“Incarcerated women’s writing and publishing serve a dual purpose: to challenge existing misconceptions and correct stereotypes… and to boost self worth in a system designed to erase all traces of individuality.”—Victoria Law, Resistance Behind Bars
Tweeting as @xychelsea, her Twitter bio describes her as a “Former Intelligence Analyst. Trans Woman. Prisoner.”
Chelsea Manning became the most famous prisoner on social media after she was sentenced to 35 years in Leavenworth military prison for leaking some 750,000 classified documents. Manning tweets by proxy — meaning she relays her thoughts via voice phone to representatives who maintain her Twitter account from beyond prison walls. With regard to the Orlando nightclub murders, Manning recently messaged, “Please stop using our bodies, blood, and pain for politics and profit ='( #LGBTQ #pulseshooting”
Because of “security concerns,” just a handful of US institutions are experimenting with allowing prisoners limited access to the internet and social media. According to Howard University Researcher Tamanika Ferguson, author of the women’s studies project titled “Women in Prison Speak: Writings by Incarcerated Women and their Advocates,” most incarcerated writers turn to newsletters produced on the outside or academic journals to tell their stories.
Ferguson’s inspiration for studying the ways women in prison communicate was born through her experience as a Black girl growing up in inner city Los Angeles, where she witnessed and experienced the impact drug dealing, gangs and incarceration had on her family and community. Ferguson said, “I saw my female family members being locked up and I understood at an early age the general perception that women in jail are bad people and should not be allowed to speak out about the circumstances that contribute to their confinement and how they are treated in jail.”
CeCe McDonald, a Black trans activist, was jailed in two men’s prisons for 19 months after being convicted of second-degree murder of a man who was attacking her. While she was incarcerated, the CeCe Support Committee created a blog and website to keep the public updated on her status, and regularly posted her writings. After her release, McDonald wrote the foreword to Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex edited by Eric A. Stanley and Nat Smith:
“I was a trans woman, surrounded by so many men … but they wanted to know who I was as a person,” McDonald wrote in her foreword. “This surprised me because the media portrays people in prison as angry, evil, and deceiving. For me it was the opposite — those behaviors came from the staff.”
As technology allows for more avenues for prisoners to communicate with the outside world, Ferguson’s research seeks to expand on Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book, The New Jim Crow, which addressed the consequences of mass imprisonment of Black men in the US. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies’ 2013 report, 201,200 women are incarcerated in the US — almost one-third of the world’s documented female prison population. Ferguson says, “Their voices and stories must be told and heard.”
Briefly, we wanted to update you on where Truthout stands this month.
To be brutally honest, Truthout is behind on our fundraising goals for the year. There are a lot of reasons why. We’re dealing with broad trends in our industry, trends that have led publications like Vice, BuzzFeed, and National Geographic to make painful cuts. Everyone is feeling the squeeze of inflation. And despite its lasting importance, news readership is declining.
To ensure we stay out of the red by the end of the year, we have a long way to go. Our future is threatened.
We’ve stayed online over two decades thanks to the support of our readers. Because you believe in the power of our work, share our transformative stories, and give to keep us going strong, we know we can make it through this tough moment.
At this moment, we have 24 hours left in our important fundraising campaign, and we still must raise $23,000. Please consider making a donation today.