As our country celebrates the Fourth of July, a holiday that symbolizes freedom, we continue to see the ways in which our community is not free, especially members who are incarcerated throughout the country. Our members are confined, surveilled, and isolated on a constant basis, some even being forced into solitary confinement for long periods of time. The isolation and surveillance are only exacerbated by the constant threat of violence that trans, gender non-conforming, and intersex people face while on the inside. The Fourth of July is a reminder that we are all not free until every one of us is free, and that we must continue the fight towards liberation in every way we can!
The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) recently took a trip upstate to visit our Prisoner Advisory Committee (PAC) members who are incarcerated in New York State prisons. We see our clients as often as we can, but the long distance and limited resources make it difficult. Most of New York’s prisons are located far away from the city and are only accessible by car. This means that many of our incarcerated members and clients are not able to see their loved ones for long periods of time, which makes our visits upstate even more special and essential.
This trip was the third in a series we are doing this summer to try and meet with as many members and clients as we can. You can expect more updates about our visits as the summer continues. During this trip, we traveled to Great Meadow Correctional Facility, located about four hours north of NYC between Lake Charles and the Finger Lakes. We spent two days visiting four of our members who are currently at this facility.
Our goals for this trip were to conduct in-depth interviews with members who had filled out the survey for It’s War in Here and to update clients about PAC and their cases. Even with all this information to cover, we spent a good amount of time in our visits getting to know and uplift each other. We shared stories, jokes, and our own personal reflections. One member was excited to be going home soon and we were able to hear her plans for when she gets out. Others were not in as good spirits and were very vocal about the abuse, discrimination, and neglect they had been experiencing inside. In spite of the injustices our members face inside the prison walls, their resilience and energy were inspiring. We continue to see the ways our members resist and fight the oppressive systems they have been subjected to, whether it is through their self-advocacy, sharing information with us and others, or building community with the people around them.
Kimberly Mckenzie, Director of Outreach and Community Engagement, shares her thoughts on our visit with PAC member, R&B:
This past week, I had the privilege of visiting PAC member, R&B (Radical & Beautiful). This experience was extremely moving for me. I cannot emphasize enough the abundance of knowledge R&B, and many others, have in regards to the prison industrial complex, documents, directives, and policies. My knowledge continues to be influenced and informed by their knowledge. R&B made us laugh, smile, and be hopeful. Their resilience continues to overshadow the systems of injustice they face. R&B embodies what PAC is meant to be: resisting systemic isolation by providing emotional support while also actively organizing against the Prison Industrial Complex. I feel so humbled and honored to meet the brilliance and light that is R&B (Radical & Beautiful, which they most certainly are.)
The beauty, hope, spirit, and resiliency of these folks on the inside continue to fuel and inspire movements. When we support and love each other and continue to make others smile, that is a radical act and its power should be recognized.
To learn more about our Prisoner Advisory Committee or read the writings of our incarcerated members, please visit our PAC blog.