For the People Artists Collective: Virtual Quilt Project Favorite 


Jul 9 2020


Chicago IL

During the COVID-19 pandemic, two Chicago-based organizations, For the People Artists Collective and Chicago Community Bond Fund, worked together to create Decarcerate Now, a virtual quilt honoring individuals who died of COVID-19 while in the custody of the Cook County Jail (CCJ). At one of the nation's largest jails, CCJ, on March 23, 2020, two incarcerated individuals had tested positive for the virus, and just over two weeks later, more than 350 people were infected. On April 8 of 2020, Cook County Jail the New York Times identified Cook County Jail as the "top hot spot" for COVID-19 in the United States. The numbers are likely to have been downplayed because most of the 4,500 inmates had not yet been tested. By April 12, more than 300 people incarcerated at CCJ had tested positive for the virus and had climbed to a rate of 68 out of every 1,000 people incarcerated at the jail.

Although this is not an issue specific to Cook County Jail or Chicago, the local organizations wanted to memorialize those in their community. To create the virtual quilt, members of the collective designed unique portraits for each individual who has passed. People outside the collective are encouraged to get involved in the creative process of Decarcerate Now.

On September 16, 2020, the Coalition to End Money Bond held a vigil outside the George W. Dunne Cook County Office building, where the Sheriff, Chief Judge, and the State's Attorney work. They carried eight caskets, each with portraits from the virtual quilt, representing the eight people who died from COVID-19 in CCJ. Since then, two more individuals have died of the virus while in custody at CCJ.

For the People, Artists Collective organized Decarcerate Now to honor the lives that the mainstream media dehumanizes, those within the state's walls. The Chicago Community Bond Fund and For the People Artists Collective wanted to combat the narrative of reducing the lives of those lost to their criminal histories, failing to recognize behind every allegation is a human being. They believe no one's life is disposable, and any life lost to the virus while in custody was a preventable death. Both groups recognize that some of the individuals the quilt memorializes have caused harm to the community and do not intend to dismiss that reality. Both groups acknowledge survivors while also believing carceral punishment and death by incarceration is not the solution to combating violence in communities. They ask supporters to continue to demand a mass release now.

Posted by kenzlars on

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How does this project help?

Timeframe For change


Although it is difficult to gage the effectiveness of this project, I do not believe it reached enough to make drastic changes to perceptions of those who are behind the state's walls, or pushed forward the idea of decarceration. There may have been more impact on a local level that I am not aware of.