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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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