Local cafe hosts benefit for nationwide prisoners literature fund

Amie Ninh

Straight from jail cells nationwide, the struggle of prisoners was brought to the forefront of the Evanston community Sunday.

The Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, a national nonprofit organization that fulfills requests from U.S. prisoners for revolutionary reading material, garnered support from prison-reform proponents and other revolutionary thinkers at a benefit for the fund Sunday at the Boocoo Cafe, 1823 Church St.

The benefit sought to raise awareness for the educational literature fund and its mission, and featured performances by local musicians and dramatic readings of actual letters from prisoners.

“I do believe in the cause of giving people in prison the information that helps them understand the flaws of our system, so they can get a much clearer perspective of how a truly revolutionary thinking process can help them when they get back into society and even while they’re incarcerated,” said co-host Dave Trippel. “It’s really about getting to the underlying flaws of our system, the racism, the classicism, particularly around economic class differences.”

Every week, the fund receives a steady flow of letters from prisoners nationwide, which often contain personal reflections and requests for reading materials. At the event, these letters were read by professional actors to a packed room.

“We try to be open to any sort of progressive movements or causes, anything that benefits the people,” said Ted Sirota, Boocoo’s artistic director. “People seek answers of why there are 2.3 million people in prison in the United States.”

The event’s organizers benefitted from contributions from local businesses, including donations from restaurants such as Dixie Kitchen and Heartland Cafe. Sirota’s own band, the Rebel Souls, performed.

“There have been fundraisers around the country, and we’re hoping to do one (in Evanston) and push a trend,” said Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund volunteer Jackie Coleman. “We wanted a good mix of people to come together and hear those readings of the letters because they’re so heartfelt and challenging and thoughtful.”

The concept for the event was brought about by a dialogue between Sirota and fund representatives. The fund mainly sends prisoners complementary subscriptions to the weekly newspaper Revolution, a publication for the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, as well as other books that advocate change.

“I think the world is crying out for revolution and socialism,” said Anne Magrath, a volunteer with Chicago-based Revolution Books, which provides the literature to the fund. “Capitalism has failed. It fails to provide for human need.”

Sirota said he faced some opposition, but the community response has been positive.”When you bring up the idea of revolution, people get scared,” he said.

Trippel, who has lived in Evanston for more than 50 years, said the town’s diversity and liberal mindset make it a good place to bring attention to the cause.

“There are a lot of church groups and gangs going into prison, and those to me are very sad answers for people in prison,” he said. “Getting to the truth of society is really something they can grab onto.”

[email protected]