Why Should I Become a Pen-Pal to a Queer Prisoner?
What’s Prison Abolition?
The Prisoner Correspondence Project – prisonercorrespondenceproject.com
Prison Abolition: The experiences of those who have been affected by the criminal (in)justice system, along with numerous studies, show us that prisons do not provide justice, or public safety. Prisons are extremely violent and damaging environments that leave people who come out (the vast majority of people in prison will eventually return to their communities) much worse off physically, emotionally, and psychologically than when they came in. Recidivism rates in Canada are estimated at between 50% and 80%. Prisons fail to give any kind of healing to victims, or accountability to communities. What we need are community-based responses that keep perpetrators accountable and provide self-determination of victims, while at the same time transforming the conditions that created violence in the first place (it is also worth noting that over 85% of people in prison in Canada are there for non-violent crimes). Affordable housing; accessible, well-paying and safe jobs; education and health care; personal relationships based on equality, not domination—these are the things that keep us safe. Abolition is the idea that prisons cannot be reformed, made more humane, made more environmentally conscious—they just have to go. Check out the Transformative Justice section in School Schmool (the following article) to learn more about the alternatives to incarceration.
Why should I become a pen-pal to a queer prisoner? While it can be intense at times, corresponding with people in prison often leads to enriching, interesting, and engaging relationships. Through these dialogues we (people on the outside) are reminded that people on the inside are just that: people, who deserve to be treated as such, and who are in need of support and human connection. Gender enforcement is very strong in prison, and queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming people face disproportionate levels of harassment and violence from other inmates as well as prison guards. Writing to a queer person in prison can make a huge difference in their lives, breaking the isolation of imprisonment, and providing a link to the outside world. People most directly affected by state violence often have the strongest critique of state structures, analysis on how to dismantle them, and ideas on how to build for a healthier future. People who have experienced the intersections of various oppressions—such as incarcerated and formerly incarcerated queer people, many of whom are people of colour and poor—are the people that need to be leading movements for justice. Helping a queer person in prison (as well as every person in prison) survive is a very radical activity.