Thursday, January 31, 2019

Money, Well, Spent... by Rory Andes

I had a great talk with my roommate, Ruth, the other day and we kinda chuckled about how busy we are. But it falls in line with our need for pro social, meaningful reformation. And reformation not just for ourselves, but from those around us as well. Those that insist on a life of just sleeping, eating and screwing off in prison need not apply. So just so you, Joe Taxpayer, know that I'm not wasting any part of your dollar on self loathing, destructive or apathetic behavior, here's a list of how my week breaks down...

Sunday- I spend all morning as a mentor in our Toastmasters International club helping young speakers develop their craft and contributing to the club leadership, an experience I cherish. I spend all afternoon with our quilting program, the Community Aide Coalition of Monroe (CAC), making quilts and other textile items for charitable organizations. Sunday nights, Ruth leaves to do her fair share of contributing to the CAC, and I take the opportunity to clean and organize our cell to match her efforts of doing the same throughout the week.

Monday- I work 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, just like many of you. I lead a crew of four men to prepare 50,000 pounds of laundry for wash a week. Last year we logged over 2.5 million pounds. Its great cardio and upper body strengthening as well as job readiness training. Monday nights I work to help guys with homework for a12 step program I attend Tuesday nights. One Monday a month I spend the evening working with incarcerated veterans to help develop fellowship among us since we make up 10 percent of the population here, a number greater than the free person demographic.

Tuesday- Work. At night I spend a few hours attending a 12 step program called Changing Thinking, Attitudes and Behaviors (C-TAB) geared at reshaping how anxiety, pain and fear effect me. I'm a two tour combat vet and I have some related baggage. Prison trauma is very similar to combat trauma and being able to pinpoint mental health components is a must for better living.

Wednesday- Work. At night I'm a facilitator for a program called Reentry Empowerment and Community Health (REACH) with guys like my buddy Marshall and we formulate tactics at destroying the convict code and release plan development so that the men and women who leave prison match your expectations of good neighbors. We work hard with folks higher up the food chain than just this prison. My special interest in this is helping my fellow veterans know resources available to them for releasing. Once a month on Wednesday morning, a few others and I meet with a University of Washington professor for exploring educational opportunities. This group is call Huskie for Opportunities of Prison Education (HOPE). We host a summer class every year and the professor tracks our ideas.

Thursday- Work. At night I attend an LGBT support group called UNITY with my dear friend Ruth. I go because this group is so extremely community based in its function that I absolutely fell in love with it. People helping people without any prerequisite other than being supportive. I truly appreciate Ruth's passion for the community she mentors. One Thursday night a month I meet with the veterans again to discuss how to do charitable works for the community and to be of better benefit to the greater good.

Friday- Work. At night I meet with individuals who need questions answered about release, veteran's needs, or any other question I can help with. I've reserved this night for any additional meetings with any other groups and once in a while, I will get a visit from my friends outside and thank God they come in to support me.

Saturday- I'm the co-secretary for the CAC, also. I spend the first hour of the morning compiling all the hours logged by our dozen quilters. Then I get to work quilting or repairing textiles for the institution. In the afternoon, I do more homework, speech writing, or preparing and organize my life for the next week. Then, at night, its back to the CAC and finally men's night with Marshall. Just some guys who sew products for third world women ( and hear interesting love advice from a DJ named Delila while listening to adult contemporary music on the radio. You know, the real manly shit that I wouldn't trade for anything except freedom. I love Saturday nights!

When we are celled in, I conversate with Ruthie or read or something to be more civic minded. I work my ass off, like my friends do, to not just be reformed in some way, but to be more accomplished than 75 percent of the world I'm going back to. I do my best to make the people around me better and I dig as deep as my colleagues and friends do. Rest assured, I am not, even for a moment, wasting a dime you spend on the taxes that you pay. And I promise I will be among the best neighbors you have ever had. Better for those I'm with. Better for myself. 

Rory Andes

Do you ever ponder by Marshall Byers

In moments of solitude the strange and utter mystery of crushing pain in the chest area from feelings of deep regret, loss, nostalgia or longing for??? I've been hit by a car, fell from a roof top and wrecked dirt bike's at high speed, but never have I felt pain like I'm experiencing now. Where does it come from, and what exactly is happening inside?

It could be a song on the radio, movies , a certain smell, and one of the zillions of thoughts that just pop up through out the day that cause this strange physical pain. The only thing thats somewhat comparable to this acute pain is jumping off bridges and cliffs. Although Jumping from high places is nothing short of thrilling, and I welcome this strange feeling, It only last for a moment while falling then dissipates hitting the water.

What purpose does it serve ? I'm guessing the pain is a friendly reminder of what matters most to you, kind of like a value meter. Maybe this feeling compels us to reach out to loved ones, take better care of ourselves and to be more compassionate overall?

I'm going out of my way today to say hello to the grumpy inmates........there's no shortage of them around here. I will be more understanding as well, for I know that everyone has their own struggles that I know nothing about.

Marshall Byers
for www.lgbtqprisonsupport. com

Lighting The Dark: This Little Light Of Mine (I'm gonna let it shine!) by Jeff aka Ruth Utnage

Sometimes I feel like a really little light in the dark, like a tiny tea candle being shielded from hurricane winds by God's hand. It feels like I am not bright enough.

But I am not the only light. I look around and see that all my friends are lights too, together we fight the darkness. Together we brighten this place, we do so with pride.

As lights we are not LGBT or Allies, Christian or Atheist, Republican or Democrat. We are lights. Our job is important, we are used to illuminate the beauty in others, in creation. That's what brings about so much pride, I get to find beauty in everything.

I choose to find other lights, like Marshall, James, Rory, and Christopher. All of whom I am honored to share this space with because each one of these men are a lighthouse, a beacon of hope to anyone who sees them.

All of us are open books who refuse to propel negativity and violence, refuse to let life get us down, refusing to remain stagnate. Instead we choose to transcend the standard and create our own, we choose love, we choose to be lights.

I hope that doesn't sound cheesy, love. Because believe me, we chose it. In fact, I have a challenge for you. If any of you ever get into a place where you feel lonely, unheard, isolated or unloved...I promise you we will recharge your self-esteem, your batteries.

Everyone who writes here has been handpicked and screened by one another, we discuss our commitment prior to allowing anyone to be apart of this project ( or our upcoming project The main criteria is that we have legitimately reformed and rehabilitated ourselves, something that is impossible to fake around each other (we know exactly who's coming back to prison!) and we have a heart to serve the community, not on a surface level, but actually have a heart for it. We screen one another to assure that we are transcending this place, prison, that we are shaping it for the better instead of it shaping us for the worse.

Now we can help our community and one giant thing we can do is be a serious source of love. Something we have in abundance and we are so ready to make new friends, have new experiences, explore other cultures and points of view.

I cannot wait to hear from you.

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With Love
Jeff aka Ruth Utnage 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

I Need Me A Man, Valentine's Day Is Melting This Icy Queen! by Jeff aka Ruth Utnage

In Washington prisons it is illegal to have a romantic relationship with other inmates. I have been a VERY good girl since I have been locked up. I have earned my reputation as an ice queen.

In my defense I haven't been mean to the guys who hit on me, I have been as abrupt as necessary to make it clear I am off limits permanently. This is for my best interest so I don't get into needless trouble for being in a relationship with another inmate, not because I enjoy rejecting. But if you don't tell a guy no firmly its an invite to keep trying and since I am living in a sea of these woman-deprived horn bags I have to be sort of icy about it. So I have earned my reputation, I just didn't enjoy doing it.

But here I am 8 years into my sentence with about 2.5 years left and that itch is returning, I want to fall in love again, or at least be open to it. I want to get to know someone or someones (I am open to polyamory, NOT POLYGAMY!). I am at a point where I am wanting to let down my walls and share myself with someone(s).

Any suggestions on who might want to get to know a trans woman?

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With Love
Jeff aka Ruth Utnage

Days for Girls .org by Marshall Byers

Everyday I wake up and smile because I get to make such a big difference in many lives around the world by making Days for girls bags/kits.

Meeting our volunteer for the first time here in our Community Aide Coalition sewing room was very inspiring and heart warming. She is a true sweetheart and absolute treasure.

"Days for Girls is bringing freedom and opportunity to women and girls around the world. Our vision is to break the silence surrounding menstruation by changing the narrative from shame and embarrassment to one of dignity and celebration. With our local partners, more girls and women are starting Days for Girls micro business, teaching health education, and receiving awesome washable kits."

Learning this new skill and being involved in something so special helps me to recognize the personal growth, and maturity in my life, and that giving back is one of my core values. Its empowering to know that giving back in a small way can help change the direction in someones life creating opportunities for success on the other side of the world.

Marshall Byers
for www.lgbtqprisonsupport. com

Inclusion... by Rory Andes

I finally had a chance this morning to sit down with my cup of coffee and this month's The Atlantic magazine. Breezing through the highlights, I landed on a brilliant article by Jonathan Rauch titled "Don't Call Me LGBTQ: Why we need a single overarching designation for sexual minorities". I am an ally and my process of learning about the LGBTQ community comes from my friends in the community as it stands behind these walls. It has many of the same issues here as it has in the free world, with a few expected exceptions.

As I read this article, Rauch opened my eyes to something pretty fundamental... the individual sexual minority. He wrote about Frank Kameny (Google him) and the fight for gay rights. Frank would become the nation's first openly gay congressional candidate and in 1961, he filed a petition with the US Supreme Court challenging the federal government's ban on employment of homosexuals. An activist for a group of individuals simply known as "gay". In his article, Rauch brings up a good point... if letters keep being added to LGBTQ (such as LGBTTIQQ2SA or LGBTQIAA+) it makes the community coalition and specific.

However someone, some ONE, will then be missed and thus EX-cluded. Much like other activists for civil rights equality such as Martin Luther King Jr., Kameny wanted an equal footing. EQUAL, not special. MLK wanted equality for all descendants of African heritage born in any part of the world who find oppression in America. I believe Rauch hit the nail on the head with his perspective of recognizing the individual talents of all sexual minorities by eliminating the "alphabet soup" as he put it and stop the over specification.

Bringing everyone to the mountain top together through their individuality and talents, and not through terminology that has now been weaponized by identity politics, is a shining example of fair and equitable recognition. I may be a single, white, heterosexual, conservative, Republican, optimistic, middle-aged male... but outside of these labels, I simply want to be your supporter. An asset to my friends.

Rory Andes

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Wiggle Your Toes by Marshall Byers

Heck yeah! How is everyone doing today? I was thinking about you, being the outside world and all, and how much you contribute in liberating me. Thank you for choosing to read what I write. I'm driven by a deep willingness and tenacity to reach out to the whole wide world.

My desire is to not only express my thoughts, life experiences, dreams, and goal's, but let you get to know me in a profound way, and be a light so you can look into this dark and strange place.

I love stories about suburban life and the seemingly trivial events that fill your days there. I day dream a lot, pondering for hours, so much that if I was paid for this mental fortitude I could retire early in Cancun with my feet buried in their hot sandy beaches. Don't worry, I won't forget to apply that yummy fragrant banana boat sun tan lotion.

Yes, Ive developed a gigantic imagination to take me away form this place. It's helped me to cope with some of the things I've seen and heard in the twelve years. P.T.S.D trauma for sure. Learning stress reduction skills has also help tremendously, like wiggling my toes. Yes, wiggling your toes helps! Try it right now. Doing this helps focus your attention on then amazing little toes, calming the negative thoughts.

I can't help but smile doing the wiggle, please let me know what you think. 

Marshall Byers

Hormone Treatment Comes At A Cost For Inmates by Jeff aka Ruth Utnage

Getting hormone treatment or "therapy" for inmates has become a possibility. Just like in the free world you do not have to be diagnosed with some heinous psychological disorder to access them. Instead, hormones must be a logical medication to prescribe because it will effectively treat the conditions of the patient.

There are many people in prison currently seeking hormone treatment to begin the process of femaledom. Our primary care provider sends us to the psychiatrist who is supposed to determine if we can consent to a life-changing decision such as hormone treatment. Which, I must say is a smart play, if one is thinking tactfully.

You see, inmates have been stripped of our right to consent, only in the past few years (as in last year) have we been given the right to enter into contracts, like book deals or intellectual property rights.

I have to say, how is it I can consent to be culpable for my crime, found stable enough to willingly admit to my crime, ask for treatment, then go seek treatment, willingly sign an agreement that will potentially incarcerate me for decades....the state had no "ethical" concerns for allowing me to consent to that. Yet, when I say I am a woman and need hormones so the drapes match carpet, so to speak, suddenly ethical consent is paramount.

I have much to say on this topic, however, I truly feel that if I divulged anymore I would seriously jeopardize my release date. Truth be told I already feel that I am trading my release possibilities for hormone treatment because of what is being falsified in my medical records.

But hey, how else am I going to look at myself in the mirror? I cannot stand my physical appearance, I hate that I have masculine features and I will do nearly anything to lesson my masculine appearance, including letting a psychiatrist manipulate me for whatever the reason.

I thought the American public wanted prisons to fix the inmate. Make us better so when we release we are safe to the public. Part of that is correcting the instability prior to incarceration. For me, that was coming to terms with who I am (my gender and sexual identity), learning emotional and stress management, finding self-worth, and learning name a few.

I have to say that it is hard to concentrate when the people who are supposed to be helping you are actively working against you.

The good news is this, I have already seen enough mental health folks in prison who were actually out to help, enough officers who treated me with dignity and humanity, enough authority who were responsible and actually ethical- to get the tools necessary to self-inventory and find the help I need.

I don't care what others think, what I care about is making sure I leave here healthy and rehabilitated. Rest assured that I am getting the help I need not because of prison, but despite it. But I am getting it, a big portion of that is being happy with me, my physical appearance is intolerable anymore. Once I get on hormones I have done as much as I can until release to transition into the woman that I am.

Until then...I am working hard!

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With Love
Jeff aka Ruth Utnage

Monday, January 28, 2019

Step One of Baby Steps? by Rory Andes

I recently started a 12 Step based cognitive behavioral change program. I got on this train after a recent breakup last year showed me that I don't deal the best with devastating changes. Mostly, I suck at hurting and I develop some stupid compulsory behaviors to slow the burn (as though I could control what awful things people I love are willing to do to me). During the breakup, I would obsess over any communication at all with my former fiance. Like obsess... "Hopefully today is the day she changes her mind and believes I'm worth something" kind of obsessing. And I would shut out other, wonderful people while I waited for the message that would never come.

It was explained to me that anxiety leads to compulsion and that, in turn, leads back to further anxiety. All the while some of us try to control some part of that dynamic. For some, its drugs. For others, anger. For me, prior to prison, I drank because my life was a sea of hurt. I used alcohol to mask, suppress, and quiet my negative thoughts of myself and my pain. Top that mess off with the PTSD from two trips to Iraq and the destruction of a bipolar ex wife and the anxiety really was something I couldn't control. So I drank the hurt away (not really, I know better). But that's not my deal. Alcohol isn't the "problem". How I process pain is. I learned a lot about restructuring my life in prison to not drink again, but I can't fix how I hurt. At least not completely. And in comes the program...

For the last two weeks we've been focused on the first step, admitting we are powerless to an addiction. Sadly, its all about substance abuse. Many people are in prison because of addiction. Not because dad was an abusive monster and mom was never nurturing. They get high because its what the fellas do. Please tell me you heard the sarcasm in these last three lines. I've lived with a murderer who killed his aunt because she tried to stop him from getting the next fix. He'd say stupid shit like, "They know I'm a drug addict. That's my problem." No, shithead, not being able to live with yourself and not holding yourself accountable is the problem. Effing discipline is your problem, not the drugs. Handguns don't kill people, thoughtless assholes do. He's also an avid 12 stepper... I'm in an effing prison. If substance abuse is still mine or anybody's problem here, we have bigger fish to fry than admitting "powerlessness". We need to fix the contraband holes in a secured facility and start living up to the taxpayers' expectations. We need to be held to a community standard here without the influence of dumb shit like drugs and booze. Want a healthier person post prison? Get him out of a jumpsuit and out of his bunk and put him in a 3 piece suit and force him to reshape long forgotten values like work and humility. The days of bullshitting yourselves and your loved ones are over, boys!

Don't get me wrong, all the sponsors and facilitators mean well and have giant hearts for helping. But for the guy who hasn't had any foreign substances since my incarceration over six years ago, I struggle watching a room full of men simply make excuses, especially the ones who have done decades of this shit. One of our sponsors, a wonderful guy, said his last drink was in 1983. That's good! Perfect! That's progress! But don't follow up that admission with, "and there's not a day that goes by that I don't think about a drink..." 1983!!! What the hell else do you think about?! I'm here to reshape anxiety and I know my errors. I'm aware of compulsions and will fix that at all costs, but God help me if I'm powerless to the fuel of failures! I'm better than that and I have the right people reminding me of it. Let's get to Step Two because I can definitely get behind my higher power...

Rory Andes

UW Book Club by Marshall Byers

Ecstatic and thrilled are just a few of the feelings I'm experiencing having to wait for this Saturday to arrive. Once a month I'm blessed with the greatest company........ well, besides my family.

Sitting in a warm little room, circular fashion, ready to discuss our current book. Professor Steve sets a carefree, relaxed tone. Eight inmates, seven students engaged in a two hour book-soaked conversation that always satisfies my deepest appetite.

Lots of laughter, but yet it can, and usually does get incredibly serious at times. The students are so warm and welcoming. They share their lives with us, free of judgment with a genuineness that I've never felt before. Their continued display of character is awe inspiring. What our book club does for me, is what the sunrise and fresh soil does for a flower. Complete nourishment.

Thank you, thank you, thank you UW book club for your authenticity, trust, deep connection, kindness, respect and acknowledgment. It has been an absolute privilege and honor to celebrate life with you.

I still giggle at times thinking back on my life. I would have considered maybe reading the directions for making a cheese cake, but never a book, and joining a book club.................Absolutely Not!

Marshall Byers

Lovin' Life, Prison Can't Stop This Joy by Jeff aka Ruthie Utnage

All I got around me is positivity. Positive people, positive experiences, positive energy, and a positive future! If you ain't on some let's-go-live-life-to-the-fullest-and-change-the-world-stuff, unh-uh honey...

For some, prison is the ultimate dark universe where negativity is bred and worn like a battle array. Where masculinity and furrowed brows are the mask of insecurity and fight or flight is honed to just fight. But for me and my friends, prison is opportunity.

Opportunity to spread joy, do some inner-self gardening, learn as much as my brain can handle. There isn't any of this "there's nothing to do" or "prison is boring". HOGWASH! The people I hang with are so busy we barely have time to high-five each other as were racing to our next self-help class, or acting group, or college course, or quilting, or working out, or yoga, or teaching something, or learning some random skill...because, why not?!

Who likes new experiences? This broad does! Getting out of my comfort zone and finding out new things about myself is something I enjoy. I want to go climb mountains, skydive, swim with sharks! Learn to bake, take salsa lessons or learn ballet...oooh, make-up! I want to learn all about make-up! Shoes! Unh-uh sweetie, don't even get me started about some shoes.

Go spread some positivity today!

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With Love
Jeff aka Ruthie Utnage

Friday, January 25, 2019

Yeah, I Did That by Marshall Byers

I pulled up a chair, sat down with scissors in hand and began to cut the outline of my right hand out of some bright orange construction paper. I thought it would be fun and creative to send my paper hand to some random address in Greece with a note written on the palm saying..............

Hello to whomever holds my handwritten hand!
My humble request is that you would tape or pin my paper hand up someplace in the sun for the day. I've been day dreaming of Greece, and the wonder of your beautiful country for the longest time. It would meet my need for adventure, to be seen, and freedom. Thank you for your generosity and consideration.

Marshall Byers
for www.lgbtqprisonsupport. com

Defy Ventures Washington: If You Ever Want To See A Prison Rehabilitation Program That's Effective, Seriously Effective... by Jeff aka Ruth Utnage

Inmates and the public alike are fed copious amounts of bureaucratic garbage about prisoner reform and rehabilitation. Literally billions of dollars are thrown away on State backed programs that have limited impact on recidivism or the public's safety. Inmates can smell bureaucracy, limited-belief and programs that won't change anything from a mile away.

We know B.S. when we see it and once we do, we check out. There are many of us who have been through so many rehabilitation programs that the state wants us to go through and we do so because we have hope that when we do, the public will find us acceptable again. So when another one comes along and the leaders don't have heart, neither do we.

Every once in a while someone comes along who has heart, who has tenacity and this almost foolish belief in us. Against all odds these people navigate the red tape, yellow caution tape, and all the rules designed to keep us and you separated at all costs and their impact is felt in ways that I have difficulty expressing.

Defy Ventures Washington is led by a man named Leo Novsky. Mr. Novsky has been a man of his word, which is important, but of greater importance is what drives him. This is the stuff that inmates sniff out first to vet a program or person running it and when we meet one another. One of the first questions we answer internally is what's this persons angle? What's in it for them? Why are you here!? Everything else comes second.

I am halfway through this Defy Ventures course and today something happened that I will never forget, not for as long as I live I watched our Defy sponsor, Leo Novsky show his heart.

But I wanted everyone to know, no, to see what a REAL program that will produce REAL change looks like. It looks like Defy Ventures. It is not the curriculum alone that is effective, no, it's the people. Its the motives! You cannot fake motive, it always surfaces, always. Today, in group, Leo's motives surfaced. Want to hear what they are?

He believes in us. He believes we have talent. He believes we can accomplish things, like entrepreneurship and success and rehabilitation. Even when its hard, even when he has a room full of inmates who are insecure and mistrustful he stands. That's when a persons motives are revealed, what happens when you get put under pressure, scrutiny. If they aren't real a person is gonna pack it up and bail.

Not Leo, he stands because his belief is absolute. Guess what else, so is ours. Today we formed a bond as a team and we have chosen to follow Leo as a leader, a mentor, and guide because he's the first one in my entire prison sentence to have that kind of tenacity and NOT be incarcerated.

So I will close with this, I won't disappoint that man.

Thank You Defy Ventures, thank you Leo Novsky for having the courage to stand. Thank you for making a difference in your community and allowing me to be part of it, I feel truly privileged because this program is going to change the world. check it out, they need support, they need you and quite frankly, so do I.

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With Love
Jeff aka Ruth Utnage