When I told my mother that a group of Support Ho(s)e and myself were
going to visit Alisha Walker at the Logan Correctional Center, I wondered aloud
about the correctional officers we would be forced to comply with prior to meeting her. My mother responded to my rhetorical question with something along the lines of, “you’d have to be a pretty miserable person to fill that job.” As much as I agree with my mother, I also believe prison staff may need only be apathetic, ignorant, racist or in desperate need to exercise a (false) sense of superiority over large groups of individuals.
This was my very first visit to any prison, however, I was not nervous only
anxious to finally interact with the woman we had been rallying behind over a
turbulent few months. After subjection to several correctional officers and multiple ID checks at two different buildings, the four of us entered the visitation room. We were carelessly directed to the back corner of the room towards two small, circular tables numbered 19 and 20. The wobbly tables were positioned in between a soda machine and what appeared to be an air conditioning window unit whether it had ever actually functioned as a reprieve from the heat was not evident during our 3 hour stay. The room was thick with humidity, without ventilation and in obvious need of repairs standing water on the floor, moldy ceilings and potentially hazardous dirty electrical equipment. The depressing assessment of our environment was momentarily put on hold when we witnessed Alisha walk through the door and check in at the desk before making her way towards us. There was an overwhelming feeling after she sat down not before embracing each of us with a hug and a greeting seeing
firsthand her welcoming, warm personality laced with the reality of a classist, misogynist, hateful and corrupt system of injustice and incarceration. There were a few initial moments when the mixture of emotion from anxious excitement to the weight of the situation and anger for a system that locks up sex workers for surviving began to emanate from my body.
Fortunately, Alisha’s kindness and outlook towards the future, as well as the
experiences she shared, kept us grounded and focused. Alisha spoke about a number of situations since her entry into Logan her awful first roommate who she fended off long enough before she could be transferred to a better situation, but not before having to plead and convince authorities that the cell situation put her in physical danger and emotional distress. We asked her about the power outage that Logan endured recently and were told that inmates went without power and without a sufficient water supply for 6 days in the midst of a muggy summer completely inhumane and easily avoidable situations. Another situation involved an officer spewing racist insults at a fellow inmate. In glorious retaliation to this racist scum, Alisha informed us that she was working in the kitchen when the surrounding inmates began chanting “Black lives matter!” and as she said this I looked across the shitty table at one of our Support Ho(s)e members and we exchanged looks of elation and solidarity. Aside from tales of courage and survival were her and her inmates’ creativity and ingenuity using the starved and scarce resources they had access to in order to bring some sense of self-sufficiency and joy to their caged and isolated existence. Alisha and her current roommate someone she has grown close with and works alongside in the kitchen help each other make their own clothes, find ways to stay cool inside their cell, utilize the slim pickings of their kitchen ingredients to concoct sweet desserts, and even mix raw materials to create nail polish. Some of these, if not all, are under inmate discretion and may or may not be approved by prison authority but it is because it keeps inmates like Alisha sane in a world that would rather see them suffer.
Speaking of suffering, Bruce Rauner and the state of Illinois are not only
causing great undue damage to public education, but also directly impacting the daily lives and futures of current prison inmates. Programs, like one Alisha had hoped to get into for cosmetology, have been suspended under Rauner, leaving folks without ways to develop or improve their skills and training for their release. If, or when programming is implemented once again, only 12 out of the 1,900 inmates will be able to register for the cosmetology program at a time. For now, Alisha will continue working in the kitchen full-time for her $19.20 USD per month. Yes, per month. Eventually we broke up the group conversation with a board game of Clue provided by the visitation room. We had expected at least another hour, with the announcement that the next dismissal would be at 4:30pm. At about quarter to 4pm there was an announcement that dismissal would be at 4pm without explanation. This cut our visit short and we begrudgingly began to pack up the game and say
By this time Alisha had shared so much with us, including a desire to do what we were doing for her outside the confines of prison walls resisting an inherently sexist, racist and classist society and building solidarity through direct action and personal involvement. Leaving the property without Alisha was emotionally draining and the drive home was surreal, painful and full of contempt for a legal system that would rather see humans rot than succeed.
If you want to support Alisha (commissary, visits, legal needs) & help us and her family continue to visit please contribute here: https://www.generosity.com/fundraising/alisha-walker-survived-and-punished–2