Editor’s Note 7/20: As of now, Amber has been issued an infraction for being “out of bounds,” and is being threatened with losing access to JPay and phone calls for three months, having her property taken away or destroyed, getting transferred, and/or having her custody level changed. She finds out sometime in the middle of next week, and if she does lose access to JPay and phone calls, the only way I’ll be able to talk to her is through letters, and it’ll be around a week before I’ll hear from her.
Editor’s Note: Content warning for mentions of cutting, rape, and relationship violence
My name is Amber Kim, #315649 according to the Washington DOC. Myself and my best friend John Hovey are being persecuted and discriminated against for reasons that essentially boil down to because I am trans and he dared to support and be an ally to me. This is a call for help which I hope will echo far and wide and be heard by many people from many sources. I hope for this because the excuses which are being used to cause harm to us are being used to cause harm to LGBTQ people incarcerated in Washington state as a whole, and cause further harm to everyone in Washington prisons.
Currently, the Washington Administrative Code (WAC), which are part of the laws for Washington state defined by the state legislature, make it a crime for prisoners to show physical affection for one another (hugs, holding hands, leaning on each other’s shoulders, etc) or to be physically intimate with each other. Their argument for why love and affection are criminalized goes like this: if c/o’s see two people engaging in horseplay, they cannot tell the difference between that and a fight. Similarly, if two people are in a loving relationship, or having a “one night stand,” c/o’s can’t tell the difference between that and rape. Therefore, both horseplay and affection must be criminalized in prison.
This argument is wrong on so many levels. First is the patriarchal assumption of a connection between relationships, sex, and violence. Not all relationships have a sexual component, and sex does not come with an assumption of violence, and not all relationships are automatically violent and abusive. In fact, a majority of relationships and sex do not contain violence. While violence in relationships is a major and serious problem which our society needs to address, outlawing all relationships because some of them may contain violence is like outlawing all food because some people might get sick.
The second problem is that, as the LGBTQ movement has shown, legislation which runs contrary to the dictates of the human heart will always fail. Having laws which amount to an injunction against love in prison is more than discriminatory against LGBTQ people. Such laws trample on the basic human need for connection which everyone has. Friends who want to hug or sit close for the comfort which comes from the touch of another warm body are impacted just as the LGBTQ couple who want to hold hands for the simple pleasure of being together are impacted. The way in which LGBTQ people are impacted more is due to the way these WAC rules are enforced, which I will go into greater detail when I talk about what happened to me and my best friend.
The third and most obvious problem with this argument is that if someone cannot tell the difference between a hug and rape, then they need serious psychological help and should not be in a position of authority of anyone. If the Washington DOC and state legislature are so worried about prisoners in abusive relationships or being raped then they need to invest in classes to teach people what is and is not a healthy relationship, including how boundaries and consent work. If they really want a simple answer to how to spot abuse, it’s very straightforward: 1) believe victims, 2) mark and question isolation. It really and truly is not that complex because if someone is in an abusive relationship and they are forcibly separated as the Washington DOC currently does. All that is going to happen that they will see out a new person to act out their traumas and abusive scripts with. To end abuse, people need to be able to to be help by community and supported through a process of personal transformation which will allow them to deal with the trauma and toxic scripts at the root of the behavior.
The answer is not in criminalizing love, but in building people’s capacity to love.
As I stated above, my best friend John and I are being harmed right now by love being criminalized in prison. On July 1st at roughly 9 AM I was talking a shower in a shower stall by myself. John was in the next shower stall over showering by himself. It may seem weird to have to name it that way, but that’s an important detail.
I hear a voice call out which I recognize as Sgt. Dobson. He yells “out of the showers,” causing me to jump with fright and bounce of the shower wall with a “thunk.”
Next, Sgt. Dobson yelled “who’s in the shower?” to which I replied “Kim.” Sgt. Dobson then said “why did you just crawl under there?” which thoroughly confused me. According to John, this was the moment he had picked up the bar of soap he had dropped when Sgt. Dobson first yelled. Sgt. Dobson yelled again “come out of the showers.” My hands were shaking so much I barely managed to towel off and get dressed. When I stepped out of the shower I saw John being put into handcuffs by a pair of c/o’s. I was also put in handcuffs and escorted away from the showers by two c/o’s.
It was at this point I realized this was a frame-up and that John and I were probably going to be separated by the DOC. Permanently.
John was taken to CUS Geer’s office. I was taken to Sgt. Dobson’s office.
John was interrogated first while I waited for my turn. I cried and cried and cried and cried.
CUS Geer and Sgt. Dobson came in. Sgt. Dobson sat at the computer, presumably to take notes/minutes. CUS Geer sat on the opposite side of me from him, meaning to address CUS Geer, I had to put Sgt. Dobson behind me to my left. Sgt. Dobson remained silent during the interrogation unless I addressed him directly.
I denied that anything happened. I denied that john and I had had sexual contact.
I denied that John was in my shower. I asked both CUS Geer and Sgt. Dobson to call the Trans in Prison Project at Disability Rights Washington because I needed representation and protection from their investigation. They informed me that I had no rights in this situation and that it would go better if I cooperated. Let me translate that last statement: they have the absolute authority to say whatever they want and it is automatically treated as true and that if I don’t agree to their lies and betray my best friend they will make sure I am harmed.
Again, I denied that anything happened. I denied that John and I had had sexual contact. I denied that John was in my shower.
By this time I was losing my emotional control and was sobbing so intensely that I couldn’t get a full breath of air. I had to put my head between my knees to keep from fainting. CUS Geer told me to sit up. I told him “no.” It’s my body, not yours. I know how to take care of it, not you. Don’t tell me what to do with it.
After that, CUS Geer stopped trying to interrogate me. At this time, John was being interrogated by the lieutenant and sent to the IMU.
I was then taken to the lieutenant and interrogated again. I denied that anything happened. I denied that John and I had had sexual contact. I denied that John was in my shower. I asked the lieutenant to get in touch with the Trans in Prison Project at Disability Rights Washington and told him that by not doing so he was causing me harm. He didn’t care. He told me he was going to do what he had already decided to do before he talked to either me or John and sent me to the IMU
I spent the next four days crying until I was so dehydrated that while I was still wracked with sobs, no tears fell from my eyes. Every time I tried to eat I would puke it all back up. On the third day I used my fingernails to do a little cutting and was finally able to sleep. On the fourth day my crying shifted from a soul deep pain to a simple expression of sorrow.
This is how much it hurts to be separated from my best friend. I’m still having trouble eating, because we ate together every day, so when I sit down to eat I can’t help but remember every time we ate together. I know exactly what he would have taken from my tray and what I would have taken from his tray without having to talk about it anymore because we know what each other liked and what we are not going to eat. I still have random crying jags. I’ll be reading or writing or doing yoga and all of a sudden find myself missing him so much.
I’ve never had a friend like him before and I don’t know how to handle having him suddenly ripped away from me by Sgt. Dobson and CUS Geer. And let me make it perfectly clear, this is exactly what is happening. Because CUS Geer and Sgt. Dobson are transphobic and homophobic and because they know John and I are close friends they are claiming that we must have been having sex and thus have to be punished. They are able to make this claim with no evidence beyond Sgt. Dobson claiming he saw something because 1) John and I are incarcerated 2) he is a cop 3) WAC treats incarcerated people being in a loving relationship as a threat to the orderlyness of the facility on the same level as a bomb threat.
Therefore, his claim has caused us to be placed under investigation. In my twelve years in prison and his thirty-five years in prison, we have both come to understand that to be accused is to be found guilty and all we can hope to do is minimize the damage.
This is wrong. This hurts people. This needs to change.