Letters to our Family (September 2017)

Dear Black & Pink,

I just got a hold of your December 2016 issue and I loved it. I was unaware that there was something like this newsletter for us in prison. I’ve been to three different prisons in ten years and I just got this. To have a place where we can reach out to one another, share our stories, and the injustices of the “justice” system is invaluable.

Most of us have had to hide who or what we are growing up and/or in prison. I am relatively new to “the life,” having only been able to accept myself for who and what I am openly and actively 2.5 years ago. I fought myself since I was 14. I’m now 29, openly gay and happy.

Had there been a support system this strong available when I first noticed my feelings, I may have been a whole other person than the one I am today. To be able to accept yourself when you live in a place that makes you feel like you have to hide constantly is a major victory for someone when they’re young. Black & Pink gives confidence to those of us who haven’t had any because of the way we were raised. I’m so glad that Black & Pink is here offering support and encouragement, letting people like me know we’re not alone.

Thank you Black & Pink,
David (OH)

 

Black & Pink Family,

I recently received your Newsletter for the first time. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone in this place. I’m a gay male of color who has just recently started feeling comfortable with who I am as a person. With the “jacket” that comes with being gay in prison it is difficult as all of you know to have true friendships. So I hid who I was for a long time. However, I am who I am and I’m happy with that now.

I met the love of my life at my last unit. I had no idea it was possible for me to find happiness in a place like this but I did. I say all of that to say this, keep your heads up my LGBT family. There is happiness out there for all of us. I was a cutter, I was bullied and I hated myself. But I love myself now and there are people who love me too. I love you. Never forget that. You are special and wonderfully made.

Love,
Chris (TX)

P.S.—Pain is inevitable, misery is optional

 

Dear Black & Pink Family,

I’m writing to send my love, respect, kisses, and hugs to you. My name is Rosalyn. I am a transgender woman (MTF). I’m 32 years old. I’ve been in prison 12 years and I’ve got another 12 years to do in prison. As a female (a trans female, at that), I’ve had a hard time in prison, especially because I’m a Muslim. I’ve been denied the right to freely practice my religion. I’m denied a prayer rug to offer my daily prayers, I’ve been denied a hijab (shawl) to cover my hair during prayer, and when leaving my cell I was out right denied the right to be seen by a transgender specialist based solely on the fact that I was not seen by a transgender specialist and treated for gender dysphoria while on the streets.

That clearly makes this a freezeframe policy, especially since it was given to me in black and white, which makes it unconstitutional, because it does not provide for individualized assessment and treatment for a serious medical issue. But if you look at Arnold v. Wilson, which involves a transgender woman whose diagnosis and treatment began while incarcerated, the courts noted that hormone therapy may be initiated during incarceration upon diagnosis with GID.

I’m a strong, African-American queen and there are two things I will not tolerate: 1) I will not tolerate any disrespect from anyone, especially a man; 2) I will not tolerate, nor accept, the word “no” when my rights are being violated. I’m filing a 1983 lawsuit against the state of Maryland and its officials for denying me hormone therapy due to a freeze-frame policy. I’m attacking the freezeframe policy and their denial of my right to freely practice my religion.

The pen is a dangerous weapon when you have knowledge and the know-how to use it, so it’s very wise for my LGBTQI brothers and sisters to educate themselves and arm themselves with a pen and pad. It’s just like having a MAK-90–it blows through anything. Brothers and sisters, do not fear losing your family and friends because of who you are, because if they truly love you, they will support you, but if they don’t love you, they will leave you. And guess what! You still have your LGBTQI family who will love, respect, support, and accept you for who you are. Don’t hide out of fear of losing family and/ or friends, nor act out of fear of what people think, because in the end, it will only destroy you psychologically. Love yourself for who you truly are: a queen or king.

Love, respect, hugs, and kisses,
Your sister,
Roslayn L. (MD)

Welcome Message from New National Director, Tray Johns!

Dear Members,

Aloha and Greetings to you all, I would like to formally introduce myself. I am Tray Johns (pronouns, she, her, him, he, they, or just tray), the new National Director for Black & Pink. First off, let me express how humble I am to accept this enormous responsibility and immediately give you the reassurances that I fully intend to carry on Jason’s vision and make Black & Pink everything Jason continues to dream of. I am in awe of this man. I love him and his beautiful spirit and his amazing partner Johannes, so don’t fret: they will always be with Black & Pink because I refuse to let him go.

I’m 42 years old, born and raised on the south side of Chicago at the height of the crack epidemic, 1985- 1995. During those years, crack destroyed my family, but not me. I joined the Navy and got out, but the streets always found a way back in me. No matter where I lived, when the going gets rough for Tray the south side of Chicago gonna come out and I’m gonna make it. I was 21 raising five children, the streets took my sister, by 27 I had eight kids under 12, prison took my brother, and I was left with all the kids.

On May 10th, 2003, I graduated from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale with my Bachelors degree in Administration of Justice and made the Deans List with eight kids. Then, five days later, I was sentenced to 151 months in federal prison for 9.7 grams of crack cocaine. I served eight years, seven months, and 19 days for less than $500 worth of drugs. I became a jailhouse lawyer, I helped my sisters, I got “transferred” from Greenville, IL, to Hazelton, WV, to Waseca, MN, to Pekin IL, to Danbury, CT. Because I believe in the almighty administrative remedy and the tort claim. So I wasn’t the most compliant prisoner. I once told a warden, “Growing up I have not once told myself I wanted to be the best inmate I could be, that wasn’t in the plan, so don’t think you are gonna get it from me. If you can’t handle me, send me home.” I got “transferred” for a head count.

I have been home for six years, albeit I was sent back for four months in 2015 for leaving the district without permission, when my mother had a stroke in Chicago and I drove five hours to the hospital and called my PO “an hour after I already left.” My second year home

I was making $65,000 a year as an engineer for Continental Tires. By my fourth year out I was knee deep in Can-Do Clemency advocacy for the White House Clemency Project 2014. Many of you may have heard of it.

My rallying cry has been and will always be #freeTyniceHall. She is my prison daughter and friend and I have been slacking in keeping up but I will fight for her until she is home. I will fight against the prison- industrial complex, until it’s destroyed. I don’t give up. In 2016, I traveled to 125 cities, went to the White House three times, was arrested at the White House by the Secret Service. Went to the Department of Justice, organized a rally and march

for Lashonda Hall in Knoxville, TN. My sisters Karen Davis, Lenora Logan, Mackese Speight, and Bernetta Willis, and my brothers Aaron Brooks, James Ortega, and Lawrence

McCarroll—I have fought the good fight for them, and I will never give up. I have spoke at law schools and corner churches, crisscrossed this country, sleeping in my car, tired, broke and determined. I bring that same perseverance and determination to Black & Pink.

I met my wife in 2009 in prison Waseca, MN, I left her in 2010, I came home in 2011, and when she walked out those doors in December 2016, I was standing right there in the airport and we moved to Hawaii with one suitcase and $200 so she would never be alone again. I bring that dedication to Black & Pink.

While Black & Pink is going through this huge transition, I am recently married and am moving my wife, Foxxy, from Hawaii to Boston and dealing with probation. I would ask for your continued support— this organization is nothing without its volunteers. I have a dream opportunity here, and amazing work is already being done throughout the country in the prisons and out.

Our chapters came together at the National Gathering in August and put together the future of Black & Pink and they were simply brilliant— ideas flowed, the conversation was like we had known each other for years, and I was able to capture and see the passion that these volunteers have for this work and feel encouraged that when I officially join the team this train ain’t even slowing down. I applaud every last one of you. I thank you and I look forward to your guidance and your patience as I take on this task and align our visions to destroy the prison-industrial complex in our lifetime.

I look to hearing your feedback.

Yours truly,
Tray “Rock” Johns

Farewell Message from Jason

Dear Friends,

I hope this note finds you as well as possible. As you turn the pages of this magazine, I hope you feel the love and dedication that so many people put into making this happen. I hope you feel the care that volunteers and other prisoners are offering to you. I hope you know that even as the prison walls keep you from those of us on the outside, you are never forgotten. This magazine is made possible by hours of volunteer time, hours of prisoners writing, and thousands of dollars donated by our friends. Please know that this is just one of the tools Black & Pink has created to help us get closer to the world we dream of. Together, all of us, we have the strength to win the struggle for liberation.

I write my letter this month with a great mix of emotions. This is my last letter for Black & Pink News. After founding Black & Pink 12 years ago, and taking on working full-time as the National Director five years ago, I am stepping down from my role. As I step down, I am incredibly excited that Tray is stepping up!

Black & Pink has gone through a two-year transition process which many of you have been part of. We clarified our values as an organization (with nearly 200 people offering their feedback), we designed a structure chart, and we created a decision making system. All of these things have been designed to increase our work while staying true to our values. All of the changes in this transition have been worked on with intention and dedication. Our shift in leadership is about making sure that those most affected by the harms of the prison industrial complex are always in the lead at Black & Pink. As many have said before, those closest to the problem are the ones with the best solutions. Transitions and change can be challenging, and there will be bumps along the way, though as a family, Black & Pink will always have one another and this this is an exciting time for Black & Pink.

As I step down from this position, do not think that I am stepping out of our movement for abolition. When I got out of prison I reached out to many mainstream LGBT groups to tell them about what had happened to me while I was locked up and to ask them how I could get involved in anti-prison work. Over and over I was told that these organizations did not do work on “criminal justice” issues. Black & Pink started because I needed to stay connected with those on the inside who had looked out for me. I needed to respond to the things I had seen. Now, nearly every major LGBT nonprofit has some dedicated staff time focused on prisoner justice struggles. Many of these organizations have full time staff who work on prison, court, and police issues. There are also nearly a dozen organizations in the country who are focused almost entirely on LGBTQ and/or HIV prisoner struggles.

Much has changed in the last 12 years when it comes to advocacy work. Unfortunately, even as much has changed, far too much has stayed the same. Prisons continue to torture our members. Millions of people continue to be locked up. Abolition continues to feel too far away. While I am stepping out of my position at Black & Pink, I promise you that I will never step away from our values or our larger work. I promise that I will keep fighting.

I am sorry that I will not be able to stay in touch with everyone. There are not nearly enough hours in the day to write to everyone who has been part of Black & Pink. However, you are all in very capable and loving hands. Tray, Monica, and Ty as the national staff are all dedicated to building with and supporting you. Black & Pink will continue to grow and the resources available will expand. Your vision, your voice, your ideas all need to keep shaping what Black & Pink does. Be sure to share your thoughts.

Black & Pink is only possible because our prisoner membership calls upon us to do work. Give your feedback and keep up with what work needs to be done. We will all struggle in this movement together, no matter where we are, knowing that once there were no prisons, that day will come again.

Jason

Letters to Our Family (July/Aug. 2017)

Greetings –

Just FYI Black & Pink is making a difference in the lives of oppressed people who happen to be incarcerated in the state of Illinois. The Chicago chapter is one to be truly proud of. They were instrumental in me being transferred here to Dixon C.C., which has a mental health unit. They made calls – they utilized social media – and they were RELENTLESS & FIERCE. I think back to the B&P of old & I smile. 🙂

Jason – You’re a visionary & an icon. It’s a privilege to still be reppin’ B&P all these years later.

I saw it go from a little newsletter mailed in a standard sized envelope to this full-fledged stuffed & edifying newsletter/magazine. This IS a movement. 🙂 I will continue to lend my voice, experiences & talents to advancing the cause of justice, equality, and dignity.

Thanks and remember – U are making a difference. I love my B& P family!!!!

w/ love – in solidarity –
Patrice (IL)

 

Dear B+P fam,

This is Emily Rayne Vladimir Severus. I’m a TransGender male to female. I’m serving time in the not so lovely state of Oklahoma “ODOC.” I’m fighting for my hormones as of today I got a copy of the “Blanket Policy” that states I have to be on “hrt” hormone replacement therapy prior to incarceration. In fact, as of today I looked up a previous stated case 851.F.Supp.2D at 250 I went to the 9t181 and found a key for Transexuals and something you can find it under key 14 it’s still the same case: Kesilek V. Maloney. It’s talking about the Blanket Policy. This is something that needs to be dealt with.

When is it okay to sit there and deny treatment because your DOC policy says prior to incarceration? Let me give you a little history why I wasn’t on them prior to incarceration from the last time I was told to have GID classification. You have to live as the assigned birth no less than 2 years than you got to live as your preferred gender no less than 2 years. You also have to undergo counseling for x amount of years. I hid myself even though I attempted suicide multiple times for 23 years. In 2013-2015 I lived as a female as best as I could but one thing stopped me as money kept me from applying hormones and also I was still undergoing counseling at the time of my arrest. It wasn’t until June 2014 I got the diagnosis then I got it confirmed by a doctor here in DOC. The one thing still remains.

You wouldn’t deny insulin to a diabetic, would you? No but I’ve heard of one case they did. The Blanket Policy for ODOC needs to end. Here’s the next problem I have no money to take it to courts in fact the previous Assistant Warden threatened to “ship” us off the yard if we even thought about putting in paper work. I’m one of the many that decides to go ahead and put ink into pen and paper and help in justice for transsexual/transgenders in Oklahoma Dept. of Corrections. Today, we as humans, need to quit being afraid and come out of hiding. Even though my name hasn’t changed due to a S.O. bill negating sex offenders to getting name changes, Nov. 2014 we need to be vigilant. My boy name at birth is Jon Matthew McDaniel Crowell and when I go through this change I can’t allow the state to keep me as Jon Matthew McDaniel Crowell as a girl/woman. We need to fight the Oklahoma Justice System and keep our rights because even though Grays are our clothing we are humans. I would like to thank my sister Isabella for the information. I’ve been receiving B+P for 2 months now and even though mental and emotional pain it causes me I’m a little joyed that she put it in there. If it wasn’t for Isabella I wouldn’t have went to the law library to check on the case.

I’m hoping to dispute a case in 10th circuit court in Denver, Colorado. For a civil suit on this case I got maybe 2 years max. For my first time of writing the Black and Pink I think I did okay on informing the family about the “ODOC” Oklahoma Dept. of Corrections Policy.

w/ Love,
Emily S. (OK)

 

Dear Black and Pink,

Hello fam! This is Jay of course. Well, I just wanted to say a few words to everybody out there across the country right now who’s either in solitary, segregation, or doesn’t feel the place they don’t want to be in. Especially to those in the Texas penal system, because in TDCJ I know how it feels all the oppression, discrimination and those who feel who can’t do a damn thing about it. I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone. I made a powerful decision putting my foot down and stop dealing with other people. I’ve decided to grow a pair and fight for what I believe in and the pride I have of being gay. I’m 21 years old and I’m getting too old for all the hate and I still show love to my enemies. There’s a song you should listen. It’s “Nirva-Brother.” When I heard it, it spoke to me about Brotherly love and love that God gives despite of anything we all have. Also, “KJ52 – Island of Misfit Toys” says about God loves us even if you’re gay. He said he wanted to make a song for those who didn’t fit in, To think god hates gays but no He loves everyone the same.

Nobody knows this but God created everything to fall into place even the LGBT community. He made us to show and be an example of love. We have love to everyone even if we hide hate in our hearts. I feel like I hate the person in front of me but I don’t. I dislike the person’s action of what they do. Don’t worry because one day, God will come and He will show us His love and created a new world where all the LGBT will freely show love. That’s what I believe.

I read the newspaper and I feel and find comfort in keepin’ up with the family. This is where I found to where I really belong. I’ve received also the Spanish version and I was amazed how the staff pulled it all together. Thanks to you for reachin’ the Hispanic community. I just want to say keep your head up high and not to be afraid. Fight if you have to. That’s what I’m doing. Are you?

I love you all and stay strong!

Love and in solidarity,
Jay L (TX)

 

Dear Family,

Hi all! My name is Ashley and I’m a trans* identified woman currently being housed in a male facility in the Oregon DOC. I’ve been receiving Black & Pink for a while now and have yet to see anyone from Oregon write in so I decided to write in to let everyone know what’s up for the LGBTQIA family in Oregon.

Trans* identified adults in custody with a Gender Dysphoria diagnosis in the Oregon DOC can now petition the Gender Non-Conforming TLC committee to receive state issued undergarments that align with their gender identity as well as petition to receive access to a gender affirming canteen list. In order to begin this process, they need to contact Mental Health (BHS) and inform them that you want these things. This will begin a drawn-out process that will take six months to a year to complete. But it’s so worth it! While wearing makeup bras & panties doesn’t miraculously make me feel 100% in-line, it does help alleviate some of the dissonance that I experience. This is the first time in 14 years of incarceration that I feel more like my true self and less like an actor.

We are still fighting for access to hormones and other medical affirmations. Thankfully, the ACLU of Oregon has decided to look at moving forward with at least 9 of our cases. Fingers crossed! it’s only a matter of time before all DOCs are forced to provide services.

I would like to close by sending my strength and solidarity out to all of our family inside and outside of the walls. Most, if not all, of use have faced hardships, pains and traumas that would have destroyed the wills of the “average” individual and caused them to back away from the perceived “sin” to society; But not us. We openly declare our LGBTQIA status in spite of the hardships, pains and traumas and fight back against the oppression. Remember that you are awesome, loved and deserve happiness. Stay strong my friends.

<3 Ashley (OR)

Message from Jason (July/Aug. 2017)

Dear friends,

I hope this note finds you as well as possible. I have been receiving letters from some people that the heat is unbearable, especially in some of the southern states. I’m hearing from some folks that the air conditioning isn’t on and there are no windows to open. We have sent a few advocacy letters and other organizations are fighting to deal with this. I send love and cooling thoughts to everyone as we keep fighting to end these dehumanizing and inhumane practices.

As I write you this letter today, I am dealing with some serious pain from a pinched nerve. The pain goes from my neck down my right arm and up to the tip of my middle finger. I’m typing this, but I can’t really feel half the fingers on my right hand. It’s amazing how painful it all is. It feels like my arm is on fire, and it feels like my neck is breaking under my skull. All of this pain is happening, but no one can see it. My neck and arm are not swollen. There is no gaping wound. The pain is severe, but the pain is invisible. The pain is real, it is distracting, it is taking over major parts of my body, but no one can see it. When I look down at my arm I can’t see the pain I feel, but I know it is there. Just because I can’t see the pain, that does not mean it isn’t there.

We often talk about the more visible forms of pain and violence that impact our community. We are very clear about the harms caused by physical and sexual violence. We often read stories from one another about this harm and pain. Prison staff also have a requirement to deal with some of the visible pain, they may not do it well, but they are technically required to do something. The constant pain that is often caused by incarceration, the pain that can’t be seen, goes ignored far too often.

What would it look like if we took our pain more seriously? What would it look like if we believed one another when we talked about our invisible pain? What would change if we truly worked to end suffering? When I think about the role of Black & Pink in the world, I often think that our job is to figure out ways to reduce suffering. As we do our work to reduce suffering, we always do it with attention to the systems that are causing it. We do not want to reduce some suffering by giving more power to a system that will cause more suffering in other ways.

For instance, we are currently working on efforts to end cash bail. We do not want our people to sit in jail waiting for their case. We also do not want everyone to be put on gps tracking bracelets and then turn entire communities, mostly poor communities and communities of color, into open air jails. We want to reduce the suffering by getting people out of jail, but we must be responsible, we cannot support efforts that quietly expand the reach of the police state. How do we both end suffering immediately and also not extend suffering in the long term? This is one of the toughest questions we have to ask as abolitionists.

How do you manage your pain? Prisons thrive on pain; it is how they maintain their power. Prisons are like living monsters who use pain as their oxygen. Our society seems so attached to continue feeling these monsters and keeping them alive. It is our responsibility to figure out ways to take the tools of suffering and pain away from the system so that prisons will wither and die. How do you think we should do this? What are you doing now that is helping to take the pain away? Whatever it is, let us keep doing this work together, let us become pallbearers and usher forth the death of this system that causes so much pain. We do all of this work knowing that once there were no prisons, that day will come again.

In loving solidarity,
Jason

Letters to Our Family (June 2016)

To everyone in the LGBTQ Community,

I would like to reach out and 1) say thank you for all of your time that you have put into the Black & Pink newspaper. It is all encouraging to see that there are people out there who understand and know exactly what I am going through. It’s excellent that there are newspapers, magazines, and all the resources that help us when we need it. And 2) The poems, letters, pictures, and thoughts are Amazing and thoroughly interesting. They have gotten me started to express myself in more ways than just writing letters. I now write poetry, lyrics and I also draw. At one point in time I Thought that I was alone in this world of “Str8 people.” I was hated, harassed, beat up, twice, tormented, disowned by my own family, and illegally contained by law enforcement. I was literally put through Hell. Then someone put the Black & Pink magazine/newspaper in my hands. And I read it from front to back. It opened my eyes to a hole new world. It has given me ways to cope with all the torment, hate, disregard, and threats that come from all the “Str8” inmates and C.O.s. I want to also say that it has helped me to understand why people act this way towards our community.

I forgot to mention that I am a 27-year-old bisexual man who likes men more than women. Don’t get me wrong I still like to be with women. But I find that men know exactly how to treat another man. They also know how and what to do to please another man. Since I have been here in Montana State Prison I have met quite a few Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender inmates. And yes we have all stuck together, no matter what. In this prison we are a tight knit community. So once again I want to say thank you immensely for all the positive things that each and everyone one of you have put in to Black & Pink. Now I would like to offer some encouraging words, thoughts, and feelings to those of our community who have struggled and are continuing to struggle with all of the road blocks that are being placed in our way. Now I am still dealing with people who hate and torment the LGBTQ community. So I am not saying that I have overcome all obstacles, because I haven’t. But I will say this. I have learned of ways to ignore, block out, and deal with each and every attack. So here is my words, thoughts, and feelings.

On the topic of abuse (whether it’s verbally, physically, sexually, mentally) by all those in the law enforcement. My adoptive mom has always taught me that no matter what happens if you ignore them and show that it doesn’t bother you, they will leave you alone. Well for the most part it is true. Not always but mostly. But I look at it this way. Out of the “Str8” individuals about 75% of them that tease, torture, and harass us, is because they are in the closet and afraid to Come Out. Remember: people can’t make us angry. We only let them push our buttons. We have to show them that what they say and do can’t and won’t affect us. Another thing that I have learned is an expression passed down from another man. He said to think of this phrase and repeated it over and over until it is embedded in your Mind. The phrase is “This too Shall pass.” My adoptive mom also taught me “to do as thy will and it harm none.”

So stay positive, help your fellow LGBTQ peers and know that for every action there is a reaction. For every positive action is a positive reward. And every negative behavior has a negative consequence. I am very proud to be part of a community who has each others’ backs no matter what. I want to wish all my fellow LGBTQ inmates and “free world” people all the best.

And I also wish to let every one know, who has lost someone in that Florida Club shooting, that each and every one of you are in my prayers. Even though I was locked up here at Deerlodge Montana State Prison, it still hurt my heart to know that someone could be so ignorant. I have been part of the LGBTQ Community since I was 13 years old and Since then I have watched a lot of “Str8” individuals just destroy our hopes, lives, well beings and our Freedom. But I say NO MORE! We deserve happiness, love, companionship, freedom, compassion, loyalty and the right to be equal. We have to fight for what we deserve and want. We got to stop letting people walk all over us like we are a welcoming mat on a front stoop. Because we are humans, and we deserve to be treated as an equal person.

I hope to meet more of my fellow community when I get out/released from this prison. I discharge July 25th, 2018 so I hope to see a positive change, even if it is a little one. Because nobody is perfect and change is slow. It doesn’t happen in one time. So stay positive, “Do as thy will an harm none” and remember This Too Shall Pass. I will everyone a happy, positive, and stress and drama free holidays, whether you are locked up for free.

Peace be with all of you, and Blessed Be,
Nemo (MT)

 

Dear Black & Pink,

My name is DH which is my birth name but, I go by my real name which is Ellis. I am writing this letter in regards to transitioning in prison. I have been in transition since October 2016 which has only been six months. I have lived my life behind the mask of society’s ridicule and judgement for 38yrs of my life. I came to prison very unsure of myself in this body but, I never stopped trying to find a way to accomplish my goal of being my true self and living in a body that matched.

I wrote to the ACLU and to LAMBDA LEGAL, and to Washington State’s very own Columbia legal services to assist me in this fight against Washington Correctional Facility for Women and their old conservative beliefs about what is considered ‘medically necessary.’ If I had to choose between being what the system claims is normal and being a trans man I would choose what I considered my normal and that is being a man. I asked all of those places for assistance in helping me get hormone therapy through my facility which was a fight in itself and to no avail the fight was left to my mental health provider who did his magic and made it happen. I am very grateful to my doctor but, he had to fight with his cohorts to prove I displayed gender dysphoria.

Without the help from these places that claim they are fighting for the rights of prisoners, fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ community and also the rights of human beings. I am very upset about the responses that I received from these places because the excuses were that my case was individual and not big enough and it wasn’t a systematic problem. I thought to myself well what does that mean? I don’t just fight this fight for my self but for the many trans men who don’t have the right words, self confidence, or the courage to fight the system. I am not afraid to voice my needs. The fight I am fighting right now is not for just myself but for all Washington State inmates male and female to receive ‘medically necessary’ gender reaffirming surgery.

The State Department of Corrections offender health plan contradicts itself when it comes to deeming SRS medically necessary and not medically necessary by stating that the OHP follows the WPATH standards of care which states that SRS is medically necessary but then in the OHP states it is cosmetic surgery and is not medically necessary.

I have looked for policies to assist me in this fight but, the only policy that has any verb age with transgender in it is the PRISON RAPE ELIMINATION ACT. PREA. Does anyone realize that the only thing that the prison is worried about is if I am assaulted by inmate or staff or attacked verbally? What about the unfinished transition that they refuse to complete, doesn’t that set me up inside the walls to be a potential victim upon release into the community? Without the second step in my transition which would be top surgery how does it make sense for me to live a year in my new body and get approval for bottom surgery when I am clearly walking around with breast and a beard? Isn’t that confusing to society not to mention disturbing to myself? At this moment I feel deformed and like my body doesn’t match. The more testosterone that enters my system the more I feel like my self then I look at my body and feel the gut punch to the stomach at what I see. I am still stuck in is limbo. I am so furious at these places like the ACLU, and the Lambda legal for not jumping at the chance to take on the Department of Corrections conservative beliefs about Transgender individuals. Washington State inmates have rights to transition, won’t we get the help of our own state’s ACLU or Lambda legal so that we won’t be left behind California, Oregon, Vermont? I just want to be free on the inside and outside. I want to match.

Thanks for listening.
Ellis (WA)

 

To All of our B&P Family,

I just want to tell you all to keep your head up and never give up or give in, there’s a brighter day ahead and you don’t know what tomorrow will bring, sounds cliché, but it’s true. Also to those of you who are separated from your loved ones, stay strong and fight for it, give it all you got because it works out in the end. I don’t know what types of things you have been through, but if it’s worth it you got to fight, and when you feel down and feel like giving up or checking out early from this life, remember all of those who gave everything for us to be who we are and those who lost their loved ones to hate and those who have gone through the same type of horrible things you have…you’re not alone… even if your locked in the hole and you and your someone are apart. Your part of a bigger family and as long you really love each other, you keep each other in your heart… The people we love, I mean truly love become a part of who we are. Those of you in lock down I send luv and prayers out to you and hope that you will stand up and be strong for those you love and not let anyone keep you down.

much love and many prayers,
Mato Witko Oka (AZ)

 

Dear Black & Pink,

I wanted to pour my thoughts to you, to show you what Black & Pink really means to me. I was sitting in my cell tonight, and I received a holiday card from you. I really have tears in my eyes. I don’t have family to get cards from. I been on my own since I was 14 years old, when I told my Catholic parents I was gay. Since then I was on the streets. I didn’t know better, and I caught a prison bid. I have 7yrs left. I have really grown up, I won’t mess up again. I am 25 years old. I just want to find a good gay community, and do something good with my life when I get out. *I hate straight people.* I will only ever now, put my faith in the gay-nation. And the LGBT community will always stay strong, no matter where anyone is at, because of organizations like you.

I have been receiving mail now, from you, since the beginning of 2016. I read the magazine, and really learn from my gay-brothers and sisters, that are in them. I really try to, everyday, to keep my head-up. There are days, where I really want to break-down and give up hope, because I live in a deep black hole at this time, *but* when I read your articles, and when I see how your love is, for every gay man, and woman, I tell myself, it would be wrong to give-up because you won’t give up on a man like me. Black & Pink are leaders, for people like me, so it wouldn’t be fair to you, if I gave-up my hope and soul, because then I would be not only disappointing you, but the *whole* gaynation also. And I could never do that.

Everybody makes mistakes, but I deserve a 2nd chance. With out people like you, gay people in prison wouldn’t stand a chance. I can’t tell you how much I owe you. One day, when I get out in 2023, I am going to Boston, and I will pledge my heart and soul to your headquarters, to making and helping you guys continue to make the gaynation and even stronger nation for the future.

I wish there was a way, to set up pen pals with great gay-community leaders, that you guys are in contact with. I don’t get money, from the outside, so I can’t pay for a pen-pal account. I just want to be in contact with gay-leaders, because I want to show them that I could be a big help when I leave, and show the young gay men and woman that they should be on the right track. I want to help the ones in different community, who are lost, find their way back. I don’t want them to go through what I am going through.

That is one of the biggest reasons I love, Black & Pink, because you guys, are showing how much you really care, and how you let people like me, share my pain, and not judge me.

I really love the card you have sent me for the holidays. I love Bears. I really hope I touched your guys heart, with the words in this letter, like you guys touched my heart, by showing me how much you care. with much honor, and great love, your #1 follower, *my heart and soul*, is given to all my brothers and sisters, in the Black & Pink community,

Alexa (NY)

Message from Jason (June 2017)

Dear friends,

I hope this note finds you as well as possible. I just finished eating a very tasty brownie. It made me think, briefly, about this amazing microwave cake that friends of mine made when I was locked up at Devens years ago. While the food offered by the prisons could not be more disgusting, I was always amazed at what people could make in the microwave. I was thinking we should share some recipes from time to time in our monthly magazine. If you happen to have something you’re good at cooking and want to share the recipe, send it as a submission some time. It is important to have moments of distraction, and making yummy things to eat can be just that.

Earlier this week I met up with a recently formerly incarcerated member of Black and Pink. His name is Frankie. He just got out after nearly a decade on the inside of Massachusetts prisons. We were meeting up just to get to know each other and figure out how he might get involved with Black and Pink on this side of the wall. He has only been out for a month, and I am so thankful that he wants to get involved and share some of his story with people on the outside. We talked a lot about solitary confinement, the ways guards choose prisoners to single out and pick on, how people navigate relationships on the inside, and even stories of making good friends. He also shared about how important it is to stay connected with some of the people he left on the inside. For so many people getting out, there’s a sense of survivor guilt, knowing that there are people you care about who are still locked up. We talked about how important it is to keep it real when you get out. If you say you’re going to write, then you write. If you say you’re going to send money, then you send money. If you say you’re going to fight the system, then you fight the system.

I have been thinking a lot about reentry lately. At Black and Pink, reentry has not been a big focus of ours. About a quarter of our readers are lifers. So many of our people won’t be getting out unless we actually abolish this system. I have always been hesitant to focus on reentry efforts because I don’t want us to ever forget about our people who are on the inside. There are foundations who only give money to support reentry work, and it’s as if they do not care about the lives of people on the inside. I think our reentry work, the work we do at Black and Pink, needs to be shaped by the relationships people build through letters and by reading the magazine month after month. I think our reentry work needs to be designed in a way that makes sure we are always building the power and leadership of people while they are still behind the walls. It seems to me that healthy reentry is going to more possible if the person in prison is able to feel like they have some kind of power over their lives when they’re still locked up. What do you think makes for healthy reentry?

I also think that most of the reentry work that is done on the outside has the wrong focus. All of the reentry agencies are so focused on getting people jobs. The truth is that prison is trauma. The first thing people need when they get out of prison is healing. The first thing we should be doing for everyone when they get out is making sure they have therapy, massage, and any other healing practice that will help ease the harms created by prison. When we are put in an inhumane environment, like prison, the core of who we are gets affected. The violence of prison, the culture of punishment, and the prison mentality takes over. It can take a long time to adjust. Whether one gets triggered by the sound of a key ring jingling, a person standing too close in the grocery store, or when someone brushes by you on the sidewalk; the outside world is full of things that can bring back the trauma of prison. At Black and Pink, as we figure out reentry work we want to do, we will be sure we do it with attention to healing and loving support. We will keep building all of our work knowing that once there were no prisons, that day will come again.

In loving solidarity,
Jason

Books for Queers – Read with Pride 2017

 

HELP LGBTQ AND HIV+ PRISONERS READ WITH PRIDE THIS JUNE

Books can become a lifeline for incarcerated folks but they generally have little access to reading 08pm (1)material and incarcerated LGBTQ+ people can have a particularly hard time finding books that meet their needs of identity representation. Donating queer books to our local prisons’ libraries will show the LGBTQ+ population behind bars that there is a supportive community on the outside that cares about their wellbeing and the reaffirmation of their identities.

We will be collecting books (preferably books within the queer YA genre at an intermediate reading level)  for Pride Month (throughout June)  for their donation to the South Bay House of Correction in Boston. Our goal is to collect at least 200 books, and if we surpass that number we will be donating the rest of the books to other local jails and to LGBT Books for Prisoners. The reason we chose South Bay Jail as the primary beneficiary of this book drive is because one of our formerly incarcerated members, Lexi, who was imprisoned there, mentioned to us how sad and frustrated she was when she visited the library and couldn’t find any LGBT books. It is our job as “free world” allies to make these resources more available to our LGBTQ family in prison to let them know their identities are valid and valued.

How can I donate books? 

Bonus: If you use Amazon Smile Program, when you purchase a book through our gift registry, Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of your Amazon purchase to Black and Pink.

In order to have Amazon make a donation, you must visit Amazon Smile first and designate Black and Pink as your charitable organization for the donation. After you pick, you can visit our registry on Amazon Smile and once you purchase, Amazon will make a donation!

  • Drop off your books at the Black and Pink booth at Pride Festival on June 10!
  • Other drop-off locations:

Boston office at 614 Columbia Rd., Dorchester (Monday- Friday, 10am-5pm)

9A Hamilton Place every Sunday from 3-6pm during Volunteer Drop-In

Prizes, Prizes!

If you donate 3 books or more through any of our donation methods, you get a free Black and Pink mug! Also, the three people who donate the largest number of books will be mentioned in recognition for their generous donation in the monthly B&P Newsletter.

In order to claim any of these prizes, you just need to fill out a short form with your basic contact information and the number of books donated at any of our drop-off locations.

Updates: 

  • We’re also accepting dictionaries as book donations. Incarcerated folks in touch with B&P often request dictionaries through their letters. The reason dictionaries are very in demand is because, 1) dictionaries have the most words and prisoners can re-read them over and over again, and 2) a large number of prisoners did not receive a high school education prior to their incarceration so dictionaries can really help them improve their vocabulary and learn more.
  • We are also requesting donors to please fill out this donors’ submission form for everyone buying books off our wishlist or folks who have already donated or will be donating books either at our Pride Festival booth or any other of our drop-off locations. This is our way of keeping track of donations to award prizes at the end of the campaign.

 

 

THANK YOU to everyone supporting this project and making queer books more accessible to our LGBTQ family in prison!

 

 

 

Letters to Our Family (May 2016)

Dear Black and Pink Family,

I’m in a federal prison in New Jersey via a joint military base. Compared to the responses of letters you receive, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of federal inmates that correspond to Black and Pink. Federal prisons restrict a lot of things that state prisons easily receive, and this needs to change.

My name is Leon, I am 44 years old, black male bisexual; mostly gay. From Virginia, incarcerated on a sex-offense of receipt of C.P. on a computer through interstate transit. Since February 15, 2012 I have been down. I receive your newspaper, and most don’t know what it’s about, even the inmates I would consider to be gay. I’ve mostly kept to myself and haven’t had any serious problems, but I can see others that do. I try to help as best I can. It’s hard. It’s hard to write and write, and write and get no response from other groups or organizations of sexual orientations, or to know if the Feds are not allowing it to be received. They don’t tell us anything.

I would like to see responses from other Fed inmates– as to, are we restricted more than the state from receiving things? Are there other sources we could write to or receive from?

Jesse (NJ)

 

Dear Black and Pink Family,

For those of you this does not apply to, I’m deeply grateful and pray it never will. I’ll call myself Jane Doe. I am an older transgender woman in a man’s prison. Like a lot of trans girls, and many others, I was forced into having sex against my desire.

For a long time, I lived in fear, doubt, and shame. I was depressed. I felt like I was going crazy. I felt responsible. I didn’t fight off my abuser. For that, I only hated myself that much more. What’s worse, I never told anyone. I just lived in my pain while repeatedly being abused. It felt so bad, I nearly took my own life.

Many people have gone through this. You are not alone. You have Dear Black and Pink Family, help, there is hope, and gradually we begin to heal. There will be times when something triggers those emotions, those fears, but we learn how to cope with them. Don’t be afraid to go to a friend, a family member, a doctor, and especially mental health. When you request, you don’t have to list a reason. Simply say, “I need to see someone.” They have to keep stuff confidential and will tell you what they can’t keep. I have had two really wonderful psychiatrists and two amazing psychologists. They have helped me so much. And you can even reach out to Just Detention International (J.D.I.). A very big support system.

I’m not 100%. Never really was. But, with help, I have returned mostly to my original self. Even better in some ways. You can find this too. You only have to take that first baby step and talk to someone. Even if it is just to say, “I need help.” And this last thing I’ve got to say, “Forget the hype!” If you’re in this kind of trouble, tell someone and tell them right now. This is not snitching. It’s protecting yourself from harm you do not deserve to be suffering. You were not sent to prison to be raped.

Step up, seek help. Our community is too small as it is. I don’t want to lose none of ya! And if you see this happening to someone, be their hero and speak up. Support your community.

With love, support, & solidarity,
Miss Jane Doe

 

Dear Black and Pink Family,

My name is Casey or better known a “Butterfly Boy” to my small group of very close friends, due to the fact that I love butterflies and have numerous tattooed on me. But butterflies are also the symbol of “self transformation” because they start out as a fuzzy little caterpillar and turn into what they are truly meant to be and that is something very beautiful. And the butterfly was also part of my inspiration to come out when I was 14 because “if they can change so much and be so beautiful, why can’t I?”

But I’ve received Black and Pink for 3 1/2 years now and I read a lot about the lack of unity and support. I am a gay male in the judicial system of Texas. One of the worst ones for (LGBTQ) people that I know of, because of the PREA Act because they use it to target the family in so many ways. And where I just came from there was a small amount of unity, because we had some of the officers that would single us out wherever we went. And for situations like that we had a group that would help with grievances and other help when that wouldn’t work. Like for instance I had a female officer that kicked me out of a church service as soon as I walked in and told me that “I couldn’t be there because God don’t like or love you faggots” and the grievances that she got for that gave her a vacation, so they do work if you write them.

But where I’m at now there is no unity at all in any aspect at all unless it’s within the small group of friends that you have. But believe it or not some of the best support that I get comes from the Black and Pink newsletter every month. So keep writing because the words that you write are helping someone somewhere with something. So please keep supporting each other, because we need each other more than ever as long as we’re locked up in the state’s judicial system. Because as most of us have found out the hard way, this is not a world that is for us, and is against us in so many ways to keep us unhappy.

LGBTQ love,
Casey (TX)

 

From Eylexa (ID)

I don’t have a supportive family, and someone told me that your friends are the family you choose. I chose a family that recognizes me for who I am and loves me for me. And thanks to them I’ve come to realize that I want to be a family to those who don’t have one, I want to be the friend that some people never had. I want to be the loving caring sister that supports you in your time of need.

I have had my struggles and I’m working on being a better person. I have found the love of my life while locked up, and she showed me that I truly was deserving of love and support. Terra, I love you. She showed me that I could love someone when I thought my hope was all lost. It’s a tough relationship because we are both locked up and in different facilities, but she’s strong and I try to be. I will never claim to perfect, in fact I’m far from it. However I make my mistakes, I learn from them and I move forward with a new mind and a new direction every time. Just remember we’re here for you, I’m here for you, LGBTQ pride. I’m proud to be who I am, and nothing will ever change that. You should be too, there is nothing wrong with you and who you are. The hardest thing is to let yourself be you and who you are. The hardest thing is to let yourself be you, forget what others say, I know it isn’t easy, trust me, but the only acceptance that matters is your own. If others don’t accept you, leave them to their own devices.

Love you all!!

Message from Jason (May 2016)

Dear Friends,

I hope this note finds you as well as possible. I am sitting here in my apartment trying to keep my cat from jumping up on the table, but I am failing. He is all grey, very soft, and I let him get away with anything, it’s a problem. His name is Vanzetti, he’s a great cat, and like most cats he does exactly what he wants to, living up to his anarchist namesake.

This past week there has been a lot of attention paid to the recent reported suicide of Aaron Hernandez here in Massachusetts. This may not have made as big headlines where you are, but Hernandez was a football player with the New England Patriots and he was incarcerated for allegedly killing three people. It is likely that his actions were motivated by a desire to hide his sexuality. The exact facts of the case are complicated, something many of you are familiar with I am sure. The truth is, regardless of what happened, Hernandez’s life still had value. Those who loved Aaron Hernandez are grieving his death. According to news reports he left three different suicide note addressed to his fiancée on the outside, his daughter, and his boyfriend on the inside. To be honest, I feel some sadness that we at Black & Pink never reached out to him, not knowing about his queerness, and that we were unable to be there for him to provide support and remind him that he was not alone.

When one prisoner commits suicide, prison administrators often gets nervous that this is going to spark others to do similarly. There is some truth to this anxiety. Those of us who know someone who has taken their own life are more likely to die by suicide. However, what prison officials fail to do is change the conditions that create the desperation so many feel. Suicide is the leading cause of death in county jails and the leading non-physical illness cause of death in state and federal prisons. Prisons and jails create the environment for suicide. The inhumane treatment of prisoners, the incredibly long sentences, and the absence of actual care for prisoners makes suicide often feel like the only option.

I recently received an email from a prisoner who was struggling with feeling suicidal. I want to share with all of you some of what I shared with this person:

Feeling suicidal is a very common feeling behind the wall. You are not alone in that. Sometimes that can feel like the only way to have power over anything. There is no shame in having those feelings. Life can feel like too much some times. What I want to encourage you to do, though, is try to take some deep breaths when you’re having those moments. Try to pay attention to your breathing. Feel your feet on the floor. Try to feel your heart beat in your chest. Try to be aware of every feeling in your body. Even when everything around you feels terrible, your body is a miracle. Try to pay attention to the moments of life that feel good. Try to clear your mind…

When that doesn’t work, it’s ok to just cry in your bunk. Push your face into your mattress. Cover yourself with your blanket. Imagine being anywhere else. Imagine a different life, one where you are free. Cry and feel angry. Try to feel all the rage in your body. Feel yourself get hot from the anger. Feel your face get wet from the tears. Know that it is ok to feel weak and broken some times. You are not the first one to feel this way. Life can be horrible; life is completely unfair. Each day you make a choice, a choice about living, and my hope is that even as things are so bad, that you will keep choosing life. As part of Black & Pink you have a family that does care what happens to you. Even if we can’t always write, even if we can’t get you free, even if we can’t make everything better or right, we care about you. We care about your life. You are valuable to us.

I wish words could be more comforting. I wish I could give you a hug or hold your hand when things feel so horrible. Please know that we are fighting for a better world and that we want to end the suffering you are experiencing. We will not win soon enough. We will not make things better fast enough. We will keep fighting though. I hope you are able to keep fighting alongside us.

Aaron Hernandez’s boyfriend has been put on suicide watch, an often inhumane response to a person’s devastation. It is unacceptable that prisons treat people in these ways. As our open family, we keep resisting, knowing that once there were no prisons, that day will come again.

In loving solidarity,
Jason

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