Currently incarcerated persons are probably already the most isolated individuals in the United States. Those who are not only incarcerated but also the victims of sexual violence while imprisoned face little support, few mental health and recovery services, the ongoing threat of violence, and even retaliation should they speak of the abuse. With their support networks ripped from them, their right to safety revoked, and their abusers (who are most frequently prison officials) having control over every aspect of their lives, they are among the most vulnerable sexual assault survivors.
In light of this, sending a 250 character message of support and greeting during the holiday season may seem a truly underwhelming gesture. It is precisely these same conditions, however, that makes such a small act able to speak volumes. Incarcerated persons are cultural pariahs, socially treated as subhuman, and/or told that they deserve sexual violence as a condition of their detention. A few kind and compassionate words, under those circumstances, could mean the world.
Rafael, a recipient of a holiday card through Just Detention’s 2010 campaign and victim of multiple assaults by state corrections officers, stated:
Here I was in my cell sitting on my bed on Christmas Eve, sad but hanging in there. My thoughts were on my mom who passed on in 2004, and thinking ‘man, this is my 24th Christmas behind bars.’ Then at about 4 pm the officer gave me some mail from JDI. I was surprised because I don’t get much mail. Being incarcerated for so long, friends and family have forgotten me or passed on. When I read the holiday cards my heart skipped a beat and I started to cry. Yes, this 46-year old hard-core convict was crying. The kind words of encouragement, blessing, and letting me know that I’m not forgotten from total strangers from far away shattered my emotions. Please let them all know that I love them all and will cherish their words in my heart. And yes, I will walk with my head up high and will share my story with no shame and will help others that find themselves in similar situations.
Another (anonymous) survivor said:
I have been down since 1998 and have not had a card or letter sent to me, nor a visit. To receive those cards has totally left me speechless. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
While Just Detention International works to eradicate sexual violence in prisons — and other activists do work to more fundamentally dismantle the racist (classist, transphobic, homophobic, misogynistic, ableist …) prison industrial complex — please take a few short moments today to send a message to a person who has experienced sexual violence while incarcerated. Your message will be transcribed by hand into a card by a JDI volunteer and delivered to a currently incarcerated person who has experienced sexual violence while detained.
If you’re having trouble knowing what to say, JDI has provided me with some examples of actual messages written by others:
“I wish you hope, healing, and support. Please know there are people fighting for you, even if you have never seen us. Know there is love.”
“May you take comfort in knowing that countless people in the free world care deeply about you and will not stop fighting for justice.”
“From one survivor to another, I send you hope for peace of mind and heart. On both sides of the bars, we give one another strength to go on.”
“Dear Friend, I guess this time of year may feel particularly hard. Please let me take a minute to say that I recognize that your humanity and your safety are worth fighting for regardless of your detention. I wish you hope and joy every day. Be well.”
It is imperative that work to support those currently suffering under oppressive conditions be done simultaneously with work to dismantle the oppressive systems that create those conditions. Ultimately, your words may mean a lot more than you know. Please send a card today and help spread the word.