Ebonique Little, Contributing Writer
Twenty-two pages of cartoon-style drawings created by Richmond artists and other Southerners are reimagining conversations surrounding the Virginia jail system.
“Color Out Cash Bail,” released Sept. 16, is a political education coloring book that seeks to end pretrial detention in Virginia and the South.
The project was created by Southerners on New Ground, or SONG, an organization that connects Southern LGBTQ people of color, rural individuals, immigrants and working class people who face varying forms of oppression.
SONG members Micky Jordan, Laura Chow Reeve and Jasmine Leeward led the coloring book project, which took about a year to complete.
“We wanted to find ways to talk about the issues of the money bail system,” said Jordan, a Richmond-based genderqueer activist and graphic designer, “and just like, general criminalization of Black people, people of color, queer and trans people in the state of Virginia, in a way that incorporated art.”
Jordan said he wanted to bring criminal justice issues to light in a way that was digestible and not age-specific.
The book examines abolitionist calls to defund the police, immigrant detention centers, surveillance technology and the cash bail system. Jordan said the latter destroys marginalized communities because the ability to post bail matters more than the crime itself.
“When Black women and caregivers in their communities are in jail, it really directly impacts everybody around them, their kids, family members,” Jordan said. “They lose their jobs. And so all of that can just be ruined just because they have a bail set they can’t pay.”
Jordan said the coloring book artists were selected based on the quality of their work and how deeply the artist resonated with the book’s goals. He said they also focused on representing artists of color and those of the LGBTQ community. Each artist was given a topic, and they created one interactive page based on their assignment.
Syd Cordoba, a 2019 VCUarts photography and film graduate, was one of five Richmond artists who lent their talent to the project. Cordoba created a comic strip on bail statistics, depicting a person in front of a judge in a courtroom setting, pulling out empty pockets.
Text accompanying the drawing states that 46% of people in Virginia jails haven’t been convicted of a crime, a figure reported by the Legal Aid and Justice Center.
Cordoba said visualizing statistics was a bit challenging, but they enjoyed combining art and activism. In late May, nationwide Black Lives Matter protests sparked in honor of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody with an officer’s knee on his neck.
Some demonstrations in Richmond led to protesters’ arrests, and demands for their release became a central element of ensuing marches. The coloring book was in its final stages as more bail funds were created to release protesters.
“What was really interesting was that when I was done with my page, that’s when the uprising started here in Richmond,” Cordoba said.
Cordoba said their favorite part of participating in Color Out Cash Bail was the sense of community among Southern artists. Cordoba was able to connect with some of them virtually.
“When Black women and caregivers in their communities are in jail, it really directly impacts everybody around them, their kids, family members.” — Micky Jordan
Melissa Duffy, another Richmond artist selected to contribute, said she was “all in” after hearing about the project. She created the book’s “Know Your Rights” page, which includes an illustrated dandelion representing resilience and strength in the justice system.
“A dandelion doesn’t just grow in the most hostile environment you can throw at it, it thrives,” Duffy said in an email. “That seemed like a good idea to branch out from.”
Duffy said providing collateral, or bond, to secure one’s release is a challenge for Virginians. Text on the page states that someone who is struggling with drug addiction and charged with simple possession will automatically be given secured bond, instead of opportunities for treatment.
“The system needs reform, rework and overhaul,” Duffy said.
The SONG members who organized the book said they hope it’ll inspire change. Jordan said they are providing 300 limited copies to Richmond teachers and other organizations, including National Bail Out and Black Mamas Bail Out Action, who can use them as educational tools.
At the request of a donation, the coloring book is also available as a downloadable file, so that everyone can access the information.
“It’s not just like, here’s a bunch of facts about these awful systems,” Jordan said. “It’s also ‘What can we do about it? What do we hope for the future?’”
To access the online version of the coloring book, visit southernsonnewground.org.