yesterday i visited my friend kc at the state prison in chowchilla, california for what we both hope was the last time. we started writing a year and a half ago, via black and pink‘s penpal program, and have grown closer since i first started visiting him at the prison last fall. he is an incredibly kind, smart, humble, and brave person, and has been putting much of his energy into getting his ducks in a row to apply for a new transitional housing/job program incarcerated folks can apply to once they have 24 months left of their sentence. unshockingly, prison bureaucracy is even slower and tougher than free world bureaucracy, and kc has dealt with tons of obstacles (including risking losing his hrt injections) in order to apply for the program.
i feel really grateful to know kc and to be in a position of supporting him from the free world. as he describes, he has made the most of his time in prison to “get his life together,” and is driven to follow his dreams of becoming an electrician and living in northern california. he’s been involved with groups like tgi justice, justice now, and transgender law center, and even been offered a part-time job in the non-profit sector pending his release. he’s linked up with writer mitch kellaway, and written a personal essay to appear in mitch’s upcoming anthology about incarcerated trans men of color. kc knows he faces the multi-stigma of being a black transgender felon, and he believes in himself. so do i. sometimes i am scared for him, but i have to believe if anyone can overcome the systemic violence created and protected by policing, prisons, racism, and capitalism, kc can.
yesterday during our visit, kc said, “freddie, i just can’t wait to get out and be able to breathe. like, i can breathe, we can breathe.”
my visits with kc feel sweet and special in spite of what surrounds us: prison walls, barbed wires, armed guards. i know he is a strong and resilient survivor, but it’s hard to leave him there, knowing he can’t leave, too. knowing how many people are kept in such dehumanizing conditions, away from their families and loved ones, so many of whom don’t have the resources or ability to visit. i blasted beyonce’s “freedom” once i got on the highway, tears and chills overcoming me:
But mama don’t cry for me, ride for me
Try for me, live for me
Breathe for me, sing for me
Honestly guidin’ me
I could be more than I gotta be
Stole from me, lied to me, nation hypocrisy
Code on me, drive on me
Wicked, my spirit inspired me
Like yeah, open correctional gates in higher desert
Yeah, open our mind as we cast away oppression
Yeah, open the streets and watch our beliefs
And when they carve my name inside the concrete
I pray it forever reads
Freedom! Freedom! I can’t move
Freedom, cut me loose!
Singin’, freedom! Freedom! Where are you?
Cause I need freedom too!
I break chains all by myself
Won’t let my freedom rot in hell
Hey! I’ma keep running
Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves
the work of pursuing radical change and collective liberation is daunting to me, and i have hesitated to get involved with any ongoing organizing because of it. but my friendship with kc impacts me deeply, and feels like a real, tangible way i can make a difference in at least one person’s life. i can use my resources to access information on transgender healthcare and other subjects he’s impacted by, and my networks to fundraise for him. i can use my economic and white privilege to drive down to central california and interface with prison officials with relative ease. i know many friends of mine, perhaps people reading this, have similar resources, privileges, and interest in supporting incarcerated folks. i would encourage y’all to examine if you might have the time to commit to a penpal relationship. i am super down to share my own experiences and insight, if anyone wants to learn more.