Dismantling the Architecture of Incarceration

Editor's Note:

While incarcerated pretrial six years ago, Joseph Vejar led a hunger strike from Main Jail South to protest inhumane treatment. Today, years later, he reflects what it means to him that the community stopped the construction of a new jail.

A few years ago I was sick, struck out, and stuck in the Santa Clara County Main Jail South, "administrative segregation." I read an article in the San Jose Mercury News that talked about building a new state of the art jail. I remember thinking about the design described in the article. I wondered what the architect who was responsible for drafting the blueprints was thinking as they sketched out the plans.

I know architectural blueprints involved a lot of arithmetic, so I'm sure whomever this person is was concerned about accurate measurements and environmental conditions that may compromise the structural integrity of the building. I also wondered if the thought of the ratio, statistics, and years of unjust confinement was also calculated into the mind of this architect. Did the architect take into account the long term effects this work would have on economically disadvantaged communities? Or consider the families this structure would impact, separate, and destroy? I didn't blame the person, I understood. I understood this person probably had a family to support and this project was another job to bring home the bacon.

So there I sat in one of those cells, one of them designed from a different era. I sat wondering until I went to sleep.

I try to keep up with local news and current events. I noticed a couple years ago local and state leaders began to change their position on laws, criminal justice, and prison reform. Even some district attorneys and other law enforcement officials appeared to start pushing a narrative for change and against unjust incarceration and holding their own officers accountable. In the back of my mind I held the thought of this new jail still being pushed to be built. It was comparable to a retailer saying "we're going out of business" while also getting ready for a grand opening. Typical of politicians I thought -- saying one thing while doing another. I snapped out of the thought - I felt I had already wasted too much mental energy on it and chalked it up to politics as usual.

Today I spoke with my sweat heart (Benee Vejar) and she was ecstatic. I thought my life sentence was overturned! But not yet. She informed me that the community was victorious in "arresting" the construction of the new jail. The news was heartening because it was consistent with the larger message of decarceration. Maybe this time, it wasn't just politics as usual.

I pray this movement gains more momentum. I'm sure for some people, the news of stopping the construction of a jail was horrible news. I encourage those people to re-evaluate their freedom and free themselves from the shackles of a still legal yet arbitrary concept of an outdated system.

If you are unable to be a free thinker, then allow the just and innovative thinkers to be the architects of our future.

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