We drove through snowy desolate bullshit to see our friend on January 3rd.
Thankfully our visit lasted for over 4 hours and the heat was working in the visitation room at Decatur. Our conversation was stream of consciousness, chaotic, excited, it later morphed into reflection and pause while we imagined things to come. She had a lot of news for us, as we had for her.
Shakespeare auditions and rehearsals are on the horizon. Alisha is beside herself with happiness over this. She is determined to act this year, and if they let her, also perform cello. She’s vying for the “lead horny guy” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she says, Lysander. I know this play well but all of us get stuck on his name. We list off all the characters and count them trying the account for each and it occurs to us how absurd and hilarious this activity it. We’re talking Shakespeare inside. Dope. We laugh.
There’s some pain too though, but it’s coupled with a resoluteness. Alisha has just (again) separated from her partner. So-and-So had become whorephobic and jealous, not wanting LeLe to write to pen pals who might offer some monetary security. LeLe put her foot down: “If she can’t handle this small hustle while I’m in here, how the hell is she gonna be when I’m at work outside?!”
This lead into a discussion where she outlined the way in which other folx inside have been latching onto drama in the face of boredom or lack of control, constant picking at each other, getting people “sexuals” (the term for getting a ticket or citation for suspected sexual activity). But beyond this, the social minutia, the rumors etc, have been freaking Alisha out, and as a result she’s been isolating herself from others. In talking about tickets we started to discuss her active grievance writing against a number of COs who have been continually harassing her. She caught a goddamn ticket on Christmas. These sorry assholes wrote her a ticket on Christmas! She elaborated by listing their names and aggressive behaviors. She said the Black and Brown COs (like cops on the outside) exhibit worse behavior toward inmates. This really infuriates and depresses Alisha, and we talk about the way that white supremacy and abuse of authority creep into people (specifically cops/COs/detention workers etc). The political climate is confusing and terrifying to her, she brings up hearing about Trump and the Kim Jong-un bickering and threatening each other, she asked, very seriously, if we would be safe in NYC, because the North Korean leader had alleged his warheads would reach the east coast. This was a truly bizarre moment, very surreal.
We then discussed Cyntoia Brown’s case, LeLe wants to send words of love and support and is frustrated by the lack of rights prisoners have with regard to writing to one another. She also can’t write her cousin jay because the warden has deemed he isn’t “immediate family.” We talk hunger strikes in North Texas prisons, the heating going out in Tennessee detention centers. I tell her about other prisoner actions planned around MLK Day. I’ve told her about DRIVE (DEATH ROW INNERCOMMUNALIST VANGUARD ENGAGEMENT) long ago but it never ceases to be such an amazing example of inside organizing.
This spurns a whole take-down of complaints about prison policy. Apparently Mp3 players are going away, the prison will be moving to tablets, which means no more buying music. The only option will be a very expensive Pandora subscription for $32 a month. Alisha has already said fuck that. She’ll stick to her radio. There are still no college classes being offered. The COs we ask on our way out are less than unhelpful about timelines. The only functioning program is the dog grooming work and it has an exceptionally long waiting list. Alisha can’t get work. Which means she can’t earn days. This climate has cause rumors to circulate. Rumors about time served laws, for every 1 day you get 7 back? No one at the prison has been able to confirm anything to her.
In 11 days, it will be the half-way mark before parole. This means it will have been a full 4 years of incarceration for LeLe. Her birthday in also upcoming on February 11th, she’ll be turning 25 years young. This prompted us to recount how we found out about her case, and we all shared this moment of shaking our heads in disbelief. She’s family now. We have big plans for a new campaign launch on her birthday. She’s excited for our collective actions to come.
Then came the rush of “freedom plans.” Tattoos, movies, swimming, choreography, fashion design, this intense creative energy, travel, take out a goddamn credit card! We laugh as we brainstorm all the possibilities. She’s committed to organizing, and as she calls it, “giving back.” “I wanna be in the streets with y’all. I wanna show them I won’t be broken. I wanna free people.”
Her creative energy is palpable. She was able to release property to us, a poster, which won second place in the DV Awareness month poster competition the prison held. The irony was not lost on all 3 of us. Second place because, the survivors breasts were too big. “I made her too thick like me, and they haaaaated that, but it was too fire not to place.” On the poster are the words strength, support, Survived & Punished, Black & Pink, among others.
We update her about Sherri, her momma, having to send another letter to the warden about visitation. The prison still hasn’t reconsidered Sherri having access to visits to be with Alisha. We talked about communism, socialism and anarchism. A lot. (insert tilted laugh/cry emoji)
Her former pimp is now in Cook County she tells us, Alisha celebrates his comeuppance. I’m conflicted. I hold her hand, happy that she feels like he can’t access her in any way, but devastated another person has been added to the county’s cages.
It was around this time that one of the counselors walked by, she’s notorious for backing up COs, always siding with prison, and never believing Alisha or her fellow prisoners when they challenge the tickets or try to file counter statements.
LeLe asked for a full run-down of the December 17th actions for International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. We reported on the vigils in Brooklyn and in Chicago. We shared that her poem was read in both cities to mourn and express collective rage. We talked about rallying for Yang Song and how the NYPD was responsible for her death.
As our visit drew to a close, Alisha shared that she was really beginning to see her priorities come into view; she could feel her own personal growth. She nodded decidedly, saying that she knew what she was about. She used the words solidarity, supported, loved and powerful to describe her various states of feeling. We hugged a lot. We blew kisses. And we were back out into the frustrating landscape of nothing.