On Radical Acceptance, Chosen Family, + Collective Care: Reflections from JAC’s Summer Interns

by Hannah Teich, JAC Web Team Intern

I first came across JAC last fall, on an aimless Google search for something like “prison + art.” At the time, I, like all of us, was home, feeling mostly restless and isolated, untethered from the everyday rhythms of normal non-pandemic life. For the past few months, I had been writing for an online criminal-justice news outlet, covering – from the safety of my own apartment – the ravages of COVID-19 in carceral environments across the country and beyond. These stories moved and troubled me, but also left me feeling overwhelmingly powerless: what difference could I, as just one person and from so far away, possibly hope to make? 

When I stumbled upon JAC’s internship program, it felt like an opportunity – an opportunity for connection, an opportunity to learn, and an opportunity to bridge the divide between myself and the things I cared about. Now, almost a year later, my time with JAC has delivered on those promises and then some. In my 8+ months as a JAC intern, I have learned, grown, and evolved in ways both big and small. I’ve been awed by JAC’s network of incarcerated artists, who have opened my eyes to the true power of art as a tool of communion, healing, and transformation – in our communities, our systems and institutions, as within ourselves. I’ve been blown away by the infinite kindness and thoughtfulness of the larger JAC community. And maybe most of all, I’ve been moved, humbled, and inspired by the members of this team, who put so much of themselves into this work and who approach both JAC and one another with an open mind, an open heart, and a genuine desire to do good. 

Working with JAC has taught me that transformative justice, like so much else in life, is really about people – about the connections we make, the communities we build, the ways we love and support and show up for one another. JAC has challenged and enabled me to think more critically about my own involvement in this work, to approach my own advocacy, my relationships, and myself with more compassion, more consideration, and more care. Sadly, an internship can’t last forever, but I will always hold JAC, and my time here, close to my heart, and I know my fellow interns feel the same. In the coming weeks, JAC’s summer intern team will be “passing the baton” to a new cohort of interns. As we prepare for the transition into fall, we offer a series of reflections from our outgoing summer team on our experiences with JAC, the lessons we have learned, and what we’ll be taking with us. 

Alden, Events & Communications Intern: Though I have only been with JAC for a few months, I have been lucky enough to interact with our network in an abundance of rewarding ways. The greatest highlight of my time with JAC so far has definitely been our national convening. After working with the convening team tirelessly throughout May and June, it was amazing to see the event actually come together. Art for a New Future created a safe space for abolitionist dialogue, creation, and connection; I am so grateful to have played a small part in the creation and execution of this event. In the future, I hope to continue to work at the intersection of art and social justice, particularly in close proximity to carceral justice and abolition. Working with JAC has given me first-hand experience in this realm and fueled my passion for this work. 

Ava, ArtConnects Intern: The highlights of my time with JAC, although there are far too many to name, have primarily been centered around creating strong, meaningful connections with members of the JAC team, network, as well as numerous artists who have taught me more about my world than I ever thought possible. Most of all, speaking with network artists about their approaches to art and the ways in which it has shaped or altered their lives – and so, the ways in which I have been able to connect, human to human, with those that may have lived an entirely different story than myself. Those moments are the ones I most often turn to when reflecting on my time with JAC. On the flip side, the most challenging aspect of the work has been the fact that it can be hard emotionally. Since we are all passionate and genuinely invested in the work that we do, it can feel as though there’s never enough done as we attempt to work against systems that are designed to deny folks humanity and personhood.

JAC has truly instilled in me a perspective that is now forever with me – a perspective that opens my heart and mind to people and stories that I otherwise would not have heard. I have been forever changed by being immersed in a community striving for justice truly reflective of humanity and of a tomorrow that looks just a little bit better than today. While other internships will teach you how to work efficiently, or complete someone’s busy work, my time at JAC has altered the way I see my world, my education, and my approach to art. JAC has taught me radical acceptance, the importance of centering humanity, and furthered my belief of art as a universal communicator as well as a tool for survival. I have trouble verbalizing how much this all meant to me, and the mark it has left on me, but I know my heart will always be grounded in this work. Our JAC family has been miles past amazing, and they all have taught me what it means to work alongside others who are passionate, authentic, and supportive in every sense of the word. 

Well, thanks a lot JAC, because now I don’t know what I’m going to graduate school for. My education track is Art History, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to continue on as before, knowing how much I care about this work and how it has altered my view of who makes art, who makes “valuable” art, and who makes art that gets to be seen. I have no idea where I’ll go from graduating this coming spring, but I won’t ever be far or truly gone from JAC. Thank you, Wendy, for completely ruining my plans. I am forever grateful. 

Hailey, Web Team Intern: JAC has been my safe space this past year, with COVID wreaking havoc on my experience as a then-college junior.  I’m so happy that my decision to apply to a random internship listing on Handshake brought me here, a year later. You’ll hear Wendy say at some point that once you’re in, you’re in. And it is the truest statement I’ve ever heard. Leaving JAC is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and while I know that I’m not completely cutting myself off, I genuinely cannot think of not being a part of this team. My favorite memory has got to be the Art For A New Future National Convening. It was so stressful and was the most hardcore thing we’ve ever done, but there was a sense of solidarity that can sometimes feel left out during remote work. Constantly [being] in contact with everyone about minute details to send out was so fun and on the first day, as we saw the hundreds of attendees join the Zoom meeting, the energy was so real and authentic. I’ve learned so much in this year and it all sounds cheesy in my brain – your experience is what you make of it, family is/can be chosen, you don’t have to do or go through things alone, be authentically you – but those are all things that I genuinely learned through my time here. 

Joslyn, ArtConnects Intern: Having been with JAC for over a year now, I have learned and gained so much more than I could have ever hoped for going into this internship. Before discovering JAC, I had never considered how my interests in art and social justice could intersect. JAC opened my eyes to so many things I had never thought about before. I have been so fully immersed into such a beautiful community that I really had no idea existed before, and I am eternally grateful for that. 

My plan for the future is to work as a mental health counselor in carceral settings. While that’s obviously not completely directly related to the work I have done here, JAC has actually been vital in giving me confidence in that career choice. Before working with JAC, I always had some doubts about whether I was the right person to work with this community. I worried about being able to find common ground and gain the trust of people who may see me as being very different from themselves. I have been incredibly lucky in my position with JAC to correspond and connect directly with many of the incarcerated artists in our network. I have been able to build relationships with people I would have never encountered in any other context. I have not only been able to support and gain the trust of these individuals, but I have also been supported and offered friendship myself. Being involved in such beautiful correspondence for the past year has given me full confidence that I am heading in the right direction. 

Of course, not everything has gone perfectly in my correspondence; I have encountered many challenges and obstacles. It can be really hard knowing that you can’t do everything – you can’t help everyone. You have to learn to acknowledge your capacity and stick to it. But in the end, everything I have said and done has been met and accepted with so much grace and understanding that I am never not amazed by the community we have here at JAC – both inside and out. All the incredible people in this network have honestly changed my life and I could not be more happy or more proud to be a JAC intern. 

Katherine, Events Intern: I have so many highlights throughout my time with JAC, it’s hard to choose just one! I’ve been with JAC for almost seven months now. I’ve met so many people and I’ve made so many valuable connections, connections that I believe will last a lifetime. Beginning with the JAC intern team, to the exhibition team, to the gallery of the month team, to the convening planning team and lastly, to the Wednesday night gathering team, each person has engraved a little bit of themselves into my heart. We show up to each meeting and virtual space with our full hearts and authentic selves. I have never experienced such a warm and welcoming community other than JAC. 

The most challenging part about JAC is taking on more than I can handle. Our work is so meaningful, and I always want to be a part of everything. Other than having a serious case of FOMO, it’s so easy to make JAC a big part of your life, which I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing. The most rewarding part about JAC is again, making the connections with our community members. In working on the events team, I communicate with a lot of different teaching artists, formerly incarcerated artists and currently incarcerated artists. I learn so much about what people experienced and who they are in our world. It’s so rewarding to be surrounded by a community who believes in the same things you do, and learning from one another. Waking up every day and knowing I’m doing work that I love fills my heart up to the brim. 

Although it’s only been seven months, I feel like I have learned so much. Every day there has been a moment to learn. I usually do my daily tasks on my own, but learning how to work effectively with our team has helped me through so many projects. Over the course of my time with JAC, I lost one of my best friends in a motorcycle accident. My entire world turned upside down and it went from one of my busiest weeks, to learning how it’s okay to step away from my work. The intern team stepped in, without even asking. One of our biggest events was happening that week and I didn’t have to worry that it would fall through the cracks. And here we are three months later, our team still asks me how I’m doing. I appreciate each and every one of them so much. JAC was my rock during one of the hardest moments of my life. 

I plan to continue interning with JAC throughout the fall as I enter grad school, studying art history with a track in museum and curatorial studies. I have always had a passion for the combination of art and social justice, wondering how I can create an inclusive museum for all. JAC has only deepened my passions. I plan to take it a step further over these next two years of study and figure out how to make my dream possible, with the JAC team by my side.

Melissa, Web Team Intern: I’ve said this many times, but for me, JAC is a workplace where I felt empowered to embody and share my values. This is more than just speaking on what I believe, but also living my values out to the fullest in the actual work. JAC is centered on community and it’s extremely apparent in how we move as a nonprofit and as a team. There is no better place to be. I learned what I can expect and even demand of a place I work – what kind of standards and values I can hold myself to in the future because I’ve seen it function here. Other than that, I have gained a much better and more nuanced understanding of how art and abolition work together, and the role of art in liberation, especially in the carceral system. As we know, none of us are free until we are all free. JAC has taught me how essential art is to that freedom. 


Leave a Reply