No New Prison: An artist’s way to generate the conversation in Nebraska

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Hannah Michelle Bussa
CONTRIBUTOR

Hanson created “No New Prison” note cards to express her beliefs and hope for change. Photo courtesy of Stephanie N. Hanson.

When she found out about the proposal for a new prison in Nebraska, Stephanie N. Hanson knew she wanted to do something.

“I wanted to encourage others to [contact their senators] and hopefully generate some conversation,” she said.

As a multi-disciplinary artist, Hanson knew she could use her talents to generate this conversation.

“I hold myself accountable by using my privilege and talents to work in service of others and encourage and support transformation and justice,” she said.

Hanson also knew she could express how she was feeling through art.

“Art is something I’ve learned to use to express myself, process emotions and connect with the world around me,” she said.

Art helped her work through chronic depression. Now, she said she is managing her mental health, and has the capacity to get more involved in social justice issues.

“With a clear mind and a healthy self-esteem, I’ve realized I have a lot to say. However, I’m actually quite introverted, so using art for activism is a way for me to be heard, be loud and reach a lot of people,” Hanson said.

The publicized violence and murder of Black people in 2020 stirred up anger within Hanson. She said she turned to art to express what she was feeling.

So, when she heard about the multi-million-dollar prison proposal in Nebraska, it stirred her creativity. She created “No New Prison” note cards to send to members of the Appropriations Committee and her state senator.

“Prison abolition and justice system reform are important to me,” she said. “When I found out part of the Appropriation Bill 383 included the request for capital funds to build a new prison, I knew I wanted to do more than just write to the committee and my senator.”

She offered to send the No New Prison note cards to anyone wanting to get in touch with their state senators, as long as they donated $10 to the organizations RISE, Racial Justice Coalition of Nebraska or Send Earnest Home.

“The three organizations I chose are aligned with my values,” she said. “RISE is seeking to support those reentering society. The Nebraska Racial Justice Coalition is seeking to support people touched by, involved and/or wronged by the justice system and working to make incremental change to the justice system itself. And Send Earnest Home is working to get an innocent human [Earnest Jackson] home to his family. Each of these organizations seek transformation and right relationships.”

Encouraging others to write to their state senators was important to Hanson. She wanted to show elected officials that taking the time to write personalized notes shows commitment.

“The written word is powerful,” she said. “It’s commitment to beliefs and values. It’s a record. It sways minds and hearts. It touches souls. It’s a catalyst. It can be made accessible – a note card is pandemic friendly, and I like mail.”

Hanson said her views on prison abolition have changed. Two years ago, she thought the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) needed reform. Through her education on the origins and history of the PIC, she has come to believe reform is not the answer. Now she is a prison abolitionist, and she wants to prevent Nebraska from building another prison.

“Community resources that address the root cause of harm and provide basic human needs are what’s needed to make communities safe,” she said. “Prisons do not equal safety. If the state can find $230 million to spend, then it should use the money to get resources to the people, not put people in cages.”

Follow Stephanie N. Hanson on Instagram @__.stephanieh.__.

RISE, Racial Justice Coalition of Nebraska, and Send Earnest Home can also be found on Instagram.

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