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.

I’ll Take a Covid Restrictions on the Rocks, Hold the Covid.

8/24/21

We are now on day five of the entirety of MSU at WCCW being locked down for covid quarantine. Meals are being delivered to the unit, cold. They’ve cut each pod into quarters, we can come out to the dayroom once after breakfast, once after lunch and once after dinner, for a half hour each. Top tier is only allowed to shower in the morning, bottom tier in the evening. Twice a day the nurse comes round and takes everyone’s pulse, O2 saturation, and temperature. And we just sit and do nothing all day.

On the first day of the covid scare every single person in the unit was given a rapid covid test. Every single one was negative. We have not had anyone get sick since.

The DOC is, of course, not telling us anything about what’s going on. Everything we inmates know about what’s happening is coming from talking to c/o’s, nurses, other staff, and each other. The rumor is that the covid restrictions are going to be extended for an indefinite period of time, but we just don’t know.

WCCW and Covid

8/20/21

Last night the evening shift unit Sgt for MSU was mapped out for a possible Covid exposure. Because of this, our entire unit has been locked down and visiting has been cancelled for the entire facility.
As of 8 am this morning, there’s no movement here. No yard, no phones, no work even. They have a different unit working the kitchen for our shift.

This morning started with medical conducting rapid covid tests on everyone in our unit. We got called out to the unit yard by cell where medical staff had us shove q-tips up our noses.

The rest of the day has been spent doing nothing. We are only allowed to leave our cells to use the bathroom. No showers are allowed. We are hoping for more news this evening, and maybe some time out of the cell.

These all sound like great covid counter measures, but I got one question… What about the entire evening, night, and first part of the morning up til 8 am when the Sgt had been mapped out and no one in the entire unit, including most of the staff, knew what was going on and were running around as if everything was fine? Seems to me keeping the people who live here informed is an important counter measure that the DOC is intentionally neglecting.

Better Than I Deserve

8/20/21

My life is going good right now. Like, really good. Like, “I don’t understand” good. I don’t know if this is because things are actually that good, or if it’s just that my life is currently better than it’s ever been.

I have a great group of friends. We hang out and talk most mornings. A couple of us work together, so we go to the kitchen and laugh and goof off while we are cooking and serving 300-something meals. Then in the evenings we play volleyball and chill. Being here, being safe, being in a community of women and embraced as one of their own, having friends I don’t fear the ulterior motives of, once again I find myself experiencing the greatest amount of freedom I have ever had in my entire life, while still in prison. I am so thankful to be here because I finally fit somewhere.

I’m realizing just how big a deal my passing privilege is. I’m seeing other trans women here have their trans-ness thrown in their faces anytime they have even the slightest bit of conflict with someone. I’ve had that happen exactly once when I first got to WCCW, and not a single time since. I am treated like just another girl, which is really all I’ve wanted when it comes to gender stuff. I realize that I won a genetic lottery with having features as androgynous as I do and then won the lottery a second time with how well my body has taken to HRT. I watch other trans women not receive acceptance simply because their shoulders are too broad, their voices too deep, their posture too masculine, or their boobs somewhere in between unnoticeable and nonexistent. They don’t pass and therefore struggle for acceptance. With just a few trappings of femininity and a freshly shaved face, I pass. Doesn’t matter that I live my life out loud and will intentionally make references to my childhood as a boy and will discuss my trans-ness openly anytime I’m asked. I pass. That equals acceptance.

Soon I’ll get to have my first in-person visit in like seven or eight years. I’m not even sure how to explain how much of a big important deal this is to anyone who hasn’t done time. Having friends on the inside helps to push back the lonely and is important because we are all in the same boat together. Penpals and talking on the phone helps too, helps me to not feel forgotten and isolated. However, there’s a reason the saying goes “seeing is believing, but touching is truth.” Having someone put forth the effort to actually come down to the prison, give me a hug, then sit a talk for a couple hours, that is really what it takes to convince the ol’ mammalian hindbrain

The biggest news is that I recently learned there is a chance that I may not die in prison. Thanks to a recent case, anyone under the age of 21 now has to have a special hearing for considering the person’s “youthfulness” before they can be given a life sentence. The upshot of this is in the next couple months I’ll be going back to county to beg for a little mercy. What I did was horrific and there has to be a reckoning for that. At the same time the thought of being locked up for 50 years or more then dying of medical neglect, is also horrifying. Well, two horrors don’t make a right, and I’m hoping the judge sees it the same way. Otherwise, I could go all the way back to Spokane, beg for my life, and have nothing change. I could still die in here.

But then… there’s that chance. A slim chance which hasn’t existed for the last 14 years of my prison sentence. I may not die in here. I cannot even begin to explain how big this is.

So back to my starting point. Thank Goodness, my life is currently far better than I deserve.

Had to be a First Some Time

7/6/21

I have been in prison for fourteen and a half years. During that time I have had access to various tools for different jobs. When I worked in the tool cage in Walla Walla I had access to box knives. During that time I have also had access to improvised weapons on more than one occasion. However, I have not had access to an actual knife.

Until today.

Today in the kitchen I was assigned to veggie prep, which included cutting up onions and bell peppers. I was assigned a workstation with a kitchen knife that was chained to the table by a three foot piece of steel wire.
This was the first time I have held an actual knife since I committed my crime. It was a surreal experience. Before coming to prison I cooked for myself all the time. Even while my mind raced and I was soaked with a cold sweat, my hands remembered what to do. They shook at first, but evened out as they went through the motions.

I started with the bell peppers. One cut length wise. Remove the stalk. Quarter the two halves. Spot check for any icky moldy bits and remove those. Next.

My supervisor had originally given me a paring knife in addition to the kitchen knife for removing the moldy bits, but realized I didn’t need it when she came by to check up on me. When she unlocked the paring knife from the table I felt a moment of panic. I’m a prisoner. There’s an unsecured knife. I quickly stepped back and gave her plenty of space. She was obviously oblivious to my reaction. It took me a couple minutes and several deep breaths to get my shit together after she left to wash the paring knife and put it away in the tool cage.

Once I was a little over half way through with the chopping, she came back to help. She took over the chopping freeing me to 1) stop low-key panicking and 2) start feeding the chopped veggies into the dicer machine. I felt nothing but relief to not have to keep using the knife, even if it was for such a normal domestic activity.

Later, I learned that a couple of my friends had noticed I was obviously stressed and realized what was going on in my head. They had a quiet word with our supervisor. I was very grateful for this. I think, overall, this experience was both good and important for me. Totally sucked as I was going through it, but it brought up some feelings I didn’t know I had and allowed me to process them in a safe way.

It’s also left me with some serious confusion regarding other people, their crimes, and guns. I caused serious harm with a knife. Just holding a knife which was nothing like the one I used in a completely different context than I used it in caused me to want to immediately drop it and run. As if it were a poisonous and highly pissed off snake. I now don’t understand people who shoot someone, get out of prison, then immediately get a gun. How do they not have similar feeling about that?

Standing Together, Or At Least, Paperworking Together

7/13/21

Yesterday, a seriously messed up situation happened to my neighbor and coworker. She’s someone I’ve known since I arrived at MSU (Medium Security Unit) and is a bit more than acquaintance but not quite a friend. Well… She has roomie troubles.

The first roomie she had was an absolute terror. That woman was constantly accusing her of things she did not do, constantly stealing from her, and actually ended up throwing her jpay tablet in the unit garbage while she was at work. Meaning it was taken out to the trash compactor long before she realized it was gone. It took her a month of complaining to the unit sergeant and CUS to get that woman out of her cell. And then the sergeant gave her another terrible roommate.

This one, however, is quieter, sneakier, and a horrible snitch. My coworker has handled it fairly well. She does her own thing, doesn’t feed into her roomie’s BS, and really only interacts with her to enforce healthy boundaries (which generally results in a screaming match that makes The Taming Of The Shrew seem well, tame.)

What? I didn’t say she was perfect, I said she was doing a good job all things considered.

Anyway, yesterday it came to a head. Her snitch of a roomie went to the c/o and told him that she’d hit her and was trying to get her tossed in the hole. My coworker was taken out of the unit in handcuffs. Thankfully there were more than a few witnesses to this so we knew what was up. Furthermore, their arguments had been the tier’s most watched telenovela for the last month so we knew the snitch had been threatening to do exactly that for a while. Which is how eight of us ended up paperworking together. We knew it was BS and weren’t gonna stand for it. We all filled out witness statements saying how the snitch had bragged before hand that she was going to get staff to do her dirty work for her and my coworker was just doing the best she could in a messed up situation.

Thankfully, my coworker was brought back to the unit, however, I did say this is a telenovela, the sergeant refused to change either one of their cell assignments. They’re still living together. Ay Yai-Yai

Mental Health and Anniversaries

6/14/21

Mental health is a tricky beast.

In the men’s facilities there is a ton of shame around having any sort of mental health struggle and little to no care or concern given to someone who is hurting. It is seen as weakness.

Here at WCCW talking about mental health issues is very much so normalized. I regularly hear people describe something as being triggering, or share that they are going through a rough patch, and the response is universally one of genuine concern.

This week has made this very clear to me.

Since coming to WCCW I have been blessed with an amazing circle of friends. One of them has the anniversary of her crime this week and she’s struggling with massive feelings of guilt, shame, and inability to process the events that led her to prison. This is a common problem for people in prison. For everyone around us it’s just another day, but for the person whose anniversary it is, it’s the worst day of the year. Because of this, once I consider a person to be a real friend, I make a point of asking them two questions:

1) What’s your B-day?
2) What’s the anniversary of your crime?

Essentially, when do I have an excuse to celebrate how awesome you are, and when do I need to show up with all the love and support I can find.

Now, back to my friend. The big concern I had was that she hasn’t, in the past, had a positive caring friend group to lean on. So I was unsure if she had the ability to accept the gift of care and concern we we offering and whether she could turn that into resilience. I watched her struggle to keep her shit together while wrestling with her personal demons while also struggling to let herself be loved on by her friends. Of course, her feelings of shame were a big part of this. Shame isolates. It tells us that we are not worthy of being around other humans because we are monstrous. It tells us we are not worthy of love. It keeps us from being able to accept help exactly when we need it most.

Thankfully, my friends and I are all extremely skilled in being annoying little blighters when we want to be, so we bugged the crap out of her with cutesy heart hands, yummy snacks, and lots of hugs. We gave her space, but we also stepped into that space every couple of hours to remind her that she is loved.

Afterward we talked about what helped and what didn’t. Thankfully she didn’t have to go to suicide watch as she has previous years. But it was a fight and a half. She still felt alone in her struggle with her feelings much of the time, but she didn’t feel isolated. And that’s an important difference. Each and every one of us have to face the darkest of the dark inside our own heads alone. No one can fight that battle for us. However, we can lean on the strength of our friends and family, we can seek professional help from therapists and psych meds, we can rest and find peace from our spiritual practice, and we can be kind to ourselves, seeking out things that help us feel better. This is where resilience comes from. Sometimes it’s easy and not something we really need to think much about or put much effort into. Other times it’s a full time job.

Something to think about the next time you celebrate your friends, family, and loved one’s, is when do they need people to give them all the care and concern in the world?

Paging the Gender Police

5/16/21

Seeing the ways that gender norms and gendered activities play out in prison is interesting to say the least. Oddly, the thing that got me thinking about this is cursing.

In the men’s facilities cursing is a normal occurrence. In fact during my 15 months in Spokane County Jail five days a week my day started as follows:

Officer Daily: Morning Kim. Breakfast. How the hell are you?
Me: Fuck Off. Gimmie. Thanks.

Similar variations of this happened all the time in Walla Walla and Monroe in my interactions with (usually male) staff. In the woman’s prison, the c/o (usually a woman) would get a staff misconduct grievance put on her and the inmate would get a minor infraction if this happened.

There is a particular type of demure femininity being enforced by the prison. A femininity which assumes a pretty girl must have a pretty mouth and thus should not have ugly words coming out if it. Conversely, men have to perform a masculinity in which toughness appears in every interaction, even if it’s just picking up breakfast. The same set of rules exist in both the men’s and woman’s facilities, but they are enforced (or not) very differently. You don’t get much more of a clear cut sexist double standard than that.

But wait, there’s more!

There are many other rules which are enforced differently in the men’s and women’s facilities for obviously gendered reasons.

Men are required to tuck in their shirts. Women are not. This is because the image of a professional man includes a tucked in shirt, where as a professional woman does not. This actually goes against safety and security since it is easier to smuggle contraband with a tucked in shirt. Another wardrobe-centered item is the wearing of slacks. In the men’s facilities men are required to wear slacks anytime they go to school, work, or even the chow hall. In the women’s facility we are allowed to wear sweats or slacks anytime and anywhere. The rule technically says we have to wear pants. Thus the difference shows up in what is defined as “pants for men” vs what is defined as “pants for women” making it so the rule is enforced differently. The definition of words change based on what gendered context a person is in.

Taking this a step further, the very gender of incarcerated people is not determined by DNA, sex assigned at birth, or gender identity. It is defined by geography. When I was in a men’s facility I was treated as, searched as, and considered a male inmate, regardless of my transgender status. However, now that I am in a woman’s facility, I am treated as a female inmate. This imposition of gender takes place because the prison itself is treated as a gendered entity. There are hundreds of tiny ways this shows up, the clearest example I can think of is gardening. Gardens planted in men’s facilities are overwhelmingly vegetable gardens, playing into a “man as farmer” archetype. Whereas, gardens in the woman’s facility are overwhelmingly flower gardens, “woman as florist” archetype.
In the men’s facilities only dog programs are available to the general population, and the dog programs which are available have to do with the rehab of rescue animals in closed custody facilities and training dogs to be service animals in medium and minimum custody facilities. Only in the prison psych wards can an incarcerated person in a men’s facility get a cat.

In the woman’s facility there is a dog grooming program, and there is both dog and cat rescue/rehab programs available to people in general population.

Again, we see gender norms being recreated. For a man to have a cat there must be something wrong with him, but it is normal for a woman. Men train dogs for utility. Women make dogs look pretty. Men do something useful while women do something ornamental.

My last example is the TV cable packages. The men’s facilities average 60 to 80 channels, depending on which facility we’re talking about. Most men’s facilities have access to TVW in addition to multiple sports channels, educational channels, and movie channels. Furthermore, there are almost no Spanish channels (like one or two). The woman’s facility has 29 channels, no movie channels, no sports channels, no access to TVW, and six Spanish channels. We could be given access to the NASA channel, as well as a handful of other STEM centered educational channels, since they are a part of the 70 channel cable package which has been negotiated for this facility, but we don’t get those.
Instead, 1/6th of our channels are in Spanish and thus are (presumably) devoted to serving less than 1/10th of the prison’s population. To contrast this, 1/35th of the channels are in Spanish in the men’s facilities and they presumably serve over 1/3rd of the population in the men’s facilities.

The assumption being that a Spanish speaking women doesn’t need to learn English to get a job, but a man does. Men need access to STEM programming, State level political news through TVW, and quality entertainment but women don’t. Men need to be provided entertainment while women are expected to provide our own.

Prisons, being total institutions, indoctrination the people in them to these gender norms whether the people in them realize it or not. With such a large percentage of the US population passing through these institutions, it makes me wonder how much regendering of social norms and reinforcement of the gender binary is taking place due to the prison industrial complex.

From Mass Incarceration to Custom Incarceration

5/28/21

In a recent memo, the WA DOC has disclosed a plan to close a bunch of different units across the state, including one whole facility. Though, they glossed over the fact that they are closing the entirety of Washington State Reformatory Unit (WSRU). What follows is a list of all the proposed unit closures, I’ve added a few comments here and there in parentheses. It’s quite the list.

Monroe Correctional Complex

  • WSRU: A, B, C, D
    (The entirety of my “mother institution”! And yes, that is what the first prison one does time at is called. It’s caged children. It’s caged adults. It’s stolen people’s hope for over a hundred years. This one getting shut down shows all of them can be shut down.)
  • TRU: B, C
    (This represents half of TRU and includes the “therapeutic community” where sex offender treatment takes place.)
  • MSU: A, B

Mission Creek Correctional Center for Women

  • Bear

Clallam Bay Correctional Center (CRCC)

  • C

Coyote Ridge Correctional Center (CRCC)

  • E, F
  • MSU: Camas

Larch Correctional Center (LCC)

  • Silverstar

Washington Correctional Center for Women (WCCW) Purdy

  • MSC: K

Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) Walla Walla

  • MSU (East Complex): Unit 10
    (Used to be Unit 5. Unit 5 was the protective custody of the original prison behind the walls. It was retrofitted at a cost of many millions of dollars to tax payers shortly before I left Walla Walla and reopened as Unit 10, an incentive unit for good little warden’s pets.)
  • West Complex: Golf
    (Very surprising. I never would have expected any of the closed custody units to be closed down. Let alone one that has a dog program.)

Olympic Correctional Complex (OCC)

  • Clearwater

The reason the WA DOC is giving for shutting down these units is a sharp reduction in the sheer number of incarcerated people in Washington state. I would say this is something to celebrate, but… there’s an itsy-bitsy itty-bitty tiny massive fly in the ointment.

A major contributor to the reduction of prison population is the GRE (Graduated Re-Entry) program. Instead of having people serve the last six months to a year of their prison sentence in prison, the WA DOC is tossing an ankle monitor on them and letting them do that time under house arrest. Since most people who are eligible for GRE have 18 months of community custody to do, and they are able to do work release for the last year of their sentence, this amounts to three years of a person being “out in the community” while still under the thumb of the PIC.

Furthermore, when a person is on GRE or community custody everyone in their household is also under the microscope of the PIC. WA DOC officers can legally invade their home at any time without a search warrant and go through anything they like, take anything they like, break anything they like. As long as they have the flimsiest of pretexts of “searching for suspected evidence”, it’s legal.

In short, the recently released person and everyone they live with completely sacrifice their right to only be subjected to search and seizure when reasonable as decided by a judge for a minimum of 2 years, possibly (probably) longer.

I feel like I am the only incarcerated person who sees this. Everyone I talk to is frothing at the mouth to get into this program. They see it as freedom, and I understand why. When a person is in the IMU, the c/o’s will refer to closed custody as “more freedom” queuing incarcerated people to discuss it using the same terms. The same happens when a person is in closed custody in regards to medium, and the same happens in medium custody regarding minimum. At every step this happens. When I critique this and say “it’s not more freedom, it’s less oppression” I get the dirtiest looks and vehement push back from staff. Incarcerated people simply nod and say “you have a point.” We, as incarcerated people are conditioned to equate less restrictive environments with “freedom” which then leads people to confuse being on an ankle monitor with being out of prison and, uncritically, gloss over the potential impact on their housemates.

So yes, let’s shut down as many prisons as soon as we can. But as we do, let’s not turn each house, condo, and apartment into individualized personal correctional complexes.

Mother of a Birthday

5/9/21

Sharing a birthday with any holiday is the worst (December babies, I feel your pain). This year, my birthday perfectly lined up with Mother’s Day. Usually when this happens 1) I hide from the world all day because 2) I don’t get a birthday that year. Actually, If my birthday lands on that Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday I generally don’t get a birthday that year, meaning I only have a real chance at having a real birthday 2 out of every 7 years.

To say the least, it’s not fun.

This year was extra ironic. The first year I’m in a woman’s facility, surrounded by mothers, and my birthday is the day of. I was expecting to have my b-day completely neglected, mostly because in the men’s facilities my birthday was usually not something other people cared about and as a kid my birthday was secondary to Mother’s Day to the point where many years I didn’t have a birthday at all.
I had a birthday this year. I do love it when I’m wrong.

The people I’ve been getting to know here and hang out with every day (I hesitate to use the word “friends” just yet, trust issues and all that) made a concerted effort to make my birthday special. I started off the day telling them “Happy Mother’s Day” and they immediately replied “Happy Birthday.” This continued throughout the day as other people learned it was my birthday. (Something about my hopefully-future-friends telling people it’s my B-day)

During the yard period after lunch I was given a card, and a couple presents. And during the yard period after dinner there was cake. Like, honest to Dog cake! I have no idea how it was made, but it was sooooo good! Chocolate soda cake with peanut butter frosting in the middle and chocolate frosting on the outside. Yeah, it did’t survive the hour.

It’s been a long time since I felt cared for by anyone who is incarcerated and is not my significant other. John made my birthday special. TJ made my birthday special. I honestly can’t remember anyone in here who’s made my birthday special prior to that. Here’s the real kicker. These three women and one gender nonconforming person went out of their way to make me feel good today while missing their kids.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it lately, but… I am so glad to have been moved to WCCW. That’s all there is to it.

Trauma in Context

4/22/21

I’ve known for years that I am carrying a lot of trauma from living in the men’s prisons. It took leaving for me to realize just how badly.

This makes me think about the social construction of trauma. As long as a person remains in the context which their trauma first developed, it is a survival strategy. It is not until a person leaves that context, when their reactions to various stimuli no longer matches what is actually happening, that their reactions are considered a trauma response.

Now that I am in a woman’s facility, my survival strategies are no longer relevant. My head’s on a swivel, I’m jumping at every random noise, and I look like idiot. Because I’m no longer one of many doing these things, I’m the only one doing these things.

This has become even more obvious to me since I was assigned to work in the kitchen.

I started off on pots and pans, a job I’ve done multiple times over the years. As normal for me the banging of the pots, the dull roar of the kitchen behind me, people shouting over the sound of dinner being prepared for 600, all of these things triggered my PTSD as they normally do. But… I’m safe. No one is going to attack someone for no reason in this kitchen. Actually, (intellectually) I don’t believe anyone is going to attack anybody in this kitchen.

At the end of the first week I was offered a job putting together the carts for IMU, the hospital, and etc. Normally, I wouldn’t accept a position like this. It’s a more isolated area, less staff supervision, and a small group of inmates. In the men’s prison a spot like that would be a prime place for me to be attacked, but here, not so much. So I took the job, and now I’m struggling. Thus far, I don’t think my coworkers have noticed how often I have to take a deep breath and reorient myself. They just think I’m a bit ditzy for the first part of the day. Usually by the end of our shift I’ve gotten a handle on it, but the next day I have to start all over.

Intellectually, I know I am safe. I can’t seem to convince my emotional mind of that.

My context has changed. I am surrounded by different humans with different values than the humans I was surrounded by when I first developed the survival strategies of: Turn while tucking my chin when I hear a loud noise, because I don’t know if someone just grabbed a pan to attack with. Keep track of where people are in my immediate area, so I know when they are getting close to me. If I’m on break, sit with my back to the wall, or remain standing, or not sit in the middle of the break area. And those are just the ones I’m consciously aware of. Here, those same behaviors are strange and create distance between me and my coworkers and impact my ability to be a part of the social landscape.

I know I’m safe, but it will be a long time til I KNOW I’m safe.