every level of the criminal legal system, and those numbers only climb higher when we focus on the harshest sentences and punishments (like life without parole and the death penalty, etc.).

  • When we examine the number of deaths resulting from COVID-19 globally in 2020, fatalities in the United States made up over one-fifth of the world’s total, once again eclipsing that of every other country. Recent studies of the distribution of those numbers show that Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities experienced death rates that were eight to nine times that of white communities in the same US cities.

Here at the Holobiont Laboratory, we do not see these three sets of numbers as unrelated. To the contrary, it is clear that the root causes which first instigate and then continue to amplify these dire realities, as well as the extensive ripple effects that follow in their wake, are profoundly connected to one another.

Viewed together, such statistics illustrate the urgent necessity to understand and respond to the current climate crisis as an environmental emergency that has been facilitated at every stage by the toxic dynamics of racialized capitalism and patriarchal colonialism. These dynamics have produced an economy driven by extraction/depletion rather than regeneration, by incarceration rather than healing, and by expansion of the wealth of a few at the expense of many.

Rooting Our Work in an Abolitionist Vision

The founding members of the Holobiont Laboratory are individuals who have each spent roughly twenty years involved in anti-prison organizing here in Philadelphia and we carry those commitments over to the work that we are doing today. It is critical to us that the projects and tools that the Lab creates also serve the neighborhoods and communities of Philadelphia in which we are located. We see it as essential that we not only create sustainable resources, but that those who are doing this work are also sustained (in the spirit of a true living wage) by their labor. Our intention is to build not only solar power, heat resilience, and some level of flood preparation within our neighborhoods, but also political power and self-agency by training ourselves and others to work towards our collective survival, on both an environmental and economic level.

We recognize that those of us who are white have benefited from a five hundred-year legacy of white privilege and white supremacist ideology in this country which it is our duty to strive to dismantle and redistribute. As the radical educator Paulo Freire has observed: “No one can be authentically human while he [or she or they] prevents others from being so.”

In this spirit, we refer to our commitment to employ formerly incarcerated individuals and family members as “the other home plan”; since these shared acts of reimagining and restructuring our largest “home” (with clean air, potable water, and a livable habitat for all) can be no single individual’s responsibility but must be created by all of us in tandem, for all of us.

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