The Chicago chapter of Black and Pink started in 2013. We first came together to read and discuss a book called The New Jim Crow, and write holiday cards to LGBTQ people locked up in Illinois. We officially formed as a chapter of Black and Pink last spring. Since then, we have focused on finding, matching, and supporting LGBTQ penpals in Illinois, and learning more about the prison industrial complex, or PIC.
To be up-front, currently none of us who coordinate the outside chapter of Black and Pink Chicago have spent time in prison. We organize and participate in Black and Pink in addition to working paid jobs. Some of us have supported prisoners and organized against prisons for many years, and some of us are very new to this. We have a lot to learn.
In addition to learning through letter-writing, we learn through participating in political education. Our study group gets together to discuss books and articles, and screen films like Herman’s House. We read about specific ways queer and trans people are targeted by police and prisons, and how the PIC is a continuation of structural racism and Jim Crow laws. We’ve read about campaigns to fight back, and this summer read the autobiography of Assata Shakur. We are now reading about links between industrial agriculture and the PIC.
We hold card-writing parties every three months, and more recently began holding penpal support meetings for outside penpals to ask questions and how letter-writing fits into a broader struggle to abolish the prison industrial complex. The first meet-up focused on prisoner advocacy, and future meetings will address the Chicago police torture cases, solitary confinement, and trauma.
As part of the pen-pal project, we meet weekly to read and respond to letters and emails. We have received incredible letters, stories, art, and analysis from folks locked up in Illinois. We continue to reach out (in person, tabling at events, and on facebook) to invite members of the LGBTQ community outside prison to become penpals. So far, we have matched around 70 penpals, and we’re still looking for more outside folks to sign up. We have about 20 inside folks waiting for a match.
As we move forward, we are looking for ways to center the voices, vision, and priorities of Black and Pink members who are currently or formerly incarcerated. We would greatly appreciate any feedback you would like to provide.