Covid Update

4/27/21

As I’ve said before, the difference between the men’s and woman’s facilities when it comes to covid response is night and day.

Currently there have been some positive cases at Mission Creek. All ten people who have tested positive have been moved to WCCW for treatment. The people who are sick are being housed in the chapel, which has been converted to a field hospital. And the people who are asymptomatic are being housed in the IMU.

What could have potentially been a disaster, has been stopped in it’s tracks, at least, as of this writing.

On the better news side of things, the vaccine distribution is going very well here. every morning a dozen people are on the callout for medical to get their shot, and once a week a large group of people are on the callout for the gym where they do mass vaccination.

Just this morning I got my second dose.

Annoying, because of the increasing number of vaccinated incarcerated people, the c/o’s have resumed room and cell searches. However, they still are insisting on cohorting and not allowing school or clubs to meet. So basically, since things are going well, we are getting the oppression without the resilience to go with it.

The Importance of Talismans

3/28/21

A talisman is an item of personal or spiritual importance which provides protection, balance, and/or focus to the barrier. This can be accomplished by many different means, through symbolic connections of ritual magick, through reminders of important memories, or through the evoking of a connection to the divine, one’s community, or oneself. The more of these which are covered by a talisman, the more powerful it is.

One of the ways I cope with the alienating nature of prison is to intentionally understand the talismanic nature of everything I have. Some things I don’t like the symbology of, like my state issue glasses, but there is value in understanding how the metaphor value of things affects me.

For example…
The pentacle is an important symbol of faith to Wiccans. Each of the points corresponds to and element. The top point is Spirit, and the lower four points are (clockwise from the top) Air, Fire, Earth, and Water. This symbolizes the inherent laws and the natural forces of the universe all in balance and in their proper place. It also symbolizes the human form, the top point being the head, the other four being the arms and legs, and the pentagon in the middle being the torso. It connects the human form to our place in the cosmos and our ability to shape and co-create each moment as it passes. Then, when we add the importance of gifting, a pentacle which has been gifted becomes an important connection to one’s community as well.

It has been nearly two years since the last time I had a pentacle necklace.

My old necklace was a collection of irreplaceable gifts. The star was carved from black walnut and given to me in Walla Walla by another inmate. It had two flecks of amber on each side of it which were given to me by another inmate at WSR. Finally the chain was was given to me by the only person who’s stuck with me my entire incarceration. His wife, Melissa, got in touch with me when I was in county jail and has since passed. That necklace was stolen by the c/o’s who did my cell pack out at WSR when I was separated from John. Before that, my first pentacle was given to me upon completion of my year and a day of dedicate and my initiation to Wicca.

Thankfully, I was recently given a new pentacle by Syan (for which I am very grateful). My new pentacle reconnects me to the old ones and allows me to keep those lessons, memories, and symbolic connections in the forefront of my mind. Having a pentacle helps me to maintain a space of peace within myself and increases my Joy. It helps me to skillfully co-create each moment.

This is the importance of talismans.

Yet More Covid Stuff, Hopefully Leading to Less Covid Stuff

3/26/21

Today I was on the receiving end of a mild stabbing for the greater good. Wait, wait, let me rephrase that. Today I got my first dose of the Moderna vaccine.

On March 24th incarcerated people in Washington state all became eligible for vaccination as per Governor Inslee’s Covid vaccination schedule. This prompted the WA DOC medical to put out a memo stating that the Moderna and the Jonson and Johnson vaccines are being maybe available to incarcerated people and we will have our pick of which of the two vaccines we want to receive.

I immediately put in a kite asking to be given whatever vaccine thy happened to have on hand, and today that kite was answered. I swear, it has to be a record for the fastest reply to a kite I’ve ever gotten.

Apparently, someone else turned down their dose of Moderna today, and the nurse just happened to see my kite a few minutes later, so she had me called down to the clinic special so that I could be given the dose which someone else had refused. I was the last one to get the shot today and I was given the last shot of that shipment of vaccine.

After I was given the shot, the nurse gave me an egg timer set for 15 minutes and had me sit on a bench which is highly visible to the nurses’ station. After that they had me spend another 20 minutes in the medical holding tank / waiting room before letting me go back to my unit. I was hoping this meant there was a chance the shot would make me go full mutant with tentacles and gills. I mean, the vaccine was developed kinda fast right? Sadly, no such luck. No negative side effects or mutations. Just a soreness in my left arm which has already faded and a sense of mild boredom.

You’d think I’d feel some sort of excitement or relief or something. I’m doing my part to protect people with various heath problems and finally be free of all the restrictions and lockdowns. But I don’t. Going to medical is an inherently alienating experience and no amount of purposeful intention behind my choices changes that. I’m do-gooder-ing but I don’t have any feeling of magic to it.

I’ll be going back for my second dose on April 23rd. Hopefully between now and then I won’t get any negative side effects. Who knows, maybe it will make me grow a pair of giant butterfly wings and it’s just taking a while. I’d be ok with that.

Washington Supreme Court, Bartholomew Decision (No. 96772-5 Consolidated With No. 96773-3)

3/20/21

This has me completely freaking out. For years I have seen case after case, law after law, be ruled on or be passed which addresses people being sentenced to long stretches of time when they are very young. But all of these have had one of two exceptions which made them not apply to me. Either, they have not applied to people with first degree aggravated murder, or they have not applied to people who were 18 or older when they were charged. Each time one of these have come out, I’ve freaked out with happiness, then become depressed once I learned the truth of the matter.

This one, however, seems to be the real thing. So I’m putting this request out there to all of you. This does not just affect me.

Please help.

If you know of an attorney or nonprofit who is interested in helping incarcerated people who were sentenced to Buck Rodgers time when they were under 20 years old file a PRP for re-sentencing and/or help with arguing for a reduced sentence at the re-sentencing hearing, please send me their contact info.

I cannot stress how much of a game changer this is for those of us who have long since squared ourselves with dying in prison. It is every bit as hard to then revise that understanding. I may not die in prison. It’s gonna take me a while to wrap my mind around that.

In the mean time, I can’t afford to wait til I’ve processed all my feels around this before putting in for it. The Washington State Supreme Court may not have put a time bar on it, but there is always another case coming down the pipeline that may shut it down. Time, as never before, is the enemy.

At the same time I am freaking out about this amazing news, there are many people now sitting in the place I’ve been stuck in for years. People arrested at 21, sentenced to a massive amount of time, and just barely missed by this case. I don’t know what can be done to support them beyond asking people to get involved. Write an email to a Washington state elected official. Picket he Washington State Supreme Courthouse when the next case that may help them comes up. If you have stability in your life, find yourself an incarcerated pen pal with Buck Rodgers time, write them on the regular, and send them like 10 to 20 bucks a month. If you’re an attorney, take a few cases pro bono each year.

Incarceration is debilitating and these are things that we literally can’t do for ourselves.

Roomie Ruminations

3/7/21

I think the only thing worse than a bad roomie, is a ghost roomie. When I first got to CCU (WCCW’s closed custody) and I went to the cell I’d been assigned, there was somebody else assigned to the top bunk, her property on the desk and shelves, her pictures on the wall. Looking at what she’d left out (because I’m not gonna snoop but of course I’m curious) she seemed alright. Bible open to Psalms on her bed. Native art, pictures of horses, elephants, and people on the wall. She didn’t have much beyond a few books and her scrap-booking stuff. She’d obviously been in prison for a relatively short amount of time.

As her absence dragged on, I assumed she was at work. Later that evening, I decided to ask some questions at dayroom. My roomie had just had a major psychological breakdown the day before and was in the COA (Close Observational Area or suicide watch). Furthermore, (according to the rumor mill) she has a special hate of LGBTQ people and is very unstable.

Not wanting to panic, I decided to talk to the Sgt the next morning and figure out what was going on. The conversation went roughly as I would expect. He assured me that he had looked at both of our files and matched us because “you’re both very quiet and you shouldn’t pay any mind to the gossip.”
“So I shouldn’t be worried about her having been in COA for the last two days?”
“Wait, she’s not in there with you?”
“Nope.”

He then began manically looking things up on his computer. “When did she fall off my roster?” He asked himself, inspiring great confidence.

The next day, c/o’s came and packed out all her stuff. I felt a relief. Yes, people can be cruel, and a lack of popularity can easily lead to nasty rumors, but the sheer amount of people who warned me about her and all of them having the exact same story made me more than a little worried.

A week later she came back and was (thankfully) assigned to a different cell. She is every bit as terrible as people claimed. She’s done nothing but argue and yell at people in the dayroom. Occasionally I can hear her scream at her roomie. And today she went out of her way to yell transphobic slurs at me.

I have no way to know if the Sgt legitimately thought we would be good roomies, or if he put us together because he knew she would be a terrible person to live with. This is exactly what I’m used to. Whether it’s because the Sgt is incompetent or transphobic, I don’t trust him to give me a roomie I can actually live with for the next couple months til I’m moved to medium custody and all “courtesy moves” have been suspended here as a part of their covid response.

In short, this is gonna suck.

First Day of School… sort-of-not-really

2/18/21

Today the real test of fitting in began. I was (finally) taken off quarantine and put in receiving’s general population. I’m only going to be here for a few days while my counselor wraps up my paperwork. Then it’ll be the express lane for me over to CCU (Closed Custody Unit), which is a bit of a disappointment for a few reasons. I was hoping to get to know the women here then move over to CCU with them. That way, I’d already have friends to help me figure out how life works here. Instead, I’m moving on ahead of them which means when I get to CCU I will again be in a position of not knowing anyone.

Good news is I’m fitting in here fairly easily and already have met some very cool people who have their priorities straight. I am yet to encounter anything resembling the in-your-face transphobia I am used to and was expecting. I’ve been warned that “there are some women who’ve been here since the 80’s and are not happy about trans women coming here.” So I guess I have that to look forward to. Thus far I’ve only encountered innocent curiosity-ignorance which I hope I’ve handled gracefully.

My roomie and I were moved from the quarantine pod to the general intake pod at 8:20 am. We were assigned to the same cell, so we get to keep living together. Which is nice for both of us. It lowers both of our stress levels since we get along and already know how to negotiate space together.

We got to the pod just in time for out time, so I cleaned the cell, got a shower, and spent some time just hanging out. Later that afternoon we had gym. By this point I was being included and just a part of the general conversation on the way there.

Then we get there and all other thoughts disappeared from my head. There’s. A. Pool. Table!?!?! Very happy making. I spent most of the gym hour playing and learned that another trans woman I know was moved to WCCW a couple weeks ahead of me.

After gym something almost better than being expected happened. I know it’s completely vapid and shallow, but I don’t care. I haven’t had a single article of clothing fit me in over 14 years and now everything I’ve got is my correct size. I mean, it’s all state issue grays, but it fits! Plus, I like the color gray and the PJ’s they gave me are super cute.

While waiting in line for dinner, I realized I really am just one of the girls. I was immediately included in the conversation, which included a dizzying number of subject changes and asides. I’m pretty sure the only reason I was able to keep up is way too many years of watching Gilmore Girls reruns. Later, the conversation picked up right where it left off during the evening hour out.

It’s a lot for me to unpack just yet, but I think if I can fit in this easily here, then maybe I can fit in fairly easily elsewhere in WCCW. This is a very weird thought for me. I’m not used to fitting in and it’s far to optimistic for a self respecting cynic like myself to be considering. In any case, as I’ve already said a few times, I think I’m gonna be ok here.

Culture and Word Choice at WCCW

2/15/21

Two more days of quarantine left. The last couple of weeks has shown me that, while this is absolutely where I belong, I also have a lot to learn if I’m going to really fit in here. Some things are small, but important like the shifts of language which are tied to a different underlying assumption in the culture here.

In the men’s prisons the underlying assumption of every interaction is one of violence. A subtle unspoken “or else” connected to every so-called request. That assumption seems to hold true when dealing with DOC staff, but I don’t want to be hasty and leap to a flawed conclusion based on flawed or incomplete data.

However, in my interactions with other inmates, I can state with certainty that violence is not the underlying assumption. I don’t know what is just yet, but I’m excited to figure it out. I’m already seeing this different assumption displayed in people’s word choice. We don’t have “cellies”. We have “roomies” and “bunkies”. The shift of focus is away from carceral language, by defining living space as a room and the person one lives with as a roommate the focus is on the space itself and the relationship with the other person. The focus is shifted away from the context surrounding that space (that is, the Prison Industrial Complex). The word bunkie is primarily used to describe the relationship between the people who share a bunk bed in the camp/work release. (In the camp a person may have a dozen roommates but only one bunkie). I have not heard a similar term in the men’s prison. The closest one gets is constructions like “the guys in my pod” which again shows an enforcement of the impersonal and the rejection of connection/relationship derived from the sharing of personal intimate space.

In the woman’s prison the terms bunkie and roomie seem to be treated as homonyms when applied to 2 person rooms (cells) with the term bunkie taking on connotations of greater connection/closer relationship when used by incarcerated women. This subtle shift of meaning seems to be lost on staff who’s usage is mostly dependent on their post history within the prison.

Other interesting shifts of language are:

It’s not commissary or store. Canteen is the word used to describe food and hygiene purchased from the prison.

It’s not talking crazy. Get crooked is the phrase used to indicate speaking disrespectfully to another person.

The phrase flip a grave is sometimes used to indicate picking a fight.

It’s not a big light or bright light. Crack light indicates the bright florescent light built into the cell.

It’s more than just language that is different, storytelling is also different. In the men’s facilities, storytelling has the specific purpose of self aggrandizement. The story teller is almost always the protagonist, or at the very least side kick to the protagonist, of the tale. Antagonists are then loosely defined as “anyone opposed to the protagonist.” Antagonists are cast as foolish, incompetent, cruel, and worthy of scorn. This pattern is especially exaggerated and codified in stories involving drug fueled “adventures” (crime sprees).

On the other hand, story telling in the women’s prison follows a very different pattern. Stories do not necessarily contain events, usually they focus on current relationships or on broken relationships. If a story is an account of some form of criminal activity, the story teller will cast herself as the antagonist, even when aggrandizing drug use. Self contradictory statements like “I was such an idiot for that, I can’t wait to get that high again” are often uttered in a single breath. This will be answered by the audience with injunctions to steer clear of that life style and drugs in general. Then someone else will tell a similar story, framing it as something foolish she did while high. Fact of incarceration, and more specifically fact of separation from loved ones, is considered proof in and of itself of poor decision making. While the storytelling itself may not show accountability, the response to such stories shows a tendency towards cultural guilt even when there isn’t a sense of personal guilt.

I believe this rejection of the normalization of criminality when paired with the rejection of carceral language forms an important part of the cultural difference between men’s and women’s facilities.

WCCW’s Covid Protocol

2/10/21

WCCW seems to have a fairly rigorous covid response, though I do think the DOC overall missed the boat with my transfer by not testing me at least once before before leaving Monroe since I spent over an hour in an SUV with the transport officers then came in contact with almost a dozen other staff while I was being processed into the facility.

On the other hand, once I got here I was greeted (politely) by 2 c/o’s in full PPE who took me out of the waist restraints and cuffed me in front. This was the first time ever during my entire incarceration that that I’ve been cuffed in the front.

I later learned that this is because they don’t know if a woman is pregnant or not when she first enters the facility and because there is a chance a woman may be pregnant when she enters the facility they cuff her in the front. That way if she trips she can protect her baby.

The c/o’s escorted me to the body scan room, walking 5-7 feet behind me on either side. After the body scan, the escorting c/o’s were informed by their supervisor that they had to have hands on me while escorting me to the intake building. This resulted in a whole exchange where official complaints were filed by the c/o’s because this was putting them at risk. Oddly, one of them made a point of telling me that it was nothing against me and that she’s in a high risk category. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a c/o ever explain themselves to me. I told her that I agreed with her. She was arguing for the safety of the both of us.

Next up was lunch, then off to medical for a covid test and to discuss other health issues. When I was taken to see mental health it was by video call, allowing us to talk without putting anyone at risk, and without masks.

I was given a roomie two days later. They cohort people together who arrive within a day or two of each other. They do this because of logistical needs. Too many people, not enough beds.

At the halfway point of my quarantine (today) I was given my second covid test and as long as that is all clear, I will be moved to B-pod in about a week. In the mean time my roomie, my neighbors, and I have settled into a routine of naps, pacing, and conversation. which is helping pass the time in a slow hazy blur.

Welcome to Girl World

2/8/21

My first 5 days in the RDC intake quarantine area of WCCW has passed fairly uneventfully. Once I was put in my room (not cell) I thought it odd that nobody was calling out on the tier. We are on 23 hour lock-down on this pod because of covid protocols. But… There were no chess games on the tier, nobody playing cell warrior, none of those things I have come to expect of a group people locked in their cells for long periods of time. I could faintly hear the the sound of roommates (not cellies) passing the time in conversation.

I decided to sit back and wait. See how things worked as the day passed. I knew curiosity would eventually cause someone to ask me some questions. There was no talking on the tier til lunch. As each person went to get her lunch she would have a quick exchange with people in the other rooms. Thus I was unsurprised when I went to get my lunch and was asked “Hey new girl, what’s your name and where you from?”
“Amber, and I came from Monroe.”
“That’s the men’s prison.” She replied, mildly scandalized.
“Yeah, I just did fourteen years in men’s prison. They just finally transferred me here, I’m trans.”

That was a terrifying moment for me. I know that in prison everyone’s secrets are one phone call and a Google search away. Anyone can get my dead name and DOC (which are prominently displayed on my ID) and look up my whole history. This would be true even without this project. Honesty is the only lath to acceptance. After a short pause the response I got was wonderfully underwhelming. A couple of woman said “Hello” and introduced themselves. I was past the first hurdle, outing myself. Weirdly, the one trans man on the tier did not introduce himself and made a point of never jumping into a conversation I was a part of.

The rest of the day passed the same way as the morning. Quiet on the tier except at dinner where people said “Hi” and small pieces of news. I made a point of waving to anyone who looked at my door. Some waved back, others didn’t. This gave me a sense of who was open to conversation and who wasn’t. As evening count approached I finally worked up the courage to shout out my door and ask a couple questions. Apparently, it wasn’t an especially quiet day, people just didn’t spend a ton of time talking on the tier. I pointed out that I was board in a room by myself. A couple of people talked to me for the next 15 minutes then called it a night. I think I made a good impression because this has continued each night since.

The women here possess a patience and restraint that I’m not used to seeing in incarcerated people. I think by showing similar qualities I made it easy for people to accept me. This is in contrast to one cis woman on the tier. She shows herself to be rash and quick to complain and she is not being generally accepted by everyone on the tier. I think this may be an important lesson for women coming here to take to heart. Any kind of cell banging, or insistence that “I want what I have coming” or covering up the window to force the DOC to “take it seriously” is going to come off as selfish, entitled, and immature in comparison to the tactics the women here use to get our needs met.

I wasn’t able to get any time out of the cell to shower or use the phone for the first 2 days I was here. Nor did my neighbors. So at the end of the second day of us not getting any out time, we discussed the problem collectively and brought it up to the Sgt. The trick was, none of us brought up our own problem. Each of us would tell the Sgt how not getting out was impacting someone else, forcing the Sgt to go talk to that person who would simply confirm what was just said and again direct the Sgt to another person’s issue. Getting time out of the cell was conceived as, discussed, and ultimately solved as a collective problem. In a men’s facility each individual person would have argued to be let out of the cell separately. Each person using a variety of tactics such as begging, screaming, covering up the window, and being a general pain in the ass. Some people would would get out of the cell and others wouldn’t. Whereas, with a collective approach, all of us were able to get out of the cell that evening and the next day the c/o in the booth ran our out times had changed to make sure everyone got out in the future.

Shortly after that I was given a roommate. Once again I was worried about my trans-ness being a problem. But it ended up, again, being a non-issue. After a few days of living together she confessed to me she was more worried we would have some sort of conflict over me doing or saying something racist (because I’m white and she’s black) than me being a pre-op trans woman. But when it became clear that we weren’t going to have any conflict between us, racial, gendered, or otherwise, we were both able to relax and we’ve been getting along great since.

At this point things have settled into a routine and I have a fairly good idea what what time will look like for the next 10 days. At that point I will be moved to B-wing and get a lot more time out of the cell and have an opportunity to get to know more people. Of course, this means there’s more chances that someone transphobic person will cause problems for me.

Thus far, my only complaints stem from the way the DOC is handling my transfer. They did not honor my chain bag so I don’t have any of the hygiene items I need to to take care of myself. A chain bag is similar to a carry on bag at the airport. There’s a bunch of rules about what can and can’t be put in a chain bag. My other complaint is that I don’t know who to ask to get various things taken care of. Like, I need extra razors to keep my face shaved. They gave me one for free and it was so cheep that I was only able to get two shaves out of it. It’s one thing to say “you will be given accommodations for being trans.”It’s quite another to get them to tell me what those accommodations are and how to get access to them. The real trick is that I will not be given accommodations if I don’t specifically ask for them.

I have a long way to go towards finding my place here and figure out what it means to be a woman surrounded by women. I feel I’ve made a very good start. I also feel like it will be much easier for me to find good people who will help me find my my way than I previously feared.

Departure and Arrival

2/3/21

My departure from Monroe Correctional Complex was a rushed slipshod affair. I was not given a covid test before leaving, which seems like an irresponsible and downright dangerous oversight to me. Of course, they probably missed that considering they gave me 24 hours notice that I’d be leaving. However, it wasn’t so rushed that the male c/o’s who were transporting me missed the opportunity to give me one last strip search. Thankfully, due to covid, it was only down to my bra and panties. It was a special transport, so all my property was tossed in the back the SUV for the drive over. Amazingly, the DOC spending zero dollars to ship all my stuff is in no way preventing them from charging me 8 bucks a box after the first two. All in all I’m shelling out 60 bucks to keep the DOC from throwing away all my stuff.

The drive itself was uneventful, other than the c/o being a terrifying driver, going 75 in a 50 and nearly merging into another car, twice.

Even after getting out of the SUV and being handed over to the c/o’s at WCCW it still wasn’t real to me. I’ve been transferred to a woman’s prison.

The first and greatest shock I received was not being strip searched immediately upon arrival. Instead I was put through a TSA style body scanner. And other than the c/o telling me about a buildup of scar tissue in my abdomen (which kinda freaked me out) it was a vast improvement over the alternative.

Next was all the bureaucratic nonsense of entering a new facility. Clothing, medical, mental health, PREA screening, blah, bla-blah, bla-blah blah blah. Finally I was put in a cell and left alone. Alone. As in, without TJ. And I started crying again just like I’d started crying the day before when they told me to pack. The difference being, TJ wasn’t there to wrap me in their arms and make me feel warm, safe, cared for, and above all loved.

Their absence has made it more real for me.

A while later, feeling spent, I began to explore the cell. The graffiti on the inside of a prison cell and especially the graffiti on the inside of a cell door, can tell you a lot about the culture of a given facility. For example, the cells in Walla Walla are plastered with swastikas, the numbers 13 and 14 (which have been repeatedly scratched out and rewritten), clown faces, crowns, and various tag art made from the ink of flex pens. This accurately reflects the culture of Walla Walla which is seeped in gang violence, hate, and xenophobia. Likewise, at Monroe, there is some of the above, but far more instances of “so-and-so is a snitch” or a b-word, or a f**. This also accurately reflects the culture of Monroe, being a dropout facility and many people there working for INI.

Here at WCCW, the inside of RDC-A-103 has 4 instances of “Criminal Lives Matter” and 2 of “Black Lives Matter” all tagged/carved in different styles (suggesting they were done by different people), one anarchy A, a couple tags representing people’s hometowns (possibly gang related) and over 2 dozen tags along the lines of “A loves B” “A and B forever” or “I love you A”. This, I think, is a good sign. I believe I can find my way to something resembling happiness in a place where the thing which moves people to slowly and painstakingly chip through industrial strength prison paint is love.