I was asked recently why I care so much about the systemic oppression of people who are different than myself. At the time I rattled off some quick easy answer like “none of us are free till all of us are free.” However, a few days later, we had a huge debate about racial issues in my humanities class; it was that week’s assignment so go figure. But it set me to thinking more deeply about that first question and I may have written the following essay all about it.
Prison is garbage. Normally I don’t really feel a need to point it out, but it is the context for my complacency regarding the following. Not an excuse or blame shifting. Just context. Prison is garbage.
I arrived at Washington State Penitentiary – West Complex (WSP-WC), Walla Walla, Washington on February 2nd, 2009. I was already scared shitless from my ten months at Washington State Reformatory (WSR) in Monroe and still shell shocked from 15 months in Spokane County Jail and a trial where I learned that during a gap in my memory, I had killed my parents. The reason I was sent to WSP-WC is because I hadn’t been in WA DOC custody long enough to be eligible for medium custody and WSR was being converted from a close custody to a medium custody facility. Thus, anyone not eligible for medium custody was shipped out to Walla Walla. (There’s some excuses in there, but to leave them out would be dishonest.)
I was a broken toy. I arrived at Walla Walla and was placed in a cell with a man I knew, well knew of. He was one of the racist idiots in the same crowd as Richard Butler and his neo-nazis. Thankfully he didn’t recognize me from any church potlucks or my father’s name form him being apart of the Priest River Chamber of Commerce.
My new cellie told me about how wonderful Walla Walla was.
How they would have segregated the lunch trays but it would have been too much for the guys in the kitchen to keep track of. Of course, he used a less complementary term.
And I sat there and said nothing.
Just like I sat there and said nothing when my father would use similar, most uncomplimentary terms when talking about welfare, immigration, and other subjects, but only if he thought he was alone with his friends.
It was a full six hours before he looked at my small, broken, effeminate-boy self and asked if I was a snitch.
I replied, “No, why do you ask?” not comprehending the depth of the insult in the question.
“You ain’t angry?” He asked several moments later.
He was flabbergasted and I was confused. After another minute of back and forth I realized he was playing at some dominance game and I told him that if he wanted to fight he could just ask rather than going through a bunch of BS.
I may have chosen my words poorly and so, of course now he wanted to fight me.
And I got thoroughly beat up for the first time in prison. And I said nothing just like when my father would beat me.
I spent two weeks in that cell asking around for a better living arrangement.
Eating at “white” tables, using “white” phones, washing up in “white” showers.
When I was finally able to change cells it was less an improvement and more a lateral move. I went from a physically abusive cellie to an emotionally abusive one. Looking back, I realize I shifted from living with someone like my father to living with someone like my mother.
While I still ate at “white” tables, talked on “white” phones, washed up in “white” showers and I said nothing.
I was “asked” to run a mission, and by asked I mean I was told to go publicly beat up a random kid because he had refused to beat up some other random kid or else I’d be the next random kid getting beat up in the day room.
So I, coward that I am, did. And when I came back form the hole I was celled up with a guy from the Asatru group who treated me like the cool kids at school did. Lots of verbal abuse and randomly hit or kicked each day.
While I ate at “white” tables, talked on “white” phones, washed up in “white” showers and said nothing.
After being at Walla Walla for about a year and a half, they came to me again. They wanted me to stab someone. When I looked them in the eye and told them “if you give me a piece I’d be happy to hurt… someone.” They didn’t like that answer, but thankfully they let it drop. Afterwards, I sat where I wanted, used whichever phone I wanted, and showered where I damn well pleased.
A few months after this there was a 30 person multi man fight in the day room. The kind that happens every few months in the west complex. This time was different in that the lockdown itself lasted a whole month as opposed to the normal week or two and when we finally came off lockdown nobody followed the Jim Crow BS anymore.
It felt good. I mean, I was still 110 pounds of girly skin and bone trying to pass as a boy on a men’s prison, but at least I didn’t feel like I was actively complicit in neo-Nazi hate any more and it made a world of difference.
I now make a point of doing what I can to interrupt racism in prison, mostly by naming it. I call it out when I see it and arbitrarily agree with people of color if they say “that’s racist” and I don’t understand or see it in that moment.
Most people haven’t read what I’ve read, seen what I’ve seen, and come to reject white supremacy as I have. Most “white” people that have read the “Precepts of Orion,” “the 88 Precepts”, or heard the philosophies or Richard Butler from people that were in his inner circle are already too far gone to stand back from it. Most “white” people that have read such things have already had any semblance of choice intimidated out of them. I’d seen all of this before I was 12; I was just reintroduced to it at Walla Walla.
Most people think that evil is some other thing, some outside thing. Whether that other comes with horns and a pitchfork or a Charlie Chaplain mustache makes no difference.They see it as outside themselves and that is wrong. Evil is ourselves. One small part of ourselves that is.
The part that says me.
Even worse, there’s no shaking it. To got rid of that part is to die, but to let it roam unchecked is to kill the world. Can’t just starve it, because we’d give away our lunch and starve ourselves. Can’t just feed it, when it gets too big we steal lunch from others ant they starve. So I keep it on a tight leash. Feed it what scraps I have to keep it in line and only ever let it loose on those whose evil selves have grown fat and bloated on their own hate.
In doing my best to combat white supremacy and racism both around me and within my own mind I reach out to many people. First and foremost are my gods. They are both more compassionate and less forgiving than I am. Second are the people I care about. I have a way of being both too slow to act and uncompromising once I do which needs to be checked against the perceptions of people I trust and who I know to hold a lot of wisdom. Lastly is the will of those getting the short end of things. Not that they’re the least important, bit that everything that comes after what they have to say simply does not matter as far as I’m concerned. They get the last word.
I know many of the things I’ve said here are cold, hard, uncompromising and is certainly frowned upon in civilized company. On the other hand, civilized company is often comprised of racist, sexist, xenophobic nationalist capitalist, pro-empire, neo-liberal fools whose opinions I don’t respect anyway.
Which is, in short, why I care so much.