Confronting Expectations / Choosing a Penpal
Often we get involved with support projects with a vague notion of wanting to support people who we see ourselves in. This is especially true of projects like ours that are organized around identity. While this is an admirable motivation, many times it doesn’t account for the demographics of who is in prison and in need of solidarity. For example, upwards of 95% of the North American prison population is incarcerated in male prisons. Women prisoners (cis and trans) usually wait just a few weeks to get matched while those identifying as bisexual men can often wait over a year. Additionally, the words we use to discuss our sexualities, our genders, and our desires reflect our pasts and our current contexts. As we try to build links across prison walls, we often find that these may not translate directly or easily. Words used outside may have no frame of reference inside, and words we may understand as passé or offensive in some contexts don’t carry the same connotations at all in others. Approach it with an open mind. Lastly, we often get involved with unrecognized expectations around literacy. We are, understandably, attracted to the funniest or most articulate writer, but we also know that race and class and many of the other factors that dictate who is criminalized in this system, often are substantial barriers to literacy. As education programs in prison get cut further and further back, there are limited opportunities to improve. Exchanging letters with a penpal is one of those remaining avenues. There are obviously a lot of factors that people take into account when choosing a penpal, we just ask that you keep some of these dynamics in mind.