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Message from Jason (March 2015)

Dear friends,

I hope this letter finds you as well as possible. I hope you do not mind too much that we run our newspaper on a funny schedule. As always, thank you for being patient with us. Thank you for continuing to reach out. Thank you for sharing information about Black and Pink with other prisoners. Thank you for your leadership. Many thanks to those of you who fill out the feedback form each month. Black and Pink is only possible as an effort because of you. I do know that it can be upsetting that we take long to respond to mail. Please know that this is only because we are an all volunteer organization, not because we do not care. We are always looking for new ways to increase the speed we respond to mail. We welcome ideas.

I need to take a moment to let you know about a death in our community. One of our Black and Pink members, Ashley Jean Arnold, took her life on February 24th. Ashley was a transgender woman, jail house lawyer, and activist at the federal prison in Petersburg, Virginia. Ashley spent much of her time fighting for access to gender affirming care. She fought not only for herself but for other prisoners. Prisoners at Petersburg were able to organize a memorial service on March 12th. At the service four other transgender women paid tribute to Ashley. As she was a Buddhist, there was time of honoring her life in traditional ways. Ashley’s boyfriend also spoke at the service. We were told that over 200 prisoners attended her memorial service. This tragic loss of life brought together many people. It is in Ashley’s memory, and the memory of so many other LGBTQ prisoners who have taken their lives, that we continue this work.

I want to honor that this is very hard news to hear. When we lose members of our community, even if we did not know them, it can be very painful to hear. I also want to celebrate those who got the information out about Ashley’s death. Far too often the deaths of transgender women are never known or shared. Far too often the media hides these stories. Far too often the prison officials keep deaths of our family quiet. Two different prisoners at Petersburg reached out to Black and Pink to tell us what happened. These prisoners also reached out to other organizations and media to break the story. The prison has responded by giving them disciplinary tickets. One person has lost access to her corrlinks. This is the prison retaliating against prisoners for exposing the truth. We all know that the prison system would rather no one ever look behind the concrete and steel curtain. They want to abuse prisoners however they want without any accountability. Prisoner suicides are preventable. Prisoner suicides are really murder by the institution. The Bureau of Prisons needs to be held responsible for the death of Ashley Jean Arnold.

Dealing with feelings of suicide is not uncommon when locked up. Prison walls can create a lot of hopelessness. Racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and other forms of oppression make the day to day survival inside very difficult. A person who feels suicidal is not weak. A person who feels suicidal is not selfish. A person who feels suicidal is not a bad person. Unfortunately the prison system responds to suicidal feelings in really bad ways. No one who is feeling suicidal wants to be stripped of their clothes, placed in a paper johnny, and held in a solitary cell to be “eyeballed” by guards all day. The practices of “suicide watch” are not making anyone’s mental health better. So what are ways that you can deal with your own feelings of suicide? What are ways you can support someone else who is feeling suicidal? Are there safer ways than telling prison staff? What coping resources do you have around you?

Some practices to try if you’re feeling suicidal, or practices to share with a friend who is struggling, include: taking deep breaths, tightening every muscle in your body and then relaxing each muscle one at a time until the whole body is relaxed, listen to music, write down plans of things to do the next few days, massage your neck and the area behind your ears, and always be gentle with yourself. Surviving and fighting to get through each day can be very hard. Know that you are cared for and not alone. We keep this fight going knowing that once there were no prisons, that day will come again.

In loving solidarity,
Jason

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