This is the first talk of the TRANS ABOLITIONIST SERIES, an online series of Facebook livestream talks dedicated to discussing prison and police abolition from a transgender perspective. In this installment, I talked to community organizer Sterling Johnson about the need for accessible housing and other re-entry services for previously incarcerated gender variant people. You can watch the full talk on my Facebook page here.
Adryan Corcione [they/them]: Cool. So it says in the corner we’re live. Let’s see if it shows up on the page yet. Cool, alright. We’re here! Do you see it? Do you have it pulled up, Sterling?
Sterling K. Johnson [they/them]: Yeah.
AC: Cool… Ok. I have it pulled up for when comments roll in… Ok. I muted myself on the other end… Cool there’s already people who are tuning in. So it’s about 5:01 now. Let’s see where were at at 5:05, but how’s your day?
SJ: Yeah, my day has been busy. There’s a lot going on, as per usual, per COVID. How’s your day?
AC: Good. I did a lot of prepping for this. I’m super stoked that we already got $700 between Eventbrite and Chuffed. It could also be that since I first mentioned it like 2 hours ago that were at over $800, so that’s really cool. And I created a form so that people who know folks who need support that fall under the trans umbrella who are Black and/or Indigenous, they can apply. I was also doing map stuff for COVID Behind Bars. Have you seen that I can’t tweet the URL?
AC: So it was fixed for like a day and then I started tweeting about it last night, and then I couldn’t do it today. And then I tried to update the actual map on Google Maps and I am unable to currently. I keep getting an error message. So having a lot of technical things that I’m wondering if they’re more than technical. Who knows? But the cool thing is that there is a print newsletter now and that’s really important, y’know, in the face of technical difficulties. So that’s good… Cool, people are tuning in.
SJ: Yeah the important thing, honestly with this, is that all the money we raise will be going to Black and Indigenous Trans people, so I’m pleased!
AC: Yeah, and I already have a running list of people that I’m in touch with, that fall under that who could definitely use help. Cause I’ve been sending books- Do you know the book ‘Captive Genders’? It’s like an anthology.
AC: Ok. I forget who put the anthology together. But it’s the one singular- well it’s not singular. There are very few texts that address abolition and incarceration from marginalized gender, gender oppressed perspective, but that is one of them, and I bought that for Strawberry Hampton who’s in Illinois and my Paige in Pennsylvania. There’s also a really good text, ‘Resistance Behind Bars’ by Victoria Law that documents women’s resistance movements from behind bars… So those are two texts that I try to send to the Trans women I know that are behind bars because many of them could benefit from that information just because of how much it’s like not available to them… people are still rolling through… ok 9 people are watching. Do you want to do intros now?
SJ: Yeah. That’d be great.
AC: You go first.
SJ: Hi, my name is Sterling Johnson from… I guess for context I’m a Black, non-binary, disabled person. My pronouns are they/them. I have been doing work around harm reduction and recovery… which expands to things related to our criminal and legal system and a lot of things healthcare and housing, for the last 7 years in Philadelphia. Longer in previous places. I think it’s really- I think we’ve come to place where my ideas have evolved, especially about 5 or 6 years ago around things that needed to be done and around Queer and Trans liberation and Black liberation and abolition of not just places of incarceration, formal jails and prisons, but thinking about the world of other institutions as well like child protective services/institutions, abolition of that as well. Hospitals and clinics as they are right now. Abolition of those coercive measures. So I wanted to kind of think about abolition of, of course jails, of course police, but there are other centers of coercion that we really need to be thinking about as well. So that’s all I have for right now, thank you.
AC: Cool. I’m glad you brought up that context too. I think that’s helpful to think of the carceral state not just as what we know like jails and prisons. That expands to immigration, Indigenous vs. non-Indigenous land, and also the many ways that Black and Brown people, Black and indigenous people are impacted by detention as like- you mentioned foster care, but as an encompassing thing of like homeless people too that are in shelters where it is like not what we know to be like “classic” prison, but they’re very like- movement is restricted and monitoring and surveillance is very real. And also policing in the communities we have outside of bars definitely, there’s orders that are constructed by policing and displacement too.
And for those tuning in, Sterling just introduced themselves. I am Adryan Corcione, I use they/them pronouns. I identify as a disabled, working class, white, Trans and non-binary person. A lot of you may be tuning in from my social media profiles. I, by day, am a freelance journalist. And most recently launched a project called covid19behindbars.com tracking impacted prison facilities, whether it’s state or federal prisons, immigration detention centers, city and county jails, youth detention facilities, substance and work release centers, and any centers that would fall under bureau of prisons and state department of corrections. Any facilities that are impacted whether they have officially reported cases or not, whether by media or perspective state agencies.
A lot of you may be tuning in from Comrade Alyssa’s social media. Comrade Alyssa is a Black, Transgender, disabled woman in Maryland. She is at a men’s state prison in western Maryland. She identifies as a Marxist organizer and a fighter for Trans liberation. And a lot of what I do is inspired by her, especially related to my work for Shadowproof as a Trans Behind Bars columnist, and trying to get the word out for somebody who physically can’t be here, is barred from access to electronic technology. She doesn’t even have- like a lot of incarcerated people have access to video calling and messaging. I occasionally get calls from her, but our relationship has been predominantly over mail. Her marginalizations of her intersecting gender, race, ability, but also her political identity as a prisoner makes it even more difficult for her to get her word out. So we’re definitely thinking of her and also the many, many people that I am in touch with behind bars as well, through that advocacy.
And really the fundraising that will be from the ticket sales, the Chuffed fundraiser, will be distributed to Black and Indigenous Trans people behind bars, or those who have been recently released. And when we are saying Trans, we are not only including non-binary Trans people, but also binary Trans people. We also include those who fall under Two Spirit or otherwise gender non-conforming umbrella, just the gender variant identity in the ways that anyone not adhering to the cisgender what we know under the colonialism context is policed and further criminalized by their racial and gender identities.
AC: And with that, I wanted to move on to land and privilege acknowledgement between the both of us, so Sterling and I are both on occupied Lenape territory; what you would know on Google Maps as Philadelphia. But we are very much on Indigenous land that was taken over through the violence on Indigenous people under a capitalist state that in many ways still exists around it. And for my privilege, I have not personally been impacted by incarceration where I have not served time, significant time, behind bars. I’m white. And while I identify with mental illnesses, I a physically able-bodied. Yeah. Your turn, Sterling?
SJ: Yeah. I think we want to acknowledge the land that we’re on and this territory. And all the death and pain that has been brought upon it. Definitely all the people that were brought here against their will as well. And the many ways- and ??? my family as well. But so many other ways people have been brought here, brought to this land against their will. And acknowledging my privileges as a person that has disabilities but has been able to conduct labor in the ways that are common among us. And just through the abilities of having a brain that perform in thins kind of whiteness. And also the ability to appear male as well. So there are different bases of privilege that we really want to acknowledge here. And we want to think deeply about our privileges in these spaces. And that fact that the work that we’re doing here is meant to support people that have been affected by this violent system of incarceration. That are Black and Indigenous Trans lives that matter immensely. And we want to support not just in our words, but in our resources and our time. Thank you.
AC: And I think that’s a great transition in that this is a Trans abolitionist series where we talk about the topics that relate to trans people from an abolitionist point of view. We don’t speak to speak for people that we’re not in community with. And also people that we do share overlapping identities with, we’re not speaking for them either. However, this is going to be a series that we will continue to have on Fridays. It will be myself and other guests. The next one will be next week at 6:00pm. And there will be more details about that at the end. But yeah it’s really a conversation where Sterling and I will be discussing decarceration in the context of housing and re-entry. We will have a discussion of questions among us for the next 45 minutes or so. And then afterwards we will have a Q&A period. So definitely feel free to take notes and ask questions. At the end we will try our best to address them to the ways that we can in our work. And yeah. I think that’s a great place to start the actual talk. On time, about 5:15 – 5:16.
So Sterling, you sent me a bunch of questions that I think are really great. And if it’s cool, I’ll just read one that I’ll ask you. And if I have anything to add, I’ll say that. And then we go back and fourth?
SJ: Sounds good.
AC: Cool. So What are the immediate needs of Trans people in terms of housing, healthcare, education, and training?
SJ: So, I mean, that is the real question, right? In COVID19, in this space where we have so many people coming out of jail, there do need to be specific considerations of the way that Trans people have connections in the community and are supported in the community. Right now there are not re-entry supports for people just coming out of prison to begin with, which is a problem. So right now there is a real need for housing. When it comes to how that happens…there is money available. I think we’ve seen that some states have chosen to use it and some states have chosen not to. There has been guidance by public health organizations, and the federal government actually, which has said that you should be using that money to house people in empty hotels or empty dormitories. Which would give people that space to isolate. We know that there have been outbreaks in Riverside Correctional Facility which is in Philadelphia as well as CFCF (Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility) which is the men’s facility. So yeah In general there needs to be spaces for people to be housed and I think they have done a really poor job of that.
When it comes to healthcare, the COVID19 issue has really, really- you know, just like it has done with so many other things, has really shown us who they think is important by considering certain procedures as elective compared to others and putting certain- from my experience putting certain gender affirming surgeries in the back of others. And instead of expanding the nets, they have simply kept the resources the same, but then put people who need those procedures done to the end. That is not the correct- they don’t have to do that. That’s not even why the money that’s- when it comes to it being available, that’s not what needs to be done and I think that that is what shows us, and why we really need to fight, to say that this needs to be done, the timing of it has to be done now. I kind of like to put this in the context of what’s available and the decisions that people are making. They are saying that there aren’t resources. They are lying. It’s very important to know that. And when people tell you that something happened, as a person who has experienced a lot of, people telling you “Oh, there isn’t enough room for you. Oh, this not your job.” You just get used to rejection like that. I think there’s a space for us even within the ??? to reject that entirely. You have to. And when it comes to us going through this emergency, It’s very important for us to know that our needs do not need to be put on the back burner. And that’s including issues around any physical health and any mental health. Those things are still important.
And lastly, at least for this answer, I think we need to be thinking about what sort of resources people need like immediately, whether it’s food, I would say the internet. The internet is quite important. Even if it’s a phone, a smartphone, a computer, a laptop, using the internet as a utility. Those are the things that you need in today’s society. And those are things that should be delivered upon exit from any institution. They have to be. And honestly, I would say money as well. I think we’ve talked about that. That’s a natural thing for anybody- in other states they have a general assistance. We used to have a general assistance, and it used to give you a really paltry sum to survive. I was on general assistance in New Jersey at one time and I will tell you that $100, or I think it was about $150 a month. And I needed that because I had to get on a bus or if I needed deodorant, or if I needed anything. That stuff costs more than zero dollars. So to think that people can survive on nothing is just offensive and wrong. And cruel. Honestly it’s a cruel thing to do to a person. Especially, you know, I don’t know if our audience knows this, but the usual practice is to just drop people off in the middle of the night and you’ll see people with the only things they have in their lives in the middle of the night in Center City cause they got one pass down to find their way. And we think that’s an unreasonable thing to ask of anybody. And that especially puts Trans people at possible harm… We cannot continue to let this happen. And you must speak up about this or you are complicit.
AC: I’m really glad you mentioned the abundance of capital. In the sense of money is being withheld and that’s a very direct form of economic violence. And especially we know now, with so many people on unemployment, a lot of people haven’t gotten it, but many, many people have gotten it; stimulus checks, getting voted around the second time, like asking for money directly without performing any labor, performing anything. Obviously there is the institutional barrier of having to apply for these things, which is strenuous in itself. And someone who hasn’t used a computer, someone who’s been away for so long might not even know how to do that. And libraries aren’t open to help them get access to a computer. But we know this Uncle Sam money isn’t really Uncle Sam. It’s like people performing labor everyday, people paying taxes, people who are contributing to the world to go around, everyday people, essential workers, non-essential workers, all go into that pool of money, that kind of, under the idea of society is- the idea is to redistribute it. And in the US we obviously do not have that distributed equally, in a for profit system.
And I’m glad that you spoke to housing- a lot of re-entry support fails people pre-pandemic and there’s a lot of systematic inequalities. You mentioned earlier about Trans specific housing, which is so, so needed, so I think Trans people in particular have very few opportunities within the existing resources that make them have to do alternatives for survival. Survival looks a lot different when… if you’re leaving a prison you basically get the clothes off your back. And not only do you basically have nothing, but at least if you were incarcerated in Philadelphia and you’ve served years of sentence, you are shipped to a place that’s hours from where you need to be in a rural area and it’s like “Ok I’m out. Now who do I call to pick me up?” And you have to arrange your own ride. Like why do you have to arrange your own ride? A lot of these places don’t have public transportation.
And what you were saying about quarantining too is like after a pandemic inside these prisons right now is a cesspool because social distancing is not happening. Pretty much what we can afford to do in our homes right now is not afforded in a facility where you have already poor healthcare, already poor environmental and public health conditions. So even if you- let’s say you did have a family to come back to, where are you gonna go for that 2-3 week period before passing it on to your family. That’s a public health negligence. And that’s something correctional officers and police officers are already doing in our neighborhoods by going in and out of prisons without taking the pre-, without taking the accountability for precautions taken. And again, if you don’t have a family, and it’s like well, not only is there the risk of going to a shelter, but that’s assuming you can actually get in one…. So yeah.
SJ: Yeah and when it comes to the housing portion of it and the money that should be allocated toward Trans people in general, I think we really need to think about manning resources. And that means all people. And that means all people need to man your resources for Trans specific healthcare, housing, and also when it comes to the education part too. The amount of discrimination that we see in those areas has to be acknowledge. And I don’t mean a vigil. I don’t mean- no parks need to be named after anybody. They need the money that says you don’t have to pay your rent for the next, this much time. Especially upon exiting incarceration. So as I always say, cause I’m a person that looks across jurisdictions and comparative policies across not only the US but also the world, it’s not an unreasonable thing to do. Not at all. It’s like there are programs out there. Some countries have acknowledged the pain the horror that’s happened, and the way they combat that is by making sure that Trans people and Queer people in general have resources to protect themselves and that’s mainly housing, specific training so you can earn a living and live your life in the world. So those are things that are gonna help people. Definitely, no named parks, no “Marsha P. Johnson” park, I mean, she’s an amazing woman, but do not do that. Give us the money. Can I curse? Give us the fucking money.
AC: Yeah, totally. And I think she would want you to say that too. Knowing her history of doing exactly that. Of providing young sex workers and young LGBT people, not just Trans people, housing in Greenwich Village, especially when the mainstream gay liberation movement was not showing up for drug users, for sex workers, for gender variant people that did not fit the cis and white, you know, what we’re still seeing today, but, you know.
SJ: Yeah and I was just in a meeting that had a wonderful collection of people, including some of our comrades that we know, I don’t know if I wanna call them out but they are wonderful. We were thinking about what does a Trans specific drop in space, definitely during COVID19, what would that look like? What would that look like funded through homeless services or somewhere else? To create another one just for in general, outside of addict… But it seemed like there’s… where was I going? I just wanted to think that through of-
AC: Can I add on?
SJ: Say again?
AC: Can I add on to that thought?
AC: I think there should be- and this goes to healthcare/mental healthcare portion but also just like general support. I’m very pro re-entry support group for Trans people. So that there is community amongst people who are returning home from prison because part of my work is like, Oh you were recently released? Here’s the number of somebody who was also recently released. Talk about it. Like even if there’s just- talk to each other. You can talk about whatever you want. But just know that there is another person who has somewhat of a universal experience between those identities of being incarcerated and gender variant. To know that people exist because often times especially when you’re in such gendered institutions, like you don’t know- like when I got in touch with Alyssa, she was like, “I don’t know any other Trans people in here.” And now there’s 4 which is like not much at all considering there’s thousands of people incarcerated there, but they all know that they are in existence together. And now whenever there is somebody coming in whose like, “Oh, have you heard about Alyssa? She’s the sister. She’s the mother.”
So I think having those connections to know that there is…people’s experiences aren’t just like one-off. And actually this is like a very, very- it happens a lot and it’s just not represented or visible in the sense of like prison reform movements. Or even just narratives about incarceration. Even when we have data about mass incarceration, young Black men are the ones who are often named. And while that’s super, super important that we have that racial analysis, we are erasing Trans women that would otherwise be included and people who are assigned male at birth. So we are totally erasing Black Trans women when we are strictly focusing on young Black men. And there is a lot to say about the rising incarcerations of women and children who also don’t fit that description. But I just noticed in the ways that women’s vs. men’s prisons can be very isolating for people just because there’s very little room institutionally for gender variance.
SJ: [NO AUDIO]
AC: Uh-oh. Can’t hear you.
SJ: Yup. And I will say that we need people confronting these issues, especially white people. They need to be confronting the people around them on these issues. I know even at our state level there’s an LGBT commission, I think one of their specialties is youth homelessness. I’ve just never heard it. Heard of any of their issues, you know. The first thing that they should be doing should be introducing a resolution to decriminalize sex work. That should be the first thing on here. And I haven’t heard anything. So it’s really upon us to talk to those people and hold them accountable for that… We need more people always.
AC: Yeah and there’s also something you mentioned about, I think, often times when we look into the carceral feminist approach, we see re-entry as like a reaction to incarceration, when, what you were saying before, when we provide housing, when we allow for educational and employment opportunities, like that- Obviously people will be criminalized no matter what under a capitalist carceral state, but when we’re talking about absence of need, people are criminalized based on what they do to survive. So even these material supports, like let’s say, we were able to get housing, healthcare, education. There would be far less opportunities for people to be incarcerated based on the absence of need. Until, obviously the goal would be no prisons at all, to be a post-carceral society and what does that look like under transformative justice. So when we talk about re-entry, often times the approach is like, “oh well you did this thing and now you’re re-entering and you’ve been rehabilitated”, when the narrative is like, no, these are things that all people should have, and it shouldn’t be a reaction after you’ve been to this horrible, traumatic place. We should be preventing that in the beginning, by decriminalizing sex work, decriminalizing drug use, allowing spaces for safe consumption sites too.
SJ: And there are parts of our society that are basically decriminalized. As I always say, it’s really important for, people that are privileged to say- At times I talk to people and they will remark that, “That’s illegal,” or- They don’t understand the experiences of all the people across the spectrum of gender and class. And it’s really important to know that, for especially, what white males in a college institution, you can do as many drugs as you want, you can act as crazy as you want. You can assault people. You can commit, I guess for the content warning, other types of assault. You can also…You can burgle people. You can take things. People can commit “crimes of all sorts” if you have the right privilege. You can engage in sex work. You can be a person that receives sex work too. There are all types of “crimes” that you’re allowed to do. And it’s really important to decriminalize that for all people…
And part of that help is housing, I will say. I really think that. I love safe consumption spaces and “safe injection” sites, as people often know. I also say… Most people I know prefer to use drugs in their living room and their sofa among their comrades. Or if you’re choosing to use it while engaging in sex or anything, you wanna use it there. So… And the same goes for sex work. Having a physical place is really helpful in avoiding any sort of police state including the social workers that can follow you in all their stuff… So that’s why I focus so much on housing, because I know that finding that space of privacy is so important for escaping the police state. Cause they can not look through their- they can only act on things that they have a view of, a plain view of.
AC: Yeah. And I think that- Yeah, so- We talked about, what kind of support Trans people need when returning from prison. And what types of resources that they would need. Housing, income, healthcare, education and employment opportunities, mental healthcare, and community support, cause collective care is also a very huge component, and we know that to be true in abolitionist spaces, that often times we are providing mutual aid, that I know has become a huge, huge buzzword in COVID 19 and we need to be able to resist mutual aid projects- Mutual aid projects are not to be non-profits, like that is not the end goal. Mutual aid projects are to fill the gaps where the state does not provide aid. And the end goal is to not need mutual aid because we will eventually live in a society under abolition that cares for people in ways that they don’t need mutual aid. Like it’s not charity. Charity is a capitalist construct… A product of the non-profit industrial complex and also religious origins. And it’s like that’s a very moralistic, non-strategic thing, and really gets into savior-y, white savior-y, but even in the context of LGBT, like cis and white savior-y. And actually has origins from like, overtones of conversion therapy of trying to get people to identify with not who they really are. And obviously those things do not fall under the Trans abolitionist future we are fighting for. That includes everybody, and when we say Trans abolition, we’re just speaking from a Trans perspective, in that abolition benefits everybody, not just Trans people….
And we started to talk about it a little bit, but how do we create spaces for people to find each other and support each other?
SJ: Ooo, what a-
AC: I mean housing is a space.
SJ: What a question. Right? There’s a… I think that is… That is the question that people often ask that leads to naming of spaces, like a Queer and Trans space or a Trans specific space, but people then are taken aback with why the people need to divide themselves or to like find a difference. And I think that is where we need to all have humility around those facts. So there’s the part of this world where we just need more visibility everywhere. And that means that even when the space is inclusive of everybody, yes you should be flying the Trans flag. I mean, you should be centering Trans people… And, you know, when we talk about this it’s important to… You know, you will on another… the next series… Black Trans women and femmes talking about their experiences. Have them on their as much as possible to share that experience. Because that’s how we find each other. Also, other people have to be a part of that. I know that I have… I have seen- I will give credit to them but an organization I know called the Q Foundation had a database of people looking for roommates and that was what they did when they ??? connected people that needed a Queer house, needed a Trans house. But that had to be intentionally made and people had to sign up for it and people had to think that, “Oh this is a service that needed to be made”, which was just about connecting people to their community. And it was needed because so many new people come to spaces, and it’s kind of about us being as welcoming as possible. I won’t say that that is easy but, and I know that I need to try harder, but it’s like, it’s really lonely out there and when there are new people, newcomers in the community, it’s really important to be as welcoming as possible to them.
AC: Yeah, and, I think too, when we are choosing who we are centering and the spaces we hold, that boundaries are not necessarily borders. And I think about this as like, you know, prisons, detention centers, even just like homeless shelters- Like you know physical walls on houses, right? Like as physical borders between inside/outside. And like… Obviously borders of countries are known to be violent, borders of prison walls tend to be violent. Even like how policing works; different precincts, different wards create systemic violence. Gentrification creates violence and borders in our communities even though it might not be as forthright and physical. But, you know, I thinks it’s important to hold space in a way where we’re being as inclusive as possible with the sense of, you know, our demands are specific for Trans people. They center Trans people. And when we center the most marginalized by society under capitalism, the idea is to benefit all. Because all the demands that we make for Trans people, we know to be true about anyone who isn’t gender variant as well. When we say Trans housing, and accessible housing, we’re including not just Trans people but low income people, drug users, sex workers, who again don’t fall under the gender variance.
SJ: People with mobility issues.
AC: Yeah. And even people who are very privileged but lost their job and lost healthcare. Because there’s still ways that, you know. You’re still impacted by carceal systems and structures of economic violence in that you have labor stolen from you… We don’t have… Rent control isn’t really a thing, at least in Philadelphia, that I’m aware of.
SJ: Yeah. And I think it’s really upon us to ??? more too. I think there’s this thing where people, at least in my experience, talking to people that are in power, they say that they are doing all that they can, but they’re not. They haven’t fully imagined the possibility of what can be done. If they’re being honest. That’s a big “if.” Yes, but the fact of the matter is that there is money, there are supports, there are resources, for the things that we are demanding. And they just refuse to do it because they don’t think that our lives matter. I know I’ve had conversations around, especially homelessness. They… believe, they say things like, “oh this isn’t a sweep, it’s a service day.” A service day in their minds, they come with social workers and outreach workers and police to then badger people into going to a shelter. And then take all their stuff, their belongings and throw it into a trash drop, and then usually spray the place down and have a police car sit there so a person is too intimidated to to rebuild their shelter.
That’s what they believe is service. And that’s what they believe is the caring way to go about this. They believe that they are a model to be followed, and they have people from around the world come in and view their model cause they’re not just arresting everybody. But to think that is to normalize cruelty. And we need to say that over and over again to them. That, no, this is not nice. No, you’re not being kind… And to ignore the specific needs of people who have already experienced so much trauma, and people that have experience intimate partner violence in different ways, people that are gender variant and their specific needs. To ignore those people, people with mental health conditions, and people that use drugs, to me, is violence. It is really violent. And then to say that you’re trying you’re best? No, you are not. And no, you are not kind. No, you are not good. And you’re cruel. What you have is a cruel system, and you’re trying to make us normalize the cruelty by calling it something like a “service day.” Service to whom? Service to whom, is my retort, right? And what we have is a- sometimes, I don’t like to be too negative, sometimes it does seem like we live in hell, like a 1984-like situation where they try to turn the words that we have in our language into something that they are not. To make us- To trick us. And they repeat these words, I mean they accuse our president of doing this, but they do it too. They do it just as much as him.
So it’s just really important for us to really decouple these ideas. And really see that- And you have to view it, you have to go down to places and view it. You see the people who are on the street, most of them are Black. Most of them are you know… I’m not going to say I know everyone’s sexual orientation and gender, but they are not gender conforming people. They are Queer people. They are people with mental health conditions. They are people that are kind and are just sitting and reading and just like want to be left alone. Like that is what it is, and for our city to continue the legacy of racism that Philadelphia has always had, and bombing our own people, especially Black people, and neglecting their needs. And when they say- when they rise up they say “You’ve neglected our needs and I’m gonna get real mad about it,” then acting shocked as if this isn’t the thing that you’ve always done. And the reason that I’m mad is very reasonable… It’s just unconscionable. I think we, hopefully everybody here already knows these things, but you have to know that facts. You have to know what’s up. And the neglect which historically has happened, now happens every single day to the people of Philadelphia, has to be said. It has to be said over and over again.
You know, so… And I actually asked them, I think it was Gabor Mate, who is this doctor from Vancouver who’s a wonderful person that talks about drug use and trauma that people have experienced and how to help people and those things, he’s very, very smart. But- And a survivor of the Holocaust so that’s also a very important fact. And even he had this kind of interesting way of kind of avoiding that idea of like what does collective healing look like. Collective healing is the space that I think, that Queer and Trans people need to be at, need to be thinking about, need to be having together in spaces too that are carved out only for those people. The same can be said in the specific groups…???…From the disabled people to the Black and cis and able person, the LGBT person too, you know, those things too. We have to collectively heal and that takes taking space, that means taking time with each other. With each other. So it would be very helpful if this government were not so oppressive and actually helped that. I don’t see that happening. But that is the thing that needs to be done. And we also need our white cis allies, our white LGBT allies, when it comes to people that identify as gay, those allies too, for Trans people, to support that and to be in a room where nobody is and fight for that furiously, right?
So that is what I find, that that is what needs to be done. And I if- And I will say that if everybody put their job on the line, their life on the line, like a lot of the people that I know do, then we would win. Then we would win. And I know so many people that have been demoted, have been fired, have been suspended. Every single day, people that we know are doing the right thing, that’s what happens to them. They are retaliated against by these people. It is the common thing. And we come and we talk about it. About why the system- And there are so many complicit gay Black people in that system too are you kidding me, at the same time, right, that care more about their paycheck than the dignity and respect of anybody- But those are the people, we have to get together, we have to see each other. We have to do it. I’m a person that if you have not been fired from a place, or let go in some strange way, I don’t really trust you. You should’ve been. You should’ve been by now.
Because what we ask for is, when you’re asking for, like things that I ask for, like $400 Trans subsidy right now for all Trans people that live in Philadelphia. Well, people are like, “how are we gonna do this?” Well there’s this money that you should be asking for to administer it. So why aren’t you doing that? And then they look at you like you’re insane. Well, you are saying that you don’t have resources, and I show you the resources, and you don’t get it. So that’s the thing, right? Just wanna put that context of when we’re like “why aren’t people doing this?” It’s because they don’t care about us and they don’t care about out lives, you know? It’s not because the money isn’t there. It’s not because they don’t want to get it. There are foundations, and there’s federal money, there’s so much federal money out there that we don’t get. You know… I mean, I just want people to know that.
AC: Yeah. I think that’s a great, great transition to talk, a big question; Do you think capitalism stands in the way of Queer and Trans liberation? Again, you kind of touched upon that, but I think that’s a great transition.
SJ: Yeah. That’s a very interesting concept. I often think about the role of capitalism in drug selling and sex work, and how those things can be so freeing but then they, sometimes they’re turned into this really capitalist venture that I don’t like. You know I start to think, oh, things that- Or even art. Art that people make becomes this capitalist venture. It’s like these beautiful things, like pleasure, and your body, and the things that you can make with your mind… They can be turned into, like the constant commodification of the things that you make, and we’ve gotta figure out how to stop that… I think that’s why the first thing that you have to say is, and I think people and a few organizations do, is that you’re anticapitalist. So that goes with understanding that- I always start at the basics, right? Housing, healthcare, the education, and you’re organizing any sort of workplace, right? So you start with those basics and it’s like, I’m not for privatizing or understanding those as money making properties in the slightest. Those are the spaces that we have to be at. So when we think about occupation of land or new occupation of land, or any sort of housing thing, you want that to be in a trust of some sort that does not change its price, you know?
AC: Yeah. And I’m just thinking about abolition vs. incarceration. And how abolition is not synonymous with capitalism, and how it can’t happen under capitalism in the sense of; Incarceration whether it is run by “for profit institutions” or like a state run institution. Many detention centers are run by for profit institutions, CoreCivic being a big one… But also the state- Alyssa’s incarcerated in a state prison, and actually, there’s actually very few private facilities that are run, like, classified as “for profit,” but under capitalism we know that all institutions are for profit in the sense of whether or not an incarcerated person actually produces labor, we still profit off of their incarceration in the sense of, we are employing correctional officers, we are employing third party contractors, whether they be additional staff or other services including; JPay, Connect Network, all the phone minutes, all the electronic messages. Like it doesn’t cost us any money to send an email. It costs incarcerated people to send an email. Price gouging within the prisons in terms of commissaries. And also the physical land and how it contributes to property value of the rest of the area.
And often times to in a town like Cumberland, MD, where Alyssa is, that area is not the only place where a prison is. So like lots of people who are employed in that town come from generations of correctional officers, whether it be at the several prisons that are there. But also it’s a military manufacturing town in the sense that it’s very militarized, and many towns that are in these rural areas that are away from cities also have that militarized aspect in that they are right next to, or on, prisons that are on bases. Or they’re in towns that are heavily militarized. And like, capitalism cannot exist without the military industrial complex, the non-profit industrial complex, the medical industrial complex. And there’s just so many overlapping ways that there- There are just many overlapping ways of the industries that go into incarceration to make it for profit even though it’s run supposedly by the state. Even though that there’s many- Like the state itself is for profit, don’t get me wrong, but also there are so many for profit manufacturing products, services, where- At Alyssa’s prison there’s no infirmary. All of that is contracted medical staff. When their prison was shut down and on lockdown, there were no lawyers, there were no medical staff allowed, during a pandemic.
So I think it’s important to understand the ways that prison life is industrialized. In the sense of like a lot of daily life is, you know, with Amazon, with all the big names that we rely on for groceries, and in ways like that. But, you know, what we are fighting for- And another thing too is like we’re fighting for not just visibility, but material support. And these things are very, very basic things that are provided under capitalism, plus so much more, to not just the rich, but like even what we know to be the middle class, right? Like that’s like the standard. Like we aren’t even asking, in terms of Trans liberation, and in our demands, of that abundance. But part of the abolitionist vision is thinking beyond that survival, what do we need beyond that? And I think that is what you’re saying is that that communal, collective aspect where we shouldn’t be doing damage control, we shouldn’t be only engaged in recovery from a past experience. We should be healing and going on, and creating transformative spaces so people never have to go through this violence.
And at least what we know to be true about US capitalism, pillaging of Indigenous land and resources, trafficking of African labor, like those two are very critical to the foundation of this country that was founded by settler colonial capitalists. And that legacy still plays out today in how our government works, who is allowed to be an elected official. And I just don’t see the- It’s very hard to envision abolition when surveillance, incarceration, money, for profit anything rules our lives. But I do want to challenge people to be like, you know, not only what does it look like when our siblings our home, when our brothers and sisters are home.
But what does it look like too- and this goes into the last question that you have about; What does the future look like without prisons in the sense of how do we come together? What does that collective healing look like? What is that abundance, right? Because I think abundance has been a theme, like there’s extraneous wealth that is being stolen from people daily, whether it’s officially in the sense of, you know, coming out of your paycheck, paying taxes. But also the inherent, like, minimum wage, working for a large corporation owned by millionaires, billionaires, trillionaires that are like- These businesses are maintained, the capitalists maintained by the oppression by labor and having labor stolen from us. And the many ways that Trans people specifically are criminalized just… Many people have that difficulty being a regular wage worker, in the sense that I described, but going beyond that, what does it look like to really own your labor, own your body, own Trans-ness in post-carceral abolitionist society too?
SJ: I think a lot of it first comes through finding their spaces of healing. I think that there’s this view that we need to find a, find whiteness at all, and I think you need to reject that entirely. I can be a harmful person. I can personally have times where I don’t feel that great and that I have harmed people around me. That doesn’t mean that I need to…not be able to work, not be able to have a house, not be able to have children or see my children, not be able to ever use drugs again or anything like that. So there’s nothing about personhood and harm that does not involve these sorts of “Scarlet A’s”, these marks that we put on people that say the were the worst thing that happened during one instance of their lives. Period.
AC: Yeah. I think we- especially in conversations around sexual violence, I think there’s this dichotomy that’s created, and there’s definitely a reason why, and a purpose, and a service why. But I think, when we’re thinking about harm and abuse more broadly, labels of abuser, Often there’s this- Abuser/victim, abuser/survivor type of dichotomy as if you’re fit in one of two of them. One of those two labels. And for accountability- That label, that dichotomy, is sometimes what it’s called to address harm, in that one person commits harm to another person. But those are not identities that are to like follow somebody, in the terms that they are defined by that harm for the rest of their life, like a carceral punishment, capitalist system does. And part of reckoning with abolition is, you know, myself being a white drug user, like what are the ways that I have been able to get by, where being a medical marijuana patient in Philadelphia…
That experience is far, far different from someone who is Black or brown in this city who comes from- Like I am not from- I was not raised or born in Philadelphia. And just the different ways that are- The many different experiences and privileges that I bring into this work, and also acknowledging that harm is not exclusive to one person, one situation, and it’s often the dichotomy… Again, context is helpful to determine the accountability process. Who harmed who. Cause in many cases it’s very obvious who is committing the harm, and who is impacted and hurt by that harm, but these are not identities that follow us, that bar us from jobs, housing, educational opportunities. And avoiding the language of rehabilitation, because that still implies that there was something inherently wrong with you, as opposed to, people who don’t come from those marginalizations do the same acts, “criminal” or not, every day. In the sense of, people are cheating, people are stealing, people are lying. People are doing these things that we consider to be crimes, not for survival, just because and because they can. Rich people steal from working class people daily. Always have been.
But really thinking about transforming and being like, what does it look like for us to be conscious of harm? Because another thing too is, once we move away from that abuser vs. victim dichotomy as identities, we can start to figure out, to reckon with, what harm have I contributed? What harm, in addition to the harm that has been imposed on us? And also creating that compassion for yourself. Because anyone who says they’ve never never harmed another person, I straight up do not believe you. We all do it. It’s part of the human experience, number one. But, number two, under capitalism, it’s impossible. You have to harm people. And that’s the structural violence that we want to oppose and actively work against.
There’s definitely ways to be mindful, and being able to reckon. And being like, “this harm happened to me, but I’m gonna try to do the personal transformative healing work so that these cycles don’t repeat.” Especially in the context of generational trauma. We don’t wanna be- We wanna show up for the generation after us in ways that we were not shown up for by the previous generation, while also understanding and having the compassion to be like, well… Children weren’t really seen as people who have feelings, pre-1950s. And a lot of that still comes up today. But it’s like, even in our generation, as like talking about mental health, and like, this inner child work is like… That wasn’t really a thing for previous generations, but it can be really helpful to that self compassion and creating empathy, and creating these spaces so we see people as people and not by the labels they’ve been imposed on by a capitalist state. Not defined by the crime that they did, or something they did or didn’t do that was reported and ???, and they’re blacklisted whenever their name comes up on a google search. That’s not justice, that’s not transformative. That’s completely carceral, that’s capitalist. That makes it so there are blatant inequalities that aren’t just structural, but also completely social. So that people- We further create this stigma, we further create borders between in our communities, of who is deserving of care, who is deserving of space, who is deserving of having access to housing.
SJ: That’s why- I just wanna do a quick note. That’s why I’ve been- I want people to think of housing and healthcare, especially those…as well as education and jobs and right to bodily autonomy as human rights. Those are the things that you have to think of as human rights. There are ways in which our bodies are used as currency constantly, whether it’s used as- Used in a prison bed, or in a hospital bed, or from our blood, to our urine, they have commodified every bit of us. We have to decouple these essential goods from capitalism. They have to be. It’s not something that’s a discussion. It’s a “have to.” So when people say that this person died, you should be saying, “that makes sense, that’s how capitalism works.”
Yeah, if we do not deal, you are complicit in that person’s death. That’s a preventable death that we should not have let happen. And it is all of our faults. We’re not fighting hard enough for that person. So those are the things that have to be done, and… Just thinking about that Trans liberation part, it is very important to, at least in the actual ways that organizing and space comes together, to think of ways that we can cooperatively produce and then also consume and share with each other, regardless of what that is. In whatever space that you’re doing. If that is, if you’re really good at making art, that’s great. If you’re really good at being an accountant or a programmer… That also means if your thing is sex work. If you can be in a collective space and help each other and share resources, as well as have that idea of being anti-ableist, that everybody has something to give to this space and therefore deserves resources to live their life in a place of dignity and happiness and wellness. That is where we need to be.
And that means recognizing that. That means sharing resources. I always mention that thing around… I feel really privileged in having a mind that is able to do the things that I can. At least I try not to make it based in any sort of like, creating a hierarchy of things. But in our current society, there are certain things that are, that allow people to go further in our “social hierarchy”. Those are privileges. That is about ability. And you’re lucky to have that ability. I don’t think people think about that as much as they should. Like if you’re able to get through some of these stupid institutions, like law school or medical school or whatever, that is about ability. And if you don’t understand that you need to be sharing your resources with others that don’t have that ability to then do the same thing that you can do, then I don’t know what to do with you. Because that is what it is.
It’s like, just like the ability to be a basketball player and be 6’7” is about ability and basically something that was an accident, but that you’re able to benefit from. It is the same thing that has to do with what is in your head. And that goes for emotional things too. So there’s this disease of whiteness that we have, where people are like “I deserved every single thing that ever happened to me, and I have worked for everything. And there’s no reason for me to believe that this is either an accident or… I’ve come from nothing.” No. Nobody has ever come from nothing. I want to be really clear about that. There has to be a way to talk about ableism from that perspective too. There’s such an ableist perspective around this. I don’t think people think that it’s ableism. I don’t think that people do.
But in terms of the liberation part, it’s so important that whatever dynamics that are happening, that there is a constant, constant pressure toward equity and repossession, and understanding that each person is giving what the can. And that usually happens on a small scale. And those spaces can exist. I think that we’re looking for ways that that liberation to pop larger than that. I think that’s the challenge. And we need spaces that are actually going to help that instead of the ones that are hindering that. We see so many hindering spaces, but… I guess I’m gonna throw that back on you, Adryan. Your thoughts on Trans liberation.
AC: Yeah. And I think too, we’ve already started to do like some calls to action. I think that’s really important for everyone to be reminded of just like the varying privileges you carry to the work and to be conscious of it in terms of your role in a movement. And like what I have found to be healing as a Trans person, but also healing even as a white person, to reckon with the harm that my ancestors have, is being an advocate for a Trans person. Being able to share that relationship and create that connection in a world that does not- in really just a capitalist country that does not value relationships with people who are socially disposable, who are physically distanced and separated from communities for so, so long. And I have found that to be transformative. I consider Alyssa a friend, a comrade, a mentor, an educator, a teacher. She has taught me all that I know about Trans liberation and how it is not synonymous with a capitalist state.
And with every Trans person behind bars, every person behind bars really, needs an advocate. But especially for Trans siblings, sisters, and brothers, it is super, super critical because a lot of them don’t have ties to biological family. They don’t have ties to chosen family either because of hoe long it’s taken for somebody to be removed. And I think it goes through that absence of community, right? For gender variant people, for a lot of queer people even, the nuclear family and that type of structure does not fit, and it is not sustainable to ways of life that we know to be true. Not even just with reproductive justice, but also like having a house together, the common structure and how dependents work legally. People don’t fit into the legal definitions of a family. For so long, we didn’t have marriage equality and that is even new in our lifetime.
But yeah just being like, having relationships with people in our community, whether they are behind bars, people who have been recently released and making those connections, and really extending- A lot of time people, LGBT family, right? We’re not a fuckin’ family. Like so many of us don’t really care about what that means. And like “community” is a phrase tossed around, “family” is a phrase tossed around. And forming these relationships and being able to materially provide for them- And another thing too, I know we’ve talked a lot about it. But also even if you don’t come from wealth, like for me, I do not come from wealth, but I come from a place of being able to preform labor. And I still consider that a form of reparations and redistributing labor in the sense of like, Alyssa can’t be here physically doing this work. She’s absolutely organizing. And the support that I’m providing her is like, I’m less of the- like I’m an abolitionist organizer in the sense of being able to connect people, but I’m not the prison organizer. I’m not base building amongst prisoners, that’s not my role. That’s Alyssa’s role.
And if we’re able to provide these connections and support on the outside, we can be able to extend the resources that we have to people behind bars. To not only improve their individual conditions, which is super important, but also, these people who are being commuted like know this problem to be true from their first hand experience and sure as hell want to do everything they possibly can to not only change things for themselves, but everyone around them, even those who are not gender variant. When Alyssa fights for people, she fights for everybody. She fights for everybody at her prison, she fights for everybody who’s incarcerated. She fights for all Black people, all LGBT people, everyone who is impacted by this capitalist state.
So I think it’s just super critical that those with platforms, even those who don’t have a platform, nows a good time to ??? now you have so much time at home. And abolitionist work does not require- Like just because of the physical separations we have between prisons and non-prisons, all of this has been online. All of this has been remote already. So I have been doing the same thing as I’ve always been doing.
SJ: Yeah I think that that is so important. And I do just want to recognize that you have done that among barriers, around resistance from the prison, from the state in general. So it’s like really important to continue to resist. And when those places of resistance come up to you, you should be going right through them. Do not be afraid to go right through them. I will say it’s really important to think about how you are actively redistributing wealth, and that means looking at your budget, like how am I doing this. Where in my budget am I redistributing wealth. Where in my time and my energy and my labor am I giving to combating the state oppression of people. It’s important to look at our own space and wonder what time we’re allocating toward those things and also do them…
There’s such an interesting thing around this that I fell like it gets people really sad, it gets people really dejected, but, I don’t know. To me, there are certain spaces which are sad, and you should not go to those. One of the things I’ve experienced in some protests of individuals or state officials or governors that don’t want to listen to you, and they ignore you. Those can feel really deflating, right? Those can feel like you are…like you don’t have power. And it’s really important to assert that you do have power. You do. You need to not let those people waste your time. Tell them, “do not waste my time.” And the meetings that you have, come a little late, leave a little early. Get in what you need to say. Interrupt them all the time. Make sure that you are getting your agenda past. If they do not respond with it, stop them and leave. That is all that you need to do. It’s really important that you let them know that the fact that you’re even there is a waste of your time. If they would just do the right thing, honestly, if they would step down and resign, and allow you to be there, and you would do the right thing, let them know that. It’s really important.
It’s really important. And I just say that because it’s- I hear a lot of people; they seem really tired. It’s because they’re disrespected. Don’t let these people disrespect you. Be ungovernable. And it takes all of us to be ungovernable for them to change. We know where their houses are. We know where they live. That’s public information. We know where they live. We know where their children are. We know their wives. We know everything. There’s so much information about everyone out there. Be a little ungovernable. And if all of us do it, we’ll see what happens. I’ve always believed in doing things that people do not expect. So if you ever go into a space, do whatever someone is not expecting. And these are just the things that I really- what I see are spaces of resistance, and this goes for our current oppressive regime. This is the only way that they will ever change.
I think that we’ve seen things throughout time from around the world; Cuba, China, Russia, Haiti, South America. I always point- I’ve said this to you many times, Adryan, but I always point to the Russian revolution and the fact that it took them 100 years. And they had to… They had so many liberals in front of them that wasted their time. But they continued to say that the only answer is to drag the czar out of his house and to kill his family. And that was the answer. It was always the answer. It was the answer in 1845. It was the answer in 1905. It was the answer in 1917. It was always the answer. Revolution was the answer. And that is the answer here too. The only answer is revolution. I think we all know that. We will have these liberals, but we need to look back. There are so many dark times, in the late 80s, 90s, and the 2000s. Dark times. Dark, dark times. And they tried to extinguish the things like Mumia. Like John Africa. They tried to extinguish those people. As we’re on the eve of, I think it was- was it yesterday?
AC: A few days ago.
SJ: Yeah, of the MOVE bombing. The anniversary of the MOVE bombing. It’s really important to recognize the spaces. The Black Panthers and also MOVE in Philadelphia. Specifically MOVE in Philadelphia opened up and turned to peoples’ spaces their ideas, that Ramona Africa continued. So we have to, you know, even take a second just to give those people the space to say thank you, in gratitude for opening that space for all of us to move into. And this, they may have started a hundred year journey that we’re on. And all we have to do is do our job. And to say the truth. The truth is there. We’re not making anything up. These are just facts. The facts show us that. And there’s no need to do anything else.
But we are in this time, and I think that is our job to hold space for this time to show, to talk specifically about things like government programs and how they exist, but also about our space as Trans people and supporting others like Comrade Alyssa, like so many other people that will be on hear raising their voice. Understanding our relation to each other, our relationship to the earth. To every species that is alive, every atom that exists on this place that is the earth. And also making sure that we fight every single day on this occupied land against the oppressors. And I would say even think about what returning to Lenape territory would look like. The fall of the empire is near. And when I say near, we might be 30 years out, but it is near. So, I have no doubt in it. As long as I’m alive- I will say this for myself. As long as I’m alive, I will be here saying these things, about the need for this evil and oppressive empire to fall. So, I just wanted to say those words.
AC: Yeah, definitely. And we’re coming to the Q&A period for those who are tuning in, definitely feel free to ask questions in the comments. We do have some time to address comments.
In the meantime I did wanna add- So we already raised a tremendous amount of money, even before the talk happened. There is a Chuffed fundraiser that is in the comments on my Facebook page, that we want to- It’s just like a general fund for Black and/or Indigenous Trans people who are impacted by incarceration, whether they be currently released. They will be going to phone minutes, email minutes, commissary funds, if they have books that they want, we’re happy to provide that. But also, if you know of someone who has been recently released from prison, definitely we want the funds to go there. And when we say Trans people, we are including the colonial constructs of Trans and non-binary identities, but also we want to extend that to a broader umbrella where it’s gender variant people who my not subscribe to the Trans label, whether they’re Two Spirit, non-binary, or otherwise gender nonconforming.
And that’s a really good opportunity to redistribute your wealth and put it directly in Trans people’s pockets. Directly in Black and Indigenous people’s- Directly support… There are lots of organizations doing great work, but what we know about the non-profit industrial complex, they focus on charity rather than solidarity and mutual aid. And once we are able to get funds to people’s accounts, we know about survival, it takes one less thing off of that person, and one step towards organizing on their own, behind bars, existing behind bars, and really being able to- if they don’t have to fight for their phone minutes, that’s one less thing they have to think about. Same with books. Books are really important. Especially for Alyssa in solitary confinement. Right now a lot of people are…
SJ: In solitary. Yeah. I feel like we do wanna recognize, that specifically the COVID response has been slow, has been torturous for so many people around this country. And the response has been solitary confinement. Has been… Recently a person reached out to me, 22 hours inside, 2 hours outside, of the very small cell. The type of torture that’s happening to people, is classically American, but you need to be giving money to these people. I mean they’re people. They’re people.
AC: They’re people. Yeah. And the thing to is that even prior to the pandemic, Alyssa is only, is housed in a cell that’s a parking space, alone, by herself, in a maximum security unit, the highest security unit. She is out for an hour a day. Whether she actually chooses that is up to her discretion, given the hyper visibility of Black Trans women behind bars. But yeah, ??? occupy time, there’s a fundraiser for another woman at the same prison for a typewriter, which is really helpful in terms of getting legal lawsuits and other documents, grievances, typed up. Because a lot of people who have typewriters end up advocating for all the people around them because there’s such scarcity in typewriters. It’s insane that we still have typewriters. Before doing prison work, I didn’t really know that there was still a need. But much like print media, with like print magazine subscriptions, that’s how it’s keeping up, just because of the lack of internet access available to people.
But these things are saving graces for people, that really keep them in touch with reality. And they’re able to connect and have direct relationships with people on the outside too. It definitely agitates prison staff to know that there are several people writing to Alyssa, several people calling in, receiving book shipments. Like every time that a piece of mail, anything goes through for somebody, whether it’s mail, electronic transfer, anything, prison officials know that they’re being looked out for. And there’s more potential for agitation, but also more- The more eyes you have on a person…
AC: Always good.
SJ: And that goes for in the hospital, in a nursing home, shelter, all of that. If you show people that they’re being watched, that there is somebody that cares about them, it has so much power.
AC: Yeah. We don’t really have any questions. But is there anything that I… I kinda wanna say if you were an audience member, what would you ask. But anything that you think is relevant to this conversation that we haven’t talked about yet.
SJ: I wanted to think about the future of incarceration post COVID.
AC: Oh yeah. I’m thinking about just, in general, post COVID, right now. But also, I think this situation has… So social distancing is different than physical distancing because we can actually like- Us having this conversation, being engaged with the many people who are watching. We’re extremely socially connected right now, even though we are physically apart. And while there’s still definitely a physical value, and like this is done a lot different than it would be, I’d say, William Way. And there’s just different dynamics, pros and con to both. Like you and I can’t have people come up to us afterwards, as opposed to when I did give a talk at William Way in November. But isolation, people really need to be connected.
And the thing is, as things start to open up, people are resuming jobs- Essential workers and many people have not been able, of course, to actually stay at home. So staying at home is a tremendous privilege in itself. And just being able to collect unemployment and be here. That is so inaccessible to people who even aren’t essential workers. So many people are barred just from that. Getting a stimulus check whether or not you’re working or not. And I think the theme of isolation; people really are not- I think in a lot of ways, capitalism has created the pandemic, in terms of like, we are able to isolate in individual houses, and we’re already isolated form each other in the sense that the communal spaces that we have are not really designed for interacting per-say. Like you go to a park, but culturally we go to a park with someone we know, we’re not really encouraged to talk to strangers really. And if we are, it’s usually small talk. And that’s not to say that you can’t meet people in community spaces, you absolutely can. But the capitalist spaces that are around us are like- That’s assuming we even have time to do that.
SJ: Yeah, and that’s a little, almost Philadelphia specific. In that there are gates and barriers to meeting other people. Many of the parks are not meant for sitting. I think the only one is the Rittenhouse park and that’s deliberately only for rich people. And people will let you know that.
AC: Definitely. Yeah I just think…
SJ: I’m starting to like- I would like somebody from public health to really, really make regulations and rules around these spaces. These spaces that can transfer COVID at higher rates than others. So there are possibilities within that. What if allowing people to be incarcerated creates a space that, where if you’re breathing other people’s air for a long period of time, that then heightens the severity of it and it creates exposures, constant exposure, like constantly being exposed to other communicable diseases means something different than like, one exposure.
And maybe that means jails can’t exist then. What if that means they can’t exist? Because of the public health issue. I feel like that’s not the reason we shouldn’t have jails, but what if, seriously, public health says we can’t have them? And maybe every single homeless shelter that ever existed can’t exist. Because of the danger that it supposes. Especially to people that are already immunocompromised. Like what if you have diabetes, hypertension, HIV. Anything like that, I mean I guess mainly AIDS I’m thinking about, not really current HIV diagnosis. But, those are people that are higher risk of dying compared to others. So what if they just can’t exist?
And what if somebody from public health says that we have to have a different way that we support people that are aging? We can’t have a nursing home. Nursing homes can’t exist in the way that they are, which are just warehousing people until- I don’t know. It’s really, really hard to be at a nursing home. It’s extremely hard. Cause you do not get the care, the people who are staffed there do not have the resources they need. And my mother has been in a nursing home for 17 years. The amount of people that she has seen die is astounding. And it has hurt her so much. And I don’t really know what to do about that, but the amount of death that she has seen has been really harmful to her. But she also, you know- Those are all her friends. She recently, I think of course, tested positive for COVID, so she is a person that was asymptomatic, and thank goodness was tested, and is doing ok. But everybody in that setting needed to be tested. And it is no surprise that people that were asymptomatic are testing positive.
AC: Yeah. I’m glad you mentioned that too. Because with my work with COVID Behind Bars, I’ve been in touch with a woman, whose partner is cis male. Cis woman, cis male, heteronormative relationship. She was released from a women’s work release center, residential work release center in Wichita. She came home. She had the best possible scenario in the sense that she had her own apartment to quarantine alone. She had access to a phone, access to internet data. So she could do all her tele-health meetings, parole, what have you, all of it. Great scenario. Awesome. Her partner at the men’s work residential center- So yeah she was released in part of the like releases for people in response to that. And we spent a lot of time talking about the many ways that that has failed. She does happen to be a person with these privileges, that was able to get like pretty ok. And again it’s not unreasonable to ask because these are already so accessible to people, it’s not unheard of.
But just having a varying experience from her partner, who was in a Wichita work release center for men, residential. Once someone tested positive again, there’s only about 135 people in that program, everyone was transferred to Lansing Prison on the border, that already had tested positive cases. So you’re literally taking like 1 person, well not just one person, a group of people, that were exposed to one person, and you’re putting them in an institution where you already have the harm exposed. So the fact that transfers are still happening, and being able to cross, like cross exposure, and not really track it is absurd. And then after a period of time, 2 or 3 weeks, gets back to Wichita- That same guy gets transferred back, tests positive, gets sent back to Lansing. So it’s like, that is so- That’s health violence, that’s economic and structural violence that- This is harmful to anybody under the carceral capitalist state.
But also… Like how this is a cesspool in prisons and how it spreads so quickly in prisons. That spreads to communities too by staff, correctional officers who have faced little accountability inside these institutions. Also I don’t think there are any questions yet, but people tuning in should definitely ask questions as we’re wrapping up. But the community spread is like, correctional officers and staff can go in and out of prisons as much as they want. And when they’re going home, they’re running the risk of spreading that in communities. We see this with just police officers, too, that are able to roam freely, who are not social distancing. Who are able to go into houses, people’s houses. They can go in people’s houses. I saw it in my neighborhood. I saw half a dozen officers with masks, who were not standing apart from each other go into people’s houses. And it’s like, that is a health risk, human rights violation of having like intruders in your space. You should be able to have autonomy over who comes and goes into your space. It’s really negligent and it spreads.
SJ: And I think that we really consider- I mean when I say post-COVID, I really mean, it doesn’t seem like it’s going away. And it’s going to be affecting us for a time. But it allows us to think about, what does this world look like when… Because of public health, we cannot have congress settings that warehouse people and create this space, which are just death traps for people. I think the fact that 3 people have died at my mother’s nursing home is just unacceptable. It’s like, they shouldn’t… That did not have to happen. It is because they pack people back to back, have them sit around each other, breathing each other’s air for hours and hours and hours at a time.
That is where we need to be thinking, and I would push public health to do that. I think that we’ve seen a really disappointing public health response in the city of Philadelphia. I mean, they have worked really hard with “flattening the curve” for us all, but the lack of consideration for people that are unhoused, lack of consideration for people who are in these congress settings, in a long term nursing home care facility. In a behavioral health facility. We know that there have been people in these behavioral health facilities that have contracted it as well.
I think that is the most disappointing thing of all. Is that we have seen these settings- Like those are the people that are getting sick. Those are the people that are dying. And when people say that, and they have this- even our public health leaders are like “Well it’s only these people that are dying. Thank goodness it’s only these people.” And ??? What do you mean it’s only people that are incarcerated, and people that are unhoused, and people that are in long term healthcare facilities, or people with behavioral health disorders. What do you fucking mean by that? Cause those are people that are us and our lives matter. Don’t say that. Don’t fucking care for us.
I’m just a person that believes that you need to be distributing the resources and money to the places that need it. And that’s where you need to be putting your attention. So do that. And I don’t care if you don’t think that the people vote or whatever. I don’t care what reason that you have. I don’t care even if this was like your place you plan to retire or something in terms of like your government service. So many people here don’t understand their jobs.Their job is to make sure that the people that are most vulnerable are taken care of. And that means resources. They might need more resources than other parts of the city. In terms of networks and people that they travel in. Allocate the resources towards those people. I have to say… I think we should encourage people to resign. If you cannot do that, then you should resign.
And when it comes to some of the things that we have seen recently, some of the disgusting things that we have seen recently, even people like the CDC has made- These organizations that I do not trust to begin with, and some of the most conservative organizations like the CDC, even they have said, do not bother people who are sheltering in place, that are using tents, their own self-built structures to allow them to shelter in place. Do not disturb them. That is what the CDC has said. The city continues to go on sweeps. And we are not the only city. There are many cities across the country that have ignored the public health. And when they do that, they create danger for all of us. It’s called state created danger. When they ignore all public health, create these dangers for the people around us, and they don’t care about you. And I try to tell the police too, they don’t care about your health either. If you die, they’re probably fine with you dying as a police person. Like those people that are police, you should be rioting as well. Join us. Join us. This state does not care about your health either. I don’t know why you protect them. Cause they don’t give a shit about you.
So it’s just really important that we understand who the state is protecting. And where we are in this world, and what the future of it is. I think it is recognizing these things and understanding that there cannot be congress settings, there cannot be these long term health services, there cannot be homeless shelters, there cannot be prisons. And I think those are things that we can easily say from a public health standpoint have to be done. I think saying that if you do not understand these facts, you are actively responsible for the deaths that come from them. I think that may be a challenge for some to get to, but I’m ready. I’m ready to say that. I’m ready to be there. Because we see it. We see it happen. We see the people dying. And we have provided suggestions on other paths that we should be going on.
AC: Yeah. And I’m really glad that you were able to join me because I really do admire and deeply respect the kind of unapologetic voice, and being that resistance, always being like, “no, this is fucked up.” Like people in power actively deny people’s reality on a daily basis of this violence that is constant. So I’m very glad that you were able to speak to that. And really tell people’s truth, tell the narratives that don’t typically get seen. Because this is constant. The violence is embedded into the foundations.
SJ: They really attempt on a daily basis to normalize cruelty. And it’s really important to resist that. I will not be normalizing the oppression of my neighbors, my friends. Even the people I don’t know. We will not be normalizing the cruelty. The cruel states of the things that are actively and intentionally being put upon them. And ourselves. We cannot normalize them.
AC: Yeah. I think that’s a great place to wrap up. It is almost coming to the hour. We have thus far raised $761 for the fundraiser. That’s really awesome. Thank you to everyone who contributed. And even if you didn’t, even if you weren’t able to contribute financially, thank you still for being here, still part of a conversation. We really didn’t have any comments, I think it was a little shy today. It’s the first one. Always trying to get things out, and that’s totally ok. We wanna keep the conversation going. The fundraisers are still up. Definitely, if you would like to contribute, you can definitely do so. It’s ongoing. Share it.
In the series next week, I will be joined with abolitionist organizer and emerging scholar, Huey Hewitt, a Black Trans man who works with me on Comrade Alyssa’s advocacy. I’ve learned a lot from him and am very, very curious of what he will say. I actually did present with him almost 2 years ago. Yeah, I don’t know. 2019? Doesn’t matter. We are going to be discussing the differences between carceral and abolitionist feminism from a Trans point of view. Talking about things- Big conversation amongst the two. The question of Trans women being housed in Trans prisons. And while that’s critically important to improve the everyday conditions of Trans women, we also know that women’s prisons fail Trans women in that they’re institutions and that they still face violence. And on the flip side, you don’t really see too many people advocating for Transgender men to be placed in men’s prisons. It’s not often talked about. Speaking for myself, I’d never want to be, in any prison, but especially not a men’s prison as someone who is AFAB non-binary. And just recognizing that there is no prison for non-binary people. Don’t believe there ever should be, don’t ever want there to be. So kind of just jumping on that conversation and being able to discuss just the greater canon of abolition feminism from a Trans point of view and continuing the conversation.
For those tuning in, if you know somebody who is Black and/or Indigenous, that are gender variant, definitely get in touch because we, again, raised a lot of money just in one day. We’re gonna keep it going. And also if you know somebody who is Trans and abolitionist, for those watching, and if you wanna hear from somebody, let me know. We definitely wanna keep this conversation going. Again, next week it is me and another guest, but I would like to extend it to be beyond me. Only because, not only my experiences, but I don’t wanna talk at people all the time. It’s exhausting. It’s great, but I really don’t want to do that.
But, get in touch, and also that goes the same if there are any topics that your interested in from an abolitionist point of view, let me know. Some future topics that I’m thinking of is like; eco-facism, anti-facism from a Trans lens, disability justice, maybe doing something more broadly on public health in terms of drug use, and sex work from a Trans lens.
And thank you so, so much, Sterling, for joining us. This will not be the last that we hear from you either, I’m sure. Thanks so much for being here. I really appreciated you contributing and I definitely, definitely want to encourage people who are out there too. Sterling and I are not experts on this topic. Abolition is not something that people are authorities on. And we definitely want to encourage people to do there own learning and their own analysis. Especially if you are Trans, non-binary, gender variant watching, definitely wanna hear from you too. Do you have any last words, Sterling?
SJ: You know. Just… Definitely do not feel afraid about reaching out to wither of us. The things we give are just our offerings. Definitely wanna stand in equanimity with everyone that is watching, everybody that has donated. And it is for the people that are inside and the people that are returning. And their health and well being. And thank you for even creating this space, Adryan. You are awesome.
AC: Thank you. All right. Gonna sign off. Take care.
SJ: Take care.
AC: And thank you everyone. Bye.