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Punking Cash Bail 

A Halloween variety fundraiser gathers support for Decarcerate Utah

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DEVIN LINDLEY
  • Devin Lindley

"Cash bail is frightening. Cash bail is scary. Cash bail is a nightmare," are a few of the taglines offered by Katie Van Sleen about the cash bail system, which is the subject of an upcoming Halloween event by local prison abolition collective Decarcerate Utah. Van Sleen, along with fellow DU member Shaylee Syme, will be hosting a Punk Rock Halloween-inspired variety show and silent auction to benefit the efforts of DU's Community Bail Fund, a project with the goal of helping incarcerated Salt Lakers get back to living their lives.

In a conversation with Van Sleen and Syme, it's hard to tell what they're more fired up about: the costume prospects available to them as hosts of the live streamed show, or the obscenity of the bail system. "We will be having multiple costume changes," Van Sleen says of the show, which stemmed from a desire to revive the Punk Rock Halloween tradition virtually. But because of the complicated ask of getting bands to learn cover sets and get costumes together during a brain-numbing and wallet-draining pandemic, they decided to pivot to the more flexible format of a variety show (for which more info is available on Twitter and Instagram @decarcerateutah or on decarcerateutah.org).

"It still will be in many ways a Punk Rock Halloween," Van Sleen says of the Oct. 31 event, which, even with its variety show theme, is indeed still a punk effort if one remembers that punk in its truest form means fighting back against oppression.

"Basically, the first two requests for the bail fund were $60,000 and $100,000," says Van Sleen, describing the initial requests for bail aid DU received just after raising an initial $15,000 for their fund in September. "We also had a request just last week of $500,000 [from] someone who's been in jail for over a year, [who] has still not been convicted of a crime."

Van Sleen notes that this delay is because jury trials aren't happening now, due to the pandemic. Under normal circumstances, people who are forced to wait for a trial are then "incentivized to take a plea deal they otherwise wouldn't take, because they just need to get home, and they need to take care of their families and work and not lose their children [or] their jobs," Van Sleen explains.

"At the very least, holding people in COVID prisons is cruel and this pandemic is unusual," Syme adds. "Nobody can afford $500,000 cash bail—except there are people who can afford $500,000 cash bail, and they can go on and continue to live their lives undisrupted. The people who can't afford that are typically the ones who are stuck in a cycle of poverty. So it reinforces the structure of crime and punishment for these people who are 'innocent until proven guilty.'"

But the Community Bail Fund seeks to disrupt the cash bail system—so that it stops disrupting the lives of Utahns all over the valley. "The cool thing about the bail fund is that we get to reuse the money over and over and over again," Van Sleen says. "But if we don't have the money to fulfill those requests in the first place, we just have to tell those people 'no,' which is what we had to tell our first two requests. So we're trying to raise as much money as possible so we can bring our community members home."

Enter the Halloween variety show and silent auction. Confirmed local performers will stream sets via Zoom, Facebook Live and YouTube Live, and include local acts Red Herring, Umbels, Rebel Rebel, PK Opal, Marqueza, Josaleigh Pollett and, for a refreshing international twist, the "anarcho-noisy beep-boop" act Beau Mahadev from China.

"I'm sure there are a lot of other people who depend on performing to be at least some of their income, so I think this is going to be the first time some people have performed in a really long time," Syme points out, indicating that tips to artists individually wouldn't be unwelcome. Comedy routines from William Mierzwa and Aaron Woodall and drag performance from Mona Diet will supplement the musical picks, and while the show rolls, folks can donate at slcbailfund.org/donate or tip via Venmo or Cash App.

"There are going to be prizes the night of our variety show that we are going to be giving out throughout the night, which should incentivize people to stick around, tip and participate," Van Sleen says. Winners of the raffles and the silent auction can look forward to donated goods from local musicians, artists, businesses, bakers and other makers, with silent auction bidding going live a week before and through Halloween night. Bidders will also be glad to know that any person of color donating goods to the auction receives 15% of the funds raised from their item.

"Our elected representatives, especially Erin Mendenhall, don't seem to care about incarcerated people who are affected by cash bail, who are primarily low-income, poor and homeless. That's a fair statement," says Van Sleen in closing. Luckily for SLC, the folks from Decarcerate Utah are showing everyone how to disrupt a predatory system and take care of our community—and having good old-fashioned Halloween fun while doing so.

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About The Author

Erin Moore

Erin Moore

Bio:
Erin Moore is City Weekly's music editor. Email tips to: music@cityweekly.net.

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