Wednesday, January 10, 2018

When Structure Limits Progress and Human Kindness

The last five years of my life have been dedicated to prison based LGBT peer support systems. I have become directly associated with the acronym of LGBT within prison walls (me and a few others). Now that most major long term custody prisons in Washington State have LGBT peer support systems of some form they have become like everything else in prison, stifling and oppressive.

While the volunteer and guests are welcomed and appreciated the restrictions and limits placed on them and ultimately the LGBT community makes it impossible to open up. As someone who successfully navigated the bureaucracy and political nonsense of DOC in other facilities the original purpose of the peer support system has been altered to accommodate simple labels. 

We are recognized as existing within the confines of prison walls now and what was supposed to be a way to educate one another in safety and mentored guidance has become anything but.

As a mentor I take that personally because I care about my community both in and out of prison. In here my peers are hurting now more than ever and out there its no different. I have had to take a close look at myself and evaluate my role as a friend and mentor asking myself hard questions like "Where did I go wrong?" 

However, I have had to realize its not me, its the governing structure. As LGBT people we are consistently muzzled and threatened that we cannot talk about many things without launching an investigation that will more often than not result in major social consequences, if not a full on assault. How can we offer one another advice, comfort, mentor ship, and social navigation if we can't even freely talk? 

This is just status quo though. Its not new or unique to the LGBT community. This is a systemic success, intentionally put in place and enforced by a community that is still in mourning. Instead of prisoners being viewed as a group of people that need rehabilitation we are the enemy that deserves abuse. Its OK to muzzle us, to cause emotional trauma because we are us and they are them. Because despite the fact that as an inmate I have not assaulted anyone in authority, nor will I ever, I am still treated as the assailant and accessory to viciousness I had no part of.

Not only does this structure limit my rehabilitation it has also stripped bare my ability as a friend to be human. For this reason I no longer attend LGBT peer support groups. Despite needing unique help as the highest likelihood of abuse in all forms, we are the enemy and as of late, hated more now than ever.

With Love
Jeff 

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