Thoughts on True Crime

Incarcerated people have a complex relationship with the “True Crime” crowd. Authors like Anne Rule have fetishized us and demonized us to such an extreme degree that a vast majority of incarcerated and formally incarcerated people will move heaven and earth to stay out of that dubious lime light. When crimes are committed serious harm is caused to the survivors. This is no reason to write off the person who caused that harm as evil. People are people.

If you haven’t watched it in a while, turn on your local “Most Wanted” show or any sensationalist True Crime reenactment show and for each segment of the show think about how the person who was harmed may feel about what is being said, and think about how the person who caused harm may feel about what is being said. Then during the commercial break think about how everything on the Internet is immortal. Think about that person who was harmed and that person who caused harm seeing those clips in five, ten, fifteen years. About having people they’ve just met randomly saying “Hey, I saw this thing about you on TV last night.” How might that impact them? Year after year after year of being defined as the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, or being defined as the worst thing you’ve ever done.

I bring all this up because I went and did something scary. Whether it was brave or foolish is yet to be seen.
There is a podcast called Criminal Perspectives. I recorded an interview with them which, by the time you read this, should be posted. My reason for doing this is the same as for why I write this blog. I have something to say and I want the opportunity to say it. The prison industrial complex and criminal (in)justice system are a terrible idea. People are people. Life is complex and we shouldn’t throw our fellow humans away. I am both a survivor of criminal harm, and the causer of criminal harm. I think this may be the first time I’ve ever uttered that sentence out loud. I have both caused and received serious irreparable harm.

Sit with that for a moment. Is this statement also true for you? If yes, as a person of both positionallities, what do you believe should happen to you as a person who has caused harm? What do you believe should happen to the people who harmed you? Are these answers similar? Why or why not?

Guest on Criminal Perspectives

A few months back I agreed to be interviewed by the podcast Criminal Perspectives.

This is the first time I have ever been interviewed by “the media.” When I was in county jail I was asked if I wanted to be interviewed by KXLY 4 and the Spokesman Review. But back then I was kinda sorta broken and trying to talk to anyone about anything was a bit if a challenge. Let alone speaking to a reporter about the harms I caused.

Now that, years later, I have finally put my brain together and have the wherewithal to speak about the harms I’ve caused, I doubt KXLY 4 and the Spokesman Review even know who I am. I feel a need for taking public accountability for my actions, however, I no longer have a mainstream media venue for doing so.

Part of my desire to start this blog and one my reasons for being interviewed by Criminal Perspectives is a direct result of this need. Furthermore, I see this as an opportunity to speak about the collateral damage which is caused by the PIC and the criminal (in)justice system. I believe punitive systems cause more harm than they prevent and transformative/restorative practices are necessary if we are ever going to transform our society into one where harm can be interrupted before it is caused.

The process of the interview was interesting to say the least. I had to call in to Criminal Perspectives and record 20 minutes of conversation at a time for roughly an hour and a half. I had to open some very painful boxes in my head, while also taking care of myself in the public space of the unit dayroom. Balancing all that was extremely difficult.

Thankfully, I had planned ahead and scheduled a phone call with Megan (the Awesome) afterward and let some of my acquaintances know I would need their support after I got off the phone.

This backfired horribly. One of those acquaintances took the opportunity to push up on me and try and incite a violent conflict between us because I was emotionally fragile in that moment

Thankfully, I was able to handle it gracefully. It was certainly a well timed attempt to get me to act against my values. Of course people arbitrarily trying to drag me down to their level is a part of my normal. In prison we call it “Crab Bucket Syndrome.”

This is the context I figured out how to be an okay person in, reclaimed my sanity in, and am now trying to find my way back to the real world from.

I hope I was able to really show up in the interview. I feel like I was able to resist the urge to perform, but (of course) I have not been able to listen to the interview itself so I have no way of knowing what I sounded like as I spoke.

If you’re interested in hearing me tell my story, or are simply curious as to what my voice sounds like, check it out.

Adjustment

2/15/20

I am not adjusting well to TRU. More accurately, I’m not adjusting well to being without John.

Two weeks ago I had a mental health crisis. It was four months in the making due to sleep deprivation, stress from DOC staff, and a voyeur for a cellie who liked to play passive aggressive head games. I did my best to change cells and get on better terms with the B-unit staff, but I was completely unsuccessful in this.
So I had a melt down. I have a well founded fear of causing harm to others when I’m in a mental health crisis. Because of this I went to mental health and asked them to lock me in a box for a few days. They did as I asked (sort of).

I was placed in IMU and given a 506 major infraction. Threatening another person with bodily harm.
This I do not understand. I did the literal right thing and I was punished for it. I ended up spending 9 days in the IMU (my shortest hole trip to date) and was put right back in the same situation which had destabilized me. Thankfully, the cellie I had who was such a problem with is no longer assigned to my cell, but I still have a whole group of unit staff who’ve made it more than clear, I am not welcome in B-unit.

I feel like a horse who has caught the scent of rattler but doesn’t know where the snake is.

I don’t really know what to do in this situation. I am trying to get moved to A-unit where I won’t have to deal with staff targeting me, but… I don’t know. 

I’ll keep ya’ll posted.

Temporarily Blind

1/31/20

So, I spent half of today blind. It reminded me of being a part of the “disabled for a day” program back in highschool. Back then I spent a full 24 hours blindfolded. Today, I spent 7 hours with my eyes closed after going to the optometrist because my eyes were so sensitive from the dilating eye drops that my vision was a nearly uniform blur of pain.

Yes it was temporary, but it was also terrifying in a way I don’t really know how to describe. When I was blindfolded there was a physical object keeping me from being able to see. There was nothing physically wrong with me. But today, I didn’t have a blindfold. In fact I went and put on a blindfold to protect them from the light which was causing me so much pain.

It was just me with broken eyes.

I love being able to see. I love paintings and statues, sunsets and flowers, I even like mimes and patterns written in dust by idle fingers. I love reading. Audio books are cool, but they’re not the same. I love being able to see the words on the page and the sighted process of reading.

The smallest glimmer of possibly losing that frightened me to the core. Intellectually I knew my vision would come back as soon as the eye drops wore off, but emotionally I could not convince myself.

Thankfully I had a group of people who sat with me, walked me to and from dinner, and kept me from panicking. This gave me a new perspective on interdependence. I’m used to getting help with things which require a high degree of dexterity when I’m having a bad hand day or I just don’t have the ability to do it in the first place. Shuffling cards, sewing, zipping my jacket, small things which make all the difference.

However, relying on someone else to keep me from walking into anyone in the lunch line, that’s a whole new level. Walking into the wrong person in prison, even a soft prison like TRU, can result in an immediate fight. It’s a little scary. One of the few upsides of prison is all the furniture is nailed down and, having lived here for four months, my feet already know where everything is. My cell has been organized the same way for months, so I know where everything is by touch. This made making myself lunch, using the restroom, and settling in for a nap much easier than it would have been in an unfamiliar space.

Today renewed my commitment to (dis)ability and accessibility issues. While I do not believe my temporary loss of sight is comparable to the experience of anyone who is permanently blind. It gave me enough of a taste to be grateful for my vision and all the other ways I enjoy the privilege of being (mostly) able bodied and not having a visible (dis)ability.

Maturing in Prison

It’s a long road, from childhood to adult, and certainly not an easy one. It is all the more difficult for incarcerated people. I’ve watched others grow up in prison, grew up here myself, and I’ve observed an arch or series of milestones people seem to pass through on their road to adulthood.

Youngsters, 18, 19, 20 years old, who show up here fresh from county or transferring in from juvie all have one thing in common. We’re angry. I say “we” because I know I was one of them, still am in certain respects. I remember feeling so worthless, scared, desperate to be left alone, needing so badly to be held and told it’ll all be ok. And behind all that, rage. Nobody could tell me nothing because I was a “grown ass man.” I thought I could do everything myself, completely ignoring all evidence to the contrary, like not eating or showering for a week. Nevermind my nonexistent self-esteem which made attempting anything new an exercise in futility. I didn’t need anyone. I was an island. An impenetrable fortress. I would have random crying jags every day and wakeup from a dead sleep screaming every night. Hell, still do.

Having experienced this, seen this over and over and over in the people around me, I have come to relate immaturity with selfishness, self-destruction, and self-delusion.

The first step in moving out of this is realizing someone, literally anyone, cares about oneself. That they see a version of oneself worthy of being cared for.
When the self looks into the mirror of another’s uncomplicated love and sees oneself as they do, it breaks that self in a good way. This might happen a dozen times before it sticks, or might only take once. It’s once it sticks that life becomes difficult.

There is no need for skill or effort as long as one is embracing the low road. This is a part of the reason so many people who are total messes can so easily convince themselves that they have their shit together. But once one starts climbing for the highroad, life gets hard.

I remember spending winter in bed three years in a row. I got up for meals, and occasionally to go outside, but otherwise, I was immobilized by that gulf. Between what I was and what I could be.

I had so much drama in my life from wanting to be a good person, but having no idea what that means. This is the point in time that everyone is the biggest shitshow they will ever be. This causes anyone who has their life together to not want anything to do with them at exactly the moment when they need to be mentored the most.

This is usually the point in time where people will start signing up for random programs not knowing what they are, and not knowing what they need. It is in this stage where “jailhouse conversions” happen. People are desperately searching for anything which will give them a sense of purpose and they will latch onto religion as a substitute for self worth. I’m lucky in that I already practiced Wicca and I picked up Buddhism when I was in this stage. These beliefs gave me the tools I needed to grow. I’ve seen people get to this stage and last in their new found faith up until they are faced with a choice where what they want to do and what their faith says they should do are radically different. I do not know what causes success or failure at this point, but one of three things happen:

1) the person loses their faith and returns to square one with more self hate than ever.
2) the person starts on a cycle of making strides and backsliding in such a way that tricks them into thinking they are growing when really they never get past the same point.
3) they dig deep and successful set their ego aside to do the right thing.

If one does the third thing, growth happens and one begins to be less of a mess. If they repeatedly make the same choice over and over, then other people who already have their life together will usually take notice and start helping.

I wasn’t so lucky. It took 5 years for me to get the support of others after I got my shit together and caused me to be stagnated for quite a while. I wasn’t able to learn the lessons of asking for help and trusting others because I didn’t have people around me who were trustworthy. Every time I gave someone a little trust, they broke it. Thankfully, I didn’t give up. I eventually found some people who held my trust and didn’t betray me.

Of course, the work didn’t stop there. It never stops. It circles back around perpetually with ever more subtle versions of every lesson. Once a person reaches this point, a person continues to be mature as long as they keep doing the work. If they stop, then they begin to stagnate, decay, and lose their hard won maturity.

It seems to me that once a person reaches their 15 year mark this happens for a while. The sheer amount of time spent locked up causes them to question the point of all the hard work it takes to resist all the toxic institutionalizing norms we are surrounded by. It was so easy being a mess way back when, and being a grownup is so tiring, exhausting, seemingly pointless. Especially for those of us without a release date. The thought of “I’m gonna die in here so what’s the point?” has no answer. It simply comes down to what kind of person does one want to be.

I have done 13 years so far, and I am planing on putting in for clemency at my 16 year mark. Which means, if I am not an exception to the pattern, I will be smack dab in the middle of an existential crisis while I’m fighting for my life and freedom.

Discovering and holding on to one’s maturity while incarcerated is a long difficult road, but so far I’ve found it’s worth it.

COVID-19 Update 6/12-6/29/20

6/12/20

Today the DOC is wanting us to go back to eating in the chow hall. This is a terrible idea. Currently there are massive COVID-19 outbreaks at Coyote Ridge and Airway Heights. This has happened because the DOC as a whole, and about a quarter of us inmates, aren’t taking things seriously.

When we eat in the chow hall there are two precautions. The first is a two people to a table limit. The second is who has to eat in the chow hall alternates between B unit (us), and A unit. We can’t wear masks while eating (duh), and the layout of the chow hall makes certain seats dangerous because they are in high traffic areas, like next to the door, by the water fountain, and in front of the tray up window. If someone is an asymptomatic carrier and in one of these seats they can easily infect every person who passes by.

We don’t have a choice about eating in the chow hall, at 40 cents an hour, we are not paid enough to be able to buy all our own groceries and the only other alternative is starve.

They need to invest in a sustainable means of feeding all of us in our cells. Currently they use disposable paper and Styrofoam “clamshells” of the sort I’m used to seeing at mom and pop burger joints. Instead, they need to use the plastic IMU trays for our food which can be collected in the unit and returned to the kitchen to be washed and disinfected. Which would be both more cost effective and green friendly.

In short, I’m tired of the DOC doing whatever is easiest for them instead of doing what’s right for those of us under their boot heel and for the community at large.

6/29/20

We are receiving over two dozen people from Coyote Ridge Correctional Center (CRCC) on the chain today. CRCC is currently in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak and this is the first incoming chain TRU has received in months.

The WA DOC claims the people who are being transferred spent two weeks in quarantine and have been tested for COVID-19 and have two negative tests.
This in no way makes any one here feel safer.

I understand the reason why this is happening, and I agree with the logic. CRCC needs to reduce its population so that the people there can practice social distancing. The problem is they should be letting people out of prison not just shuffling people around. CRCC is having an outbreak because of overcrowding. The DOC’s solution is to reduce over crowding there by increasing overcrowding elsewhere. I don’t know if other facilities are also receiving people from CRCC, but I expect they are.

This has a lot of people here freaked out on a whole ‘nother level as well. TRU has the sex offender treatment program and ex-gang member “step down” programs here. CRCC is a highly political (meaning prison politics) facility. So many of the ex-gang members and sex offenders here are worried that the people coming in on the chain are still active gang members. If they are, this will most likely result in a lot of violence.

Interestingly, since we’ve reached the “new normal” violence here has gone way down. I attribute this to c/o’s having been instructed to not do random pat searches and cell searches. They now only do these things when they suspect someone of having contraband. The DOC has always claimed that they have to be super invasive in the way they police incarcerated people for the safety and security of the facility. Yet, it seems the opposite is true. COVID-19 has forced them to rule with a lighter touch and the result has been a safer living environment for us, and a safer working environment for them.

But I digress.

Having a large number of new people come in all at once is bound to upset the apple cart, whether it is through interpersonal conflict as they settle into TRU or, that which we all fear, the introduction of COVID-19 to this facility.

The Overlooked Victims of Domestic Violence

Editor’s note: content warning for domestic violence/intimate partner violence/sexual and physical violence

Most of what I’ve learned on intimate partner violence came from classes I took at WSR done by HEAL and API Chaya. They got the foundation of their framework from the NorthWest Network. Most of what I’ve seen has been more queer studies critique than feminist critique and I’ve only recently learned that there is a big difference between these two perspectives. I generally ignore 90% of the stuff from second wave feminism, sticking to frameworks that center the experience of Black women, immigrant women, and indigenous women. Reading the Combahee Collective Statement kinda sorta blew up my whole world view in the best way possible. In it they critique the way second wave feminism erased race and class struggles of women who are not white and middle-class and how the anti-racist civil rights movement erased the sex and gender of Black people who were not hetero-males.

Thankfully intersectional critiques have become normalized to the point that I rarely come across books or papers that treat a given identity as monolithic.
Thus I was recently surprised and a little scandalized to hear that there are feminists who believe that men do not have the ability to receive intimate partner violence.

Yes, male identified people statistically cause much more harm than female identified people and the (lack of) enforcement of DV laws has historically favored men while criminalizing women. But saying men can’t receive harm is a dangerous simplification and, I believe, an untenable argument in the face of reality. One in six boys receive some form of sexual assault before their 18th birthday. With that many male-identified people receiving harm that young, and considering receiving sexual abuse dramatically increases the odds that one will receive further sexual abuse in the future, and that a majority of the time the person who received harm knew the person who caused that harm… I don’t understand how anyone can argue this. And this is just one form of intimate partner violence. Google the “power and control wheel of intimate partner violence” real quick. That’s 8 different ways one can cause or receive harm in a relationship. Leveraging systemic advantage/disadvantage is just low of them.

Keep in mind, we’re talking about patterns of abuse here, the whole movie, not just a single scene.
I also think this simplification erases how enculturation and gender socialization work. Toxic masculinity is supported and perpetuated by toxic femininity which means if we are to bring an end to say, the normalization of male violence, then we have to do more than just educate men about the impact of their violence, we also have to convince women to not value violent behaviors in men like when they “white knight” for us.

I just read a book titled “Love With Accountability”. It’s a collection of essays on childhood sexual abuse by survivors who are woman of color. One essay in it particularly underlines my point. “sometimes the wolves wear lipstick and we call them auntie” by Kenyette Tisha Barns. Towards the beginning of her essay she says:

“I accepted that, generally speaking, white people and white women in particular marginalized our race, and Black men marginalized our gender. Yet what made me the most heartsick was the degree to which Black women, who were themselves often the victims of sexual abuse, were also the enablers.”

This echos my experience in prison. Often older LGBTQ people in prison who have been the victims of sexual assault in the past are the very same people who push youngsters and trans women into unsafe positions where we are victimized.

I see this as a toxic feminine script playing out in our LGBTQ prison community, and it supports the toxic masculine script of male sexual conquest. Which brings me back to my main point, if men cannot be the victims of intimate partner violence, then can someone please explain to me what all the toxic relationships I’ve seen in prison between cis-male gay men are.

HumanMe.org

One of my fellow incarcerated trans women, Ruth, has a most interesting project, HumanMe.org, on Facebook as Experience HumanMe.

Their mission is to find people who are doing the right thing in prison and who are rehabilitating themselves despite the barriers of prison and to give them a platform for their voice to be heard.

This is something I very much so resonate with. I’ve found that the people who claim to be rehabilitated from this program or that program generally only have things half figured out. The people who are in fact rehabilitated are the ones who have taken their internal journey on their own and leaned on the people in various programs for support in that work.
When you couple this with the difficulties incarcerated people have in getting our voices out into the world, I think her project is exactly the kind of thing which needs to exist.

I’ve wanted to have a bunch of guest posts from other incarcerated people, but have thus far been unsuccessful in doing so. She has done far better than me by creating a whole platform with multiple incarcerated writers from many different walks of life.

So please, give HumanMe.org a look. They’re doing some cool stuff over there.

Unsafe

Editor’s note: content warning for mentions of transmisogynistic violence and rape

12/13/19

There are times when I wonder if the DOC is trying to put me in dangerous situations. Then there are times where I know for a fact they are intentionally putting me in danger for their own amusement.

This week on the chain a guy came in on the chain and was placed in a different unit than me, let’s call him Dee. I’ve changed his name to protect his identity. I immediately had over a dozen people come up to me and tell me “be careful he’s a threat.” I told them I would be and thanked them for letting me know.
I’m always careful, and I appreciated them pointing out a specific threat to my safety. However, after the fifth person came up to me to tell me about him I began to really worry. I’m used to having one or two people tell me “so-and-so is a bad person”, but as the sheer number of people warning me about Dee increased I began to get upset with the people giving me the warning. An amorphous warning does not help. I need to know why this guy specifically is such a threat. Most of the people I called on this point balked and refused to say more, but a couple of people finally gave me details.

Dee has a history of, on multiple occasions, physically attacking trans women and youngsters, dragging them into the cell or other secluded area, then raping them.
At which point I had an “Oh shit, at least he’s not in my unit” moment. Until I learned he was placed on the same wing as the trans women in A-unit. This upset me. There are three wings per unit. Placing someone that has a history of being that much of a predator on the same wing as a bunch of trans women is essentially the same as giving him access and permission to harm them.

While I was still scrambling to figure out what, if anything, I could do to support them they had organized themselves, gone to the CUS as a group, and gotten Dee moved off of their wing.

I was proud of them in that moment, then I learned where the DOC decided to move Dee to. B-unit, A-wing. Where I live.

Like I said, there are three wings per unit. They could have placed him on C-wing where there are no trans women, they could have moved the one trans woman on B-wing and put him there. Both choices would have supported our safety. Instead they chose to put him on another pod with a concentration of trans women where he would have access to us and be able to cause us serious harm.

This is not the first time the DOC has placed me in a position where I am liable to be raped. It is not okay and I am now scrambling to organize the people here for our own self preservation.

The DOC claims that they do all kinds of stuff in the name of safety and security. Most of them are lies. They care more about control and if that means rewarding one of their pet snitches with access to people who fit their victim profile, well… they’re perfectly happy to do so.

The DOC does not keep me safe. My circle of friends keeps me safe. I keep me safe.

My Relationship with Psych Meds

One of the people I hang out with recently came up to me announcing that he wanted to be like me, not psych meds dependent. We had been talking about our respective mental health issues the day before and he assumed that because I was able to ween myself off psych meds that he would be able to quit his meds cold turkey and be fine.

That’s not how it works.

I feel that it is important to make this abundantly clear. There is no shame in needing psych meds. It’s similar to mobility issues in a way, temporarily as a crutch or permanently as a cane, if it’s what a person needs to make it through the day then it is simply a tool for helping a body access a space. There is no shame in it.

I did not initially set out to be free of my meds. I set out to not hurt as much. I had all my psychological pain, of course. But I also had the side effects of the meds I was on and the feeling that I shouldn’t be high on psych meds all day every day. I’m (mostly) a straight edge and value having an unclouded mind. These things hurt. I just wanted to hurt less.

So I started doing my research. It was happenstance that I was going through my year and a day of dedicate as a witch at the same time. The cross pollination of psychology and Wicca revealed a path to me which involved slowly building up my ability to do for myself what the psych meds were doing for me.

I gained more skill at doing grounding exercises, then had my dosage of mood stabilizer reduced. I found ways to feel small sparks of happy throughout the day, then had my antidepressant dose reduced. I made sure to go slow and careful. More than once I had my dose reduced just to have to bump it back up again. I did my work, figured out my shit one day at a time. The first half dozen times I tried to go without meds it was too soon and all I managed to do was cause myself to lose many months worth of progress. Each time I had to deal with whatever damage I had caused myself before I could think about moving forward once more.

Eventually I managed to go a whole summer without meds then got back on an antidepressant for the winter. Then I did the same thing that following year.

All told, it took me five years of intense personal work to reclaim my sanity. On the other side of it I realize that I’m one of the lucky ones. I have depression and will carry that with me for the rest of my life. I have autism and that shapes the way I interact with other people and react to certain stimuli. But the lion’s share of my issues came from my trauma and PTSD. This made my depression much much worse. Made me become overwhelmed and overstimulated so often that I couldn’t be present in any given situation no matter how much I wanted to be there. Having dealt with most of my trauma-damage I can now manage the remainder of my mental health issues without psych meds. Other people are not so blessed. While dealing with underlying trauma should help anyone with mental health issues and possibly reduce the number and dosage of their meds, they will still be meds dependant for the rest of their lives.

I believe in mad pride. Whatever work I do, it will always center the mental health needs of those I am doing the work with. A part of my vision of the future is a world where people are supported and encouraged to take their inward journeys. Where meds are not thrown about as some sort of panacea. Where “doctors” no longer claim to be experts when they are just fellow humans who are in the middle of figuring out their own shit just like the rest of us. Where meds are not given out by “guess and check” based on arbitrary symptoms which may or may not have anything to do with neurochemistry.

We are harmed by doctors trying med after med after med after med until something sort of works. We need a system where actual scientific measurements (blood tests, EEG, fMRI, etc) equate to specific prescriptions. And we need talk therapy and support groups to be normalized in the same way that going to the dentist or primary care provider for preventative care and checkups “just because” is normalized.

I got lucky, I was able to deal with my trauma in the first place, and doubly lucky because I didn’t need psych meds once I did. We need a world that cares for people who are not as lucky as I.