I began this journey (writing on our site) in 2015 out of desperation. I had been recently shipped to a new facility where there were very few LGBT peers. In fact, 2. Everyone else was closeted out of fear. I began petitioning the powers that be to allow an LGBT support group where we could meet safely and offer the much needed support to feel safer in our environment.
I faced an incredible amount of hostility. That facilities chaplain gave a sermon (I had been attending services…I am a Christian) that demanded no one sit, speak, or eat with me because I refused to repent for my abominable behavior as an openly gay person. Later when I asked for a meeting to discuss that event with him, he told me that all LGBT people were molested as a child and that’s how we infect one another. I was welcome to talk to God and ask for forgiveness and “Brother, I love you, but God and I, we hate your sin.” Super nice guy…
I ran into situations like this with increasing frequency as my request for support built traction. Meanwhile, my closeted peers were being targeted. One of them was found (barely alive) wrapped in his sheets after he used a razor to cut himself nearly 30 times. Another was raped and then was told that it happened because he was obviously prostituting himself for drugs…which couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
So I wrote about it, asking for help from people who might run across this forum. None came, but I still accomplished my goal. In 2016, not only did my group form, but we had a formal Pride event…50 people went. The group no longer exists, I was attacked just 2 months later and the facility shut it down for their own reasons…whatever those may have been.
Now I am under protection at a different facility, thankfully. But the work I began isn’t over. On the backs of giants people like me all over the country work in the ways we know how to bring about equality. The two biggest challenges we are facing today are ourselves and interacting with the public.
Ourselves because education is needed to empower the marginalized so we can articulate our problems in the bureaucratic manner demanded. Nothing is as simple as asking. Also, standing up for each other is a real problem. For instance, my posts were making their way to an LGBT community page where a lady began bullying me. I never responded because it would have only enflamed the situation, but I kept wondering “when is someone going to say something to her?” After a few weeks of her relentlessly bashing me, I requested of my family to cease putting any content there.
How can any of you out there justify fighting for equality when nobody is willing to stand up? Or even more to the point, how can you ask for equality when you yourselves see others as unequal, specifically, me. If it is okay to marginalize me because you feel a certain way about particular crimes or felons in general, then why is it not okay to marginalize you because someone doesn’t agree with your sexuality?
Interacting with the public is scary because of people like that lady. She is not a lone wolf, people are afraid of us or they flat out hate us. When people who don’t agree with her (and others like her) opinion and remain silent, their silence is consent to abuse. Consent to bully and everyone just watches…why?
We need to bridge the gap between the public and the incarcerated. Incarcerated people need mentoring and interaction with healthy, functioning people. Reminders of what reality is, what’s normal and what’s not. Let’s not forget that there is a billion dollar industry housing us here that has almost zero oversight and no accountability. What if we made corrections effective? How about that, people emerging healthy…strange concept huh?
My writing is meant to show that there can be balance between taking responsibility for ones actions and reaching out for help. At no point in time have I shifted blame for my actions that landed me here to anyone or anything but myself. But it is really important to understand that in order for inmates to rehabilitate effectively, a rehabilitative environment is necessary. This cannot happen when we are afraid, feel isolated or think we are walking out to a world that is hostile towards us where we are not welcomed.
I challenge you to think about what it is you really want. Is it the bullied to become the bully? Is equality acting like those who have oppressed you? Bullying a demographic so you feel better about your own insecurities? If that’s it, then congrats…you’re equal, you act just like some of our bigoted straight counterparts. Job complete.
That’s not what we want for our world, is it? Where did we go wrong where it became acceptable to openly hate anyone? I am working towards a community where victimization becomes less and less with every generation. Just because I have made a mistake in my past does not mean I have to continue to be that person. I REFUSE!
If you want to hold my past against me, go ahead, but don’t expect me to act the part. I am not that person anymore, it‘s in my past and I have made changes to my very character to make sure that person is dead and gone. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. I have so much to learn and offer this world, one persons bigotry won’t stop that. The question is, will they stop you from humanizing me?
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Jeff Jeffebelle Utnage