Why Should I Become A Penpal to a Queer or Trans Prisoner?

By The Prisoner Correspondence Project

Prisons function by removing people from their communities, using isolation to punish people for committing what have been determined to be “crimes.” This punitive approach to a range of social issues is merely another iteration of the oppressive systems that have come to structure society. It’s no mistake, for example, that in so-called “Canada,” a state historically built through colonization, Indigenous people represent nearly 25% of the prison population but only about 4% of the general population.

Taking an abolitionist approach to dismantling these systems that oppress people through isolation can seem both urgent and daunting. How to even start taking apart this centuries-old system?  We say start with a letter.

Penpal organizations have been at the heart of the abolition movement for decades. Creating friendships between people on the inside and outside is a powerful tool for breaking the isolation people in prison face and fostering networks for action. Given the fact that Queer and Trans people in prison often face added layers of isolation and violence, having someone on the outside who shares some aspect of their identity to talk to opens the door to a deeper relationship of support. Trans people, for example, face higher levels of violence and erasure, often are placed in prisons that do not match their gender identity, isolated for their supposed safety, or prevented from accessing appropriate medical care. Maintaining a sense of Queer and/or Trans community is vital to surviving an institution that tries to break people in the name of supposed “rehabilitation.”

Regardless of if you have a lot more or a lot less in common, being a penpal to someone on the inside is a tangible way to begin to manifest abolition through building relationships, one letter at a time.

To sign up for a penpal through the prisoner correspondence project, send us an email at: info@prisonercorrespondenceproject.com.