Friday, June 29, 2018

The Gay Battlefront: Not-So-Hidden Bias

Like persons of color, gays face hidden bias. This is where opinions are formed about someone based on a characteristic like gender, race, sexuality, or religion. Usually that hidden bias translates to special treatment or preference for one group of people and the marginalization of another.

For example, if you are Mormon and own a business. You have two candidates and one is a Muslim and the other a Mormon. Bias comes into play when you hire the Mormon even though they may not be as qualified as the Muslim may be. However, there are many, many instances of this outside of employment disparity.

This also occurs in social spheres as well, like making friends or dating. This is a major battlefront for us, not just gays but everyone LGBT and out. It also applies to persons of color and the not-so-hidden part comes into play with persons of color. I've personally witnessed marginalization happen very openly against persons of color, particularly trans women.

So what can we do? Here is a short list:

1. Point it out when you see it. Name it for everyone involved to hear. It may or may not change the situation but it will certainly begin the process of cognition. Change is slow.

2. Speak up for people who you witness it happening to. Making this socially unacceptable is not hard. Simply point out that it is distasteful and you do not tolerate it. Stick to your guns.

3. Console the victim. Be a friend.

4. Check yourself, it can be easy to make snap judgments based on stereotypes. Constantly be asking yourself why your making decisions and if you need, ask for assistance. Being open about this will enable education to occur. You don't know what you don't ask for help.

With Love
Jeff Utnage

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Our Roles As People

We are our "brothers" keeper. I feel responsible when something bad happens and I could have done something about it. This is not a new thing for me either.

I remember when I was 7 or so, my family got word from California that my Aunt's had each lost a child to an apartment fire in California. It tore our family apart. I, being so young, wasn't sure how to process that. I was in mourning but I was more angry. I was angry because in my childish mind I should have been able to save them. I didn't understand that I was 2000 miles away and all that. Obviously I don't hold myself responsible for that tragedy, but the concept of wishing I could have been able to help stop that pain has never gone away.

I believe that each person has a responsibility to shoulder the burdens of their communities. I have a role to perform, a function. As do you and the hundreds, if not thousands of folks you run across daily.

We have the duty to be compassionate, loving, respectful. To take that moment to let someone know they are something to you. That they are not refuse or forgettable, that they matter.

We are all going to make mistakes and be awkward and feel out of place. Its like the iceberg analogy. If you look at an iceberg 10 percent shows above the water. Is our social selves. The other 90 percent is hidden below the surface, hidden. This is our past, our dangerous and sometimes ugly memories that help guide our present actions.

We all have 90 percent below the surface.

With Love
Jeff Utnage

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Searching For Normal

I remember one night, before I came to prison, I laid in my bed next to my wife of about 9 years at that time. I had made a habit of drinking myself to sleep. If it wasn't a few Steele Reserves or that awful Hurricane it was a pint of Monarch Vodka. I laid in bed one night and tried to imagine my future.

When I was a child my step-brother, Justin, and I would dream of joining the military. I wanted to be an Army Ranger, shoot bad guys and wear fatigues. If that didn't work out perhaps we could have done a radio show. You know how kids think, never linearly. Nevertheless, I could imagine my future and all its majestic mysteries.

But not that night. I was so used to being drunk and high on morphine that I was just waiting for my heart to stop because of an overdose. That night, I tried to imagine my future. This is what I saw:

Blackness, just blackness.

I figured I would die one of those nights and even though I knew I had no future, I took solace in understanding there was nothing left for me, I was already dead.

In fact, I died long ago. Truth of the matter is, I resigned to death in my early teens. Never really came out of my depression. It became worse with marriage and fatherhood. Suddenly I was responsible for lives, but I had no foreseeable future. The rest is well...morbid.

Fast forward to modern times, in prison, where I have matured. I understand how to manage my anxieties, fears, insecurity, and emotions in general. I still imagine my perfectly normal future and I have to be honest, I still don't have a crystal clear image to run down. It is no longer blackness though.

I have a major problem though folks, I've never known "normal." I don't know what that is. Is it a wife and 2.5 kids in the suburbs? Is it me and my enigmatic hipster husband living in a flat somewhere where we drink ridiculous coffee and quibble over who gets to top? Is it working my dream job as an Executive Director for a major non profit where I get to bring an utterly impossible end to victimization?

I suppose that's why I write and created, because I am searching for normalcy. For some silly reason I have it stuck in my mind that one day I will find out normal and it will be people who write me from seeing my writing here, which has yet to happen.

This is what I know, I have hope and faith in God and myself and my future. Something I haven't had for nearly 3 decades.

Feels good to have it back.

With Love
Jeff Utnage

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Prison: Actively Occurring Trauma

As inmates we associate the reality of prison with normalcy as a coping mechanism. We tell ourselves that it is normal to keep eating when someone is being beat to death or pepper sprayed. That maybe he even had it coming. We tell each other to man up and stop whining about it when we express anything other than tacit disassociation.

The truth is nothing about prison is normal. Nothing about its design is healthy or rehabilitative. We are caged in a bathroom. We are subject to a master and anything other than complete submission is punished.

We are experiencing active trauma and being told it is normal. We must recognize prison for what it does, traumatize and then repair it. A healthy rehabilitative institution will work itself out of business.

Instead they enslave.

With Love
Jeff Jeffebelle Utnage

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Prison Pride Event: 6-21-2018

Happy Pride! 

Pride month is special to many of us, even those who are locked up. I have been given the honor of participating in the history making event right here in prison.

This was our second annual Pride Event where inmates got to celebrate this wonderful culture. I am proud to say there were more straight allies than LGBTQ folks! Wow!

We had important guest speakers from community organizations speak. Seattle Police Departments James "Jim" Ritter spoke about the progression of the SPD's involvement with the LGBTQ community. He is also the spokesman for the Safe Space program, which is where local businesses can post a rainbow colored police shield sticker in their window letting folks know that if they are in danger they can get safe harbor in that place until the police arrive. Its more than neat, its vital. Its one way the SPD is trying to help prevent hate crimes. I, as a felon in prison, could not be prouder of the program and the officer behind it!

We also had Monisha Harrell from Equal Rights Washington speak. She is a a strong advocate for LGBT rights and safety working on bringing in new legislation to protect LGBT people and abolishing laws that allow for hate. For instance, Washington State has a legitimate defense stating that if you come out to someone and they murder or assault you, you can claim you were so surprised by the event you were temporarily insane and committed a hate crime. Yeah, let's get that one off the books huh. Thanks Monisha!

We also heard from Mac Mcgregor, an Olympic Medalist in Karate and Trans-man. Mac is also a fierce advocate and an absolute inspiration to anyone. He spoke about his life and did so with ease. If you ever get a chance to listen to his story, you won't regret it.

Social Scope Media was in the house! We had transwoman and drag performer Monica Beverly Hills from Ru Pauls Drag Race in the house! It was their second time with us and as it should be, they were the stars of our event. They walk in and the room just stops, every time.
last year Monica wore a long pink sequined dress and it had everyone fanning themselves. Randall, the manager and owner of Social Scope, is an absolutely gorgeous man who know how to speak. I'd urge you to check them out.

We also had Elayne Wylie from Gender Justice League speak. Not only does she organize Trans Pride but she does life changing advocacy for gender non-binary and trans folk across the state. Not only has she impacted my life personally and is a mentor, only one I've ever had, she's also a personal hero of mine. Thanks for being a boss Elayne!

We had so many more attend this year, in fact, we maxed out or capacity.

Just wanted to let you know that we are representing even in lockup.

With Love
Jeff "Jeffebelle"

Friday, June 22, 2018

Racism: We Have Come A Long Way, But...

Books like To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee or Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck are windows into Americas past. They show a clear, and ugly, picture of what once was.

When you watch Roots, the same thing emerges, a clear window of how it used to be. When you compare that to today, on its face, one might think of celebrating the end of racism. But hold on.

What does a non-racist society look like? Think back in your world history knowledge and try to name even one society that did not try to segregate. Strange huh. Yeah, I thought so too.

America was built, and designed, to uphold the straight, Christian, white, land owning male and everyone else had to be subservient too, die, or leave. The government was designed around this principle. I believe it was Thoreau who said the same government who oversees the freeman, also overseen the slaves, making all of us slaves. This is not a direct quote, but a paraphrase of H.D. Thoreau's How To Resist The Government.

Racism exists still not because people actually feel superior, but because if we were to all accept one another than things like gentrification could not exist. Racism exists because we the people are failing to do what America's forefathers did, think ahead and beyond our generation.

When we the people get together, make a decision about the kind of future we actually want for our children's children, who can dare stop us?

We the people are a powerful force and no government can dictate our future.
Racism still exists, no doubt, but it exists because we the people allow it too. Do your part, make racism uncool, encourage equality by modeling it.

With Love
Jeff "Jeffebelle"

Thursday, June 21, 2018

For Everyone Thinking About Visiting A Prisoner, Read This First!

Have you been thinking about visiting an inmate? Maybe they are a relative, an ex-lover, a potential new lover, or someone you've seen on social media or other mediums. There is all kinds of ways one might know an inmate. Regardless of how, there is a little reservation about visitations. 

The thought of coming to a prison is scary, I get it. You see propaganda on TV which has led you to believe that murder, rape, and extreme violence is happening minute by minute. Military-like sentinels pacing with riot gear and batons and elevated positioned assault rifles. 

I get it. I just wrote that and it sounds awful. Super scary. But, this is fictional, fluff. Here is the reality.

You'll never be safer then sitting inside a prison visit room. Never. Visitors are revered as the ultimate...privilege. Visit rooms are practically sacred grounds where men and women share intimate secrets with one another, dream and make plans, distress even. Yeah, distress by coming to a prison! Inmates are excited, happy, and grateful. 

Coming in contact with people, as in inmate, is life-altering. I know it sounds weird and far fetched, but I promise you, it's true. Visitations are one of the most effective tools, besides education, for prisoner success upon release. Its one thing to speak by phone or write letters, but its harder to make that emotional connection that friends or mentors-mentee's might have.

As a visitor, your valued. Your life experience is needed. Your wisdom will be regarded. You will make a difference in so many ways. 

There is nothing scary about visitations. You wont be ogled or in any danger. You'll only see grateful, smiling, thankful faces that will forever impact your personal, professional, and social life. And its free. Besides gas and if you want to buy food while here. 

It will be an experience you won't regret and it truly changes lives.

And besides, if you came to visit me, you'd get to kick it with your boy! I'm pretty sure I'd win at Yahtzee, I'm kind of a boss. And I give the best hugs! 

With Love
Jeff "Jeffebelle"

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Created Families

Created Families LGBT people- as a general statement- have limited interactions with their blood relatives. Comparatively. This enables us to do something magical, in my opinion. We get to create families.

What's cool about this is that we are able to love a broad range of people and have a fierce line of defense against life's stressors. Which, let's face it, we have a bunch.

What I like about Pride month is that we are in a state of nostalgia but we are still looking ahead, forward.

I don't have a main point here, just a simple acknowledgement of or kinship and how much I thoroughly appreciate my LGBT brothers and sisters, even the ones I don't know.

With Love,
Jeff "Jeffebelle"

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

All is Dust By James Cody Goodwin

All is dust

All is dust,
A desert storm,
obscuring my path.
You are beyond reach,
beyond sight.
Merely feet away,
yet lost to unnatural night.
Grasping I find you,
without form.
Shadows playing tricks,
mocking my famished heart.
Illusion stirring within mist,
resistance rises within me.
Fighting for clarity I backwards step,
I feel my focus shift.
Attachment falls away,
breath renews a gasping heart.
Night retreats from day,
sunlight brings no peace.
There is no healing here,
only space for another start.
This unmarked path without finish,
marked only by the stones of trust.
I shift my gaze from feet to horizon,
and smile finding only dust.

By James Cody Goodwin #764730 MCC TRU D-UNIT A-205-1

Dealing With Difficult People

Prison brings a whole new level of difficult personalities. People who have been incarcerated for long periods have special personalities, not all, but many. You can tell those who beat themselves up the most, who had challengingly upbringings because the are the most difficult, in prison.

While this assessment is not cast as a law, it is a rule and those who are happy when no outsiders are present are the exception. Even the growliest, if that is even a word, can pretend happiness for a few hours.

I know that outside of prison this is no different. Some people who have been in the same job are caustic and can be real tyrants when no bosses are around. These folks are extremely frustrating because as soon as the boss shows up they are little angels dont'cha know. Ugh!

So what can we do? Here is a few tips that I use here in prison to keep my sanity when dealing with difficult personalities.

1. Limit interactions to strict professionalism
--Why: This sets a standard for them to follow. It will be much harder for them to be verbally caustic, or difficult in general, if they know that you are all business
2. Simple greetings will do, be highly regimented with them, simple but genuine smile, never deviate. under no circumstances should you show any emotions other than pleasant consistency
--Why: Again, consistency. Like everyone else difficult personalities build little neurological files on everyone around them. You want to make sure that your file in their head says consistent, professional, and courteous. This makes it harder for them to justify negativity towards you or to smut you up behind your back to the bosses.
3. Keep your personal stories to yourself. Stick to necessary facts and volunteer nothing unless it is necessary
--Why: Because unless you are OK with hearing their criticism on your personal life, which will be just as harsh as their personality, keep it to yourself and save yourself the drama. Besides, that little file in their head on you will remember your drama and you best believe it will be used as ammunition.
4. Be direct, not confrontational. State what it is you need, precisely why you need it and leave no room for personal discussion. If they are the office supply manager and you need pens, but they seem to be this persons prized possession and they take their job way to seriously, as if every saved piece gives them a bonus you would simply state "So and so, I need a red correction pen." if there is any resistance to this, politely remind them that you are very busy and if they cannot supply it, you will need to move to the next avenue.
--Why: You do not want them making your life unnecessarily difficult because they are miserable. By being direct and polite, not giving them personal discussion, they will more than likely respect the boundary you have set.

The point here is these people have had challenging lives, that's why they are so difficult in many cases, nothing has been particularly easy or pleasant. When they were babies they giggled and laughed and wanted love and wanted to be accepted by their peers. There is no need to add to their stress. So you be consistent so they do not have to guess what is expected of your interaction.

If you have feedback on this, tips, exceptions, questions, contact me.

With Love
Jeff "Jeffebelle"

Monday, June 18, 2018

Pride Speech - 2018 By Jeff Utnage To be delivered at their Pride event on June 21st

One of the most frequently asked questions about pride events is why do they exist, what purpose do they serve? We'll circle back to that in just a few minutes.

Why can't you just act normal? Hollywood is brainwashing our children o be gay, have you seen TV lately? I swear, every show has one of them in it. And equality! They already have more rights than everyone else, how much more equal do they want? Do you have AIDS, I just, had to ask. Your not gonna like, hit on me are or nothing are you? 

He-she-it, whatever in the hell that thing is. I'm not calling that thing a her, I don't care what anyone says. Could you imagine if we took to the streets of Seattle with a straight pride event, man they'd go nuts, hypocrites if you ask me. Of course you didn't choose this for yourself, who would choose to be like you? You probably wouldn't be such a target for predators if you would just act normal, i mean, you kinda brought this on yourself.

Any of that sound familiar? Do I have your attention now? I imagine that similar conversations took place around Chinese immigrants in the 18 and early 1900's, and with native Americans before them. Then again with African Americans in the 50's and 60's. Don't they have their own neighborhoods, their own schools, their own restaurants. Then there's women's rights. Everyone knows that homosexuality is caused because women are taking men's roles in society, its unnatural! Emasculating men, no wonder they turn into broads.

Raise your hands if you've heard statements like these recently.

That's the reason were here, that's why pride exists. Everyone of the statements I just spoke were comments I've heard directly over the last 12 months. Since our last Pride event. Scientists are still searching for a cure for us, like a disease or defect. We are still abnormal. Some are still trying to eradicate us, whether through prayer, cure, or death. The message behind any of it couldn't be clearer.

I've heard that some view us as a plague. You know, I thought about that and, OK, I can see that. We're a plague that transforms prison visit rooms into loving, caring, and rehabilitative community centers, like this one right here, right now today. Were a plague that accomplishes the impossible, look around you, look at what we've accomplished. Were a plague on every continent, in every country, even the ones that kill us.

I've heard that some see us as a curse. Well, that's because we are, to them. Were a curse that illuminates their hearts exposing the insecurities and fears within. Were a curse that demands they look us in the eye because that glossy image they see looking back at them, the one they loathe, that's their own reflection forcing them to see their bigotry for what it truly is. I'll be that curse any day, truth.

Some want us silenced, some need us silenced. And they should. We are the sound of justice singing so loud, the entire world hears us. We are the voice constantly reminding them that their actions, their decisions, effect actual people. Real human beings. Some incredible ones at that.

Yes, some view us as plagues or curses. Yes, some want us silenced. But they're the minority. The rest of the world is stepping right alongside of us united against the injustices of intolerance. I have love and pride for our community, I love you guys. When I'm around you, I'm the very best me, I'm never happier. But my world, and yours too, goes beyond the borders of LGBT, it goes beyond American pride, it goes beyond border walls and fences, beyond governments, beyond labels, it goes beyond our mistakes, it goes beyond us.

Don't stand for division. Don't stand for it. Don't stand for injustices, for suffering, for victimization. Don't stand for maybe someday. No! You stand, you stand for today, for right here and right now, stand up! Stand up for there is no equality until there is all equality. Stand up! Stand up for the impossible is entirely possible. Stand for us, as mankind, not us the island.

Step beyond your borders and have pride in those around you, even and especially if they don't look like you. Borders are divisions and divisions are only good for one purpose, dividing. I promise you, change where you send your pride, and you have my word, you'll change the world.

My name is Jeff and I hope I've made you, and you, and especially you proud. Because it matters to me, it matters. Thank you.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Under The Mask, Can You See Me?

I would like to think I am straightforward. I haven't always been, admittedly, but I am now and have been for a pretty long time. When I came to prison for a sex offense I knew I was a hated man. Then when most of my family split I just decided I wasn't going to hide anymore, what was left to lose? I was already all but disowned from every friend I ever had, and only one family member left to love me, Mom. Thank God for Mom's.

This is all par for the course when you commit a sex offense, it is not like I didn't know the consequences for my actions, I did. I had some real issues, to say the least. But I spent years in really intensive therapy from a broad range of expertise, couple that with a will to change and you have rehabilitation.

Yes, I am rehabilitated.

Which leads me to masks. Not the physical kind, the emotional kind. I run into so many people who are terrified of losing everything. They are afraid of losing their friends, family. Really they are afraid of the unknown. I have some advice for you.

I've seen the bottom of the barrel. I've faced death, I've found dignity from the off scourings of society (where I found myself a member). I understand what it means to lay down at night and think about your future and instead of seeing hopeful images of you doing something you want, you see nothing. No images appear, no hope remains.

I understand what it means to pray to God for help and receive nothing for a response and that wretched churning of your intestines constantly spitting bile into your throat and reminding you of your mistakes. Yup, I understand. I get that your on an island and nobody has had to deal with the exact circumstances your in right now, the desperation that arises, the crazy thoughts that race through your mind. The hole your in seems so deep, impossible to get out of.

Where the worst case scenario seems just around the corner. Minutes away. I'm talking to you. Listen up.

Before you do something else to regret, breath. Just breath. There are people who can, and want to help. But there's millions of people in this country, sometimes it is hard to find. They are in unexpected places. And the help you probably need isn't the help your looking for. Maybe your world is about to come crashing down, maybe you are about to lose everything and everyone. Maybe, but, you don't have to face it alone.

If you want to take that mask off for just one moment, you can show me the real you, in all your perfectly ugly, beautifully broken, and fragmented personalities all mixed up into one person...I promise to love you anyway. Because there are many who do the same for me now. I did the worst thing, man...almost the worst crime possible in prison. I lost everything I had, family, kids, friends, everything. But I found myself, I have made some beautiful friends and they provide exactly what I need to succeed. I get advice, a shoulder to lean on, love.

You're not alone, I am not unique in wanting to get to know you. I can help you. I've done it myself, for myself. Spreading a little hope your way.

With Love
Jeff "Jeffebelle"

Monday, June 11, 2018

Your Calling: Are You Sure?

Do you know what your calling is? If your not sure what it is, ask yourself what are you willing to die for, that is a good start. Sounds aggressive, but it is true.

I hate that so many of my LGBT peers are ill equipped to stand up to oppression and I hate that so many people are okay with it. I hate that so many of them are ill equipped to deal with life in general, I hate that most folks are like that, even the straight ones. My calling is to empower people.

Leaders are not measured by their followers, or how many committees they sit on, or how many speeches they have given, or how many programs they run alone. No, real leaders are measured by how many leaders they create.

And I plan on creating millions.

With Love
Jeff "Jeffebelle"

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Next Generation Of Leaders

The next generation of leaders has emerged with powerful and mighty voices. I remember when I told my mother I wanted to raise my kids with voices. I wanted them to speak out, boldly. Kind of a parents nightmare actually, but, I wasn't alone. My generation, 25-40 year olds were taught by our parents' generation how to speak up. Now we have taught ours how to speak out.

The protests around the country have been born from our governments complacency and their disregard of the American people. The marches that are happening now are the result of our government selfishly ignoring us for their careers.

I sit in this prison cell with a proud smile for our nations youth, if they are in the streets fighting, it may as well be a fight worth having.

This latest budget from our federal government spend more on war preparation than it did on education. Clearly we not being regarded, we are being prepared...

With Love
Jeff "Jeffebelle"