I can hardly believe that it has been another year passing and it is J11 again. I am so thankful for this annual touch point as an opportunity to reach out to my community on the outside and to take stock of the year. It is hard to take in that I have been locked up for more than a decade, and even more sobering to realize how many comrades have been incarcerated for MULTIPLE decades. They have my infinite admiration for maintaining their integrity and for keeping their vision alive through so many years.
I always want to thank all the good folks who do solidarity events to mark this day. I am sure that as I do, all of the anarchist prisoners draw much strength and courage from knowing that you all have our back and have worked so hard to send that immense love across borders and through the bars. There has been way too much hate and “othering” around borders these days. It’s a powerful message to send love instead, and to question the legitimacy of any borders that separate or devalue us as living beings, all equally sharing this planet.
Things are well with me. I continue to advocate for my medical transition and to work on our diversity committee here to educate on trans issues. My transfer to the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, in a low security facility, has revealed yet another kind of space created for incarceration. It is a very space, smaller scale (about 150 prisoners) and both more and less restrictive. I am getting to know what the ground rules are, getting to know my fellow prisoners here. I have not been a lot of places in the free world, but I feel like I have now seen a number of sides to the B.O.P. I plan on writing more about this place soon.
I get a lot of my information about the free world from books, and would like to share a little about two of those. Ann Hansen’s Taking the Rap: Women Doing Time for Society’s Crimes really resonated with me both in describing the effects of the different levels of personal autonomy in different kinds of prisons that she lived in (from a max to a no-fences condo/group home)- but also in how difficult it could be to navigate how a political prisoner could offer support to their fellow prisoners respectfully. The concept of accompaniment, which I first heard of from Alice and Staughton Lynd doing labor organizing in poor communities, seems really applicable to many of Hansen’s observations. I have often felt this year that the best help that I could offer to other prisoners was to walk their walk with them, to comfort and to listen, to be a mentor in the RDAP (drug rehab) program at Carswell and to join in the FIT program here at Danbury – to sing with them, to engage in dynamic discussions of values and history and to encourage mutual aid and respect. It feels important to hold those who are ill or damaged, especially, as that builds strength for all of us.
This signifies a significant change in perspective on social change for me. Much of my political work has been reactive, single-issue and confrontational. I was always a firm believer in intersectionality, moving between issues, movements and identities – but I was not very effective at building or even articulating some clear vision of the world that I hoped to help create. This brings me to the second book that I found so inspirational, adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategies: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. The book weaves together many voices calling for and developing collaborations to create workable solutions to shared problems in a way that embodies the egalitarian society we desire. What I loved so much about the book was its embrace of the process as opposed to focusing on the end-result…and seeing that process of change as a victory in itself.
What is true is that I have traded my freedom and everything I held dear in the free world for a chance at building a new world by resisting the old. I made many, many mistakes and some terrible decisions in that passionate quest. I am humbled by this, but not embittered. Because, if there is dialogue, reflection, and analysis – then perhaps there can be some worth-while lesson found in my experience that could benefit any resistance movement in its growth. And it is that study of our collective history and legacy of struggle that helps me to see my efforts as a small stream joining that great river of change. brown speaks of this in her book; that we can learn to be like water, ever adapting to conditions and becoming what we need to be to push us forward towards freedom.