Two New Publications

11/5/20

I love seeing my name in print and in the past month two projects of mine have come to fruition. This makes me very much of the happy.

The first is “Basic Whichery”, a zine about the basics of Wicca for prisoners. In it I discuss the ethics of Wicca and how to practice Wicca when one has none of the ritual gear traditionally associated with witchcraft. It can be found in the zine library of PrisonerCorrespondenceProject.com

Also, just this month, On Time was released. Edited by Anthony S. Buoni and Alisha Costanzo, it is an anthology of speculative fiction short stories published by Transmundane Press that all have to deal with, you guessed it, time. The book itself is very well done and I am honored to have my story published along side all the other wonderful authors in it.

November is Novel Writing Month, so I invite all of you to first curl up with a good book and get inspired, then bust out the pen and paper and tell your own story.

Love in Prison

A life without Love is not worth living. This is something which I have become keenly aware of during my 14 years in prison. However, Love in prison is a fleeting painful thing.

With a few rare exceptions, I have never gotten to hug the people I Love outside prison. Some of them I have never spoken to on the phone, or even so much as seen a picture of some of them. But, I still Love them. Some are my friends. Some, my family-of-choice. Every time I get a letter from one of them or get to spend time chatting on the phone, it pushes the numbness away. Makes me feel. Makes me feel good. But during those stretches when I don’t get a letter, or I can’t get them on the phone, it hurts in an empty “what’s the point” kinda way. I am reminded just how precious and important they are to me.

Finding Love across prison walls is difficult. On the other hand finding Love within prison is downright dangerous. There are many reasons for this.

The first and foremost is the cops. There are two different infractions which criminalize relationships. The WAC 244 infraction disallows “sexual displays of affection” including holding hands and hugging. The 504 infraction disallows engaging in sexual activities. Furthermore, even if an incarcerated couple don’t get either of those infractions, they can still have a “keep separate” put in place between them by the DOC if a staff member accuses them of being in a romantic relationship. Normally, keep separates are used to separate people who have been involved in organized rule breaking, or who have physically fought each other. The DOC treats Love the same as Assault.

The next hurdle to being in a caring loving relationship in prison is, as messed up as it sounds, the other people in prison. Everyone who comes to prison carry massive amounts of trauma from not just what brought them to prison, but from the experience of incarceration as well. This means that whenever I open my heart to another person in prison, I’m risking the other person not being able or willing to open their heart to me. And even if they do open their heart to me, it takes a massive amount of work to keep the relationship healthy. In addition to all the stuff people have to navigate to have a healthy relationship, there’s a-whole-nother level brought on by having to keep from trauma bonding (as opposed to healthy bonding), and having to hide the relationship from the cops (under threat of being separated).

I spent the first decade of my prison sentence completely unable to bring forth the trust necessary to Love anyone in prison. To me, care looked like a manipulation tactic. I was terrified and stuck in toxic scripts from my childhood. Even if someone had managed to get me to trust them enough to get close, there was a very high probability we would have become codependent and emotionally abusive.

Thankfully, I waited until I was ready to open my heart before getting into a relationship and avoided the pain of being hurt by another person and thinking that’s Love.

Being in a healthy, loving, care centered, romantic relationship in prison is like creating a private land of Joy while living in the darkest cave of Tartarus. Being able to be with a person I care about, and who cares about me is liberating. The simple happiness which comes from a hug, a touch, a look, which says “you matter to me.” And even more so being able to have this every day? I can’t think of anything more extremely opposite of what prison stands for.

Having experienced Love like that, in a place like this, makes me understand why the DOC criminalizes Love. They fear us creating our own freedom between the treads of their boot heel.

Keeping in Touch with People on the Outside

7/27/20

There are limited ways for US incarcerated people and people in the outside world to communicate with each other and these are made more difficult when the outside penpal lives outside the US. Snail mail, phone, and email services are the main ways. However, each of them come with advantages and disadvantages for both inside and outside people.

Snail mail is the most reliable, though it is also the slowest. The biggest upside is the level of expressiveness possible with pen and paper. From the way a person’s handwriting will change based on their feeling to doodles in the margins, physical letters are more emotionally satisfying than emails. Some down sides are the expense of postage (especially international postage), need for paper, and puzzling out handwritten chicken scratches.

One way to off set the problem of international mail taking many weeks is to use a mail service like Jmail. They receive an email from an outside person, print it out, and send it to the incarcerated person. Then when they receive a reply from the incarcerated person, they scan it and email it to the outside person. International mail can take a month a a half round trip, assuming the letter is answered immediately. A service like Jmail shortens this to three weeks.

Furthermore, some outside people may not feel comfortable with letting an inside person know where they live. Using a PO Box or mailing service like Jmail can help them to feel safe while still in the “getting to know you phase” of the friendship. These should be a temporary measure. If, after writing someone for many months, an outside person still does not feel comfortable with giving out personal info like their address or phone number, then they probably should write a ‘goodbye’ letter and seek out a new penpal.

Phone is by far my favorite way to stay in touch with outside people. Being able to hold a conversation in real time helps me to really connect with people. It is also subject to the least amount of censorship. However, time zone differences and the cost of international calls can be a huge barrier. There’s not much to be done about time zones, and prison’s rigid schedule certainly does not help. As for the cost of international calls, an internet phone service like Google Voice can help reduce the cost. From what I understand, to set one up the outside person needs to know the area code for where they want the number to be for. For example, in Washington that would be a 206 or 509 (Seattle or Spokane). There is still the cost of a prison phone call to keep in mind, so making the number as local as possible is generally a good idea. Fees for calling out of state can range from a penny a minute up to 10 to 15 cents a minute.

Again, a Google Voice account can also serve as a temporary phone number during that initial “getting to know you” stage. However, because receiving phone calls from a prison requires the outside person to disable most features that block telemarketers and automated calls, an internet phone is a good way to keep unwanted corporate callers off your main phone line while still being able to chat with a prison penpal.

Lastly, there are businesses who provide email services to incarcerated people for a most unreasonable fee like JPay and Correlinks. I only really know about JPay, because that’s what’s available in WA DOC. It works like this: outside people can look up inside people by state and DOC number and add them to their account. Then both the outside person and inside person have to buy e-stamps. One e-stamp buys one email of up to 6,000 characters or one picture. The price of an e-stamp varies by state, in Washington it is $10 for 60 e-stamps, or roughly 17 cents each.

Conversely, an incarcerated person can send an e-vite to an outside person assuming they know that person’s email address. The e-vite usually gets sorted into the outside person’s spam folder because it is an automated email from an evil korporation.

The biggest downside to JPay is the high level of censorship. They have text analysis software which flags messages for the mailroom to review and those messages usually get censored for BS reasons that don’t even make sense.

The upside is most JPay messages only take two to three days to clear the mailroom, longer if the mailroom is short staffed. JPay also allows outside people to send 30 second video clips and has a built-in money transfer service and allows incarcerated people to buy music, app games, and to rent movies. Of course, all these things are outrageously expensive, so there you go.

Keeping in touch with people we care about takes work in the best of times, but when you add the barrier of incarceration on top of that it becomes even more difficult. It requires commitment, understanding, and patience on the part of everyone involved.

Reflecting on 2020

2020 has been frickin’ crazy! I’ve been hesitant to talk about all the craziness going on in the world this year because it feels like every time I get a clear picture of what’s going on, five minutes later it becomes shockingly clear that I have no blinkering clue what’s going on. But now, looking back at this year, I get the sense that most of us have had that very same experience both in and out of prison.

The year began with a wonderfully terrible pun, “2020 (20/20) the year of clear vision” and sometime around month 2 of COVID-19 lockdown that pun died along with any pretense of shaving one’s legs. But I think it was scarily accurate. We, as a society, had become so alienated that it would take a massive disruption to the status quo to bring us back to life, and for all the death and pain and suffering and horror COVID-19 has caused, it did that.

Being separated from each other has caused us to reevaluate what is truly important. Connection, compassion, community, love, care, concern, and toilet paper.

We have been forced to stop. To slow down. It’s almost as if everyone who had to sit through a quarantine or travel ban spent some time on house arrest and depending on what their home looks like, they may have spent that time with nothing to do but think. A mini stay-cation meets solitary confinement. With so many people spending so much time thinking many of us spent that time taking a really good look at this world we find ourselves in, a really good look at ourselves. And many of us have decided we don’t like what we see and have set about changing it, all of it.

It is no longer enough for people to passively claim they aren’t racist, now people (specifically white people) have to step up and take an actively anti-racist position to not be considered racist. This is an amazing change that I don’t believe would have happened if not for the #BLM protests and outrage at the brutal police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others.

In the past year it has become normal to discuss mental health struggles. It is now normal to encourage the people in one’s life to do self care and going out of one’s way to do a random kindness for someone else is becoming more and more common. People who have never admitted to having mental health issues in the past have come to lean on those of us who have struggled our entire lives, and we’ve leaned right back.

We, as a collective, have become acutely aware of the networks on interdependence we live in and are beginning to act on that truth to change the way our communities are organized and to take care of people’s basic needs. Delivering food, cleaning gear, and toiletries to the homes of people who are at risk for covid-19 or who have disabilities that prevent them from getting to the store, cheering for healthcare and other essential workers each night at 7 pm, and exercising the power of voting to fire that bastard, number 45.

I hope, sincerely hope, that we will continue to carry the insights and lessons we’ve learned this year. The pointlessness of consumerism, the importance of valuing the people in our lives, of being kind to everyone we come in contact with, including ourselves. Because if we are able to hold on to these truths once ‘the new normal’ becomes ‘the previous normal’ perhaps ‘the next normal’ will be a world we want to live in rather than the world we have been forced to put up with.

The Voice in a Vote

7/7/20

I have been receiving more and more calls from various organizations asking for me to write about voting rights for prisoners, about why it is important, what it means for prisoners to vote. Because of this my cellie and I have been having an ongoing debate about the importance of voting. They have taken a very interesting position which I strongly disagree with.

My cellie says that whether prisoners have the right to vote or do not have the right to vote does not matter. It will change nothing. Prisoners will not vote strongly for or against Republicans or Democrats and it would not really matter all that much if they did. Both parties endorse genocide. For example: internationally, both parties support specifically funding the state of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people. Closer to home both parties failed to pass a bill making it illegal for police to choke black people to death. In both of these cases we see Democrats and Republicans in Bipartisan agreement to let people of a particular race die at the hands of state sanctioned violence. This is state sponsored genocide.

Furthermore, the system which allows these things to occur is supported by and self perpetuated by powerful multinational korporations who fight to maintain the status quo through a leveraging of media, money, and the fears of the many.

My cellie argues that the process of voting itself make one complicit in the system which causes these crimes against humanity to occur and the only moral choice is to not vote.

As I said before, I disagree and this is why:

It is true that the very nature of power and politics in Amerika are inherently racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, xenophobic, and a dozen other bad things I don’t even know the name for. The US is a colonial empire nation state. Translation: The US is kinda sorta totally evil and generally not ok.

I argue that it is our moral imperative to use whatever voice we have to call out these systemic and individual wrongs while exploring ways of dismantling every part of it.

Voting is not by any means the endgame. It is one key part in a larger scheme. Voting is so important because of its cultural significance. An individual who carries a vote has a voice which matters where as an individual who doesn’t, well, doesn’t.

I have been writing this blog for two years. I am regularly reminded by the DOC mailroom staff that doing so is not allowed. I do not have the ability to put these words out into the world on my own. They have to pass through the hands of Megan, a person who carries a vote, in order to be heard by you, my audience. Being able to vote is not about hanging chads and election night squabbling over who’s more popular.

Being able to vote is about being recognized as a human being with a voice which deserves to be heard in its own right, not because someone with more privilege has decided to lend a hand.

I want to have my voice matter. I want to be able to be heard when I say “this that and the other thing is bad.” I want to be a part of the conversations happening right now all over the world about race, class, gender, and safety.

But I can’t. And that’s not okay.

I want to have a vote because I need to have a voice.

Interview with a Fellow Inmate

Today, July 1st, 2020, I sat down for a conversion with JM about his experience in the Washington Correctional Center (WCC) in Shelton Washington. Shelton is the Washington Department of Corrections (WA DOC) receiving facility and thus lacks in many of the privileges and services available in other prisons such as visitation, television, education, and employment.

JM is from Snohomish county and has been out on bail for the last two and a half years fighting his case. He’s served five months on his sentence so far and, assuming he doesn’t lose any good time, has 15 months to go. This is his first incarceration.

On February 3rd he returned to county jail and left for Shelton on February 11th. He arrived at Monroe Correctional Complex Twin Rivers Unit (MCC-TRU) on June 29th, 2020. This is what he had to say.

AK: Tell me about your experience.

JM: I just spent 5 months waiting for transfer. It was rough. It was ‘normal Shelton’ til the Monroe riot happened [2020-4-8]. At that point I was transferred from R3 to R2 because they made R3 and R5 into quarantine units.
I spent 2-3 months there. I saw a lot of fights. A lot of fights. Three dudes beat up another guy because he was dropping out. They got pepper sprayed by the cops. The power went out at one point. There were drug dogs brought in too.
There was three people to a cell. There’s only two beds so one of us had to sleep on a rug on the floor. There was no proper accommodations for human living. Showers two to three times a week. 45 minutes of rec a day if we’re lucky. No heat. No A/C.

AK: When did you start getting things for covid-19?

JM: We started getting things for COVID when I was in R2, about 2 months ago.

AK: What were things like at that point?

JM: They shut down all movements. We ate in our cells. We could only use half the phones in the gym.
My cellie had a rotten tooth and he just had to sit there in pain because there was no dentist.

AK: How were things with the staff?

JM: There were a lot of lies by c/o’s [Correctional Officer] and counselors. We would ask “When’s the chain bus?” and they would say “Next week. Next week.” There was 2 months of that. I would ask to use the phone in the dayroom to call my kid. First the counselors and c/o’s would say “yes.” Then not let me use the phone.
One counselor told me I would be in Shelton my entire sentence. I was about to freak out then. [long pause]

AK: What are you thinking about right now?

JM: I am so happy to be out of Shelton. It was so bad.
I miss my family. I want to see my kids and my wife.

AK: How are things for you now?

JM: I’m just waiting to see what work release next year will look like.

AK: What really landed for you during this experience?

JM: The fights and sexual assaults I saw were eye opening to me. Is this what I want for my life? Just… The disregard for human respect.

AK: Before you got on the chain bus, did the DOC put you through any special preparations?

JM: They took us out at 4 am. Stripped us out and put us in chains.

AK: Were you given COVID-19 tests?

JM: No.

AK: Were you put in isolation or quarantine specific to the chain?

JM: No.

AK: Was there any COVID-19 testing or preventative quarantining?

JM: After the Monroe riot happened, people coming into Shelton from county got put in quarantine and temperature checks. I don’t know if they got tested for covid.
I overheard conversation about doing the same with people coming from Coyote Ridge [Correctional Center – CRCC] but I don’t know.

AK: How did you learn about the Monroe riot?

JM: The news on the radio. Talking to my wife on the phone. She was all freaked out. The c/o’s and counselors wouldn’t talk about it.

AK: And with you coming to Monroe?

JM: Yeah. I was worried too.

AK: Last question. Were you ever tested for COVID-19?

JM: No.

Healthcare in Prison

With the COVID-19 crisis, there is a lot of attention being given to the role that healthcare workers play within our society. In the WA DOC the medical department is universally considered to be useless and harmful. However, the nurses get mixed reviews based on who we talk to and specifically which nurse we are talking about. Most of this stems from the rules that the DOC imposes on the people of the medical department. In the most extreme of situations, incarcerated people do not get sent to a hospital until they have a foot in the grave. A person has to be unresponsive, bleeding out, or at a similar level of crisis before the DOC considers calling an ambulance.

Before that point, a person has to have difficulty breathing, be bleeding fairly badly, be unable to stand/walk or have flu-like or covid-19 symptoms to declare a medical emergency for immediate medical attention from DOC medical. Otherwise we are told to send a kite.
If a nurse or doctor actually gives an incarcerated person the necessary care before they reach this level of crisis then the staff member who did so is often subject to punishment by the WA DOC.

Two examples of this immediately come to mind. A friend of mine at WSR who permanently has to use a catheter because of complications from a surgery he had years ago was being issued the wrong kind of catheter and was being told he had to make each set of catheter supplies last two weeks. This is DOC policy. You take what they give you and what they give is always insufficient. Well, a nurse who was watching his health deteriorate decided to order the correct catheter supplies and give them to him more often to try and clear up his bladder infection. She got fired.

The other is when, two years ago, I got the norovirus, a very nasty stomach bug. When I was puking every 15 minutes and critically dehydrated, the c/o’s were threatening to give me an infraction for declaring a “false medical emergency” and write up two nurses for being “compromised” because they were trying to give me medical care. Thankfully the doctor showed up and told the c/o’s to stuff it and had me moved to the hospital floor for quarantine and observation. If the doctor hadn’t checked up on me personally and instead had left it in the hands of the nurse practitioners like she was supposed to, then the c/o’s would have sent me back to my cell without treatment.

Most of the medical staff here want to help incarcerated people, but they can’t because if the do the right thing, the human thing, they will be fired.

The biggest reason I was able to get HRT three years ago is not because it was deemed medically necessary. It was deemed necessary two years prior to that when they gave me a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. The reason I was finally given HRT is because my mental health provider pit in her recommendation for me to get it, then went on maternity leave. She used that time to go hunting for a different job. My primary care provider, a nurse practitioner, was already planning on quitting over the WA DOC’s treatment of people with diabetes. With both of them not having to worry about the consequences of doing the right thing, they were able to recommend me for HRT.

Suffice to say incarcerated people have a complex relationship with the prison’s medical department. We appreciate the medical staff who do what they can, but hate the rules and regs which prevent them from giving us the care we so desperately need.

Reflecting

6/9/20

My three year HRT anniversary is June 14. This past year has been a hellava ride. I found John, my first best friend in gods know how long (sorry Brooks, haven’t heard from you in a decade so you’ve officially lost the title). I built Alliances, a queer space in a men’s prison. I moved to TRU where I’ve met more trans and gender nonconforming folx than I’ve ever met previously in my life. I’ve finally bought makeup for the first time in my life (The keyword in that sentence being “bought” as opposed to “shoplifted”). I did a podcast and spoke publicly about my crime for the first time ever. I had a mental health crisis and passed the personal test of demanding help instead of acting out.

There are some things for which I feel like I’m on hold. There is no space here at TRU for me to do anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-violence, anti-oppression work. I do the best I can to call things out and surrounding myself with people who are on a similar wavelength, but that’s difficult when you’re living in a cultural distillation of American empire’s toxicity.

My medical transition is on hold as well. I’m going through a series of interviews with mental health which will hopefully lead to me getting bottom surgery. This is thanks to the wonderful meddling of the Trans In Prison Project that this is even an option in the first place. However, bottom surgery is so new a thing in the WA DOC that nobody (including the medical department) knows how its going to be handled. So I’m waiting for there to actually be a policy for it, next year at best. Same goes for possibly getting transferred to a women’s facility, I recently submitted a request to be transferred, but there is no policy for it, neither allowing nor disallowing a transfer and not defining any sort of rubric for when such a transfer should take place. Because of this they said no. Of course, they said no in an extremely messed up and transphobic way, but still no. On the up side they are finally giving due consideration for what such a transfer might look like which means next year I may actually have a shot. Hopefully.

Other things I’m hoping for in the next year is to find a lawyer who can help me get something resembling a release date. There’s a bunch of case law built on a wonderful little neuroscience factoid which states the human brain, specifically the part which controls a person’s decision making processes, is not done developing until after the age of 26. Because of this anyone who committed their crime under this age has a chance at a resentencing if they have a lot of time to do. This won’t get me out of prison anytime this decade, but it may make it so I don’t die in here. I really don’t want to spend 40 to 50 years in here only to be confronted with a choice between death by medical neglect or suicide.

So if anyone has any ideas about a lawyer that can help me (or otherwise just want to say hello) go to jpay.com, select Washington state, and look up DOC #315649 to send me a message. Like seriously, please help.

In closing, for me this year has been a strange mix of hope and despair and I see that same strange mix mirrored in the world. 2020 was touted as the “year of perfect vision” and that cheeky statement has come to be prophetic in the strangest way. I hope that the second half of this year brings good news.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Last night we had a good solid rain and thunderstorm. Normally, after a good rain the air is noticeably cleaner and it is easier for me to breathe. But, because of COVID-19, the air was already fairly good before it rained. I only just noticed it after because it is a sudden departure from “the normal” rather than the gradual increase in air quality that has happened with everyone sheltering in place and not driving. I hope that one good thing which comes from COVID-19 is us, as a society, recognizing the importance of having clean air and committing to reclaiming the clean air which is our birthright. Cars are a massive source of pollution and greenhouse gases. Not because any one individual car pumps out that much CO2 and other crap, but because there are so many fracking cars. What if we replaced them all with electric cars? or hybrids? As consumers we can make choices about what we buy and if enough people make the same choice, then that causes the entire market to shift. If we as customers demand corporations make more electric cars and they only give away electric cars when they do promotional contests and game shows.

I don’t like capitalism, I just understand how it works. And in this case we need to make it work for us at least until we can build something better to replace it.

COVID-19 Update 11/6

11/6/20

Coming soon to a prison near you, COVID-19!

The WA DOC is proving yet again that they truly do not care about the health and welfare of incarcerated people. Today they just posted on the units that they will be resuming random and routine cell, pat, and strip searches on November 9th. They claim that PPE will be used in accordance with CDC guidelines. Translation: Officers will be issued PPE to protect them from possibly getting COVID-19 from an incarcerated person. This makes zero sense. The only way for incarcerated people to catch COVID-19 is if a staff member brings it into the facility.

For the last six months the DOC has suspended random and routine searches and instead have only done suspicion searches in order to limit close contact between staff and incarcerated people. The reversal of this policy comes at the worst possible time as covid-19 cases soar out in the community and it is only a matter of time until covid-19 once more sentences hundreds, and possibly thousands, of incarcerated people to death.