Saturday, May 5th


Setting the stage for Bring Down The Walls, this first week we look at the origins of the prison industrial complex, inviting global, historical and personal perspectives that question how and why our current culture of systemic control and punishment exists. Conversations will introduce the abolitionist position, as well as explore the intrinsic links between the current prison system and America’s history of racial exploitation, economic discrimination, and other oppressive social practices.

Please note that Bring Down The Walls is an organically evolving communal space. Times may shift and programs added throughout the run of the project. Check back regularly for the most up-to-date schedule.

School Is In Session

2:15 – 2:30 PM

Welcome to Bring Down The Walls! Join us as we introduce the framework and themes for the day’s conversations, exchanges, and debates.


Introduction to the Radical Abolitionist Position

2:30 – 4:00 PM / Big Room
Bianca Van Heydoorn, Pilar Maschi


How did the United States come to incarcerate more people than any other nation? The origins of the prison industrial complex pre-date the War on Drugs, Jim Crow laws, convict leasing, slavery, the Middle Passage, and even the rise of capitalism in the West. These oppressive origins mean that merely making reforms to the current system will not get us close enough to achieving true justice. This talk will address why many feel the prison industrial complex must be abolished completely, and propose the framework for the prison abolitionist position.


The founding Director of Educational Initiatives at the Prisoner Reentry Institute, Bianca van Heydoorn’s seventeen year career reflects a deep commitment to increasing access and opportunities for vulnerable and marginalized populations, including incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, and young adults.


Involved with Critical Resistance since 2001, Pilar Maschi is a proud queer Boricua mom who raised her now college bound 17-year old daughter Autumn in the South Bronx. She is a house head, former club kid, and DJ born and raised in NYC. As a formerly incarcerated, queer, anti-establishment abolitionist, Pilar uses her power to fight for the liberation of all people most impacted by the prison industrial complex.


The Journey Home

2:30 – 3:15 PM / Small Room
Reuben Miller


What happens when you return home after incarceration? This talk maps the journey from prison back into society, and all of the difficulties that accompany a reentry process designed to be a revolving door back inside instead of a warm welcome home.


Reuben Jonathan Miller is an ethnographer and Assistant Professor in the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. His research examines life at the intersections of race, poverty, crime control, and social welfare policy. His forthcoming book, titled Halfway Home, is based on 15 years of research and practice with currently and formerly incarcerated individuals and their communities.


Walking Tour with Reuben Miller

3:30 – 4:00 PM / Leaves from Lafayette Street & White Street


Bring Down The Walls is situated amongst the institutional pillars of the prison industrial complex, including the Manhattan Detention Complex and New York City’s courthouses. Map the journey to prison and back on a walk through Lower Manhattan’s maze of courts, facilities, and administrative buildings hiding in plain sight amidst the day-to-day of New Yorkers.


Campaign Action with Critical Resistance

3:30 – 4:00 PM / Small Room


Take action! Numerous New York City based campaigns are fighting mass incarceration and supporting those most affected by it. This series will connect you with various local campaigns and present opportunities to join their work. Critical Resistance is a grassroots organization working to abolish the prison industrial complex.


Global Perspectives on Mass Incarceration

4:15 – 5:45 PM / Big Room
Baz Dreisinger, Christina Dawkins


No other society in human history has ever imprisoned so many of its own citizens for the purpose of crime control. This panel will discuss forms of incarceration around the world, alternatives to the U.S. penal system, and how the U.S. prison industrial complex is being exported as a product of globalization.


Dr. Baz Dreisinger is the founder and Academic Director of the Prison-to-College Pipeline program, which offers college courses and reentry planning to incarcerated men throughout New York State. Dr. Dreisinger was named a 2017-2018 Global Fulbright Scholar for her work promoting education and restorative justice and her book Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World, was named a Notable Book of 2017 by the Washington Post.


Christina Dawkins is the founder of A4Abolitionist, a social justice consultancy specializing in projects that employ art and education to effect change. Currently she serves as Director of Civic Engagement and Social Justice at Eugene Lang College, The New School in New York. She is also the founder of the Justice-in-Education Initiative Scholars Program at Columbia University, providing educational opportunities to formerly incarcerated persons.


How We Got Here: Crime and Punishment

4:15 – 5:00 PM / Small Room
Eric Anthamatten


How has incarceration become a valid form of justice? This talk will contextualize the evolution of the system and examine various philosophical concepts that surround the idea of crime and punishment—justice, harm, offense, revenge, and forgiveness.


Eric Anthamatten is an instructor of philosophy and arts at The New School, Pratt Institute, and Fordham University. His work focuses on issues of social justice, most especially incarceration, as he taught philosophy in prisons in Texas, New York, and Connecticut for a decade. His work has appeared in The New York Times and The Atlantic, and he is working on book titled Pedagogy of the Condemned.


Walking Tour with Reuben Miller

5:15 – 5:45 PM / Leaves from Lafayette Street & White Street


Campaign Action with Just Leadership USA

5:15 – 5:45 PM / Small Room


Take action! Numerous New York City based campaigns are fighting mass incarceration and supporting those most affected by it. This series will connect you with various local campaigns and present opportunities to join their work. Just Leadership is dedicated to cutting the US correctional population in #halfby2030.


The State of Things And Things of the State: Human Rights & Mass Incarceration

6:00 – 7:30 PM / Big Room
Alejo Rodriguez, Heather Ann Thompson, Nicole Callahan


What does it mean to be locked up? Some of the most egregious human rights abuses take place inside jails and prisons. This talk focuses on the treatment of incarcerated individuals and the strategies for protecting their rights and dignity.


Alejo Rodriguez joined the Prisoner Reentry Institute as a Mentor and Alumni Coordinator in October 2017. Also a founding teaching artist member of Tribeca Film Institute’s Community Screening Series for incarcerated men, Alejo received his Masters of Professional Studies degree from New York Theological Seminary and a Bachelors of Liberal Arts degree from Syracuse University.


Heather Ann Thompson is the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, author, activist, college professor, and speaker from Detroit, Michigan, best known for her book Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy.


Nicole Callahan is the TOMS Core Faculty Fellow Core in Contemporary Civilization at Columbia University, where her research focuses on composition pedagogies and the history of the essay. She also teaches a Columbia course called “Humanities Texts Critical Skills” to the Justice-in-Education Scholars, a group of formerly-incarcerated men and women.


Behind the Music

6:00 – 6:45 PM / Small Room
Phil Collins and Vocalists from Bring Down the Walls


Hear the classic house covers from the Bring Down The Walls benefit album, and the story behind the project from the artist and his collaborators.


Legal Action Center

6:00 – 9:00 PM


Legal Action Center will be providing help with a variety of issues, such as: how to apply for Certificates of Relief or Good Conduct, whether to obtain a copy of your NYS RAP Sheet and how to do so, information about one’s rights when seeking a job or license with a criminal record; information about NYC’s Fair Chance Act – the “ban the box” law, initial screenings for sealing eligibility, and other reentry services. More information here.


Walking Tour with Reuben Miller

7:00 – 7:30 PM / Leaves from Lafayette Street & White Street


The Iron Closet

7:00 – 7:45 PM / Small Room
Jay Borchert


During the seven years Jay Borchert spent as a prisoner in California, Minnesota, and Illinois, one of the most troubling conditions of confinement was the re-criminalization of his identity as a gay man. This talk will offer first-hand and collected accounts of how sexuality can bring about swift and durable punishment from the state, forcing LGBTQ individuals into an “iron closet” when imprisoned.


Jay Borchert is a Visiting Professor of Sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a public sociologist and public criminologist whose research and advocacy focus on prisons, prisoners, prison staff, conditions of confinement, and the law as subjects of intense social negotiation and conflict.


Gimme That House Music, Set Me Free

7:45 – 8:45 PM / Big Room
Abbie Adams and Gladys Pizaro


What is house music anyway? Deep. Raw. Designed to make you dance. A four-count beat and bassline that many know, but the origins of which few understand. Join us for a in depth discussion on the history of house – from its roots in the 1980s in Chicago, Detroit and New York, to the top of the UK charts, and up to present day.


Abigail Adams (aka “the Fairy Godmother of House”) went from Roxy skate shop owner to music mogul, helping define the genre of house music and put the unique New Jersey Sound on the map. Her groundbreaking record label, Movin’ Records, helped launch the careers of luminaries such as Blaze, Kerri Chandler, Vincent Herbert and established her as one of the genre’s most influential women.


Gladys Pizarro put her aesthetic mark on two of the most important street music labels of the 80’s and 90’s as A&R for Strictly Rhythm and Nervous Records. With her unwavering vision and ear for new talent, the imprints captured the evolution of NYC’s underground dance sound. Gladys’ new label, Launch Entertainment, aims to develop a new generation of hitmakers -producers, artists and DJs- in the house music genre.


Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say with FREE NEW YORK and Just Leadership USA

8:00 – 8:45 PM / Small Room


Inspired by the day’s exchanges and call to action, school wraps up with sign-making and rally training. Join criminal justice organizers as we crank up the music and march on the streets, activating Manhattan’s civic center.