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Participatory Research Nights

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The last week of May was busy! Not only did all three new summer legal interns start at SRLP, we also concluded our Participatory Research Nights as part of our republication of It’s War in Here.

For background, in 2007, SRLP published It’s War in Here (IWIH), a report on the conditions that transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people face in New York State’s prisons. This document is the first of its kind, drawing on interviews with incarcerated transgender and gender non-conforming people to document the harassment, physical and sexual abuse, discrimination, and violence they face while in state custody. We began the process of republishing this report in 2017. Our advisory committee, which includes members of our Prisoner Advisory Committee (PAC), helped us create a 54-page survey that was mailed out to 76 PAC members in May 2017. We received 44 completed survey responses and, in 2018, volunteers on the outside assembled the responses and our partners at the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center provided us with the raw data for our report.

Our four Participatory Research Nights were the next step in our process of republishing IWIH. This was a space for our membership of TGNCI people, including many people who have experienced some form of incarceration, to analyze and create findings out of the raw data from the completed surveys. Too often, research and academic studies about TGNC communities are administered and analyzed by people outside of the community who may have no connection to the lived experiences of TGNC people. These nights were for our community to reclaim their roles as researchers and to share their knowledge with each other.

Each Research Night focused on particular sections of the survey answers. Our members discussed the answers, noticed common themes and trends, and drew conclusions from these dialogues. These findings will be used as we write the final report.

On the final Research Night, our members analyzed the answers given to the final question on the survey – “Is there anything else you feel like you didn’t get to say?” There was a wide range of answers from our PAC which we all took turns reading aloud. From there, participants picked out recurring themes among the answers and discussed what these answers told us about the state of incarceration for TGNC people. There was a lively discussion that arose. At one point, a member came from a point of assumption about the knowledge that TGNC people in prison have about their own rights. This became a great opportunity for other members, including some who had recently returned home from New York State prisons, to clarify this assumption by sharing their own direct and community knowledge. Every member was open to sharing and learning with each other in order to build their political analysis around the prison industrial complex and its impact on the TGNC community.

Now that we have finished holding these participatory research nights, our next step involves visiting PAC members for more intensive interviews to form the substance of our report. Please continue to check back for updates on where we are in the process as well as monthly blog reports featuring the voices of our Advisory Committee, PAC members, and volunteers who are helping to make this happen. If you would like to volunteer to assist with this, please reach out to Mik Kinkead, Director of SRLP’s Prisoner Justice Project.

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