Winter 2017 - 2018 | Volume 2, Issue 1
I n S olidarity The Official Newsletter of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project’s Prisoner Advisory Committee Dear Beloved Community,
Director of Outreach and Community Engagement, Kimberly Mckenzie. Kimberly has been involved with SRLP in many It feels bittersweet to share that on March 9th I will be roles during the last four years, most recently as a non-staff transitioning out of my role as a full-time staff member. After Collective Member who has been a steadfast supporter of nearly four years as the Director of Outreach & Community SRLP’s Movement Building Team. I trust that under Kimberly’s Engagement at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, I will continue leadership, SRLP will continue to grow, stretch, and remain a trans, economic, and gender justice in another form as the part of the fight for liberation. new Director of Economic Justice Initiatives at the LGBT Center in Manhattan. While I’m thrilled to find ways to Much love & hope, continue to resist and be a part of the collective fight for liberation, it is not easy to leave SRLP as a staff member Juana Peralta and my heart feels heavy. I will continue to support SRLP Outgoing Director of Outreach & Community Engagement as a volunteer and as a Collective Member in our ongoing push against the prison industrial complex, finding ways A message from incoming Director of Outreach & Community to incorporate small acts of everyday abolition in our lives, Engagemement, Kimberly Mckenzie: and finding ways to make the world hurt a bit less. I am profoundly grateful to my comrades, wise counsel, and queer With much excitement, it is an extreme honor to serve as fam near and far for all the support and love they’ve provided the new Director of Outreach & Community Engagement. me during the last few months as I move into a new chapter Since 2014, I have supported the work of SRLP by prioritizing of my life. and supporting building the political analysis of TGNCI I have learned so much during my time at SRLP. I am so communities most impacted by poverty, violence and grateful for the support, encouragement to stretch & grow, discrimination. Throughout the many years of supporting and incredible privilege to work with the amazing comrades, the leadership and political voices of our core membership, I advocates, and community connected to SRLP through have had the wonderful opportunity to engage and build with membership, volunteers, and fellow abolitionists. During the community members, developing sustainable relationships with last three and a half years, it has been a privilege to work as not only our core membership but also with local providers the Director of Outreach and Community Engagement and through coalitions, public policy, and advocacy work. I am most co-director of SRLP’s Movement Building Team. excited about the active role in supporting the relaunch of our During my tenure at SRLP, we have been able to expand research project “It’s War in Here” to communicate with our our Prisoner Advisory Committee (PAC) membership to members on the inside about their experiences, while educating over 150 members, release several publications supporting and negotiating with DOCCS the political landscape that our loved ones and friends on the inside, like the Self-Care prevents access to affirming healthcare, clothing, placement and on the Inside Guide, a brochure for legal advocates on safety from violence. how to support incarcerated TGNCI people, continuing One of my first focuses will be building more ways of the SRLP PAC calendar, and increasing the amount of increasing our communication capacity through systematizing correspondence and support to our membership on the the creation and mailing of In Solidarity, forming a team inside through post cards, love notes, and updates. In the last of volunteers to regularly respond to PAC correspondence, six months alone, we’ve been able to host several volunteer and encouraging public education to increase the political days to increase the capacity of the organization, table at participation of our PAC membership. I am deeply dedicated to several community events, and relaunch SRLP’s newsletter improving the conditions of confinement for our incarcerated to our membership on the inside, In Solidarity. I’m deeply TGNCI people in New York State while continuing the excited for what’s to come and how we continue to build powerful work of advocating, supporting and uplifting the a movement that includes and is led by TGNCI people voices of our Prisoner Advisory Committee members. Enjoy In who have been impacted by the prison industrial complex. Solidarity. During the next several months, SRLP will continue to work on the relaunch of the 2007 ground-breaking report “It’s With love, War in Here” and, as member of the logistical committee, I continue to be inspired by the generosity and vulnerability of Kimberly Mckenzie PAC members who, without their leadership and love, this Incoming Director of Outreach & Community Engagement re-launch would not be possible. I am also incredibly excited to introduce SRLP’s new
Table of Contents Our Mission .............................. 2
O ur M ission
PAC Description & Sylvia Rivera Spotlight .................................... 3 SRLP’s Collective Structure ....... 4 Our Staff ................................... 5 PAC Member Submissions ... 6-15 Legal Updates ..................... 16-17 Advocacy Highlights .......... 18-19 Media Spotlight & Activity Page ................................................. 20 Resources ................................. 21
Contributors Isabella Rose Adler
Heather J. Brooke
The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine their gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination, or violence. SRLP is a collective organization founded on the understanding that gender self-determination is inextricably intertwined with racial, social, and economic justice. Therefore, we seek to increase the political voice and visibility of low income people and people of color who are transgender, gender non-conforming, or intersex (TGNCI). SRLP works to improve access to respectful and affirming social, health, and legal services for our communities. We believe that in order to create meaningful political participation and leadership, we must have access to basic means of survial and safety from violence.
Our goals and principles include... • Providing access to free gender-affirming legal services to lowincome, immigrant & POC TGNCI communities • Using public education & policy reform to end state-sanctioned and institutional discrimination & violence • Building a non-hierarchal collective organization that emphasizes trans leadership opportunities • Working from an anti-oppressive, trauma-informed framework, as well as providing empowerment opportunities for our community members Disclaimer: Please note that the ideas expressed in In Solidarity are solely those of the authors and artists and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project makes no representations as to the accuracy of any statements made in In Solidarity. Authors and artists bear the responsibility for their own work.
P risoner A dvisory C ommittee SRLP strongly believes that the people most affected by the systems of violence and oppression we fight against are the best people to lead the fight. We also believe that social justice organizations must find ways to directly involve the members of the community who have been separated from us by the criminal injustice system. The Prisoner Advisory Committee (PAC) is one way to overcome the enormous state created barriers to communication and political participation for the people who are most affected by the prison-industrial complex. Launched in 2007, PAC currently has around 140 incredibly dedicated members who are enthusiastic about sharing their time, passion, and expertise with SRLP. Our members are TGNCI people who are currently incarcerated in New York State, with a few members incarcerated in other states around the country. Members of PAC work together with members of our collective to develop strategies and goals for our work. PAC members have guided and contributed to SRLP’s work in many ways over the years, including proposing edits to our educational materials, developing proposals for policy change, and helping us relaunch our 10th anniversary edition of “It’s War in Here,” a seminal study on the experiences of TGNCI people on the inside. PAC currently exists as part of SRLP’s Prisoner Justice Project (PJP), which seeks to address the needs of incarcerated members and connect them with opportunities to engage in collective work. Through this project, we are able to offer a variety of legal services, including name changes for TGNCI folks on the inside; assistance with accessing gender-affirming clothing and healthcare, advocacy, and support around sexual and physical violence; and more. In Solidarity is a collaborative newsletter created by PAC members, SRLP staff, and our volunteers. Together, our words and collective efforts work to fight against injustice towards low-income, immigrant, and POC TGNCI people both inside and outside of the prison-industrial complex, as well as for the freedom of gender self-determination for all. We hope that this newsletter brings our readers closer together through messages of solidarity, justice, and community.
Who was Sylvia Rivera? Our organization is named for civil rights pioneer Sylvia Rivera. A veteran of the 1969 Stonewall rebellion, Sylvia was a tireless advocate for all those who had been marginalized as the battle for queer civil rights began – TGNCI people, communities of color, sex workers, and more. Some of Sylvia’s many accomplishments include: fighting against the exclusion of transgender people from the Sexual Orientation Discrimination Act in New York; co-founding the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with Marsha P. Johnson in 1970, an activist organization providing shelter for homeless queer youth; and being a constant vocal presence for the rights of POC, low-income, and TGNCI communities. She passed away in 2002, and every day we hope to honor her memory. SRLP continues Sylvia’s legacy by centralizing issues of systemic poverty and racism, and by prioritizing the struggles of queer and trans people who face the most severe and multi-faceted discrimination.
“I was a radical, a revolutionist. I am still a revolutionist. I was proud to make the road and help change laws and what-not. I was very proud of doing that and proud of what I’m still doing, no matter what it takes.” - Sylvia Rivera during an interview with author & activist Leslie Feinberg
SRLP’s C ollective S tructure SRLP functions as a multiracial, intergenerational collective of people committed to a broad understanding of gender selfdetermination. As a collective, we recognize that it is essential to create policies, structures, and resources that model our vision of a more just society. This is why we seek to use a non-hierarchal, community-based structure to support the sustainability of our trans liberation work. SRLP staff & members posing with handmade cards with inspirational messages of love & hope for our wonderful PAC members
We have developed an organizational structure with five equally important teams, as well as a Board working together on a shared vision and mission, listed below:
The Direct Services Team offers gender-affirming legal services, advocates for policy reform within institutions that impact our community, and sustains relationships with allied service providers. The Public Education Team creates and implements our trainings for other groups and organizations, creates and distributes our public education materials, and develops our media advocacy work, including maintaing our website. The Fundraising & Finance Team raises money for our operations, coordinates our budget planning, maintains relationships with our donor base, and oversees our databases.
Mik Kinkead, Director of the Prisoner Justice Project, with representatives of other partner organizations speaking at a panel on TGNCI healthcare
The Collective Development Team recruits staff and collective members, develops our programs and policies regarding SRLP’s diversity, and develops policies and procedures for our staff and collective members to work harmoniously. The Movement Building Team supports the community-based leadership development and organizing of SRLP’s low-income and POC trans communities. Kimberly Mckenzie, incoming Director of Outreach & Community Engagement, with MBT members
The Board oversees the legal, ethical, and moral responsibilities of SRLP, as well as its financial health.
SRLP is committed to creating opportunities for trans, gender non-conforming, and intersex people to take powerful leadership roles in transforming their own lives and communities. By developing these organizational structures, we hope to create a life-affirming environment where our members can guide SRLP’s future work towards gender liberation.
O ur S taff Ethan Lin
Director of Grassroots Fundraising & Communications
Outgoing Director of Outreach & Community Engagement
Incoming Director of Outreach & Community Engagement Collective Member
Director of Development
Director of the Prisoner Justice Project (PJP) Staff Attorney
Director of Membership
Sei Young Pyo
Director of the Immigrant Justice Project (IJP) Staff Attorney
Director of Client Services
Movement Building Team (MBT) Intern
PAC M ember S ubmissions Do you know you are loved,
that it may seem disheartening,
and you may feel alone and the oppression may seem unsurmountable.
But know regardless if I know you or not that the fact you exist and are a member of our society regardless where you may be at, you are in my thoughts & prayers. Understand that you are greater than the sum of your problems. and you are loved. I understand that system fairly well and do Identify empathize.
Do not give in, give up. That everything is only confined to each moment each day and tommorrow can be better than today its a matter of perspective. Stay positive, stay strong mentally, physically that you are far more resilliant than any 4 walls, any level of oppression. Find comfort that you are loved. Luz, esperanza, y caridad light, hope, and charity - India Rodriguez
“Triumphant” R&B Graceéd
In toddlerhood: my socialization consisted of playful things, like toys and
video games, cavities cleaned – for ice cream my teeth would fiend, as I sit back in remembrance of those days, I stomped and screamed, due to the denials of additional candy, one would call that manipulative demanding, heck, my knees bearly held me up for the purpose of standing, with child like skills to socialize, I was able to manage.
It felt as though my abilities to socialize were morphed: As a teenager,
during junior high school, everything was major, going on dates, relationships – sex at parties and delinquent behaviors; Then came the many hospitalizations, which consumed most, if not all of those years, in frustration, quick tempered and stubburn, getting in to multiple fights with my peeps, on a daily basis, my impulse knew no fear, only hatred, to this day, surprised, that I’m still here, with a chance to make it, so my future could appear, the message was clear, although I needed a bandaged to help me steer, hopefully I’ve painted this picture clear?
Quickly forced to mature: while expeditioning through these prisons
doors, where some how socialization means so much more, now effective at getting my point across, building the vocabulary while exercising the mind, with out a word of mouth, in order for success, when getting out, making friends, getting a job and living a new found, meaningful life, with the appropriately acquired tools to over come any form of adversity, is this not what lives go thru? And is partly about? Now, not so quick to turn the pages, this has to be true, because I’m sure that I’ll make it…
“Food for Thought” Isabella Rose Adler
watch your thoughts for they Become words, watch your words for they Become actions,
Artwork by Isabella Rose Adler
watch your actions for they Become habit, watch your habits for they Become character, watch your character for it becomes your destiny…
A kiss is way to caress A kiss is a way to show affection A kiss is gentle A kiss could be a greeting A kiss is a mouth hug A kiss is sometimes messy A kiss is always returned with a kiss A kiss is sweet and warm
Artwork by Shaylanna Luvme
“Slowly drifting away...” Terrianna Witherspoon
As I sit in my solidtude space, wondering if I can stand being alone, wishing my thoughts to make sense of what the situation that lies before my feet. The more I think, the less clear the answer is not going to be to me. As I research, look up, define, and calculate the problem, the results are always going to be jumbled together. When I try to separate the mess I created, I become frustrated with myself for creating this mess. The world is already being poluted with the messes of violence, so why make it any worse then what it is? The waves of society, is showing how they truly feel about these groups of people that mean good; and instead they want to cause pain and suffering to the loved ones that care for us. The more we cry out, our voices sound distant to our enemy. When we plead for them to listen, they laugh at our cries for justice, and when we retaliate, they kill us off one by one, and lock the remainder that are still standing strong. As my thoughts start to become clear, I find myself amongst the rest of the world, slowly drifting away with time, but I refuse to let it completely submerge me below the surface. For as long as I’m living and breathing, I going to continue to fight for who is within all people. Our rights matter an so do we. We are human and not forign. So except us, and not tolerate us. We are the next generation of powerful men and women to transform this place. No more drifting, no more pain. More love and more unity. The Key to the future.
Ms. Synthia-China Blast
S o many years have passed since your days on earth. Y ou continue to be my role-model wish I’ve known you first. L asting memories of your legacy and work. V ictory at last in same-sex marriage but, there’s still much work. I know in my heart you are proud of us all. A lways being a mother to us watching over us from above. R arely in my life do I regret anything I’ve done. I utter your name when I feel like my life is done. V iolet sweet scents fills my heart when I’m sad and depressed. E veryone’s around me I’m starting to feel blessed. R oses scattered all over my feet. A ll of my sorrows are over as we finally meet.
- Rest in Peace Sylvia Rivera Your legacy’s almost complete.
Artwork by Synthia-China Blast
Excerpts from “Push Back......To Survive” Grace DeTreverah
As I was serving my time. It became very clear to me...that this environment can bring one to question the very simple things in one’s life. Being a Transgender female and being placed in a male facility. Can and will awaken all the fears that you never thought you were capable of having or being. Survival is such an alarming balancing act... just like breathing or feeling like one can’t breathe. Being placed in a maximum security facility after having various dilemma’s with prison officials at medium security facilities. I was made to feel, think and believe that my placement was justified. This was such a farce. When I arrived at Auburn correctional facility. While being in a medium security facility. I was apprehensive and a bit scared because being a Trans female with an appearance taht is considered feminine and recognizable. I was “welcomed” with such fan-fare that it would make one “blush, Cry and wonder” all at the same time. A maximum security facility, or at least Auburn had, a reputation of beinga facility that was “known” to house transgender females such as myself. So to the prison officials and of course the prisoner population I was “nothing New”. Being that my demeanor and behavior can be recognized as “quiet or laid back”..... I became a curiousity to the Officer’s. They would make comments like “Oh, this one aint happier than a Faggot in boys Town” and other horrific statements to “welcome” me into the facility. I because in the coming days a interest and curiousity to the prisoner’s as well. Why me? well as I would come to know. I didn’t smoke cigarettes, I didn’t have a reputation through the “Penal system...nor was I smiling or gave a sense of availability” to be friendly. This would come to be a very uncomfortable sense of being....initially when I had to walk about the facility to Medical appointments and other locations throughout the prison. When I was initially housed in a cell, I was a bit scared because I was placed in the front of the tier gallery (cell 1-thru-10) are cells that are known and recognized as “Must Watch” by staff, Officer’s and those prisoners who were/are suicidal. I really had NO issue, question or dislike for this practice, because the tier galleries were so long....like 60 cells. I was actually pleased when I was placed in the “watch” cells. However, as time would go on. This would change, due to the “system” or the cell I was in, was needed for other prisoners who the Authorities thought were necessary. I was placed further back on the tier gallery. Where I became very isolated.....and scared. Being in this facility. [...] It would really be days were I never really wanted to leave my cell. However, there are requirements due to policy, having to eat in the messhall and going to programs and medical appointments. I had to leave my cell. Every time I departed my cell I was always a bit apprehensive as well as careful of movements. [...] Being that I was serving a 2 year to 4 year sentence for a non-violent offense. It always baffled me and anyone who I disclosed my case to. They were concerned and interested to know, why did or would Corrections place me in a Maximum security facility. When I disclosed how I eventually arrived at Auburn. It still didn’t make quite good sense to me. Not even the ORC/Counselor. However, I was here in Auburn, a Maximum security facility. 12
PAC Member Profile – Grace DeTreverah 1) What name do you want people to know you by? Miss Grace, Gee, Miss DeTrevarah 2) What gender pronoun do you want people to use for you? Miss, Lady, She, They 3) Where did you grow up? “In Detroit up till 16 years old, [moved] (in 1983) to New York City.” 4) Why did you decide to join SRLP? “While being incarcerated, I had been attacked by Staff while in Confinement (SHU)… [I went to SRLP for] assistance regarding the attack (2005)… to acquire a Name Change (2013)… Once Released from incarceration, I felt a Need and a Purpose to ‘Be Involved with Any agenda’ that includes ‘Changing the Stereotypes’ of Trans Folk and LGBQNCI in particular. Through Advocacy, Service and ‘Showing Up’! Wherever am Needed and Definitely be accountable!” 5) What other sorts of activism, advocacy, or organizing work have you done? - The Trans-Justice School Member at The Audre Lorde Project: Graduate Class (2014) - First group of Teenage Trans Folk at Covenant House to “Insist Special Housing” (1993) - Writing Program at New York University, Rutgers University: Rebellious Literature Series (2013-14) - Writing and Completing my Memoir: GRACE: A Life in Transition, Tears, Regrets and Renewal… a Memoir (2015) 6) What have you found challenging about this work? “A lot! That one can affect and be of service and ultimately…some form of Change, Renewal and the Ability to Advocate for self while assisting for others.” 7) What have you liked about the work? “That the human condition, of inhumane injustice to anyone is Just ‘Plain Wrong-ness’ by Families, Communities and the Government in my opinion… toward People of Color, The LGBTQNCI Community is relative.” 8) What is your favorite book, song/artist, and movie? - Movies: Flawless (w/ Robert DeNiro, Phillip Michael Thomas), Philadelphia (w/ Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington) - Song: “Lady Sings The Blues” (Diana Ross) - Books: Hiding My Candy (Lady Chabliss), The Color Purple (Alice Walker), And The Band Played On (Randy Shilts) 9) What else do you want people to know about you? “That am a ‘Passionate but Passive Revolutionary Individual’… I’m a ‘Team Player,’ I don’t like Being the ‘Only One’ to represent a Function, a Project… I like to gather information, Network as a Community Organizer and with a Team.”
A collage of our lovely PAC members
“A Trapped Soul” Shaylanna Luvme
The mind is open, But the heart is pounding and hoping; Most of my days my energy is moping. The expressions are shown, But the feelings are fully blown; The violent verbals are brainstormed and thrown. The eyes rain, Also they show the souls pain; I’m trying to hold up the weight of the jails chain. The vision of a gate, I will now always hate; Untrapping my soul is in the upcoming with my release date.
Artwork by Shaylanna Luvme
“The Visible and the In-” Miz.Qitti
Some people occupy your life like moving men who cart off couches, pianos and break dishes. Some people touch you so lightly you are not sure it happened. Others leave you flat with footprints on your chest. Some are like those fall warblers you can’t tell from each others even though you search Petersen’s.
A message for our wonderful PAC members (artist unknown)
Some come down hard on you like a strike falcon and the scares remain and you are forever wary of the sky. 15
L egal U pdates
Mik Kinkead, Director of the Prisoner Justice Project I am so excited to be sharing these legal updates through In Solidarity! This is my first issue of In Solidarity to be involved with and I am so thrilled. Before I delve into our campaigns and allow some of our members to share their own victories, I want to be clear about the legal services SRLP provides for people in prison and jail. SRLP offers direct legal services to people in New York City jails and in New York State prisons who identify as transgender, gender non-conforming, and/or intersex (TGNCI). Some of the legal services we provide are: name changes Rabi Cepeda, PAC member and artist, with Mik Kinkead, Director of the Prisoner Justice Project while incarcerated, assistance with changing names on government documents while incarcerated, assistance obtaining hormones and other medically necessary healthcare, assistance obtaining gender-appropriate undergarments, assistance preparing for parole appearances, advocacy and support around sexual violence and violations of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, advocacy and support around transfers and requests for alternate housing, advocacy and support around conditions in general, advocacy and support around mental healthcare needs and assessments, review and appeal of disciplinary solitary confinement (Tier IIIs), and other civil matters concerning conditions of confinement. Since it is only me providing these services, I have a client cap at 45. I currently have over 100 clients which is way over the cap that has been set for me. This means that for the foreseeable future I am not taking any new clients. If you have a legal question, you should feel free to keep writing to me and I will provide you with resources, referrals, and general advice, but I canâ€™t take on any new cases. I can only imagine how frustrating it is to hear this, but this helps to ensure that you get an attorney truly dedicated to your needs. With over 100 clients, I canâ€™t give cases the attention they deserve, and that is a disservice to you. Now that Iâ€™ve shared a bit about the direct legal services we provide, I want to update you on some of our campaigns! As many of you know, SRLP has been involved with a number of campaigns over the past few years. Juana and I have tried to do our best to keep you all in the loop through our letters that we send out every-other-month giving you updates. Since 2018 has started, I want to tell you about the campaigns we are focusing on for this year! Again, we focus in NYS knowing that what we can achieve here hopefully carries across the US. In 2018, our major campaigns are: expanding visitation rights in the NYC jails for both visitors and those being visited, securing the right for TGNCI people to be housed according to how they feel most safe in both the NYC jails and NYS prisons, working to expand medical care for TGNC people in NYS prisons, ensuring access to menstrual health products, ending solitary confinement in the NYS prisons, and expanding access to packages for people in the NYS prison. I am going to focus on two of those campaigns here: ending solitary and increasing access to packages.
Ending Solitary Confinement in NYS
For many years SRLP has participated with and endorsed the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC), a coalition of organizations and individuals opposed to the use of isolation. With CAIC we are working to pass the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, which would place strict limits on the use of isolation and implement safe and effective alternatives. It would affect the ways that people are placed not only in disciplinary Comic by Krysta Morningstar solitary but also Protective Custody. Passing a bill like this is a long and often difficult process, and can take years. But the HALT Act is gaining support in the New York State legislature, and CAIC is committed to seeing it through. This Advocacy Day will be held on Tuesday, March 13 and SRLP is sending staff and members up to the event. Many of our members are formerly incarcerated transgender people who will share their stories of surviving solitary. We will also be carrying a banner with the names of our New York State members currently in solitary and sharing poems and artwork from those who contributed. We will be sure to send images out to all of you!
Expanding Access to Packages
At the end of December, NYS DOCCS announced the roll-out of a pilot program that would have restricted packages to people in the New York State prisons. This pilot program would have limited all packages to a handful of pre-selected vendors who provided limited items at a much higher price, ending the practice of loved ones sending personalized packages that give people on the inside much needed reminders of the love that continues for them. SRLP joined a coalition of organizations, loved ones of incarcerated people, and formerly incarcerated people across the state, and together, with a rare protest at Green Haven Correctional Facility and media attention, we were all able to convince the Governor to stop this program. But the fight isn’t over – with this newly gained momentum and coalition we want to see a revision of the packages guidelines in general! In NYS there is a division between “TV facilities” and “non-TV facilities.” Basically, if a person can buy and have a TV in their cell, they are then restricted on the number and type of packages they can receive. That is obviously absurd! There is no correlation between TVs and packages, and not everyone can afford a TV in their cell, yet they are affected by this restriction. We want the Governor to amend this policy and to ensure that some of the issues TGNCI people have – getting bras, underwear, LGBTQ literature, and magazines – gets amended as well. Artwork by Rabi Cepeda SRLP, with our coalition friends, is joining in on meetings with Senators and Assembly members to see if a bill can be brought to help amend the restrictions in the DOCCS system!
Want to Learn More About Our Other Campaigns? •
Expanding visitation rights in the NYC jails for both visitors and those being visited: write to SRLP and ask us to send you a report created by the Jails Action Coalition entitled “‘It Makes Me Want to Cry’: Visiting Rikers Island” Securing the right for TGNCI people to be housed according to how they feel most safe in the NYC jails: write to SRLP and ask us to send you a copy of the blog post “NYC Board of Correction Issues Resolution to Increase – Safety for Incarcerated TGNCI People” which gives recent updates and shares our goals
Securing the right for TGNCI people to be housed according to how they feel most safe in NYS prisons AND working to expand medical care for TGNC people in NYS prisons: write to SRLP and ask us to send you our new publication Know Your Rights in New York State Prisons for Incarcerated Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults. This will be finalized and printed in March 2018. Ensuring access to menstrual health products: write to SRLP and ask us to send you our campaign post on our support of Bill S.6176
A dvocacy H ighlights Pro Se Advocacy Win! With too few attorneys willing to take on the monster of the Prison Industrial Complex, we know that often our PAC members must fight for themselves. On one hand, you are amazing advocates who know your own stories and experiences best, but on the other, fighting something pro se can feel exhausting and isolating. But you are not alone! People on the inside are challenging the prison system every day. Below we highlight legal wins from PAC members Synthia-China Blast and Heather Brooke.
Synthia-China Blast Synthia-China successfully settled her case, Blast v. Fischer, on Dec 23, 2014, which helped to establish particular rights for practitioners of Santeria in the New York State prisons. In 2015, we asked Synthia-China to share more about that process: I brought this case because the prison system basically only wanted to recognize “mainstream religions.” I set out to not only practice Santeria but to be recognized as a priestess of my Crown Orisha Oshun. Because of my lawsuit, I am allowed Santeria oils directly from a Botanica. I am allowed crushed eggshell powder, the five Sacred Stones of my Orisha, Spiritual floor and bath waters, ritual waters, cowrie shells, etc. With the Blast v. Fischer settlement, DOCCS is on notice on what items are necessary to practice Santeria within a prison context. If you are thinking about bringing your own lawsuit on any subject, the first and most important step is filing grievances and appealing them all the way to CORC (this only applies NY, if you are in another state the final appeals step may have a different name). You must then do your research and find any cases that resemble yours. Find cases that support you and cases against you so that you know what will be coming at you. I allowed DOCCS to bury themselves in their hostile denial letters and then I filed a §1983 lawsuit asking the courts to rule on my right to practice Santeria. Within 7 months the Attorney General notified me they wanted to settle the lawsuit. They knew I did my homework and my research. Once the Attorney General’s office wanted to settle and the case was turned over for “mediation” I knew that this process was the most sufficient to dispose of the lawsuit. I got what I wanted. I got to prove that I refuse to take “no” for an answer. Had I decided to fight and go to trial the case would still be pending today. A settlement is a good way to settle your disputes and move forward in living your life. Along the way I reached out to Prisoner Legal Services and I reached out to pro bono attorneys but, the lack of budget always came up. So little ole Ms. Blast, 40 years old, no high school diploma, no vocational skills, just a passion to win…won! Research the law. It’s that simple. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to litigate on your own. I have been retaliated by DOCCS for 17+ years now. There’s no easy way to put this so I’ll say it straight out: You will be retaliated against. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. However, never give up. Keep writing and keep moving forward. Sooner or later they will back off. You owe it to yourself, family, and your ancestors to fight for your rights to practice your religion. Never give up the fight. Even to this day, four years later, I constantly hear people say “China send the case so I can file my lawsuit” because DOCCS is preventing others from obtaining what I was granted.
The Blast v Fischer 07-CV-0567(SR) case was settled. This means that if you wish to review the docket sheet or obtain copies of the case file youâ€™ll need to file a foil* request with: The Clerk of the Court United States District Court Western District of New York Niagara Square Buffalo, NY 14202 *FOIL is the Freedom of Information Law. To learn more on how to request records,
write to SRLP and weâ€™ll send you information on FOIL.
Airman Heather J. Brooke, USAF Airman Heather J. Brooke successfully advocated for herself to receive her full transition needs. In 2017, we asked her if she wanted to share her self-advocacy. What follows is excerpts of her response: My story is not very different than most. I am confined at the all-male United States Disciplinary Barracks, a military prison at Fort Leavenworth. When I arrived in June there were two other women here. One as transferred and the other released, as far as I know I am the only one left. I have been through the same assaults, harassment, and denial of medical treatment. I have been retaliated against by staff, and locked down on max for over a year. I have made progress in getting the medical care I need, in getting to finish transition! I have not given in to the torment the military uses to keep you from fighting. The control, the assaults, the harassment, none of it has kept me from fighting or being who I am. I do not have an attorney. No family or support to speak of, the family who were supportive have passed away since I have been here or shortly before. Therefore I was on my own to fight this. Talk about a rigged system. When I made a formal request for surgery, and to be placed back on hormone therapy, the prison placed me in isolation. They held me in a corner of a cell of an empty block for over a month and told the few other people held there that they could not talk to me! They wanted to break me. I have since been told that I will be the first person to finish my transition while in military confinement. Whatever they give to me they will need to provide for the next person who is sent here. Knowing this I fight even harder. Believe me, there are still tears. There is still retaliation and days I want to give up, days I do not know I will find the strength to fight. On September 27, I received a signed authorization for my medical treatment plan and in October I was able to get back on hormones. Also in October my petition for my legal name change was granted by a Kansas court and the military was made to amend my name. I have also won the right to undergarments and to have makeup. I have a proposed date for surgery â€“ they have even approved for voice treatment. I am still in the fight. I know that what I have won on paper could be amended before I actually see it happen. But today I can see that ending and I have a Great feeling! I do not know how I found the strength for this, but there is always hope! Please, if you are fighting to be who you are, do not give up. Keep your head up and keep remembering you are worth it! I promise I too will keep fighting until every woman is given the right to live as they are, as the woman they were born as. Trans women are real women! We do not become women with the stroke of a pen or the cut of a knife; we are born women! Do not let anyone take that from you. 19
M edia S potlight PAC Member Kitty Rotolo’s Movie Feature This past fall, one of our very own PAC members was featured in the Netflix film The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, directed by David France and released on October 6, 2017. The film honors Marsha’s legacy by celebrating her life and and work, while also seeking to find justice from the cruel way she passed, in which she was found floating in the river of the Hudson River in 1992. Pictured on the left is Miss Rotolo during one of her scenes in the film in which she is interviewed on Marsha’s story, as well as some of the issues facing TGNCI people.
Miss Rotolo shared with us this message: “Dearest Mik, Juana, Stefanie, Milo, Sasha, Olympia, Ethan and all the interns, volunteers, friends, and family of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. This is a scene from the movie The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, filmed on January 19, 2016 at the Dawn State Correctional Facility - Love, Miss Kitty”
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R esources Pen Pal Projects Black & Pink 614 Columbia Road Dorchester, MA 02125 Connects LGBTQ prisoners with pen pals across the nation. Publishes a free monthly newsletter. TIG Pen Pal Project 426 President Street Brooklyn, NY 11231 A pen pal project forTGNCI prisoners. Wings Beyond Walls P.O. Box 7019 Richmond, VA 23221 Connects incarcerated people who self-identify as having mental health concerns with those beyond the walls that hold them.
Book, Newsletter & Magazine Services LGBT Books to Prisoners Project c/o Social Justice Center 1202 Williamson Street, #1 Madison, WI 53703 LGBTQ+ people incarcerated in any state except Texas can receive up to two packages of free books per year. Please ask for genres of books, rather than specific titles. TGI Justice Project 370 Turk Street, #370 San Francisco, CA 94102 415-252-1444 Provides organizing resources, legal resources, and information on trans issues in prisons to incarcerated people across the country. Tranzmission Prison Project P.O. Box 1874 Asheville, NC 28802 LGBTQ organization offering books, zines, information, and resources. Womenâ€™s Prison Book Project c/o Boneshaker Books 2002 23rd Avenue S Minneapolis, MN 55404 Ships free books to women and transgender inmates.
California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) 1540 Market Street, Suite 490 San Francisco, CA 94102 Provides subscriptions to their newsletter to transgender inmates nationwide. Fortune Society 29-76 Northern Boulevard Long Island City, NY 11101-2822 Provides resources to former prisoners and educates the public about prison and the causes of crime. Free newsletter for prisoners. Hearts on a Wire P.O. Box 36831 or 1315 Spruce Street Philadelphia, PA 19107 Serves trans and gender-variant people in Pennsylvania and provides a free zine four times a year.
Activism & Advocacy Organizations Prison Activist Resources Center P.O. Box 70447 Oakland, CA 94612 Provides information and a directory that is free to prisoners upon request, and seeks to work in solidarity with prisoners and formerly incarcerated people.
For Artists & Writers Art Behind Bars, Inc. P.O. Box 2034 Key West, FL 33045-2034 National organization where artists on the inside can donate work. Pen Prison Writing Program 588 Broadway Suite 303 New York, NY 10012 This program can match people inside with readers and teachers outside, provides a free Handbook for Writers in Prison, and holds an annual writing contest. Prisons Foundation 2512 Virginia Avenue NW, #58043 Washington, DC 20037 Publishes books written by or about prisoners on their website. It also promotes arts in prison and holds a yearly play/musical writing contest.
We believe that storytelling is a revolutionary act... In Solidarity always accepts submissions on an ongoing basis. While we may not always be able to get your work published in the following issue, we will work hard to publish it in future newsletters. We happily accept essays, articles, poems, drawings, short stories, artwork, messages of hope and inspiration, and letters from transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGNCI) people who are or were incarcerated. Please be sure to mark your name clearly on each page you submit. to: Please send your work
Sylvia Rivera Law Project c/o In Solidarity Submissions 147 West 24th St, 5th floor New York, NY 10011
We want to hear from you! Share your voice & be heard
Special thanks to... Our wonderful & dedicated Prisoner Advisory Committee members 147 West 24th St, 5th Floor New York, NY 10011
and... Those of you who support the voices & experiences of our community members on the inside