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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

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