Welcome to our third Thirty Days of Love: Towards Racial Justice message lifting up the inspiring, creative and movement-making work happening throughout the country. This week, we are excited to share the profound and important work of Black and Pink.
Below hear a little more directly from our hosts, Carey McDonald and Elizabeth Nguyen. Then check out this week’s message from Rev. Jason Lydon at Black and Pink. We want to hear about how you are observing Thirty Days of Love! Tell us in the comments below or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is becoming common knowledge that the United States incarcerates more people than anywhere else in the world. At any given moment there are 2.3 million people in prisons and jails across the country. Black and Pink is an organization that works with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer identified people who are currently incarcerated or involved with the criminal legal system. I founded Black and Pink just over 10 years ago after my own time in prison. I had been locked up in a queer segregated cell in a county jail in Georgia and experienced a sexual assault by a prison guard in a federal minimum security prison. When I got out there were no resources that I could turn to for support, that needed to change.
As of now, Black and Pink is a nationally networked grassroots effort, involving nearly 10,000 prisoners, working to abolish the prison industrial complex while meeting the immediate needs of LGBTQ prisoners. The movement for abolition is one that we, as Unitarian Universalists, have made a commitment to understand better and involve ourselves in as we align with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Taking on the US prison system can feel overwhelming and it can be difficult to know where to start. Abolition, creating a world free from police and prisons, can feel like an utopia that is impossible to reach. Abolition, however, is not only the end goal, but our process for getting there. As Unitarian Universalists with a theology that reminds us that no one is disposable, we must be building connections with those who are most directly effected by the violence of the prison system. One key step that Black and Pink encourages people to take is to build pen-pal friendships with prisoners. We ask people to connect one-to-one with our members who are locked up. You might be wondering to yourself, 'What would I write? What might I have to say to someone in prison? How can I be helpful?' You are not alone in this wondering. You can visit the Black and Pink pen-pal page and take the first step to writing someone currently in prison. Some of our newest pen-pals gave the following reasons for starting their new friendships:
“I'm pretty horrified at the current state of prisons in this country. If I can take some time out of my day to help somebody get through the hell of the current system, it seems like a no-brainer.”
“I am against the prison system and I'd like to know more about it and help these prisoners know that they haven't been forgotten and there are people who care.”
“I know what loneliness & isolation caused by non-conforming is like and I can only imagine these things compounded with incarceration. It must be awful, and I'd like to be someone's friend if I can.”
What will your reason be for becoming a pen-pal?
Writing letters is one step, but maybe that's not the right step for you. Are you someone who likes to get involved in legislative campaigns? While we are struggling to abolish the prison industrial complex there are also some campaigns we need to work on along the way that help us take bricks out of the system. One of those campaigns is the effort to eliminate solitary confinement. In October of 2015 Black and Pink released a report based on survey responses from nearly 1,200 of our members. In this report, Coming Out of Concrete Closets 85% of respondents had spent time in solitary confinement, half of those for two years or more. All of our respondents together spent a cumulative 5,110 years in prison. Imagine spending 23 or 24 hours a day in a 6 foot by 9 foot cell. Imagine not having any human contact for a year or more. Imagine what that must do to your brain, your body, your spirit.
The good news is that there are campaigns that you can get involved in. There are many efforts that can be called abolitionist reforms; campaigns that are not making kinder/gentler prisons, but rather taking away the tools the system uses to commit violence against prisoners. Join up with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in their efforts to end torture in US prisons. If you have more time to join up with the work in your own state get involved with the ACLU's campaign to stop solitary. No human being should be put in a cage, you and your congregation can be part of the movement to abolish these cages. Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara is often quoted saying, “the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” Let us to do our work, our ministry together, with great feelings of love.
Rev. Jason M. Lydon
Rev. Jason M. Lydon is a UU community minister affiliated with First Church Jamaica Plain and works as the National Director of Black and Pink, an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies who support each other. You can reach Jason by email at email@example.com.