What is an interview? Without any additional context the word often sounds formal and stiff in my own ears; when Ben Lauren and I were first imagining what the interview section of this special issue could look like, we decided we wanted to approach the interviews as conversations—something more familiar, textured through an exchanging of ideas—which is exactly how I feel this piece with Sylvia and Luis emerged.

Sylvia Ryerson and Luis Luna are the cocreators of Melting the ICE//Derritiendo el Hielo, a bilingual podcast and radio show that broadcasts the voices, the testimonio, of those directly impacted by ICE detention in an effort to share information and resources for support, while working collectively to organize and work toward abolition. In addition to the bilingual podcast and radio show, Melting the ICE//Derritiendo el Hielo collaborates with the Connecticut Bail Fund on the monthly radio newsletter, Resilience Behind the Walls. The Newsletter amplifies the voices and experiences of community members incarcerated across Connecticut. You'll hear more about both of these projects through the video, audio, transcripts, and photos included throughout this piece.

So, how did this conversation come to be? Back in 2016, I read an article called "Restorative Radio," written by Sylvia Ryerson and published on Transom.org. As an advocate for prison abolition who loves sound as a medium for storytelling and social change, I was immediately grabbed by her work. I'll let Sylvia share more about her work with Restorative Radio in the "Project Background" section of this piece. That said, Sylvia's work with Restorative Radio remains one of the most critical examples I've seen of intentional attunement to participation and circulation ethics in sound and social justice work.

Jump forward to February 2020: I'm a first-year MA student at Michigan State, with an interest in sound studies, specifically participation and circulation ethics in sound, co-organizing the "Interviews" section of the Kairos special issue on sound and social change as a member of the editorial team. I reached out to Sylvia to invite her to participate in one of the interviews for the special issue. Sylvia got back to me and informed me she was working on a new "collaborative bilingual sound project" with Luis Luna, Radio DJ at WPKN Community Radio in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and local Community Organizer. Sylvia linked me to the first few episodes of Melting the ICE//Derritiendo el Hielo, and I was immediately impressed by the project. I then reached out to Luis to invite both him and Sylvia to be in conversation with me about their work with Melting the ICE//Derritiendo el Hielo.

Initially, Sylvia, Luis, and I were planning to meet in Detroit and record our conversation in person after they were scheduled to present at the 2020 Allied Media Conference (AMC), but that plan was pre-pandemic. When the AMC transitioned online, we decided that we'd record a virtual conversation, which took place over Zoom in August 2020. This conversation is featured alongside excerpts from Melting the ICE//Derritiendo el Hielo and Resilience Behind the Walls throughout this webtext. That said, it's worth noting that the conversation we recorded emerges out of many conversations we had in the months leading up to it, which speaks to the ongoing nature of conversation; during these conversations we decided that a central focus of the piece would be how Sylvia and Luis center abolition as praxis in their work.

I feel so, so privileged to have had the opportunity to collaborate with Sylvia and Luis on this webtext. So, with that all said, please enjoy listening through, and engaging with "Abolition as Praxis: An Interview With Sylvia Ryerson and Luis Luna."

With care,
Rosa Tobin


Sylvia: I'm Sylvia. I am currently here in New Haven, Connecticut. I'm a graduate student in the American Studies Program at Yale. But prior to starting graduate school, I was a radio producer and working in community media and community organizing for, for like a decade, and I can talk more about that later. I'm in my third year of graduate school and also doing a master's degree in the public humanities here at Yale as a part of my PhD.

Luis: So my name is Luis, and I am originally from Ecuador. I currently work as a organizer for the Working Families Party in Connecticut. I am also a radio producer and a radio host at a local community radio station in Bridgeport.

Project Background

Rosa: How did you all meet? How did this project come together? I imagine these questions are tied into your own abolitionist histories.

Sylvia: This project is, you know, as we both have always said, at its core a collaboration from, you know, both of the work that Luis and I have each been involved with for, you know, over a decade. And when I graduated college, I went to work at an organization called Appalshop, A-P-P-A-L as in Appalachia, which is a media arts organization in Eastern Kentucky that was founded in 1969 in response to the derogatory national coverage of the war on poverty and was sort of an organization founded with this vision of community accountable, ethical documentary representation. And so it's, it's an organization really grounded in a vision of community documentary work. They have a community radio station, and I became—I was a VISTA there for a year and then became a producer, a radio producer for the station and eventually the director of public affairs. And that's where I learned about documentary work broadly and, and sound editing specifically; it was my first time in a studio, it was my first time using a recorder and ended up working there full time for about five years. And, during that time, one of the projects at Appalshop that I was a part of that was dearest to my heart is a weekly radio show called Calls from Home. And that radio show was founded around 2000 in response to all of these new prisons being built in the region. This is the heart of coal country, and in response to the decline of the coal industry this region has been one of the most concentrated areas of rural prison growth in the nation. And so all of a sudden within a short period of time, this tiny little community radio station was surrounded by many, many prisons, state, federal, and private, seven of which were all within the broadcast area of this tiny little community radio station.

And so it's a long, incredible story of how the show began. But, in short, people that had just been sent to these prisons, very far from home, eight, ten, twelve hours away, if not further for people in the federal prisons, they started listening to the radio show and, in the late '90s, actually, started calling in to the radio show. This was before there were a lot of private prison phone contracts restricting what numbers people could call. And so they were actually able to directly call the on-air room, and there was an incredible DJ there who sort of got the show started and welcomed their calls and started this correspondence. And it was really the work of people inside who, who realized this was a point of access, and they sort of came to the radio station and had music requests and started giving shoutouts to their other fellow folks inside over the airwaves.

And so that actually grew into this show that now has existed for two decades that's a weekly show that sends music and messages over the airwaves to people incarcerated. And the current format of the show is actually primarily family members calling in to leave messages to their loved ones who are incarcerated. So it's, it's broadcasting those family messages and music requests out over the airwaves.

And so being a part of that show, I co-directed it for four years, and being in the studio, night after night, hearing these calls and getting to know the callers, is what taught me the power of community radio as a, as a tool to transcend these walls and build, build deeply meaningful connections that I think also then opened up space for other kinds of organizing. So, so that was sort of my own background and, and being a part of ongoing organizing work against continued rural prison expansion in Appalachia.

And then sort of skipping forward, I came to New Haven by way of New York and had done some radio work in New York, but working with folks at the Immigrant Rights Clinic at NYU that were trying to figure out ways to reach folks in detention in the northeast. And had sort of been doing a little bit of that, and then came to grad school, and then was introduced to Luis, and then everything changed, and it was really together that we conceptualized like how could we really sort of create something that is ongoing, that is sustainable, that is sort of using this idea and model of sound that we both love so much and have done so much in to think about how we could create a program that is reaching people that are currently in jails and ICE detention centers and, and prisons here in the Tri-state area.

And of course, I mean, Luis, you bring just so much of your own experience and connections and networks of, the depth of the organizing that you're a part of here. And so that's sort of where we began, I guess about a year and a half ago.

So my professor introduced me to Luis, and I called you up and you're like, "I believe in collaboration. Let's do it. When are we gonna get coffee?" And so we got coffee and sat down, and take it away.


Luis: Yeah, for sure. Thank you. Thank you, Sylvia. Yeah, and, you know, and before, before that point of the both of us meeting, my background: I was born in Ecuador. And when I was 13, I moved with my family to Guilford, Connecticut, to reunite with some of my other family who had left Ecuador in the mid-1990s. And I got into activism and organizing through radio. So I have been—I had been in the, in the states for 10 years. This was the summer of 2007. And I started to tune to WPKN, which is a community radio station where the programmers are volunteers and they play all kinds of different content.

And one morning, I was tuning in and I ran into the show called ¡Barricada!, which had an interesting mix of alternative music in Spanish. And the hosts often spoke about immigration reform, about how the political landscape was shaping Latin America at the time. And one day, they had a call to action; they said, "If you're listening out there, come to the May 1st march in New Haven."

Now, if we look back in 2007, it was the year before the election of Barack Obama, there was a lot of energy across the U.S. in hopes that there is a passage of some type of immigration reform. So with that energy, I went to the May 1st march; it was incredible, there was over 1,000 people there chanting for immigrant rights. And just jump forward a month, I am, I was playing pool with a friend at a restaurant/bar, and I run into this table of Spanish speakers. It's very vibrant and there's many pitchers on the table, and there's Belgium french fries and people playing pool. And then I recognized a man who gave a speech at the May 1st march. So I approached him and I, I was invited to sit down at a table and kind of chat. And we're talking about everything, mostly around social justice issues and Latin America. And I said to this man, "Hey, you should tune into this radio show. It's called ¡Barricada! and it's every other Monday at WPKN." So then he says, "Yo, that's, that's me and that's Raul and that's Ricardo."

So I was immediately invited to come and hang out at the radio station and see how they do it. So they said, "We'll pick you up at five in the morning from New Haven." And I said, "Done."

Sylvia: Luis, what year was that? That was 2000 and?

Luis: This was 2007.

Sylvia: That's so cool because the first summer I interned at Appalshop was the summer of 2008—

Luis: No way.

Sylvia: —and that was like my first time working in radio.

Luis: Wow.

Sylvia: So we both started like basically at the same moment and have been doing it since.

Luis: That's amazing. And yeah, so that's how I ran into activism because these folks that I met are, are activists and are still active and, at that moment, Fatima Rojas, who's an activist and organizer here in New Haven, she was with her daughter, Ambar, and Ambar was about two months old. Now Ambar is a, is a youth activist and she delivered the letter to Governor Lamont for the Immigrants are Essential campaign in Hartford.

The first radio show that I ever had was an overnight show from 2:00 AM until 6:00 AM, and it was called Trasnochate, which, um, which means, there's no direct translation, but is to stay over, to, to transition or to travel through the night. So that was my first year, and then about eight years ago, I started to have my, my own show, which for many years didn't have a name, I couldn't really think of a name. But now it's, now it's called Módulo Lunar, which translates to the Lunar Module.

And in that space, over the years, I've brought many voices of the community for interviews and to elevate the campaigns that are happening around Connecticut in terms of immigrant justice. And then I mix that with alternative Latin American music produced all over the Americas, Europe. And that's when Sylvia and I met. We had this, this, uh, this backgrounds on, on radio and organizing, and we sat together and we said, "Hey, you know, we have this platform at WPKN, let's start there. Let's make sure that, that we identify an audience." So we saw the importance of having a show that is bilingual, and then that speaks about what is happening with immigration. And I think that, I think like, I think at this very moment, I think the idea of abolition of organizing in light of the murder of George Floyd has really opened up people's consciousness about these systems of oppression. And with a pandemic, that exacerbated sort of this opening of the veil of what the system actually is. But back then, back a year and a half ago, what we were talking about in Melting the ICE was in some ways radical. And, and that was more or less the goal, to sort of explore through a story how the system of immigration, detention, deportation works against people who are undocumented.

Sylvia: Yeah. And I think it really was this sort of joining of Luis's long history in the Migrant Justice Movement and connections here locally, and, and having your long-standing show at WPKN, and then sort of my own background coming from doing a lot of prison abolitionist work and sort of thinking about these intersections between ICE and prison abolition. We're all making these connections right now. And so how do we create a project that is, that is drawing on the strengths of both of these movements?

Sylvia and Luis spent months brainstorming and planning, working closely with the Immigrant Rights Clinic (IRC) at NYU Law, national advocates at Freedom for Immigrants, and migrant justice scholar and Yale University Professor Alicia Schmidt Camacho, to create the framing and goals of the project. Listen here to the opening of the show:

[music fades in and then out]

Luis: Welcome to Melting the ICE//Derritiendo el Hielo, a bilingual radio series dedicated to sharing stories of how U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is impacting families across the U.S., impacting how this current system works, and who is profiting, and to sharing information and strategies about how people are fighting back. I'm your host, Luis Luna, and this show is produced and edited by Sylvia Ryerson. Thank you for joining us.

We hope this radio broadcast will reach people currently inside ICE detention centers. If you are listening right now from detention, we want to send you our special greetings, our love, solidarity, and respect. We want you to know that you are not alone, and that there are people out here fighting for you and with you. You can write us at Melting the ICE, PO Box 202981, New Haven, Connecticut, 06520. Again, that's Melting the ICE, PO Box 202981, New Haven, Connecticut, 06520. We would love to know if you are listening and what information would be most useful for you.

Bienvenidos y bienvenidas a Derritiendo el Hielo, una serie de radio bilingüe dedicada a compartir historias de cómo el sistema de inmigración está impactando a familias en todo Estados Unidos, desarmando los mecanismos del sistema actual, quién se beneficia y compartiendo información y estrategias de cómo la gente está luchando. Soy su anfitrión, Luis Luna, y este programa es producido y editado por Sylvia Ryerson. Gracias por acompañarnos.

Esperamos que esta transmisión de radio llegue a las personas que actualmente se encuentran en los centros de detención de ICE. Si está escuchando ahora desde detención, queremos enviarle nuestros saludos especiales, nuestro amor, solidaridad y respeto. Queremos que sepan que no están solos y solas y que hay personas que luchan por usted y con usted.

Nos pueden escribir a Derritiendo el Hielo, PO Box, 202981, New Haven, CT, 06 520. Otra vez, Derritiendo el Hielo, PO Box 202981, New Haven, Connecticut, 06520. Nos encantaría saber si está escuchando y qué información sería la más útil para usted.

[music fades back in and then out]

In collaboration with IRC law students Daniela Ugaz and Priya Sreenivasan, Luis and Sylvia produced the first episode, titled, "I Never Imagined This," centering an interview with Tony Chen, a restaurant manager and father of three in New York City who spent seven months detained by ICE in the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, New Jersey. Here is an excerpt from the end of Sylvia's conversation with Tony.

Sylvia: And the last question is, this radio piece is going to broadcast on a station that reaches Bergen County Jail, and we hope that people are cur—that are currently in detention right now in the same place you were can hear your interview and your story. So I wanted to ask, is there anything that you would like to say directly to people, people who are in detention right now?

Tony: Yeah, I, I really want to talk to all these detainees right now even they are pr—in the processing on their case. Don't give up. You know, fight for your family and fight for the government to change this immigration policy. To let them hear our voice. The United States is, it's, it's united, so what that is means is not just a certain people. So, I really want them to keep going, keep fight for them.

如果你现在还是在移民遣返中心,我非常建议你们不要放弃。为了 你们的家庭,坚持下去,我们要让移民当局去听到我们的声音,希望能够尽快把移民的 制度给做一个改善。

The show aims to demonstrate the far-reaching impacts of detention and deportation—for those detained and for their family members and communities on the outside. In the second episode, "No One Can Do This Alone," Sylvia talked with Amy Gottlieb and Janice Hoseine, longtime friends, allies, and leaders in the NYC immigrant rights movement. Amy and Janice have also both been personally impacted by the detention of their partners. Here is Janice, discussing the meaning of her work with the New Sanctuary Coalition NYC, and her message to those inside detention.

Janice: I mean, you know, like I said, it um, I felt hopeless and helpless and that's something that I work really hard um, you know, with our friends that come through our doors... you know, I, I see a lot of wives that their husbands were deported and they came in crying and now these are like super women that comes by, and like, "Sure you're the same woman that came a couple of months ago?" You, you just... That, that energy is completely different once you have that support, you know, that makes you feel like you're not defeated, like you're, there is hope and that, that you're not doing anything wrong, it's what they're doing is what's wrong. I don't know, I don't know if, what I could have done without the support that I got. Um, and that support is so, so, so important. You know, it's like, I guess I can just say it's like, there's people there to catch your tears when it's about to fall.

If you have a loved one, you don't have to live in New York, you don't have to live in New Jersey, just contact us. You know, sometimes that, that just that simple phone call will change your entire life. And for the friends that are detained, connect with your, your bunkie. Make friends with, with the guys next to you, because in the middle of the night ICE can pick you up and remove you and your family members need to know what's happening with you. So, you know, just continue to stay strong and just know that this is your home. You're here, you're fighting to be here, because this is where your life is. And the words alien and removable, those type of words, they get to you. So when they call you criminal just, those are just words, you know? And don't let words hurt you, don't let words destroy you, and don't let words make you forget who you are and why you need to continue to fight.

[closing instrumental music]

Why Sound?

Rosa: What does sound allow for? You both came to sound as an organizing platform and medium. What do you all see as the possibilities and opportunities that come with sound as a medium for social change? Like, why sound?

a bird's eye view of a circular wooden kitchen table. On top of the table are two laptops facing each other, hooked up to recorders and microphones.

"What does it mean that sound can actually permeate these barriers?"

—Sylvia Ryerson

Sylvia: *Hoof* I think maybe it's helpful to sort of think through this question, which is so expansive through sort of how we approached the design of the show. And I think there's sort of a couple different, maybe tiers, of how, how we were thinking about it. And I think one is sort of what is its form and what is its function? And so we decided that we really wanted to have each episode center the voice of somebody who has been directly impacted by ICE detention, someone who has themselves been detained or has had a loved one, a close family member, detained or deported. And obviously we're in a landscape that is being flooded with stories about immigration right now, and so what can we do that isn't being done already? And, I think, increasingly and importantly, I mean, and, and within a long history of activist media, there's this idea of, you know, centering the voices of those who are directly impacted. But I think there's different ways to do that. And I think a very sort of common way of like interviewing people and taking sound bites, and then sort of building your own analysis around these, these sound bites, that is how most radio production works.

What does it mean, though, to do sort of long-form interviews with people, but that are actually very, that are, that are not oral histories, that are edited long-form interviews, centering these voices as someone not only describing what is happening, but, but having them be a co-theorist of what is happening? And I think long form allows someone to both be describing their experience and also analyzing their experience. And so that is the foundation of the show. And then I think it's sort of like centering that analysis that comes from the practice of, of living and resisting. Then what can Luis and I add to that? And I think this is a part of like what can be productive about scholar, artist, activist work. Is that there are all these different skill sets.

And, you know, I'm in the space of a university where I do have a lot of support and resources to try to bring to bear on sort of thinking through these larger structures and systems that we can, we can write a script that tries to further support what someone is experiencing extremely personally, and is also a part of these much larger systems and histories. And, so, most of the episode is, is this long-form interview. It's an hour-long show with the goal of it being sort of a tightly, tightly bound hour so that it could be syndicated on other stations and can fit that time slot. One half is in English, and one half is in Spanish. So I think in and of itself, there's just something magical about a long-form interview that actually sort of can really disrupt who is considered the authority.

And then, that said, I think that sound allows you to engage in that medium of long-form interviewing in a way that, that texts can often inhibit you. I think in the academy, we're, we're often told like, you know, you can't have a blockquote that's more than paragraph long or something. There's sort of limitations on like how much you can center someone else's voice in your text. And so I think sound creates more space for that. So I think that's sort of like the form I would say. And then, and then I think you can also think about it as like the function of how these episodes are actually living and existing and operating in the world, which is a whole nother thing. It's like, sort of like there's the object of the episode. And then there's like this object is actually not static at all, this object has a life of its own. And so how does that work? And who, who, who... what are the multiple audiences?

Sound being on the radio, it's public in a way that books are not always. Like, you know, there is no single public, and when we talk about, like, public-facing, and so like, what are these multiple publics? We want to air this on places that will reach people inside. We also want it to maybe reach people who are not familiar with this issue at all, who, who maybe live somewhere close by to a detention center in New Jersey. Having this sort of be in the geographies where these, these detention centers are, I think, can be a part of, of bringing them into a different kind of public consciousness of what is happening. Um, so I think, I guess I think another thing is like multiple audiences. And I think I there's just so many things. Maybe we can just keep that question going because, there's obviously the whole, the whole area of like, what does it mean that like sound can actually permeate these, these barriers?

Um, but I think, I think that on the question of function, I think that this is really a big part of how we see this as like a scholar, artist, activist work because it doesn't just end with the production itself. It's more like the episode is something that then can be used and incorporated and grow and expand. And that is what is the beauty of doing this in collaboration with, with Luis's radio show.

What do you think, Luis? Why sound?

Luis: Yeah, so why sound?

In the context of where we are and how sound travels through the airwaves when we use radio, and how that sound in Connecticut specifically out of WPKN, it reaches four cities that have jails, prisons, or juvenile detention centers. So in that context and in the context of how organizers and activists are working in Connecticut, like the Connecticut Bail Fund, uh, that provide support for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated folks. In that context, how do we... like why sound? And, and, you know, sound gets to these institutions that are highly surveilled. And because we are using a community-based radio station that allows for multiple voices from within the community to be on the airwaves.

And in the context of our trajectory, my trajectory as a, as an organizer and activists, it's, it's sort of like the convergence of this medium with the activist and organizing ecosystem. So in other words, I think sound is really important in this time because we can, we can create programming that goes over the airwaves to reach folks that has essentially two audiences. And one, one audience is folks who are inside. And the second audience is those who are outside listening to the show. And then it's important here, is to center those voices that are inside, that are directly impacted by detention or incarceration, to lift those voices and to then record those voices and send them over the airwaves again. Yeah, so that's why I think sound in this case is important within the larger context of abolitionist work and abolitionist organizing.

And I think later, we can go into how we are taking this into action right now with the Connecticut Bail Fund and the Resilience Behind the Walls newsletter.

And how essentially, there's like two silos of work when it comes to producing this type of content. And one of the silos is detention centers, which are extremely, extremely surveilled and very hard to contact folks who are inside. And, and then the other silo is the other prisons and jails that are extremely surveilled as well. So, you know, we would love to sort of like continue exploring how we are using airwaves as a tool for abolitionist organizing.

Sylvia: There's just so many, so many points you said that I just want to pick up on that like, it's always so exciting to think together about because, I mean, just to sort of focus on this idea of like what does it mean that these public airwaves can transcend these walls? And I mean, I think, as Luis said, like we know that prisons, jails, and detention centers are, are the most censored and surveilled institutions in the world, intentionally so. And they are meant strategically to silence the voices of people inside.

And so, I think, there is something sort of inherently subversive about transcending that barrier. But I really like what you were saying, Luis, about the idea of it sort of trying to create a kind of reciprocal loop; to have this broadcast be going inside, but also having, as the work of the newsletter is starting to do, having voices from the inside being broadcast outside. And that the importance of having those voices being publicly broadcast in a way that can actually be reflected back for people inside to hear themselves. And, you know, these are the voices the system is, is trying to silence. And so this whole theory of that is sort of a direct refusal of that sort of silencing.

I guess a question I want to sort of move to at some point is like, how does this directly connect with like this idea of abolition and abolitionist politics. But I do think a part of what we're trying to do with this radio show is not do all of this ourselves, but to sort of show that airwaves are a space where you can create, you can create space within a system that is giving us no space to move in. And so I think this is exciting to sort of to see how this, this work can be lifted up and replicated and built on and collaborated in different places and it's, we're just trying to sort of show what's possible, and trying to figure it out, literally, as we go. You know, we're small and tiny and learning, but I think it's just sort of like, this is a... what's the word? It's like a conduit or something. It's like it exists, like these airwaves are all around us. And this is a possibility that's already here. So how can we sort of point to that, and sort of see what else happens?

In September 2019, organizers in New Jersey contacted Sylvia and Luis, telling them of an event being planned in support of Jose Hernandez Velasquez, a 20-year-old being held in solitary confinement at the Essex County Correctional Center in Newark, NJ, facing deportation to El Salvador—a country he left when he was 1 year old.

The band Los Jornaleros Del Norte was coming to perform a concert in the parking lot of the detention center to serenade Jose and everyone inside. Breaking from their usual format, Sylvia and Luis drove to Newark to record the entire event in order to then broadcast it over local airwaves to reach Jose and others inside.

Here is the opening of this episode, "A Song Cannot Be Caged."

[music fades in and then out]

Luis: Today, we have a very special episode, and I'm joined now by our producer, Sylvia Ryerson.

Sylvia: Hi, yeah, so this week we're doing something different that we're really excited to share with everyone. In September, movement organizers in New Jersey reached out to us to let us know that the band Los Jornaleros del Norte were coming to Newark to perform a serenata to everyone detained inside the Essex County Detention Center. The event was being organized by a broad coalition of advocacy groups, including Wind of The Spirit, New Labor, The Worker's Justice Project, Casa Free Hold, Lazos, Unidad Latina and Axion New Jersey, and the National Day Labor Organizing Network.

Los Jornaleros del Norte—the Day Laborers of the North—are a band that formed in Los Angeles in 1995 after a raid by what was, back then, the Immigration and Naturalization Services, INS, on people who were waiting in line at a mobile health clinic that was offering free HIV and STD testing. Lead singer Omar Sierra, himself a day laborer, was there. And, while he managed to escape the raid, many others were detained by INS that day. So, in response, Omar wrote a ballad so as never to forget the incident, titled "El Corrido de Industry."

And then, Omar brought his guitar to the street corner to perform the song for his fellow day laborers, and soon their band was born. Since then, they've been playing music in the streets, performing for their fellow day laborers in parking lots, community festivals, marches, protests, union meetings and more. They've written songs about wage theft, the fight for $15, the dangers of being undocumented, of facing raids and deportation. but also about the joy of community resistance and the quest for liberation. And they locate their music in the long history of indigenous and Latinx struggles against domination and how these particular song forms of ballads and corridos and cumbias have been sung for generations as a way to inform, mobilize, accompany, and celebrate struggle.

And, in 2012, they started performing concerts outside of ICE detention centers to serenade everyone inside with songs of hope and freedom and love as a part of the Chant Down the Wall series with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

Luis: Yeah, so when we heard they were coming to Newark, we were, like, "We have to go." So we drove to New Jersey to record the concert in order to share it with you here, now, over the airwaves, as we all work together to melt down these walls in every way we possibly can. So, on today's show, we are sharing this recording from the parking lot of the Essex County Detention Center. Most of all, we are broadcasting this on local airwaves to reach those of you who are detained in Essex right now. We hope you are listening and can hear the songs, prayers, and words of support that were sent out to you that night, from the over 100 supporters who are there.

And we want to share this with everyone who may be listening from detention right now, wherever you are. We love you, and this concert is for you. We all know that these walls are meant to separate us and to isolate everyone inside and to make you feel like you are alone—but you are not alone. And today, we hope that these airwaves will travel right through those concrete walls to reach you and to remind us all that these walls will never win. The concert was being organized to rally in support of Jose Hernandez Velasquez, a 20-year-old Dover High School alum who is currently detained in Essex.

Jose has lived in New Jersey since he was one year old but is undocumented and is currently facing an order of deportation to El Salvador due to a series of low-level offenses. WNYC and Gothamist have reported that last May, following a confrontation with a corrections officer inside Essex, Jose alleges that he was forced to strip naked and was beaten by officers so severely that he wound up in the emergency room at the University Hospital in Newark. Jose is continuing to fight his case and has courageously shared his story with major outlets, crucially revealing the appalling and deadly conditions inside this facility.

Jose, we hope you are listening. We send you our special greetings and solidarity, and we want you to know that your bravery in sharing this story is a huge part of what made this concert possible. Your story also reminds us to think about all the stories of abuse that we are not hearing and that are not being allowed to be told, which is why what you have shared with us is so important. You are inspiring us and so many others to keep listening and fighting and finding ways to accompany everyone that is separated from their family right now and suffering under these conditions. We thank you for this, and we want you to know that there are so many people out here that support you and they're fighting for you.

So, today we are going to try to take everyone with us, from the New Jersey Turnpike to the Essex Detention Center parking lot, to share the "Serenata A Un Indocumentado" from Los Jornaleros del Norte and friends, to everyone behind detention center walls, and to all poor Black and brown and immigrant communities that are being targeted for detention, deportation, and incarceration but are inspiring us all to keep fighting for our freedoms together.

[music plays and then fades out while the sound of riding in a car fades in]

Sylvia: So we're just turning off the New Jersey Turnpike onto Doremus Avenue here in Newark, New Jersey.

Luis: Look at all these chemicals right on there. So we're in a very industrial part of, uh, New Jersey, um, there is, uh, many warehouses and cranes and containers. There's, uh, many, uh, f—uh, 18-wheelers all around us, kind of, some, some are parked with their lights on. It's about, um, 7:01. Uh, the sun is about to settle. Uh, it's getting a little dark.

Sylvia: Yeah, it really is. It's just, sort of, like, this weird industrial zone right here in Newark, New Jersey.

Luis: And then, we're starting to see folks. That's the detention center.

Sylvia: Okay, here's the sign, Essex County Correctional Facility here on Doremus Ave., and here, everyone is—

Luis: That's Ryan. Ryan?

Ryan: Hi. Sylvia?

Sylvia: Hi!

Ryan: Ryan.

Sylvia: It's so good to be here. This is Luis.

Ryan: What's going on Luis? How are you? Muy bien, y tu?

Luis: Estoy bien.

Ryan: Good. Hey, there's parking right down there on the right. If you need to drop off equipment, you probably should. If not, just go down there and walk on over.

Sylvia: Thank you.

Ryan: Okay?

Luis: Absolutely.

In the parking lot, they were able to catch up with the band’s lead singer, Omar León Sierra, who sent a special message out to everyone inside.

Sylvia: And then, we were able to catch Omar León Sierra, the lead singer of Los Jornaleros de Norte, and Pablo Alvarado, who also sings and is the bass player for the band and also the Co-Director of the National Day Labor Organizing Network.

Hey, thank you so much for tonight. We're—we're recording this—

Omar: Okay.

Sylvia: —to play on the radio. To broadcast to reach inside the detention center.

Pablo: Oh, that's great.

Sylvia: We're going to play this on the radio, and your, and your show. So I'm recording messages to say directly to the guys inside. Your name, and what you're out here doing.

Omar: Oh, okay. Hi. My name is Omar León. I'm the lead singer and accordion player for Los Jornaleros de Norte. And we want to let all the people inside the detention center, we want to let them know that they're not alone. That there's a lot of people outside fighting for, for them. And we are demanding their liberty and we will continue fighting. Not only for their rights, also for our rights. And, um, we hope that they are able to hear the music of the Los Jornaleros.

Sylvia: Tell me about me Los Jornaleros de Norte, your band, who are you?

Omar: Los Jornaleros de Norte is a band that started more than 20 years ago. And it's a band that focuses on protest music. All the lyrics talk about people's life, people's struggle. And, uh, it's music that celebrates but also music that encourages people to fight. To stand up and fight for their rights. And, the lyrics can talk about the [inaudible 00:01:36], uh, work safety, uh, they mi—Some may tell the story about a parent that is about to be deported. So that's, that's Los Jornaleros de Norte. And we've been doing concerts outside detention centers for many years, from Alabama to Los Angeles, uh, Nevada. We've been all over the place trying to bring our music to the, to the detention centers to give hope to these people that are in detention.

Sylvia: Tell us about "La Serenata." What does that mean? And, why do you choose to do a serenata outside?

Omar: Uh, the serenata, uh, the idea came in, was born in Los Angeles. When we were marching outside of the detention center and we saw families outside of the detention center hanging balloons from a chain link fence saying we miss you, happy birthday. And we asked them, "Why you put these messages here?" And, they say, "Because my husband is in there and there's certain period of the day that we walks through that window and he is able to read the sign from all the way inside."

So that's when I talked a little bit to that family, and I heard their story, and I wrote the serenata song. And basically, the song talks about a dad that was arrested, and he is about to be deported, and the family is, is going to break apart.

Sylvia: Would you say the lyrics?

Omar: In Spanish.

Asómate a la ventana, te traje esta serenata, aunque estés encarcelada, mira, te canta quien te ama. Por ti me juego la vida, por liberarte me muero en la raya.

Omar & Pablo: [cantan] Ay qué leyes tan injustas, que buscan el separarnos, nos juzgan de criminales, por ser indocumentados, no saben que nuestras manos a ellos los tienen tragando. A dónde vayas te sigo, si te deportan también, a la chingada este norte, porque sin ti, ¿ya pa' qué?

Omar: Que no se den por vencidos, desde afuera hay mucha gente luchando para que logren su libertad, hay mucha gente que está luchando para que cambien las leyes y para que paren los ataques en, en contra de nuestra comunidad. Ánimo a todos ellos y bendiciones.

On Collaboration

Rosa: Let's talk about your all's collaborative production. How do the interventions of abolitionist sound production come into larger conversation with knowledge production? You all have touched on how your practices in collaborative production subvert academic assumptions of knowledge production. I'd love to hear more on that, as well as hear more on your collaborative process. Luis, one of my favorite quotes from you the last time we talked was: "We might fuck up. We're not perfect, but we do try to be accountable." That's such an ethos to take into your work, and I feel like all of those threads are really critical components of your collaborative process.

Sylvia: I feel like that's how we should describe our show. We might fuck up. We're not perfect, but we do try to be accountable. Luis, that's, like, our new definition. (laughs)

That's really... I think that's really true and really hard.

I think there's so many ways to answer this question. I mean, I think one thing from this collaboration is this idea of how to create work in multiple languages that I also think sound is poised to take on, sort of more so than any other medium. And, Luis also has a long career as a professional interpreter, language interpreter. And, I guess, Luis, I'd love to hear from you, I've never asked you directly. Sort of like how do you think about like the importance of and possibilities this creates for doing multilingual production? And why does that matter in this organizing?

Luis: That's a great question, you know, how to create content in multiple languages.

Sylvia: 'Cause this is to the point of us figuring it out as we go. This is what we've been figuring out.

Luis: So let's, let's look at what, what is happening right now. Right now we have a corrupt and dangerous administration that has in its disposal, like really, really oppressive tools. Now, let's think about how the Department of Homeland Security was structured, after 9/11, where the Immigration and Naturalization Services, which was under the Department of Justice, because immigration is a civil matter. Or it was. So it was, it was under the jurisprudence of the Department of Justice. And with the signing of the Patriot Act, everything was restructured. And that led into huge investments in detention and deportation by both the Bush administration and, and it was accelerated greatly by Barack Obama and his administration. Now that was inhert—inherited by Trump.

So within that context, I think that the folks who voted for, for Trump, they voted for Trump because of, of who Trump is and what he promised. And he promised to build a wall and to deport everyone. And, so, so, so with that, we must also understand that most people who are deported are Latinx folks that live all across, all across the U.S. So with that, I think that it was important to, on one end, make sure that we talk about how these structures work, make sure we center the voices of those who are being deported. And, uh, and, and to make sure that we also reach out to the audience that is listening to the show.

So I think it was important to, to do it in Spanish and English because on one end, we have folks who are being deported and mostly Spanish speakers. Although, you know, we also must acknowledge that brown people from all over the world are also being deported at record numbers. And we are part of this, uh, this network of organizers that are fighting for immigrant rights. I think it was just very important to make sure that we do that in Spanish. And also, I mean, I am also a native Spanish speaker. (laughs)

And, so yeah, so I think that, I think like that's one like the, the importance of, of sort of molding or structuring this show in both languages. You know, and, and I want to be really honest, I think that one big issue that we run into is how difficult it is to organize folks who are in detention. And that, you know, we're sending these, these messages, but then, you know, we need to make sure that, that we, that we are also following up with folks who are inside who need help, and that's, that's extremely hard. Uh, that's extremely, extremely hard.

Um, so I think like learning from the experience working with the Connecticut Bail Fund, and how they do have capacity to organize and bring support to, to folks who are inside, I think that, you know, like that's a big piece that we are missing. And that is a big question because there's also a huge barrier in, in how do we reach folks who are inside because the government makes it extremely difficult.

And so those are like the, like the bi—the really big questions that come with this project. So when we are creating this, uh, this, this newsletter, we, you know, we, we have been learning from, you know, from, from that part.

The following are scanned images of excerpts from letters received by Melting the ICE//Derritiendo el Hielo from listeners and friends in ICE detention.

a scanned letter written on lined notebook paper. transcript in caption.
To Whom It May Concern; I don't have a "Radio" but if I did it would help me to stay calm, and relaxed... Stay focused, and to be able to escape these walls even if just for the time or duration of the song! I'm struggling and I don't have any help from the outside. It's hard on me, but I do hope and pray that you can help, cause everyone else abandoned me in my time of darkness...
a scanned letter written on lined notebook paper. transcript in caption.
Sylvia & Luis I hope this letter finds you in the best of health and good spirits. I got your letter today. I called [blacked out] and [blacked out] to my cell [blacked out] and I read your letter to both of them. [blacked out] said "I thought you were lieing" Hahaha [smiley face] [blacked out] gived me a hug and was trying to pick ME UP. [blacked out] and [blacked out] are not here any more. When the other inmate herd that they got money put on there account for a Radio, other's wher asking me what they have to do. That's why I have said to put the money on my account and the tear-rep so when you send the money I can buy the radio up front, Then give them out. because some people go home, prison, [illegible], They just not going to get the money or they taking them with them. I'm trying to keep the Radio In the Jail for other people that come thu the Jail. They took $25 out [blacked out] account becuse he didn't pay for his processing Fee so they took It out. [blacked out] also [illegible] the money but I really want to try It a different way so the Jail dont keep takeing Money out that been owed. Thank you for the Money I'm going to buy 3 new Raido so I can give them away. I tryed to call you but I see you on vacition, Thank you so much for helping my story get told.
Melting the ICE [underlined]
a scanned letter written on lined notebook paper. transcript in caption.
No Rhyme No Reason [underlined]
Once upon a time
In a life time of shame
I've did so many things
That [blacked out] became my name
Named by the streets
Cause I was the worst of its kind
Bound by my own laws
In which the laws I designed
Destruction and terror followed me everywhere I would go
The top man In the Crew
That everyone wants to know
Fearless In the Streets
For all the bodies that Ive claim
[blacked out] once was that kid
Now [blacked out] the name
A menace to society, took over these street
Followed by the law
Set up by my peeps
Never underestimate the things that fear would make
Cause when Karma comes back around
It's coming back to you
a scanned letter written on lined notebook paper. transcript in caption.
Dear Melting the ICE
Thank you for giving me a fair chance at getting a radio. I would love to have a radio so I can work out with it. Also help clear my mind. I like to listen to sport and I can use it for the time. Music help me clear my mind. Some songs help me remember good times I had when I was home. My family members have favor songs. I been lock up for a couple of months. I would like to listen to the news. When we lock in. Some times we can't come out and the radio will help out. Once again thank you for allowing me to write a letter for a radio. I don't have one now because I don't have family support. Thank you I would love to have a radio. The radio have many things I can use it for and they all will help me get throw this time. So may you please help me. Thank you
a scanned letter written on lined notebook paper. transcript in caption.
Peace and blessings,
To whom this may concern first and foremost I would just to thank you for this but a radio for me would be a get away. It would be setting my mind free of all the stress that I have been through. Its motivation for me when working out. I have alot on my mind it would really help me to pass time.
a scanned letter written on lined notebook paper. transcript in caption.
Dear Melting the Ice,
First I want to start off by saying What's good!! The name is [blacked out] but you can call me [blacked out]. I'm in jail with a Fed and state charge, so no telling when I'm going to hit the street again. While I'm in here I hear about you helping people buy radios. Started thinking that you was a scam into people started recieving 50 dollars on their books. So I'm writing you now to let you know why I like the radio. The radio take me back on the streets. It takes my mind off things while I'm working out. Shows me how the music changes over time and All the new hot hits that comes out. So I will love for you to help me out on getting a radio. It will mean a lot to me and will have me feeling like I'm home in my car.
a scanned letter written on lined notebook paper. transcript in caption.
Dear, Melting the ICE
Hello guys, my name is [blacked out]. I like to dance & sing & play basketball. My favorite basketball team is the Celtics. I believe a radio is very important. Music gives me life, it makes me happy. No matter what you are going through music gets me through the day. There is a song for every emotion & every situation. I can relate to music & alot of songs. I listen to all types of music from hip hop to pop to rock. I am also a huge sports fan & I can lsiten to my music there. Music makes me feel at home. You can listen to sports, music, pop culture etc. I workout a lot also, &
a scanned letter written on lined notebook paper, reading:
Hay guys, my name is is [blacked out]. I'm writing you guys to thank you for what you guys are doing. I also wasn't to take the chance to tell you guys about my situation. I'm 18 years old and I'm being housed at the E.C.D.O.C I been here nearly a month and I'm trying to get situated and I don't have a radio at the time and I need one to work out and to keep me out of trouble and out of the way. We sometimes have to lock in and I don't be having nothing to do and being locked in can be stressful some. I don't have no money in my account to do so and I deeply appreciate if you would donate me the money to get me a radio of my own. I would love to hear back from youu guys. Peace and blessings and Happy New Years [smiley face] love [blacked out] [smiley face]

For every episode, Luis and Sylvia work with different movement organizations to highlight the multiple strategies and fronts of migrant justice and abolitionist organizing in this moment. After the pandemic hit, the broadscale movement to #FreeThemAll gained unprecedented urgency and attention.

In Episode 4, "Transformation in a Pandemic," they worked with attorney Rachel Levenson of Make the Road NY, who connected them with Yimy Aldair Benitez Lopez. Yimy is a trans woman who spent five months detained by ICE in the all-male Hudson County Jail in NJ. Yimy was in detention when the pandemic first hit and played a central role in organizing and breaking the news about a hunger strike inside protesting these deadly conditions.

Here is an excerpt from Luis's wide-ranging conversation with Yimy (which was conducted in Spanish and translated into English for the second half of the episode) where they discuss Yimy's artistic life as a performer by the name of Itzel Ferrati and the importance of creativity even in the worst of conditions.

Luis: En las personas ah, latinx, trabajan bastante en-en los trabajos de agricultura, en-en restaurantes. También hay trabajadores que también están en la economía cultural, artistas, performers. Cuéntanos, ahm, acerca de tu vida artística.

Yimy: Creo que contando un poco de mi historia, yo soy una persona que artísticamente y en mi vida personal yo, ah, yo he sido parte de grupos de teatro, ¿no ve?, en Honduras y eso me ha ayudado muchísimo a mí a-a desenvolverme en diferentes ámbitos.

A mí siempre me ha gustado como la comunicación. Yo pertenecía al teatro en Honduras y luego estuve un tiempo en México, ahí me integré también al grupo de teatro y luego vine a este país y-y-y así.

Y luego hice transfor- hice transformismo acá-acá en Estados Unidos y me presentaba en diferentes bares de-de Queen haciendo los show, y creo que es un talento que-que yo lo tengo y-y creo que puedo demostrarlo y soy capaz de-de-de-de sacar provecho a todo esto. Y como digo, nosotros los latinos eh, somos una comunidad fuerte, la cual le damos mucho a este país en-en diferentes maneras como el trabajo duro que hacemos, venimos a este país a superarnos y creo que hay grupos y organizaciones que-que velan por todo eso.

En mi forma de pensar, creo que deberíamos eh, de ver por esta-por esta comunidad y-y buscar medios como-como el que estoy ahorita hablando en este medio para informar a-a-a los latinos que-que no tengan miedo y que busquen el apoyo necesario.

Luis: Ah, quisiera escuchar acerca de Itzel.

Yimy: Bueno, Itzel, Itzel Ferrati es una persona, una-una mujer eh, transgénero que está en el proceso. Pues Itzel Ferrati cuando-cuando ella se- cuando ella se transforma para en-en la-en una mujer, es auténtica, es-es capaz, es ágil, hábil para-para desenvolverse en lo artístico y-y eh, también pue- para dar apoyo y-y consejo a las-a las-a las demás personas de comunidad trans, gay.

Ella se-se-se desenvuelve en-en lo personal, este, explora el mundo en el que está a su alrededor y-y-y-y vive, lo disfruta, sintiéndose única.

Luis: ¿Y piensas que Itzel va a regresar pronto?

Yimy: Ah, Itzel Ferrati va a regresar pronto, pronto, pronto al-al mundo artístico y todo eso para-para demostrar la capacidad y-y de-y de lo-y-y todo lo que-lo que tiene que dar a-a la comunidad. Diría que los latinos somos capaces de realizar ideas en las circu- en las- en las peores circunstancias que nos encontremos, somos capaces de-de ver, de tener una visión y-y de-y de realizarlo, ¿no?

Porque eh, si no tuviéramos la creatividad, no-no lograríamos hacer nada en estos momentos.

Luis: Muy bien. Ahm, gracias Yimy.


Resilience Behind the Walls

Rosa: Will you tell me more about your work with the Connecticut Bail Fund and Newsletter?

The image is of a black square with blue sound waves in the middle. Underneath the soundwaves are the words: Resilience Behind the Walls,
              written in white, and in slightly smaller letters are the words: Audio Newsletter. This is the logo for the: Resilience Behind the Walls Audio Newsletter.

"How do we use the airwaves as a tool for abolitionist organizing... how do we really replicate, you know, the idea of creating content that is bespoke to, or that is built, or that is molded around this vision of abolition?"

—Luis Luna

Luis: My friends approached me and said, "Hey, we wanna learn about how you are using Melting the ICE, and, and we wanna, we wanna learn from you." So, so I sat down with, uh, with Jewu Richardson and Tasha Blanco. They're both organizers at the Connecticut Bail Fund. And I had a Zoom meeting, and I created a document, and I walked them through the process of creating a radio program. And I said to them that, that we can create a 30-minute program that I can play on my show to advance their work. So we identified that in order to create a show, we need to come up with an outline that has an intro, the body, and the outro. And that, that's the first step. And the second step is to write the script. And the third step is to do the recording. And that the fourth step, and last step, is to edit all that together, to stitch it together.

So they were extremely humble in learning about this process, and we created an outline for them to work with. And about a week later, they just wrote this really awesome script. It was hosted by Jael, who also has been through the, the incarceral state. And they had a few sections, a few segments. One of them was the legal corner. There was another section about what the demands are of the Connecticut Bail Fund and other organizations. They spoke about, on the newsletter, there's also a overview of the settlement that was reached a couple of months ago by the ACLU and the Department of Corrections. And over the airwaves, Jael spoke about the settlement. The settlement was around protections against COVID. So they spoke about what that settlement was. And, if folks inside saw that that settlement was not being honored, that they can then call a number that they, that they gave over the airwaves to pressure those facilities to obey the settlement.

And then there was also a section by Andre Pierce, who is the first graduate of the Wesleyan Prison Education Project. Um, the graduation was in 2018. And he gave an amazing relato—an amazing... yeah, so he gave a really incredible testimony about his vision on abolition, which was just incredible. He is currently incarcerated. He has been in prison for 24 years, and he will be out of prison in 2026.

Sylvia: So this newsletter was produced by the bail fund and aired on Luis's local radio show. And in the moment that it was airing, Andre was listening inside in the Cheshire prison here in Connecticut. So he reported for it from prison and then was listening to it in real time. And, myself, just sort of listening to your show live, it's just... there's just, it's just the most incredible radio you can create, um, and I think that is another possibility that sound creates in it being local and produced on local airwaves. This isn't a podcast. This is being broadcast in real time. And I think that there's a sort of, um, presence of us all listening to it together. We're all listening to the same thing in the same moment that I think creates a reality of togetherness. And I think sound is temporal also and that it creates that, um, shared experience, very different experiences, but connecting through something happening in the same moment.

Luis: Yeah, and something really, really incredible was that, um, was that Andre called Genea the day after the show, last Friday. And he said, "Hey, I've been writing about abolition, but now I feel that I am an authority on this." And he said that, "I'm a soldier in the movement for abolition."

Sylvia: I mean, that is just incredible, Luis, to hear Andre's response to listening to the show, and it reminds me exactly of what Jose's response was, right? In Episode Three, he had the same response of just saying, you know, "Listening to that made me feel if I ever get out of here, I want to fight for Black and brown people, because what we're going through right now is a crisis," knowing and hearing that his analysis was publicly broadcast as an authority. And I think that's exactly the sort of feedback loop that, that this work can do; for all of us to understand the organizing that is already happening inside, and that is the power of us sort of all having our own voices broadcast, is it sort of changes our perception of our own, our own knowledge.

Luis: Yeah. And he felt extremely motivated. To Jose's words, you know, he said that, like, "I realize there's like people out there just being there for me, you know. And that, like, and that I have a purpose here." And he started to organize folks in Essex County Jail and in Essex Detention Center. And there's like this parallel with Andre and Jose.

I think that this is extremely powerful because, because, exploring a bit more about how to use radio as a tool for abolitionist organizing, which was the title of a, of a workshop that we gave at the, at the Allied Media Conference. We have been speaking with folks who have attended AMC, folks from Tacoma, Washington, and Minneapolis, Durham, North Carolina, Boston, New York. And, you know, sort of like talking about, like, how do we use the airwaves as a tool for abolitionist organizing. And, also, how do we really replicate, you know, the idea of, of, of creating content that is bespoke to, or that is built, or that is molded around this vision of, of abolition and also connecting in real ways, the organizing on the ground with folks who are inside?

So those conversations are ongoing. The last one was really incredible, it was like, it was in Spanish, it was like Manuel, and he's at Radio Kingston, near Poughkeepsie, New York, and he invited six of his radio colleagues. You know, so those are like the ongoing conversations. And, and I think like the larger point that I'm trying to make is that, is that, the prison system and the detention system is, is pervasive, and it's all over the, the U.S., and it's been fueled by Trump, and the actual machinery and infrastructure was built by the Obama administration. And Trump and the people that he works with, Chad Wolf and Stephen Miller, all of these folks, they have at their disposal, some really, really dangerous departments and tools and resources.

Here is Andre Pierce, speaking from inside prison, sharing his vision for abolition. This was broadcast in the second episode of the Resilience Behind the Walls newsletter. As it went live over the airwaves, Andre was listening with comrades inside, as his family on the outside tuned in from Hartford, CT.

Andre: When the word began to spread that I was this prison abolitionist, people have been coming up to me asking, "Well, what is prison abolition?" or "What is a prison abolitionist?" So there are a few key things to understand about prison abolition as a theory.

According to this theory, prison should be abolished because prisons are used by white supremacy as tools of racial oppression and population control. Too, prisons are violent and that they break up our families. They destroy communities, violate the human dignity of the person, and they divert vital federal dollars from resource-deprived communities into middle class white communities where prisons are often built.

This theory also believes that prisons should be abolished because racism is so deeply rooted in the criminal justice system so that long as prisons exist, our society will always have a problem with a mass incarceration of Black and brown people.

The second key thing to understand about prison abolition theory is that it sort of imposes a moral obligation on all those who believe that the system is broken or to re—to reimagine something different. A metaphor dealing with public health crises that are not destructive and more effective than prisons.

Now, this kind of reimagining can be difficult given that our society has never existed without prisons. So asking someone from our modern day society to reimagine a world without prisons can be equally challenging as asking them to imagine a color they have never seen. It can be difficult.

Although it is difficult, it is not impossible because just as the key to inventing a new color will consist of mixing and blending existing colors, the same logic applies for trying to reimagine a world without prisons or a world we have never seen. The key is to mix and blend ideas from different areas. Put them together to come up with something alternative but effective. And this kind of reimagining is necessary, right, to establish a framework to build from.

Now, that will be prison abolition as a theory. Now prison abolition as a practice is a different conversation. This will require putting theory into practice.

What I myself reimagine as prison abolition in practice is grassroots organizing, community activism, that is geared towards ending the mass incarceration of Black and brown people. This kind of grassroot organizing is what I call a bottom-up approach as opposed to a top-down approach. A top-down approach will consist of communities relying on the state to give or reform itself and then allow these vital resources to trickle down into our communities. That is not going to happen.

A bottom-up approach, on the other hand, will consist of community members organizing, coming together, and then allowing the communities to be led by prison abolitionists who are committed to, number one, raising the financial literacy in these communities in order to eradicate poverty, which is a root cause of much of our social ills.

Number two, these activists and organizers would be committed to raising our communities to high ethical standards by rooting our communities in new systems of care, new networks of support.

Number three, I reimagine these prison abolitionists who are leading our communities as training our communities in conflict resolution, communication, self-defense, so that our communities are equipped and empowered at managing our own conflicts without a police presence.

Four, I reimagine our communities as being organized to destabilize white patriarchy and white supremacy through constant critique and peaceful protests.

Lastly, I reimagine our communities as finally moving away from our nations vengeful model of justice. Our prison abolition communities will instead respond to conflicts within the community, conflicts within the home, the family, conflicts within the self, with community intervention, emotional care, social resources, support networks. This is what I reimagine as a prison-free society. This is my vision of putting theory into practice.

Now, for anyone listening, if you believe as we believe, right? That prisons are barbaric approaches to social ills or that prisons are a violent response to a public health crisis, and you believe that there can be a more effective method for dealing with these issues, then I invite you to assist us in our community building efforts.

On Knowledge Production and Abolition

Rosa: Reflecting on how often you all talk about centering the experiences of those affected, and in so doing, subvert institutionalized knowledge production practices, I find myself thinking: of course. Right? Your collaborative process and projects, if based in abolitionist praxis, have to be challenging and subverting institutionalized knowledge production practices because they aren't working; they are the ones that have founded the systems we are trying to abolish.

Luis: Thank you for bringing that up. I think, in a lot, in a lot of ways, there is a type of, uh, of hoarding of resources in academia. I'm just gonna give the example of where I live. I live in New Haven, Connecticut, home of Yale University. Yale University, as mighty as it is rich, pays very, very little taxes, and, and it has built walls around it. It has built walls around access to tools like sound production and video production. And it has also walled off access to knowledge. And the, the professors and the students that live under this construct are also, in some ways, benefiting from the, the captivity of, of, of knowledge, knowledge creation and resources.

So I think that the question of, of how knowledge is shared and who can access the knowledge, it's been challenged by, by the pandemic, in the sense that we have built a, an education system around privilege and building walls around education. So I think that we need to challenge it. Because right now, when we think about the traditional school, the traditional school because of COVID is no longer, what is the word that I'm looking for, is no longer relevant. The whole system, it just feels irrelevant because there's a theme here, and the theme is that people who have had power, white people, especially white old men, have control over, over these things.

And I haven't been tuning into WNPR in the last four days because of, because of the Republican National Convention. And the reason I don't want to plug into NPR right now is that NPR is consumed very much so by, by the left. However, when you explore NPR's Board of Directors, you find that out of the 22 Board of Directors, 12 of those are member station managers or directors, and out of those 12, there is two people of color. And then there's at-large community members, and out of those, there's only one woman of color, one Black woman.

So when we think about how are we accessing information? And when we look at NPR, the, the station that carries "left programming," I don't know if that, if that even makes sense, the directors of that are, are, are by, by large, white old men. So that's a theme. You know, the theme here too, is at Yale University and the Board of Trustees are by large white men. And, and I wanna challenge that. I, I wanna challenge that and, and I think that if these institutions had an ounce of the courage that people like Andre has, we would not be in this situation.

Sylvia: Exactly. And Luis, like... Gosh, that's like incredibly sad. We're operating in a monopolized media landscape where there's walls around access to what is even allowed to be on NPR, and walls around who has access to knowledge. And I think when we're thinking about this project and what are the barriers that we're trying to break through, it's as much those barriers of this mainstream, even progressive NPR narrative, and elite education and elite institutions. And I think in terms of like, you know, how we've talked about this work as abolitionist work. And I think to me, I've learned my vision of what abolition means from, from Critical Resistance, it being this idea of a world without cages, without borders, without police, and without surveillance. You know, what are those borders? And those borders exist all around us in terms of who is given access and authority.

But I also think that abolition is not just a vision, it's an organizing strategy, and it's a very practical organizing strategy. (laughs) And the way I've learned what that organizing strategy is, is from Rachel Herzing, one of the co-founders of Critical Resistance, and it is not to increase the scale, scope, or legitimacy of this carceral state in any way and to work to demolish its scale, scope, and legitimacy. And we know that abolition doesn't happen tomorrow, but that is a strategy towards abolition. If you think about those categories that means starving the system of resources to decrease its scale so it doesn't continue to grow. That means decreasing the purview of its authority and what is criminalized. And that means completely demolishing the legitimacy of this system. And we see that happening right now in the streets, crucially, so that the police force in this country is delegitimized, and activists are proving that every day. This, this system has no legitimacy. And a part of that is delegitimizing these carceral spaces, is delegitimizing that we need institutions like ICE or prison or jails.

And I think in that broad organizing strategy of what are the steps towards abolition, I think organizing is always an ecosystem, right? And I think independent media plays a particular role within that strategy. And I think where we can make a crucial intervention is that work of delegitimizing the system. Um, and I think it's both an analysis of the system but also a praxis of how you're doing what you're doing. And this is why I think it's really important for this work to be on public airwaves that is also reaching a broader public audience that might not have direct knowledge about the horror of the system.

But when you hear Andre's voice so clearly, and you hear Jose's mother sending out a message to her son, who is 21 years old, who's been detained for two years, much of that time held in solitary confinement. When you hear a mother's voice being broadcast to her son, it completely changes our perception of who is detained and what the system is doing, and I think it reframes what the harm is. The harm is not people who have been criminalized. The harm are cages. This is the harm that's happening. And I think you hear that harm when you hear both the fact that this is a system of family separation and community separation, but I also think that it completely denormalizes these walls, when we can actually just talk to each other across these walls. When you can just listen and you hear Andre's brilliance and you hear Jose's analysis, it raises the question, "Why are these walls here in the first place?" because they don't make any sense and this system is not normal. And so we have to create work that engages in the world in a way that makes it clear that these walls are not normal.

So I don't actually think there's anything that crazy about what we're doing. We're just talking to people who are people, you know. Like, it's sort of enacting a different kind of relationality to show how these walls actually don't make any sense.

activists protesting outside of the Essex County Detention Center in New Jersey.
Activists protesting outside of the Essex County Detention Center in New Jersey.
Luis and Sylvia are joined by migrant justice organizer Ana María Rivera-Forastieri
              for a live on-air conversation at the WPKN studio following the broadcast of the show.
Luis and Sylvia are joined by migrant justice organizer Ana María Rivera-Forastieri for a live on-air conversation at the WPKN studio following the broadcast of the show.
Sylvia interviewing Karol Ruiz, an organizer with the Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center in Morristown, NJ.
Sylvia interviewing Karol Ruiz, an organizer with the Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center in Morristown, NJ.
Los Jornaleros Del Norte performing at a large gathering of protestors in the parking lot of the Essex County Detention Center.
Los Jornaleros Del Norte performing at a large gathering of protestors in the parking lot of the Essex County Detention Center.

With the incredible help of Jose's family, friends, and legal support—and Jose's own efforts—when Episode 4 first aired on WKCR 89.9 FM, Jose was listening from inside his cell in solitary confinement. Two weeks later, Sylvia received a call from Jose's sister-in-law, who had Jose on the line. After talking together, Sylvia asked Jose if he would like to add his own message to the show for the rebroadcast. Here is an excerpt of Jose describing his experience of listening to the show inside.

Jose: So Rachael told met that they were gonna play it on 89.9 at 9:00 to 10:00. So, I was like, "Oh, for real?" And she was like, "Yeah, do you have any batteries?" I was like, "I, I don't have any batteries, I ordered the wrong ones." Cause you... every week you can order, and they come on every Tuesday, of every week on Tuesday. So I didn't have any batteries. So I asked one of the workers, I was like, "Yo, can you please let me get a battery," like, "I'll pay you whatever you want." And he, and he over-priced me, obviously. So I was like, "Okay, I'll buy it."

And then I end up listening. As soon as I connected them and put them, it was... I think it was like 8:50. I, I went to the station, 89.9, and I tried to get some signal, and I wasn't getting any signal. So I was like, okay, I got to jump on the toilet. And I jumped on top of the toilet, on top of the sink, and I was just hanging. And I finally got it. And I got it right there, like, I got it. So I didn't want to move a muscle. So it was pretty cool.

Sylvia: Oh my gosh, you, you literally just got the batteries in time, like 10 minutes before the show started?

Jose: Yep. Yep, as soon as I got the batteries—

Sylvia: Oh my gosh.

Jose: —I put them in and then, boom, it came on.

Sylvia: So the whole hour, what... how were you positioned? Were you just like still, like...

Jose: (laughs). I was on top of my toilet and on top of the sink. I was all the way on top, like, I was high off the ground, and I was leaning towards like the window. So, and then I finally got like the spot, and I stayed there. And for the whole hour, from 9:00 to 10:00. And then the officer passed by, he was like, "What are you doing?" I was like, "I'm trying to get some si... I'm trying to get some signal."

Jose: So once I heard my name, and once I started hearing the, the music and, and the band and the, the instruments, everything, it was, it was great. I... right when you guys came, I heard when they were like, "Oh, if you want to drop off, uh, the equipment, just drop it right here and you guys can park down there." I heard everything. And I started yelling it to everybody, I was like, "89.9! 89.9!" And they were like, "Oh, you on the radio! Dude, you on the radio!"

So they just started like yelling and saying my name. So it was, it gave me so much hope. They... When they were singing, I just felt, I felt peace. Like I didn't know the, the tone, but I was just like happy, I was just spiritual, I was great. It was amazing. Like it was the best time ever, like, I spent in this jail. Knowing that there were people outside of this jail that gave me so much inspiration. Like, when I heard that and heard my name on the radio, I, I told myself, I was like, I'm not alone in this anymore, you know, there's people out there for me, with me.

So it was very, very... it was great. And I heard my mom. Oh my god, my mom at the end. (laughs) Like, my heart melted. Like, my mom, she started saying, like, I, I heard my friends, my ex-girlfriend, my sister-in-law, my mother. Everybody was out there, and I didn't, I didn't think I was gonna hear them. But once I heard my mom's voice, it just... I felt like a baby, I wanted to cry, you know?

So it was, it was great. And like, I know if I heard it, other people heard it, 'cause sometimes they'd be late nights in the room, they just go onto the radio, and they just stop. I know other people heard it, I know for a fact. Once I heard it, I told myself, like if I do good out in this situation, I'm gonna help people in, in need. People that are going through the same thing, I know how it feels. I know, I've been through it, so I can relate. So if I get the opportunity to help people and do everything I can for the Black and brown people, I'm gonna do it. Because we're going through a crisis right now.

poem written by Jose, written on lined notebook paper. Transcript in caption
"Ice Age"
You can't see me, but I'm always present
Run as fast as you can but you'll never Escape me
Fight me with all your strength but you'll never
Deport me. I leave when I wish and come when
I please. I do what I want and you can never
Tame me.
give me a G, give me a O, give me a M, give me
a E, give me a L, give me a I give me a I give me
a N, give me a G, give me a T, give me a H give
me a E, give me a I give me a C give me a E

Building Abolitionist Imaginaries

Rosa: Not only are you all enacting and practicing a relationality and knowledge sharing that really is based in broader access to knowledge, as well as questioning what knowledges you're privileging. As soon as you take out restrictions and barriers to knowledge and resource sharing, you also get to have that conversation: "Okay, who is it that we're deeming knowledgeable on this subject matter." Right? Like, is it someone within the confines of an academic institiution, or is it Andre, and Jose, and Jose's mom, and all of those listening and responding? So I think it's a very critical practice that you all are engaging in, and I can't envision abolitionst praxis without that centering of those affected.

Sylvia: Yeah, and I would say, I think that's sort of the fourth component, reframing knowledge production. And I do want to say one more thing about abolitionist praxis: I think it's a vision. I think it's a strategy. I also think it's always been about having an abolitionist imaginary. And I think one thing I've learned from hearing Mariame Kaba speak about abolition is that part of the work that the carceral state does is disciplining our imaginations and disciplining us into thinking that we can't exist in a world without borders and walls.

And so part of the work has to be, you know, not letting our imaginations be disciplined in that way and imagining otherwise. And I, and I think to return to this sort of medium of sound, I think we, we need every possible art form to imagine our world beyond this. And I think every medium and every artistic practice brings different strengths to sort of demolishing the logics of, of the system and, and art is, is central to any kind of liberation politics. I mean, that's always been reflected in Luis's music show as, as well, as sort of the role of music and culture in abolitionist work.

What I would say about radio specifically in sound is that radio has always been sort of talked about as this, this theater of the mind, right? You're imagining scenes in your head. And this is what we always do when we listen to radio. It requires us to engage our imagination, because we are just listening. And so we have to do some of the visualizing ourselves. And so I think when we use the medium of sound as a tool for abolitionist organizing, it allows us to use sound to create a abolitionist theater of the mind.

And so like thinking about Melting the ICE as a part of that abolitionist imaginary, and I think that is what... I mean, that is what Andre is giving us in his words too. That this newsletter is doing that work of sustaining that kind of abolitionist imaginary.


Rosa: How do you envision Melting the ICE//Derritiendo el Hielo continuing to emerge? Coupled with that, how would you initiate these conversations with others who are looking to do similar abolitionist work with sound within their own communities? I couple these questions together only because I know that some of your continual work with this project is having these conversations with other organizations and folk that are looking at embodying and practicing these same praxis and work in their own communities.

Luis: That's a really, really important question. And I think that this continuing work and, like, this partnership with folks around the country who are doing their own abolitionist organizing and who are, who are radio people, this is like really exciting because I think we're gonna make sure that it's sustainable. Now, to put the sustainability within the context of these like abolitionist organizing networks and content, I think that, you know, we wanna like really hear from folks who are organizing, who have access to radios to, first, you know, map out what their capacity is, map out what organizations are on the ground, who live within the reach of these, of these, uh, of these radio waves. And then from there, sort of... you know, it's really thinking, like to really think through like, how can I use like half an hour a week, or half an hour a month to talk about these issues? And I think like another big lesson is, is also around assembling a team, and I feel that that's hugely important.

How do we first map out the spatial dynamics, talking about capacity, and also assembling a team within that community that can sort of create content to be broadcast over publicly-owned and community-run or student-run radio stations? So I think with that, I think, like, we're able to map those things out in the different communities where we are having these one-on-one conversations across the country. I think if we're able to communicate and set up the right expectations and sort of like work with what is there and without sort of overextending our capacity, that is the base. And I think from there, it really becomes, you know, whatever project you make in terms of, in terms of creating audio.

Sylvia: Absolutely. And I think like, what to me is exciting about this is, like, knowing that in part there's, like there's an infrastructure already here for us to use, which is like this network of community in college and independent radio stations. I think to Luis's point, this work can only succeed if it's local. I mean, that's the whole point of it being broadcast in real time on local airwaves is that it's specific and integrated and a part, in and of, and supporting local organizing that is, that is so abundant right now.

And I also think. to Luis's point earlier. like, I think there's these moments that are, are spectacular of when we make a connection. I also think that, you know, I also wanna be really honest about the intense logistics and communication it requires to make those moments even emerge. And I think we're still really young, and we're still new and building, and we don't have this all figured out, and we're like still trying to build an audience.

I almost feel like, you know, if you can think about in order for any moment like that to exist where, where something is being broadcast and it's being heard, and it's crossing over the wall, and there are people inside that know when it's being broadcast, there's just so much work and communication that goes into even making that moment possible, and it doesn't always happen. And it's like doing this work very responsibly and engaging people's lawyers if they have open cases, and like, you know, the stakes of this all is very high. And so how do we make sure our production is safe and is responsible and accountable to people? This is slow work, but I also think that it's like opening up a space that makes those moments possible. It's like creating the conditions of possibility where that can happen, knowing that it doesn't always happen. But I think this is the art of communication.

Luis, I really liked what you said about like the academy is a place that hoards resources and control and knowledge. And I think, you know, what I have learned from the work I did at Appalshop and organizing is, you know, if this, if this grows, it will be very decentralized and local and emerge in and of each place. And part of it is like we don't really know what the future is, it's sort of unfolding before us, and there's a lot of possibility, but that possibility will grow based on like the conversations that, you know, we've been having and the ideas other people have. But I do think consistency is crucial to build something that is sustainable for ourselves and like see how that can also support other work. Yeah, it's all, it's all a dance, and we're figuring it out as we go.

Melting the ICE//Derritiendo el Hielo currently broadcasts on the third Thursday of every month over the local airwaves of WPKN-FM Community Radio in Bridgeport, CT, and on WKCR-FM, the college radio station of Columbia University, reaching communities and carceral spaces across the tri-state area of NY, NJ, and CT. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes and Spotify.

In their latest episode, Sylvia and Luis teamed up with New Sanctuary Coalition NYC and programmers at WKCR to create a two-hour holiday special. The show is a powerful collage of messages, poems, and prayers from family, friends, and faith leaders across the tristate area and beyond, mixed with holiday music and songs from the long struggle for justice in the Americas. The full episode aired on WKCR-FM throughout December, including on Christmas Eve. Here is an excerpt from the holiday show.

a light peach square flyer. On top are Christmas lights draped above the words provided in the caption. The bottom is trimmed with white in a way that looks like snow covering the ground.
on WKCR-FM 89.9
sending out messages, music, prayers, and poems
to reach those detained by ICE
AIRING: December 17, 21, 22, & 24 (Christmas Eve) at 9 PM EST on WKCR-FM 89.9 & wkcr.org
a light peach square flyer. On top are Christmas lights draped above the words provided in the caption. The bottom is trimmed with white in a way that looks like snow covering the ground.
en WKCR 89.9 FM
Enviando mensajes, musica, oraciones y poems
a lxs amigxs detenidxs por ICE
TRANSMITIENDO: 17, 21, 22, & 24 de deciembre (La Nochebuena) a las 9 PM en ET WKCR-FM 89.9 & en wkcr.org

Mother: This is for you from your mother. This is from the bottom of my heart, I miss you so, so, so much. During this holiday season, there will not be a holiday for me without you. I'm hoping for you to come home, for you to be in my arm like my little baby, my little boy, the boy that I love so much. I pray God every single day for your release, for you to be with me, with your sister, with your fiancée, Natalie, and with everyone that loves you so much.

Oh, this is a mother's love for her son. You are my heart, you are the heartbeat, my heart beats for you, every beat of my heart is for you, my little baby. I can't wait to see you.

Johana: Hey, Dad, it's Johana, te mando mucho, mucho abrazos y un beso muy grande de parte de yo, Diana, Janile y Chris y Isabel. Um, te extrañamos mucho y espero que tengas una feliz navidad y un año nuevo y que estés pronto con nuestra familia, ¿okay, papi? Pronto te veremos, I love you so much. *muah*

Edwin: Hola, ¿cómo están? Mi nombre es Edwin y quería mandarle un especial saludo a todos los muchachos y las muchachas que están detenido en Hudson County, especialmente a mi hermano Villano y-y a mi hermano Flaco, que los queramos muchísimo y pensamos en ustedes todos los días, eh, que sigan peleando y luchando, eh, para-para salir porque nosotros los queramos mucho y los necesitamos aquí afuera. Eh, feliz año nuevo y-y feliz navidad, los quiero mucho.

Speakers 1 & 2: Feliz navidad, tan, tan, tan, tan, feliz navidad, tan, tan, tan, tan, te deseamos una gran feliz navidad, [inaudible 00:02:18], te quiero y te extraño, de los tamales y de los elotes, [inaudbile 00:02:22].

Speaker 3: Feliz navidad, te quiero y te extraño.

Wrapping Up

Sylvia and Luis would like to thank:
The New Sanctuary Coalition NYC, The Connecticut Bail Fund, the Immigrant Rights Clinic at NYU Law, Freedom for Immigrants, Make the Road NY and CT, the Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law (WIRAC), the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), the Yale Migrant Justice Initiative, the Public Humanities at Yale, and the local airwaves of WKCR-FM and WPKN-FM.

Video produced by Travis Carbonella.

Rosa would like to thank:
Friend and colleague Nissele Contreras, who provided feedback on the webtext design through all stages of the drafting process. As well as their brother Malcolm Gabbard, who demonstrated an extroadinary amount of patience in explaining css coding and without whom there would likely be no photo slideshows or photo captions.

How to Get Involved:

Visit the Melting the ICE//Derritiendo el Hielo website, and follow the links below!