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Remembering Tumi McCallum

Katherine Kugay

Dear Mills Community,

It is with great sadness that we write to our allies and friends about the recent death of one of our former interns, Tumi McCallum. We hope to shine some light on the person Tumi was, particularly given the extremely limited discussion of her life in media coverage of her death.

Tumi came to Justice Now through a class she took with Julia Sudbury at Mills College.

While working with us, she provided invaluable assistance to people in women’s prisons in a number of extremely important ways. As an advocate, she provided a vital lifeline to the outside for people in prison.

She corresponded with people in women’s prisons facing severe and life-threatening medical problems, providing them with crucial information and advice.

Even after completing her required hours for school credit, Tumi continued her work with Justice Now, far surpassing what was initially required. Her commitment combined with her skills allowed her to take on more complex work.

Tumi advocated on behalf of a woman in prison who was in need of medical treatment but had been told by prison staff that nothing could be done for her.

Tumi’s strong conviction that this was untrue led her, as an undergraduate, to research the law and determine that the prison was in fact unfairly denying treatment. Tumi also advocated for a women in prison suffering extreme medical neglect and identified her as a person who might qualify for alternative sentencing. If successful, this is a process that would allow the woman to be resentenced and released from prison.

Because of Tumi’s identification of this woman’s situation, Justice Now currently is working to secure her release.

Tumi was a brilliant writer and a passionate advocate, all of which was tucked behind a humble and patient demeanor. ÿShe always had a smile on her face, and she approached all of her work with tremendous energy and careful attention.

As someone who had experienced living under a police state as a child in South Africa, she had a long-standing understanding of policing and imprisonment, which, she argued, “worked at oppressing my community instead of making it safe and protecting it.” She was born at the end of the Apartheid system and was on the run with her family from the police, who were pursuing her mother for her activism against Apartheid for many years. ÿShe drew parallels between those experiences, the prison industrial complex in the United States, and the treatment of Black people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, all of which fueled her passion for racial justice. She was fully committed to social justice work. As she wrote in the last line of her letter requesting an internship at Justice Now, “[this] is the ideal place for me to begin my activism against the policing system and to end violence against our communities.”

Tumi had plans to come back to Justice Now in the fall and had expressed her conviction that this was to be her life’s work. Her sharp political insights, her intense commitment to social justice, her quiet assuredness, and her generous spirit are a great loss to all of us. She will be greatly missed, and we join her family, friends, and the larger community of social justice activists of which she was a part, to honor her life.

In solidarity and in hope for a world without violence in all its forms,

Justice Now.