Saturday, July 15, 2017

What's The Purpose Here? What's The Agenda?

My goals are ever evolving. When this began (this site) it was because I was getting resistance from certain individuals in regards to creating an LGBT support group inside prison. For religious reasons for some, safety concerns for others, others was all about pure bigotry (though very few).

So I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I just put my feelings out there, what I was going through, how it made me feel. My wins and many, many losses. How my criminal past hindered me and what I did to overcome that. In essence, what it turned into was a detailed, nearly day by day account of a social.movement that resulted in accomplishing precisely what I set out to do. An LGBT support group was established, the very same year (2016) DOC made national history (my declaration because I don't know of a single other state prison that has done this) when they allowed and put on an LGBT Pride event to celebrate us. 

When I started this process I realized that in order to succeed I was going to have to motivate people to help. Because we cannot make giant changes alone. I expected that the public would see my writing and be inspired to help. Instead what happened was well beyond my expectations. 

Nobody from the outside helped, to my knowledge. I wrote hundreds of personal letters to LGBT organizations stretching from Florida to Ontario and Southern California to Vancouver BC. I wrote political parties, colleges, community agencies, senators, Governors and churches. Week after week I wrote for three years and never once did I receive a single solitary response. Except a prisoner aimed newsletter published a blurb about what I was attempting to do and mistakenly put my writing address with it, the result was hundreds of prisoners across the globe tried to write me...which is a big no no. Inmate to inmate contact is understandably and justifiably prohibited. The gap was suddenly being filled by other inmates, staff, admin. It was amazing to witness.

Suddenly my request was a movement that took on life of its own. Hardened criminals were approaching me daily to make sure I was OK, to offer support. Staff, who a few years prior sent me to mental health when I said I needed support, was now my biggest and most concerned ally. 

Over time my goals evolved because I changed the culture of prison. Let me rephrase that, I motivated a cultural change in prison. One that stretched across the state and beyond. The best part was/is, I wasn't the only one.

If I can motivate people to change in a good way ( and I believe that LGBT tolerance is a good thing) than I also believe that I can influence other positive things in a similar way. Things like ending victimization. Things like ending sexual assault. Things like helping people come out healthily. Things like making self-improvement priority again. 

Ultimately I want to be proud of who I am. Before 2011 I had nothing to be proud of. Today, I have a list and I am not satisfied with it, its not enough. I have the ability to fix it and change it. So I am. When I leave this place, get released from prison that is, those things are what you can count on from me. These writings are me, what I'm about, what I'm doing to change my circumstances, what I'm overcoming and how. My proof of worth.

With Love 
Jeff Utnage

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