Speaking to another of our collective members upon returning, I found myself having difficulty expressing just what this most recent visit to Alisha had impressed upon me. The arbitrariness of prison regulations was hardly a surprise, and the length of the drive and waiting around were, at least for me, vastly condensed by knowing that the person we were going to see was so appreciative of the visit, and vice versa. Even discovering that the corrections officers had failed to mention our having arrived to her for half an hour, though despicable and infuriating, was not enough to cast a different pallor on the visit. What was different from our last trip was my experience of the time itself with Alisha: it truly seemed to elapse vastly more quickly, though I was no more or less excited or anticipatory to be with her. We met last time, overcoming the oddity of all of us having a sense of her appearance, she having no idea of ours. We got a sense of each other’s personalities beyond whatever our letters—necessarily few, with long gaps between, and even in some cases returned undelivered—might have conveyed, nervously tried to balance being real with being comforting (she as much as we!), and came to whatever terms we were able with the fact that even with a great deal of luck and our very best efforts, this young woman had survived an attempt on her life and would continue to be in prison for at least months, but more likely years.
So it may not be that the circumstances or affect of this visit were all that different, but instead that I was in a slightly different frame of mind and able to concentrate of different things. My revulsion at the place and the situation were much the same, but I was unwittingly prepared to have a different kind of interaction. What this meeting yielded was the distinct feeling of ease with another person that I, we, still really hardly know, however hungrily we ask questions of one another and laugh with disbelief and anger and pure mirth at the same circumstances, from inside or outside. I was struck by just how easily Alisha fits in with our collective, which is drawn from a fair diversity of experience both within the sex work profession(s) and in life in general. We have each had our experiences with violence both sexual and otherwise, and have in some cases had to overcome fairly damning and difficult experiences as such. But, I think I can claim without fear of contradiction, we have had to encounter nothing in the range of that with which Alisha has been forced to contend—a struggle to survive within a struggle to survive in a life of struggling to survive, as a near homicide victim, as a sex worker, as a poor black woman, in the face of a drunk, rich, white, “pillar of the community,” whom she had reason to trust. Fuck.
But this story we have some sense of, and I am not the one to retell it, nor does it in any way hang over my experience of and with Alisha. And that’s what I picked up on all the more acutely at this visit. This woman owes us nothing, really, and I would not blame her if all she saw was differences, and privilege (at the very least, the privilege of not being punished for attempting to stay alive), and saviorism. To be clear: I do not think Alisha Walker needs a savior. I am as convinced that she could handle this time with aplomb if we had never come across her case as I am of anything in my life. Furthermore, I cannot say with total confidence what she does see when we four wait for her at the plastic table adjacent to the filthy children’s play area, next to the frequently-visited Pepsi machine. But I do know that she is one of us. She is my friend because she is warm and cares about what I do and what I have to say. She gets genuinely excited about the Assata autobiography I bring for her, and the hugs she gives are no put on, they are as serious as death. I feel as though I’ve just seen her despite the fact that it’s been five months, and when we leave I immediately regret—this is the correct word, though I know damn well nothing can be done about it. As we walk back between the buildings, having been brusquely booted at the end of visiting I hours, I regret that she is not crammed in the back seat of the car with us.
Alisha would be right to be angry, and in some ways she is. She would be right to be despondent, because the authority that is supposed to hold together some version of justice has utterly trampled on her. She would be justified in being sad, hopeless, lost—but these things she is not. I do not know if she is a saint or destined to save others from the succession of miserableness that landed her here. I cannot say what her life will look like when she is finally released, or even necessarily what the best version of that would be. But I can see in her eyes, her demeanor, and her gentleness with us a resilience which is more inspiring the easier it gets. When I finally got home Saturday night and tried to put to words what I felt about this visit, what it was I was so surprised at, I think “ease” is as good a word as any. Alisha was easy with us, and all I can do is hope that when my own frustrations threaten to make me act outside the way I want or ought to, I am reminded of that ease. When we finally torch the prisons and hold people accountable to a different sort of justice for their laws and procedures, I don’t need fire and brimstone. I want Alisha’s ease.