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Video: KOKUMO uses her voice to support trans and gender non-conforming prisoners

SRLP is thrilled to launch our community-led video series featuring work by trans and gender nonconforming people in prison and readings by community members on the outside.

Take a look at our first video, with a powerful reading by the enormously talented singer and media producer, KOKUMO, who lends her voice to the words of Stephen Torma, and tells the harrowing story of state-imposed heartbreak:

Thank you, KOKUMO!

The destruction of families and community ties has been a tool of oppression since the rise of imperialism centuries ago. Our voices are too often silenced as a means of keeping us apart. When our stories are shared, they are exploited to our detriment, or as KOKUMO points out, our experiences are co-opted to feed an oppressive machine that deliberately excludes us. Creating this series is a necessary act that raises the voices of trans people and people of color, and reinforces our ties to each other.

We do this work because we know that public education helps us build community, build pressure, and achieve necessary change. Yesterday, we heard rumors that Jane Doe, a trans girl of color, may be removed from the adult prison in CT where she has been held in solitary confinement for over two months without charges, and transferred to a private treatment facility. The suggestion from the state that she might be transferred out of prison is a symbol of what changes are possible when stories are shared and the community rises up together. However, there is still work to be done. Jane’s voice has still been silenced in this conversation and it is not clear if this is a transfer that Jane has requested. The potential move also does nothing to take away from the abysmal treatment she has received while in state custody for over a decade. We need to keep sharing the stories of our community members in various forms of state control so that we can seek systemic change – the stories of Jane Doe, CeCe McDonald and Stephen Torma are not isolated incidents of state violence!

Similarly, we experienced a victory yesterday when New York State adopted a policy change that allows transgender people to change the gender marker on their birth certificate without undergoing surgery. However, trans people in prison, trans youth, and trans people born in New York City are excluded from this policy, and there remains work to ensure that our most isolated community members are not left out. We know that public education and the popular success of people like Laverne Cox, trans activist and performer on Netflix’s hit series Orange is the New Black, have helped raise awareness and build pressure to make these changes possible. With this video series, SRLP and our community members are taking ownership of our media and supporting each other’s revolutionary work to contribute to this growing momentum by centering the stories and experiences of our community members on the inside.

Our contributors are members of SRLP’s Prisoner Advisory Committee (PAC), a team of over 70 trans and gender nonconforming people in prison who provide input on our policy campaigns and contribute to SRLP’s public education and community building work. PAC members write letters, stories, poetry, and more, and send them to our office. At the office, a team of volunteers transcribes their work onto our prison blog, a platform to share stories and break down the isolation of community members in prison.

Our next video in the series will feature Laverne Cox reading a powerful PAC member’s story. Subscribe to our Youtube channel so you can be the first to know when our reading with Laverne Cox goes live!

You can also support our work and our community members by becoming a pen pal with someone who is incarcerated!

We send our deepest thanks to KOKUMO for reading Stephen’s letter. Check out her incredible work at KOKUMOMEDIA, and listen to her awesome interview with Black Trans Media.


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