P4W Symposium, 20+ Years Later

It’s hard to believe that over two decades have passed since the closure of the Kingston Prison for Women (P4W). In retrospect, October 2023 brought an illuminating gathering to reflect on P4W’s legacy and prompt important conversations about our current carceral system.

Our journey of connection and reflection started with a remarkable three-screen video installation. Held at the Isabel Bader Centre’s Art and Media Lab, “What Fools These Mortals Be,” co-created by 14 formerly incarcerated women in Vancouver, reinterpreted Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” This display of resilience and creativity left an indelible mark on all who visited.

The following day, the symposium picked up pace with a panel discussion on “Carceral Logics and the Limits of Reform.” Academics Rachel Fayter, Kelly Hannah-Moffat, Debra Parkes, and Dawn Moore deeply probed into the progress made since P4W’s closure and the unfinished journey towards a reformed system.

As the day unfolded, attendees were offered a rare and compassionate look into the lives of women incarcerated in P4W through the screening of the 1981 film “P4W: Prison for Women”. The intimate Q&A session with directors Holly Dale and Janis Cole, added depth and context to the moving depiction of the women’s lives in P4W.

However, the symposium was not just about structured discussions and screenings. Moments of informal conversation, introspection, and planning during meet and greets, sharing circles, and meals added depth to the event. Of particular note was the session over lunch dedicated to conversations about exhibiting prison art, providing a unique perspective on the power of creative expression in the context of incarceration.

The closing day continued with a vibrant discussion on “Art, Activism, and Co-Creation,” culminating in a contemplation of the next steps and a closing circle. A poignant P4W Memorial Collective meeting was a fitting end to an insightful gathering.

Looking back, we recognize the immense value of this symposium, expertly organized by Lisa Guenther, Brenda Longfellow, and Linda Mussell, with the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Archive/Counter-Archive, and Queen’s University. The legacy of P4W may be etched in our past, but its implications resonate in our present and will undoubtedly impact our future actions.

For anyone seeking further details about the event, feel free to contact us. As we look forward, let’s remember that together, we have the power to create change.

Courtesy of Toronto Public Library Archives

Below is an audio recording of a panel discussion from this event.