“Where does it hurt?”

Ruby Sales, Civil Rights Leader

This is a vigil for those who have lost their lives in ACJ.

This is for the people ACJ has killed. This is for the people who have had their time with loved ones stolen by the jail. This is for the people who have lost a part of themselves inside those walls. We grieve, we cry, we rebel with you.

We are organizing vigils because our bodies want to slow down and feel the cracks that cut open our hearts. Each wound inflicted by ACJ is painful. We need time to dwell in the depth of the hurt we carry.

Each wound can also become an opening. An opening to feel our resilience. An opening to bring awareness to the horrors of our system. An opening to connect with one another as our most vulnerable selves. When we take time to grieve communally we build a movement that can cry and dance and scream together. We build a movement that can bring life back to our bodies, our homes and our streets.

This guide has suggestions for building your own vigil to honor the grief and loss that ACJ inflicts on our communities. At this time, we cannot join together in big groups. This is a challenge but also an opportunity for individuals and friends to make vigils and memorials all across the city. Imagine every neighborhood, backyard and street corner in Pittsburgh shining with the memory of those we love and those we lost.  

These are simply suggestions. You are the expert in healing your pain. Listen to your intuition. Follow your gut. We invite you to adapt these suggestions to your culture and traditions. Many of us come from people who have been developing grief rituals, vigils and ways of honoring memory for a long time. We invite everyone to draw upon the wisdom of their people and their ancestors throughout this process.

Even if we can’t be together right now, by sharing motions, songs and tears we can feel each other’s presence even from a distance. We are with you.

This Guide is Organized into Three Sections:

  1. Steps to create a vigil
  1. preparation
  2. during
  3. after
  1. Poems, readings, prayers, stories and songs to use at your vigil
  2. Information about ACJ

If you are viewing this as a Googledoc you can click “Show Document Outline” on the side of the screen to navigate easily between the different sections.

A New Grief Gathering

an abolitionist vigil.

The Abolitionist vigil collective will be hosting a vigil regularly throughout the duration of quarantine. These are the details for our vigil - feel free to use them as a guideline for yours.

Time/place. Sunday, 7-8 PM. The fountain at Point Park, with appropriate social distancing measures, and online.*

*(We'll update how we'll go about the latter shortly, but plan to run a live feed here and/or on Instagram of the fountain gathering. We hope to figure out live participation at a distance.)

Wear white. Bring flowers.

Be safe.  Bring PPE. Make space. We will bring gloves.

Twitter: @jailbreakpgh + @bukitbf

Instagram: @abolitionistvigil


Share With Us!

Feel free to take a picture of what you do or write something that we can share with others who are doing ACJ vigils. Share it with us!

Email: future.c0rps3@gmail.com 

Instagram: @abolitionistvigil

Twitter: @jailbreakpgh + @bukitbf

Hashtag: #AbolitionistVigil 

We want to stay in touch. We hope to build a strong network of folks who are grieving, living and rebelling together. We need each other.

Steps to Create a Vigil


Centering - Bringing awareness to yourself

Notice where you are at emotionally right now. You may want to take a few deep breaths, wiggle your toes or do a calming activity. This can just be a simple acknowledgement.

“I am feeling really confused.”

“I am feeling so sleepy.”

“I don’t know how I’m feeling.”

I am feeling ___________________________

However you are feeling is ok.

Grounding - Rooting in your intentions

Decide what issue, emotion or intention you want your vigil to honor.

“This vigil will honor my grief.”

“This vigil will honor the joy of being reunited with a loved one.”

“This vigil will honor my children and all future generations.”

This vigil will honor _____________________


Start to gather materials that you would like to include in your vigil. These can be objects that relate to the intention you are honoring or your emotional state. These can also just be objects that you feel drawn to or supported by.

Often, really simple objects can be deeply meaningful. Many of our ancestors have been using found objects from nature and the home in ritual and ceremony like candles, stones and flowers. The world around us can be our ally, helping us hold our pain.

You can also think about the symbolic use of a color or item within your faith or culture. For example, in Ashkenazi tradition the color red is thought to ward off evil.

Be creative and listen to what you feel drawn to.

Place and Time

Find a place to set up the items you gathered. This could be somewhere in your house, by a big tree, near a fence in your neighborhood. Ideally it will be a place you can return to.

The Abolitionist Vigil team  will be running our vigil on Sundays at sunset. You can do your vigil at the same time or a time that works for you.

During the Vigil

What would you like to have happen during the vigil? Are there songs, poetry or prayers you’d like to recite? Do you want to have time for silence? What will people do when they arrive? When they leave? How will you and others interact with the items you’ve gathered?

If you have not been directly affected by ACJ, please consider ways to center the voices and experiences of those who are.

You can also think about whether there are any symbolic actions you would like to do. For example, you could have everyone hold a stone in their hand, send their pain into the stone, and then drop the stone into a jar of water so the water can symbolically wash away the pain. There may be a symbolic action or ritual from your faith tradition or culture that you would like to include or adapt.  

There is a great power in making our emotions physical through ritual and symbolic objects. Sometimes we need to see, touch and move meaning-infused objects to help us see, touch and move our emotions.

Trust yourself and feel free to be creative.

Invite People

Decide who you will invite to your vigil and let them know when/where it will be, what they should bring or what they can expect.

You can also just host this vigil for yourself and the people you live with. Personal vigils and grief rituals are powerful.


During the Vigil

Center: Bringing awareness to yourself

Take a moment to acknowledge where you are emotionally. You may want to take a deep breath, wiggle your toes or do a calming activity.

You can say out loud or to yourself: I am feeling ____________________

However you are feeling is ok.

Grounding -  Rooting in your intentions

Arrive at the location for your vigil.

You can say out loud: We are opening space to honor __________

You may have a specific prayer, song or ritual from your culture to open space and connect others to your intention that you could bring in here.

Gratitude and Support

It is often important to give gratitude to those who have helped you get to this moment. This can be those you know like a teacher or family member, or those you’ve never met like and ancestor or elder from your culture. If you are a white settler it is also important to honor and acknowledge the indigigenous people who lived and live on the land you occupy. You may have a specific prayer, song or ritual from your culture to offer thanks that you could bring in.

You can say out loud: We are giving thanks to those who have brought us here. We are thanking ___________________

After you have given thanks, you can ask for physical or spiritual support from ancestors, teachers or the people you are gathered with. You may have a specific prayer, song or ritual from your culture to ask spiritual presences to join us that you could bring in.

You can say out loud: We are inviting _________________ to join us and offer us support.

Reflection and Change

Now you can lead yourself or the people you are with through the ceremony you have planned. People might share songs,interact with the objects you have gathered, tell stories or join in silence. You’ve created the container that can now hold space for personal and collective reflection and change.


When you are done you can close the space. You may have specific prayer, song or ritual from your culture to close a space.

You can say out loud: “We are now closing our space honoring _____________”


You can thank any spiritual support you asked for and kindly ask any spiritual support that joined you to leave. This might be said to an ancestor, dietey, spiritual guide or other spiritual presence that you can’t necessarily see. You may have a specific prayer, song or ritual from your culture to ask these presences to leave.

You can say out loud: “Thank you _____ for joining us. We now ask you, kindly, to leave.”

You can thank any people who joined you and kindly ask them to leave as well.


After the Vigil

Check in with yourself

Check in with your emotions.

I am feeling ________________

You can ask yourself:

  • Do I need food?
  • Do I need water?
  • Do I need sleep?
  • Do I need to move my body?
  • Do I need to do something creative?
  • Do I need to be alone?
  • Do I need to talk to a friend?
  • Do I need to go outside?

If you are needing any of these things and you are able to do it, try it out. Being in a vigil can be draining or bring up challenging emotions. it is important to take care of yourself after as you are able.

Check in with the people who came

If you have energy, in the days or weeks after the vigil feel free to check in with anyone who joined you. You can see how they are doing and if they need any follow up support. Or you can see if anyone who came wants to help you plan or organize the next vigil. You can also check in with them and let them know how you are doing.

Check in with Abolitionist Vigil Crew

Feel free to take a picture or write something that we can share with others who are doing ACJ vigils. Share it with us!

Email: future.c0rps3@gmail.com 

Instagram: @abolitionistvigil

Twitter: @jailbreakpgh + @bukitbf

Hashtag: #AbolitionistVigil 

We want to stay in touch. We hope to build a strong network of folks who are grieving, living and rebelling together. We need each other.


Thank yourself for everything you just did.  



Ami Weintraub (he/they): Ami Weintraub is trans and Jewish. They have ancestral roots from Lithuania, Russia, Poland and Ukraine. Ami grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland and has lived in Pittsburgh, PA for the past 6 years. Ami helped lead grief rituals for the queer Jewish community after the Tree of Life / Dor Hadash Synagogue shooting. They are a teacher at Rodef Shalom, Dor Hadash and in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. They help run Ratzon: Center for Healing and Resistance and Shulayim L’Shalom, a youth group for queer Jewish teens.

Prayers, Poems, Songs, Readings, Practices

Contributed by our community


He ought to be the last

By Autumn Redcross


Richard Lenhart was 49 years old when he died last weekend at the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ). Authorities deny that his death was related to COVID-19, nor that it appeared “suspicious,” though this information is impossible to assess, since the jail has not announced the cause of death. What is not questioned, however, is the fact that Lenhart died in custody. He was said to be unresponsive when called for dinner at the ACJ.

Lenhart was charged with burglary, trespassing, receiving stolen property, access device fraud, theft, and traffic violations on August 28th, 2019. Failing to post bail, he was forced to stay nearly a month until his bail was reduced to $0. Lenhart returned to the courts on March 4th and was sentenced to six-twelve months in jail, plus two years’ probation. He was ordered to pay $5,000 in fines and fees.

Lenhart had served almost two months, about four months away from probation. In proceedings lead by Judge Alexander Bickett, Lenhart had taken a plea deal that included a Justice Related Services plan and mental health evaluation. JRS seeks to provide an array of behavioral, mental and physical health services rather than incarceration resulting in over-population of both jails and prison. However, Lenhart didn’t make it that far.

ACJ officials do not believe Lenhart’s death to be “suspicious” nor related to the coronavirus. “The jail continues to follow the guidance of the Allegheny County Health Department as it relates to the safety of employees and inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Warden Orlando Harper. However, at last count, there were three positive COVID-19 cases among the inmate population of ACJ.

The Warden and County officials have failed to prioritize public health and safety by refusing to release enough people which could have radically altered conditions of confinement within the ACJ. This wholly underscores the relationship of this pandemic has with mass incarceration and deaths en masse. At this moment, one inevitably leads to another. These are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, the fact that this man died in custody, leaves no space for suspicion – he died in the hands of the ACJ.

Lenhart’s crimes amounted to a trip to Walmart in a car he stole from a mechanic’s servicing bay, the purchase of electronics with cash taken from a chamber of commerce office and the failed attempt to purchase both soda and lottery tickets with a stolen credit card. He did not make use of two Chuckie Cheese coins among the stash he had made off with before he was stopped and arrested by the police last summer.

On the day of his death, Lenhart was one among few inmates serving a sentence. The ACJ, jails people pre-trial, on probation detainers, parole violations, violations of court orders and detainers from other jurisdictions. In other words, a jail is designed to hold people until their matter can be brought before the court and is never a place for people to die.

Population count at the ACJ reflects a 26% decrease since the original declaration of judicial emergency in tandem with the state’s response to COVID-19. The remaining 1,753 people currently held at the Allegheny County Jail each have their own story and account of what happened to lead them there. Their stories intersect with that of a justice system that applies the punitive measure of revoking liberty as a means of social control and punishment – even to the point of death.

COVID-19 related or not, the loss of Richard Lenhart’s life represents the implicit, ongoing harm and ultimate violence designed by the justice system and the ACJ. No one should die in jail. Lenhart was the first to fall during this pandemic and he ought to be the last!





Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

Arundhati Roy

Abolitionist Vigil is a collective and extended grief response. In our organizing a weekend ago, the need for an intentional grief space arose. We intend to hold and make space to commemorate lives lost at the Allegheny County Jail, as evidenced by the death of Mr. Richard Lenhart last weekend. He was only 49 years old. His death is not the first this year at ACJ. It is only April.

We organize this vigil and remember that slowness and dis/quiet, especially collectively, is beautiful and radical. We mourn together, at a distance, safely and with care.

When we take time to grieve communally, we world-build. We are resilient and unwavering in witnessing systemic horror and state violence. This vigil is quiet. It is by water at dusk. It is online. In these ways and more we dream and advocate for the abolition of all carceral systems. We agree when Angela Davis says prisons are obsolete. Remember those who have passed due to death by incarceration in its many forms. Join us.

-Ami Weintraub, Jordan Molloy, Milica Bogetić, Miracle Jones, Ru Emmons & comrades

Join us @abolitionistvigil or contact any of the organizers via:


Bukit Bail Fund


Radical Youth Collective

Stardust and Rivers

by adrienne maree brown

sitting at the intersection of life and death, love and grief, waiting for a train.

everything this week has been reminding me i am stardust. i practice non attachment, but the universe grabs me close, shakes me, reminds me everything is connected. the only way to live a meaningful life, a life that is worth the miracle, is to accept the extreme tenderness of connection, to come together with warmth and ease, to be together with honesty, joy, rigor and pleasure, and to release each other with as much grace as possible.

even if it’s a dream, even if it’s a painted sky, even if it’s all predetermined…i feel so much, and i’m so grateful to be able to feel so much, to have this range of love demanded of me. this aliveness is my victory, and i am always free.

now, now, now, with sleep in my eyes and work to do, i watch the human river flow and see poetry, realize i am wet, realize i am weeping in public, glitter on my cheeks, heart growing in a way i can feel. and then it’s time, again, to go.


Call Out Circle

Set aside time for folks to shout names of people lost in ACJ or people who have had part of them lost.

        You can name Richard Lenhart

        You can light a candle for each name called

Altar Building

from “Healing in Action: A Toolkit for Black Lives Matter Healing Justice and Direct Action”

Building Altars exist in many cultures throughout the diaspora and a broad spectrum of traditions have unique altar building practices. If building an altar resonates with your culture and expression, an altar can be a visual reminder of ancestors, Spirit, God or whatever we call that which is bigger than us. Altars can provide a place to reground and reconnect to our lineage and purpose

Grounding Exercises

from “Healing in Action: A Toolkit for Black Lives Matter Healing Justice and Direct Action”

 Breathwork – Breathing is obviously fundamental to life, but our breath can also be used consciously to control our nervous system. If we are short of breath, as an example, whether from asthmatic crisis or chronic anxiety, the resulting feeling we have is often panic. Deepening our breathing, even for a moment, can help us soothe our anxiety, calm our panic, and restore a grounded nervous system.

Box breath – Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, release for 4 counts, and hold at the bottom for 4 counts. Repeat several times. Notice if your shoulders are able to drop, notice how thoughts and moods shift. Body scan – Together, notice your bodies and what is happening for you internally. We spend a lot of time, especially if we are feeling unsafe, tracking what is happening outside of ourselves and in the minds of others. Take time (and breath!) to get curious about what is happening within your own bodies. Share out a mood and a sensation you noticed for the first time.

Chanting – Chanting and group singing are great ways to ground on a shared purpose or feeling. They are proven to regulate and sync up nervous systems within a group.

Check-ins – Most folks make time for check-ins at the start of meetings. The magic of check-ins can only work in relation to our vulnerability. Can we make room to ask each other how we are showing up and what we need to feel more present or grounded? What will you need during an action to stay grounded?

Speak Your Grief

from: Self-care for trauma, grief and Depression - BLM resource guide

Speak your grief aloud into an object that you can bury. Put it back into the ground,the soil, the cycle. Trust the earth to transmute this energy for you.

A Body Scan

        We are gathered, some of us physically, and some of us in virtual space together, to hold space for collective grief and mourning. We are in a time in which all of us are experiencing limitations on our movement, ability to be together, and to do the work and play we are accustomed to. For some folks, the confinement and limitations on our movement may be a new feeling; for others, this could be familiar. Tonight we will be focusing our ritual on those who are incarcerated at this time, who are experiencing this pandemic in a heightened and unjust way. Let’s start by focusing inward, on what we are bringing here tonight. On what our bodies are telling us about confinement, limitations on our movement, and grief. I’m going to invite you through a small body scan exercise. You can do this sitting or standing or lying down, wherever you are. Just start to bring attention to your breath, and feel free to close your eyes or gently veil them if you’d like.

Inviting attention into your feet, I invite you to think about the potential energy stored there. (you can even tap or jog in place if you’d like to experience this potential energy). Let us stay grounded in our connection to the earth, and to people in all levels of confinement and incarceration right now.

Inviting attention into your knees, notice your own adaptability. If you’d like and are able, you can bend and straighten your knees a few times. Let us stay adaptable and agile in our movement building and togethering in this time.

Inviting attention into your core, notice the heat and fire stored here. You can flex your core muscles or do some twisting here to notice these incredible muscles that hold up a part of your body without the structure of bone. Let us stay aware of our strength outside of the structures of capitalism, the prison industrial complex, and all other systems of oppression.

Finally, invite your attention to your hands, noticing how you can ball them up into fists, or gently brush your fingertips across your hand or forearm. Noticing how the mechanisms for power and gentleness are the same. Allowing for whatever might come up during this time to come up -whether it is sadness, anger, frustration, impatience, love. All of those experiences and more are welcome here.

You can slowly open your eyes as we move into the next part of the vigil.


Lean Back

by Sarah Salem

Lean back, they say

Lean back, they say

Lean back, they say

We're right here

We're right here

Second Part:

We are at your back

Feel the waters of ancestral blessing

We are at your back

We're right here

We're right here  


In the curls of your hair

In the fire of your stare

In the drops of your blood

And when you speak

And when you speak

In the air that you breathe

In the knowledge that you seek

In the wisdom of your hands

And in your bones

And in your bones

When the World is Sick


Gather Here



She is On Her Way

by Aly Halpert (full lyrics can be found at the sound cloud)


the policemen have thrown away their guns

they kiss their sons and their daughters and their souls are at peace

no more black boys black girls trans women dying

no more reasons that could ever justify their loss

and mothers send their teens out at night

to breathe the sweet summer air and exhale on the ground

the earth was made for them

the earth is made for them


Bird Wings

By Rumi

Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror

up to where you are bravely working.

Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,

here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.

Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.

If it were always a fist or always stretched open,

you would be paralysed.

Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,

the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated

as birdwings.

V’ahavta Poem

 by Aurora Levins Morales


Say these words when you lie down and when you rise up,

when you go out and when you return. In times of mourning

and in times of joy. Inscribe them on your doorposts,

embroider them on your garments, tattoo them on your shoulders,

teach them to your children, your neighbors, your enemies,

recite them in your sleep, here in the cruel shadow of empire:

Another world is possible.


Thus spoke the prophet Roque Dalton:

All together they have more death than we,

but all together, we have more life than they.

There is more bloody death in their hands

than we could ever wield, unless

we lay down our souls to become them,

and then we will lose everything.  So instead,


imagine winning.  This is your sacred task.

This is your power. Imagine

every detail of winning, the exact smell of the summer streets

in which no one has been shot, the muscles you have never

unclenched from worry, gone soft as newborn skin,

the sparkling taste of food when we know

that no one on earth is hungry, that the beggars are fed,

that the old man under the bridge and the woman

wrapping herself in thin sheets in the back seat of a car,

and the children who suck on stones,

nest under a flock of roofs that keep multiplying their shelter.

Lean with all your being towards that day

when the poor of the world shake down a rain of good fortune

out of the heavy clouds, and justice rolls down like waters.


Defend the world in which we win as if it were your child.

It is your child.

Defend it as if it were your lover.

It is your lover.


When you inhale and when you exhale

breathe the possibility of another world

into the 37.2 trillion cells of your body

until it shines with hope.

Then imagine more.  


Imagine rape is unimaginable. Imagine war is a scarcely credible rumor

That the crimes of our age, the grotesque inhumanities of greed,

the sheer and astounding shamelessness of it, the vast fortunes

made by stealing lives, the horrible normalcy it came to have,

is unimaginable to our heirs, the generations of the free.


Don’t waver. Don’t let despair sink its sharp teeth

Into the throat with which you sing.  Escalate your dreams.

Make them burn so fiercely that you can follow them down

any dark alleyway of history and not lose your way.

Make them burn clear as a starry drinking gourd

Over the grim fog of exhaustion, and keep walking.


Hold hands. Share water. Keep imagining.

So that we, and the children of our children’s children

may live


Information about ACJ

Report from Bukit Bailfund

The conditions inside the jail are awful right now — people are unable to buy commissary, call their family members, etc. . Three inmates have been tested as positive and likely many more will contract it since they are unable to isolate. Apparently the hospital beds are full and people with the disease are being segregated and left without care. In addition, there are 40 medical vacancy positions at the jail, and the person who oversees medical issues does not have a medical degree. I don't know if you heard, but someone in the jail died by suicide last week.

Even though the rumor is that a lot of people have been released, they have only actually reduced the population by 583 people over the last 1.5 months. (Every month and day, many people are released as usual which skews the numbers of released people to the public). And most of the people who are getting released have public defenders who are fighting for holds to be lifted, not judges who are making decisions/passing motions (which we desperately need to be passed for the safety of everyone inside). There are also federal inmates who are not up for release, and who are serving time for victimless crimes. I believe there are about 300. Many, many people are being held on petty violations and detainers because they are considered high risk for "reoffending."

It seems as though the Courts are more-or-less running on a business-as-usual program, but just being somewhat more lenient. They are using the (often vanishingly small) "probability" that someone is arrested again—"risk to re-offend"—as a proxy for maintaining public safety and as a justification to keep people inside, even as the virus spreads.

Likewise, regarding the oft-thrown around number of "900-950 releases", I feel like it is clearer/more accurate to discuss this all in terms of population reduction. In typical months, over a thousand individuals are booked into ACJ and a thousand more released from the jail, hundreds on a weekly basis and approx. 25-45 daily. So while they have “released” over 1200 people since March 1st, they have only reduced the population by 583 over the past month and a half—‘cause they also happened to have booked almost 700 people since that same date.

ACJ Statistics


  • 75% of the people in Allegheny County Jail have a history of drug and/or alcohol abuse or mental health issues. 48% have both.
  • ACJ has the second highest rate of suicides across the 50 largest US jails.
  • 81% of inmates have not been convicted of any crime.
  • In 2015, ACJ had twice the national death rate of US Jails.
  • Historically, deaths at ACJ occur in the first few days of arrival.

Federal Inmates Left Behind Amid Releases From Allegheny County Jail


“About 250 of the county jail’s roughly 1,680 inmates are being held by federal authorities as they are tried in federal court. But while local officials have acted to release hundreds of prisoners due to fears of the coronavirus, there has been less movement at the federal level. And with the county already reporting four cases of the disease at the jail, Puglisi worries that her brother is “going to get it and die.””

We’ll see many more covid-19 deaths in prisons if Barr and Congress don’t act now


Patrick Jones had served 13 years of a 27-year sentence for a low-level, nonviolent drug offense when he died from covid-19 on March 28. He was the first person in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to be killed by the pandemic, but within days seven more people had died. Their deaths were entirely preventable, and many more will follow if responsible public officials do not act now.”

ACJ Inmate On COVID-19: ‘He Sees It Spreading And He Doesn’t Feel Safe’


“Cotrina’s cellmate was quarantined recently, suspected of having the virus, but has since returned. He told Perkins that to protest conditions that he and several other inmates went on a two-day hunger strike, refusing the meals they now have to eat in their cells. Because of the virus, commissary privileges have also been suspended, leaving inmates unable to buy supplemental food.

“He told me that 60 inmates from his wing wrote and signed a letter and sent it to the media because of the conditions,” Perkins says.  The Current did independently verify that some inmates on Unit B had refused food earlier this week.”