Watching the World Fight Back

Editor’s note: trigger warning for George Floyd’s death, content warning for police brutality and the current protests

This week I watched George Floyd be murdered by police on camera for the crime of being black in America. I have watched thousands of people have the exact same reaction as me and take to the streets. I have watched police brutally attack protesters over and over again. I have watched people express their anger and pain with graffiti and fires. I’ve watched disenfranchised people take the opportunity to exercise a little distribution of wealth here and there. I have watched media spin masters claim that “looting and rioting” (their words) are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd. He fought for every last breath. He fought while three police officers slowly and sadistically murdered him. He managed to stay alive for six minutes in the face of racist state sanctioned violence.

The protest has lasted seven days and I have struggled to have something useful to say when all I feel is the same outrage and sorrow plain on the faces of every protester on TV.

In response to the mass demand for an immediate end to police racism and violence, #45 has declared martial law. His answer to police brutality is more police brutality. I feel scared and alone and desperate for something, anything I can do when all I can do is sit in my steel cage and pray for the safety of my loved ones out there in the world. I am certain many of them are out in the protests, like I would be if I was not here in prison. I haven’t heard from most of them since this began, no JPay messages and I’ve only managed to get two people on the phone. I don’t know if they’ve been arrested or or hurt or killed or what.

The one thing I do know is that the joke of “Hail Emperor Trump” when he spouts his authoritarian BS, is not funny any more because it has become all too true.

My cellie keeps telling me that being critical of #45 is pointless because doing so feeds into the bipartisan system. The assumption being that if “other guys” were in power this wouldn’t be happening. They’re correct. The system itself is broken and the system is designed to perpetuate and preserve itself at the cost of the oppressed people within it. This dies not change the fact that the things #45 says scares me. It does not matter if a Democrat or a Republican is in office because messed up harmful things will be ordered by them and when people speak out against it they will be told to be “peaceful protesters.” Meaning they can’t be too loud, or have a message that is too direct, or ask for anything that constitutes real systemic change, and they have to go home as soon as the powers that be get tired of hearing their complaints. People with power say “peaceful” but they mean “docile.” I see it every day in prison. In the mouth of a DOC employee the words “good,” “respectful,” “helpful,” “compliant,” “reformed,” and even “releasable” all actually mean “docile” when spoken in reference to an incarcerated person. This is what’s happening here. The protesters are not docile therefore they must be bad, evil, looters, rioters, and anarchists. Well, many of them are anarchists, but they are not bad and certainly not evil.

A couple days ago protesters confronted police in the foyer of the CNN building. At one point a man in the front hurt his hand while slamming his skateboard into the glass wall separating them from the police. So another person stepped forward, cleaned the cut, and bandaged his hand. This is what an anti-fascist anarchist action looks like. Each person seeks to meet the needs of others as best they can in a way which increases everyone’s ability to live their lives in a way which foes not cause harm to others.

All of the protesters are standing together to say the harms being perpetrated against communities of color, and specifically Black communities, is wrong. Having an institution of people who walk around with guns and physically beat people into submission in the name of anything is wrong, having them do so in the name of “peace” is simply insane.

Back in high school, we had a joke. It went like this:
Person A: “Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity!”
Person B: “Don’t worry, I’ll fuck for you’re virginity any day!”

And this is what’s happening. We don’t need more cops and we certainly don’t need soldiers. They’re the problem and if they are deployed in the way #45 wants to then… I don’t even want to think about the level of violence which will be visited on protesters and communities of color who find themselves declared “terrorists” for the crime of demanding their measure of human dignity.

And all I can do is watch and pray.

COVID-19 Update 5/17-5/29/20

Prison Plague Log

2020-5-17

Today I happened to see what the “mandatory temperature checks” look like on B pod of my unit.

Two c/o’s and a nurse go into the pod. They line everyone up down the tier, shoulder to shoulder. Then hold a gun-shaped non-contact thermometer to their temple, clearing each person in turn.

It is a mechanical impersonal process which makes me think of people being lined up to be shot.

2020-5-18

B wing of B unit (my unit) is now off quarantine after one week. Allegedly it was a false alarm.

2020-5-19

Today I just learned of the first COVID-19 related death in the Washington DOC. A c/o who normally worked at MSU tested positive for the virus and is now dead. I don’t know what their name was. I don’t know if they were an alright person who happened to pick up a DOC paycheck, or a mean sort with a drop on their shoulder. I don’t know anything about them.
All I know is that their friends and family are in pain. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s where the buck stops. This should not have happened.

We, as a nation should have taken COVID-19 far more seriously than we did. I specifically include myself in this. I thought it would be like another nasty flu season like we’ve been seeing the last couple years, but when it became clear that this is something different, when it became clear that this could not be business as usual, and it became clear that the powers that be were going to do little to nothing, I knew then this was going to be different. I knew that millions would die.

This is not okay. The same mistake is being made again. Please, do not let the deaths of those who have died of COVID-19 thus far be in vain. A vaccine is being developed by many nations and multinational corporations in record time. We have to keep the curve as low as possible until these vaccines can be developed and distributed. No amount of money, no economy, no “sense of normalcy” is worth the price of peoples lives.

I offer the friends and family of the c/o who died of COVID-19 my condolences.

2020-5-22

I think I’m just about done doing a (more or less) daily log. Yesterday someone got taken from B pod to isolation but B pod is not on quarantine, so I don’t know what’s going on with that. The DOC has been releasing people. Our unit now has 10 empty beds, none of which are on my pod.

More people are being released, no chains in, we are still picking up our meals from the chow hall (though, there are rumblings of among admin to have us eat in the chow hall again, terrible idea), and basically everyone who normally get visits but currently can’t are 18 kinds of insufferable. In short, we are no longer dealing with daily adjustments, we have a new normal.

2020-5-29

We’ve been issued another bar of soap today.

Hurting to Heal

12/8/19

Sometimes healing means being walking wounded.

On December 5th I participated in a workshop put on by DefyWA.org here at TRU. It was a particularly difficult day for me. It was the anniversary of my crime. The personal work I did during the workshop has left me empty, fragile, and emotionally bleeding. However, it was especially valuable for me to open those mental boxes and deal with their contents on that day of all days.

During the workshop we shared the result of a month’s worth of work. We delved into thinking about our past as a story and questioning at what points were our needs met and at what points were they not. We then turned our lens from the past to the future and explored developing life goals and a plan for how to accomplish them. Granted, these are all things I’ve worked on and delved into on many occasions in the past, but this time was a little different for many reasons beyond just the timing. I’ve never explored these things through a corporate self-help framing, and this is the first deep work I’ve done since having my world turned upside down.

I went into Defy with a lot of reservations because of these two things. I don’t like capitalism and I wasn’t all that keen about learning more about entrepreneurship. I mostly signed up for it because I have found that doing time becomes easier when I am surrounded by people who are working on self-improvement, and the easiest way to find them is go to school. So I signed up for the first class I could. I figured I’d do the homework, get a good grade, take what I like from it and scrap the rest. I wasn’t expecting there to be such a focus on personal issues and I certainly wasn’t expecting to participate in a workshop with 50 outside guests who were going through the personal work right along with us.

In the aftermath of the workshop I’m hurting and struggling with my personal demons, but it’s a good hurt. It’s the hurt of a lanced boil which needed to be washed, tended, and bandaged for a time. It’s the hurt of healing.

Defy may not have been the class I wanted. But it is the class which is available and I am having to revise my initial impression of it. Leo has moved mountains to make it a force for good, has put together a wonderful team of people to make it successful and I am looking forward to the next section of the class, even if he introduces each class activity like he’s selling a timeshare.

Reflecting on Old Connections

12/4/19

This Thanksgiving has been particularly rough on me. While thinking of what I’m grateful for, my thoughts keep turning to all the people who have helped me to become who I am, but that I am not in regular contact with any more.

Having and maintaining healthy connections with others is, to me, very very important to me. Because of this, anytime I lose a connection, it hurts. I know that many friendships and relationships are meant to be for a time, and when that time has passed it is for us to let go gracefully. While I know this is a thing, I’m not that great at it. Goodbyes are garbage. They’re even worse when there’s no chance to actually say “goodbye.”

So this week I want to spend some time appreciating some people who’ve been on my mind a lot lately, and who I haven’t been able to speak with for a while.

John is first up. I haven’t seen him for three months and he will always have a special place in my heart. He was extremely important to my growth and healing last year. He has shown me that true trust is real. It may be rare, bit it’s not a myth and questing for it is not a snipe hunt.

And speaking of people who have helped me learn what real trust is, everyone involved in my HEAL circle at WSR. They taught me how to take the theory of connection that I’ve read about, and make it an embodied practice rooted in community and accountability.

Ash, I haven’t heard from them in a while because the DOC has blocked them from JPay. The DOC says that all they have to do is call in the DOC HQ and they can be put back on jpay. The problem being, how is anyone supposed to afford spending two to three hours on hold while paying international phone charges. Not to mention for them to call during DOC business hours they would have to call at 2 AM New Zealand time or some such foolishness. Ash was the first person I ever came out to as trans. Other people may have figured out I was trans and dragged me out of the closet at various points, but I always crawled back in to hiding. Ash was the first person I came out to and I’m hoping that DOC will stop with their aggressive foolishness soon and let us email each other once more.

Maxx was a DJ on 90.5 KWCW, a college radio station in Walla Walla. He had a show called “Raising the Rainbow”. I was scared and lonely back then so I wrote him a letter. He’s trans masculine and we talked about some of the similarities between having to be closeted as a witch, and being closeted as a queer person. The lies, playing off people’s assumptions of normalcy, and the loss of people you thought cared after one comes out. I wanted so desperately to come out to them, but I was scared of my own truth back then so I didn’t. But they gave me hope that someday I’d get there.

Relentless took me through my year and a day of dedicate as a witch. He’s long since gotten out of prison and, as far as I know, is not coming back. He got married to a wonderful woman he met as a pen pal way back when in Walla Walla.

The people from high school who stayed on for a while after I came to prison. Brooks, Kasey, Perry, Jennifer, Aunt Kat and others. I know and respect each of their reasons to stop writing me. It hurt too much. Or they couldn’t accept my pagan faith. Or my trans identity. Or whatever the thing happened to be. I respect it even as it increases my sorrow.

Each one of these people shaped me in minor and major ways and even though they are not directly or actively involved in my life right now, I am thankful for the ways they’ve shaped me and the ways in which the memory of them continues to shape me.
So this year, rather than a New Year’s resolution, I have a New Year’s Wish. I wish that I have the opportunity to reconnect with people who were a part of my life in the past and had a positive effect on my life.

Graduations

I just watched the graduation special in Freeform.

Congratulations class of 2020! I cried my way through the entire thing and am currently meandering my way through all kinds of feels. I was warmed to see Spanish speakers and an ASL speaker while watching. There was one message I especially resonated with: “Demand Better.” This is so true. I saw resilience and joy and empowerment that I never could have dreamed of having at their age. So, of course, I can’t help thinking about having been so close to graduating high school, and coming to prison instead. Three weeks. In three more weeks I would have had enough credits to graduate. I was planning on not going to graduation. I wanted the school to just give me my diploma and leave me alone.

I’ve always hated going to graduations where I’m getting any kind of anything. Love going to the graduations of others. Just can’t stand my own graduations. Never have. I refused to participate in my own kindergarten graduation. Instead of doing the whole song and dance with the other kids (yes, literal song and dance), I sat in the corner with my fingers in my ears having a hissy fit.

It took me a long time to figure out why I have such a dislike of graduations. I had never been to one where I wanted the people there to see me graduate until my HEAL graduation last year.
And that’s exactly what has been taken from the class of 2020.

They cannot have a graduation where all the people they want to have see them graduate, can be there. They cannot have their final farewells and pinky promises to be best friends for life. The only cold comfort they have is potentially seeing each other again at their ten year reunion and maybe celebrating then.

Take it from me, ten years is a long time.

So I wish them well. I thank them for their sacrifice. In forgoing their graduations, they have helped keep my loved ones safe. And to honor their sacrifice I wish to pick up and recommit to the charge which they have laid upon my heart.

Do Better.

COVID-19 Update 5/7-5/15/20

Prison Plague Log

2020-5-7
We had a stop movement this afternoon with four people taken from our unit to medical to be tested for COVID-19.

2020-5-8
This evening the c/o’s had a good idea. Let the six people on quarantine in our unit go out on the unit’s front porch of while all of us were at yard. However, they then left the quarantine people out there while we were coming back from yard so literally everyone on the unit walked by them as we came back. So ten out of ten for good thinking, but minus several billion for execution.

2020-11-5
The DOC is trying to find a way to reopen education. Their idea is to make a sign up for students who need help then we sit 2 meters (6 feet) apart and do tutoring.

2020-12-5
B unit C wing is now on quarantine lockdown. This is the unit I live on, but a different wing. Each near miss is ever so slightly closer and closer. As if COVID-19 is calibrating its rifle scope and I’m the target.

2020-5-13
The way that the DOC is doing quarantine makes no sense. They place a wing on quarantine at a time, then let everyone on that wing crowd together in the day room of that wing. The reason a whole wing is quarantined at a time is because contact tracing is impossible in a prison setting. By letting everyone out they create a situation where the people on that wing will all give each other whatever disease while still in the stage where they are infectious, but not yet sick. (In DnD this is called the incubation stage of the disease, I’m gonna go ahead and use this term because I can nether pronounce nor spell the more accurate medical term) While there is no reason to keep people locked in their cells for the entire 14 day quarantine period, people should be locked down for the first 4 to 5 days of incubation period so medical can see who is sick and who is not. Then the people without symptoms can be let people out to mingle within their unit with a much lower risk of spreading disease.

2020-5-14
I am very frightened by the various states which are coming off lockdown. This will result in massive deaths. I like to read post-apocalyptic fiction. I do not want to live in a post-apocalyptic world. If we take this course no one will be safe from COVID-19 until herd immunity is achieved, that is 80% of people have had it. This is not worth it; supporting capitalism is not worth this. If there ever was a time for us to come together and create a thriving gift economic system, now is the time.

2020-5-15
We were just issued another bar of soap by the DOC. This one is a “deodorant soap.” It is not antibacterial, which does not help.

The 900 people the DOC was supposed to release, have been released. I can’t tell. TRU is as crowded as ever. All the cells are full. B unit has only 3 bunks out of 180 filled.

We haven’t had an incoming chain in over a month. The people who were released had their beds filled by people coming over from MSU and coming out of the IMU.

E unit is now closed. The IMU has three wings being used for isolation.

Thoughts on “Detransitioning”

I’ve been seeing more and more articles about people who “detransition”, who begin on the path of medical transition then stop and go back. Most of these articles have been in conservative and mainstream news outlets, like “The Economist” and “Rolling Stone”(I’d give a citation if I had one available to me) which has caused me to question the motivations behind publishing the article. However, I recently read an article about it in an excellent commie rag which has been very pro LGBTQIA2+ and publishes articles that are critical of the transphobia inherent to mainstream American culture. (News and Letters. “Detransitioners Speak Out”. Nov-Dec 2019. Vol 64 No 6. Pg 2.)

Which means, I’m finally putting on my critical thinking cap when I probably should have done so quite a while ago. I’ve been hesitant because thinking about it is kinda nightmarish for me. I’ve felt so out of place because of my femininity for so long, I can’t really imagine what it would feel like for being transgender to have not been the answer I desperately needed. Thus, up to this point, my lack of consideration for detransitioners has had more to do with my own unarticulated fears and insecurities than anything else.

In prison we have people who declare themselves as trans, and then after few months, claim not to be trans. with little or no explanation. I’ve observed this a few times and, up until recently, I thought what was happening was mostly specific to prison. But now, perhaps not. Now I’m beginning to think that many people are transitioning, then detransitioning because they started down this path for the wrong reasons or with insufficient knowledge. I have come to this conclusion based upon more than just my experience as a trans woman, but also my experience as a witch.

In Wicca, we have a thing called “dedicate”. It is what we call a person who is interested in possibly becoming a witch. A dedicate spends a year and a day studying paganism, and other religions, before they are considered to have sufficient knowledge to make an informed choice about initiation, about becoming a witch.

I am not saying that a person has to jump through this that and the other hoop, because gatekeeping is a bully. Instead I am saying that everyone should be allowed to explore gender without any stigma and if a person seems to enjoy that exploration, they should be encouraged in it. However, their explorations should happen with the support and wisdom of others who can keep them from making choices that could cause them permanent harm.

I think this is what is missing for people in prison, and probably in society as well. The concept of transgender has, in the past few years, gotten a lot of media attention, but only in the “crossing the gender divide” sense of the word. There has been very little discussion of other queer identities, like gender neutral or butch or femme identities.
Many people will probably disagree with the following but, I see no reason why a cis woman couldn’t transition into a femme identity or a cis man transition into a butch identity. So of course a cis woman could transition to butch or a cis man to femme without any thought to change of pronouns or medical transition.

I think that one of the reasons there are many detransitioners is because there is not a social norm of exploring what it’s like to move through the world with different gender expressions just because one can. Instead, the social norm is that a person has to insist on being the opposite gender AND live up to the social expectations of that gender (which is BS).

I recognize the flaw in my argument. I’m pointing at labels which create stereotypes as being a problem, then suggesting more labels as a solution. Which means I’m just redefining the problem in a way that makes it slightly more manageable without inherently addressing the underling coercion of western civilization.

As with many of these highly complex social issues where we, as a community, are having to navigate it as we’re inventing language to discuss it, I don’t have the answers, I just have a feeling of in what direction some answers might be in. I haven’t even touched on the issue of people who are attracted to trans people claiming to be trans to try and get close to us and possibly victimize us (which is a serious issue in prison and happens quite a lot). I don’t know how to approach this second thornier issue, but it is decidedly something to consider.

Like I said, I don’t have answers, but I hope I’ve complexified the debate in a useful way.

COVID-19 Update 4/28-5/6/20

2020-4-28
We were given a bar of antibacterial soap today. This brings us to three bars total.

2020-4-29
C/o’s are finally enforcing social distancing by sending people to their cells if they fail to maintain social distance. The upper dayroom was shut down because a group of people were all crowding around one table playing cards. The same group of people who have been ignoring social distancing for the past month.

2020-4-30
The DOC is now allowing people who go to E unit isolation to take their JPay player with them. There is no word on if people who were already in E unit before the change was enacted have been given access to their JPay players.

There is nearly a dozen kitchen workers from TRU currently in E unit isolation and an unknown number on quarantine in their cells.

2020-5-1
JPay has put forward a number of things to help incarcerated people stay in touch with our families and not be so bored during the lockdown.

Our people can schedule a free video visit once a week. They’ve added movie rentals and are giving us one free movie each week. They’ve given away three free app games. And now they’ve added a catalog of free ebooks. While I still maintain that JPay is evil and a terrible service provider, at least in this they are actually trying to do the right thing.

Just watched the governor’s address. I am glad the state is putting forward such a cautious plan. Without a vaccine, social distancing and herd immunity are the only ways to interrupt the spread of disease. His plan takes this into account. I hope it works.

2020-5-2
I didn’t notice any codes or stop movements today, which I thought was weird. So I asked my cellie. Apparently we had four codes today and I have gotten so used to them calling “Stop all movement! Clear the breeze way! Staff remain in place!” on the PA that I didn’t even notice.

2020-5-4
May the Fourth be with you!

While watching all the Star Wars movies I feel acutely the ways I am disconnected from my friends and my family of choice. All the ways I need others, but don’t have them in my life.
I have not received an email from anyone since the 30th and my next most recent message is from the 26th.

I make three phone calls a week. One to Megan (The Awesome) and one to DRW as a part of my trans activism. The third is a “dumb luck” call. We get two fee phone calls a week and I use them to try and call people I haven’t spoken to in a while because they don’t put money on the phone. Usually I can’t get ahold of anyone and end up returning to my cell feeling defeated and discouraged.

It’s been over five years since I had a in person visit and I just had my first ever video visit last month because it was free and Megan (The Awesome) happened to get on my visiting list last year.

The outside world has been social distancing for the last two months. My life has been socially distanced for over a decade.

2020-5-6
Sixteen inmates are currently confirmed cases of COVID-19, one in the past week.

More and more people on my unit are applauding at 7 PM each evening at the prompting of the TV. They didn’t understand that the prompt to applaud is for healthcare workers. Now that they know this, people are getting into it. Nothing too loud that may upset the c/o’s, just a little subdued show of thanks for the work they do to keep our friends and families out there safe.

COVID-19 Update 4/22-4/27/20

2020-4-22
Today we in B unit learned that people in C unit put forward a proposal which would severely cut our ability to stay in contact with our friends and families by imposing a limit of only allowing a third of us out of our cells for a third of day on a rotating basis. Their proposal still completely ignores many of the major risk factors for us in prison. So there was then a rush to write a counter proposal which would accomplish what theirs does not. Tomorrow both proposals are to be presented to administration tomorrow.

This evening we were given a info pamphlet about COVID-19. Much of the information was the same as what we have been seeing on TV and in other DOC memos. The only real difference is this contains DOC propaganda and comes with a side of production value. It claims if we are sent to isolation we get to take our Jpay players, as well as a few other items onto isolation. This is false.

2020-4-23
“X” marks the spots where we are allowed to stand in the dayroom 2 meters from everyone else. These “X”s are more to keep the c/o’s from yelling at us for standing in the dayroom than anything else.

2020-4-24
Our unit CUS has accepted the proposal for COVID-19 safety which was submitted from our wing and says he will be looking into how to implement it.

2020-4-25
Just learned that D unit has a wing on quarantine again. This means we had a total of 4 days with no wings on quarantine.

2020-4-26
First time in three weeks with no new COVID-19 developments. Just the new normal playing itself out. Multiple stop movements throughout the day for people to be taken to E unit. A fire truck responded to the prison at around 2:30 pm for unknown reasons. We were locked down once due to a COVID-19 scare. And a fight happened over in A unit. Ya know, normal stuff that wouldn’t make the papers.

2020-4-27
The kitchen at TRU has been closed. One of the staff that work there had a high fever. Thus the incarcerated workers who worked closely with her have been placed on quarantine.This may or may not have been avoided if the DOC was still taking the temperature of incarcerated kitchen workers when they report for work.
Our meals are now being prepared for us by the kitchen at WSR, driven over here in a truck, reheated, and served to us in cardboard and styrofoam boxes. The one up side is we take the boxes back to our cells to eat after we pick them up in the chow hall.

Practicing Accountability

Accountability does not happen in a vacuum. It requires a web of relationship to be able to exist. Yet it happens for the self to the self. If one of those two haves are not present, an internalized desire to be accountable and a container of community to hold it, then it cannot occur.

This lesson is currently very alive for me. As a child I did not have an internalized desire for accountability, and so I caused great harm to others and myself. After I came to prison I got lucky. Melissa provided me with a container and in doing the work to reclaim my sanity I was practicing accountability without the language to properly describe what I was doing.

After Melissa died of breast cancer, I was no longer actually practicing accountability. I had the desire but lacked the container. I was coasting. I was stagnated. I was playing out the inertia of my previous personal work.

After I arrived at Washington State Reformatory I was able meet some people who also had that same internalized desire for accountability and we were able to create and hold the container of relationship necessary to practice accountability with each other.

Now, however, I am at Twin Rivers Unit and once more I lack a container for practicing accountability in. I have tried for the last month to find people who can help me construct that container, but it’s not working. So once more I am forced to coast, play out the inertia of my previous work and lean upon my memories of everyone I have been in community with and practiced accountability with in the past.

Which is not enough. It is not accountability. Accountability is a living breathing thing, while dwelling in the house of nostalgia is a dying by inches thing.

Right now I am struggling with what it means to intentionally die by inches slowly enough that I will recognize it when it is time for me to be alive once more.

As one of the people who I was in community with would often remind me, “Wherever you happen to be, this is the place of practice” and, “It’s like this right now.”