My first Pride event ever was in prison. I had been fighting hard to get DOC to allow a support group for LGBT people. I Pride event wasn’t even on the radar. I was too busy asking for help coping with serious things. My community was committing suicide, being raped, forced into prostitution, extorted, and isolated. The answers I received amounted to “Go see mental health.” Usually with a chuckle.
However, in April of 2016 I was informed by a new administration that not only was the LGBT group approved but they were going to allow a Pride event to take place. That June we made US history, as far as I know, by being the first formal Pride event held in prison. It was such a major accomplishment for the entire LGBT community, inmates I didn’t even know congratulated me. Most were happy to see something get fought for and a success come from it. It gave so many people hope.
More than 300 people signed up and only a fraction went because of prison gangs, which were angry we were getting rights and help getting away from them. We walked the day of the event down the walkway as people banged on their windows and ridiculed us, we even got reports that gangs were intimidating people into not going when they could.
But we had been recognized, nothing else mattered. Finally we existed. At that point I had a blog nobody ready, written hundreds of letters to LGBT organizations that went ignored, held dozens of people as they cried out in pain from humiliation or worse, I had been consoled a times myself.
That day, something inside me changed, I knew I had made a difference, a light came on within. Somehow I had sparked hope in other people. Just two years before I was being laughed at, now the were telling me how they would never forget my speech and how proud they were to witness everything.
I got to witness another history making event when another facility the next year, 2017, had their first Pride event. People got to feel that same sense of belongingness, achievement, and love. Do you know what it means, what it feels like to be ignored for years? Years! An entire community left to suffer because most believed they deserve to feel that way. Psychological trauma is never rehabilitation. These events are not just ways to bridge the gap between us and our community, which is VITAL for our ultimate healthy reentry and success in the world, its our freedom, our liberation were celebrating.
This year, 2018, we understand we hold value, we are worth something. Some inmates now have never experienced or seen rape, extortion, violence, or forced prostitution…what a major accomplishment! They feel safe enough to be vulnerable and focus on the changes they need to make within.
As an activist I couldn’t feel prouder. Thanks for listening.
To learn more about me, please write me at:
Jeff Utnage 823469 D-610-2
Monroe Corrections Center-TRU
PO Box 888
Monroe, WA 98272
or sign up for our email program through jpay.com
Name: Jeff Utnage (Jeffrey or Jeffrey, both are me!)
DOC # 823469