A collaboration between Hacking//Hustling and the Support Ho(s)e Collective
by Red Schulte
What follows is a personal reflection and account of a program to support a friend and loved one coming home from prison better navigate technology and outside-change. This will also serve as an introduction to the “container” of our collective work. We started out imagining our “results” or better put, our work experiences together would culminate in a toolkit. We learned much, and among these lessons was that a toolkit (in the traditional sense) wasn’t an expansive enough container to hold all we found and made together. We needed flexibility, accessibility and different meetings/findings/learnings called for different methods of documentation and presentation. So, linked after this piece, you’ll find online access to our full, messy, wild archive of work. This is the only accurate way to reflect this work–the voice memo recordings, the zines, the typed notes, the photographs, the oral recaps of zoom calls and meetings. I hope this (all to real, raw, but intentional) work inspires others toward similar efforts to think ahead, imagine and anticipate needs based upon honest conversations with friends, comrades, loved ones. I hope you use this as a resource to honor all your labor toward support work in the wake of prison violence and carceral punishment– and the havoc it wreaks on the mind and body.
In February of 2020, with the COVID19 Pandemic in full and terrifying swing, I floated a more fully formed idea of a project that had been near and dear to my heart, and to my inside loved ones for a while, to my comrades at Hacking//Hustling. The gaps in structured and deliberate support after our friends, family, neighbors come home from incarceration (of any kind, and especially longer term prison sentences) are staggering–relying on individuals, family units to do the mammoth, usually uneven and un-funded work of catching our loved ones up with new technologies, new state bureaucratic systems, new cultural expressions– not to mention housing, sustainable mental health care, transportation and neighborhood knowledge, and more. Often, our neighbors who return home to our communities have extremely limited to no support from individuals or organizations (and certainly not state-based systems).
In March of that same year, a formal proposal was drafted in collaboration with the Support Ho(s)e Collective to create a funded effort to explore how we could better meet the needs of a community member returning to build a life after incarceration—this effort would be called, the Formerly Incarcerated Worker Support Program. Alisha Walker, a former sex working woman, was finally released from prison (in July of 2021) after a five year popular defense and support campaign toward her freedom. Alisha, a member of Support Ho(s)e, helped shape the asks and anticipated needs for the program’s first recipient while she was incarcerated. She would be the first person to pilot this program, alongside a host of trusted comrades and accomplices who would meet, call, and co-create resources and navigate early transitional needs together. The proposal read as follows:
Hacking//Hustling + Support Ho(s)e Formerly Incarcerated Workers Support Program
This project specific program fund was developed in concert with our comrades from the Support Ho(s)e Collective and directly informed by the needs of their inside (currently incarcerated) organizers.
The need for structural support post-release cannot be overstated. Time and time again, when people are finally released from prison or jail stints, they have virtually no financial, technological, housing, or sustained community support. Basic needs, skill sharing and financial support must be made available to folx establishing themselves after the violence of incarceration.
Therefore, we should seek to create a sustainable, intentional check-in and support program that equips those of us on the outside (especially those of us who have been impacted by incarceration) to show up for those navigating life after prison/jail/detention.
The Proposal: I am seeking $10,000 for our first trial of the Hacking//Hustling Formerly Incarcerated Workers Support Program, and naming Alisha Walker as the first recipient. This sum would cover 3-5 months depending on the tailored requests of the recipient, and would be paid directly to the recipient.
We approach this program with the flexibility and understanding of post-release catch-up and also with an eye toward Disability Justice focused crip time.
We research and court organizations, grants, and institutions that could help us acquire free/funded technology-focused training, computers and phones, college level or vocational school courses, ensuring that at all times the majority of the funding is going directly to the recipient in the form of cash/direct deposit, helping them re-establish financial independence.
After this initial trial period for the program (3-5 months), the recipient can elect to do an exit interview with us and/or remain on as part of the team (funding willing if they’re unable for whatever reason to donate labor/time) to help onboard the next recipient and become a mentor themselves.
This Formerly Incarcerated Workers Support Program may materially include:
- Monthly Stipend of $1,000 USD for the comrade returning home
- Hacking//Hustling Collective Member Status
- For input, decision making/shaping, and advising roles.
- Paid Stipends for all mentors/support comrades depending on need/time contributed to the work.
- Phone & Computer/Tablet Provision
- Obtained through grants/sponsorships/donations
- WiFi & Data Provision
- Totalling $100 per month
- Health & Wellness Provision
- i.e. therapy, body care work, gym membership, etc.
- Totalling $200 per month
- Weekly check-in calls/video chats/in-person meetings with a rotating crew of H//H vetted mentors
- Addressing topics such as: building social media and networks, navigating applying to social/health services and housing, brainstorming passion projects, harm reduction and advocacy, financial/tax planning, public speaking, creative content making/art therapy, etc.
- Work-Study opportunities with Hacking//Hustling (and paid for/donated by partner organizations/institutions)
- Compensated/Sponsored Coding Boot Camps
- Compensated/Sponsored Programming Courses
- Compensated/Sponsored Graphic Design Courses
- Compensated/Sponsored Internet Literacy Programs
- Compensated/Sponsored Grant Writing Workshops
- Compensated/Sponsored Research & Personal Writing Projects
- Compensated/Sponsored Language Learning Classes
Tech based mentoring that Alisha has named:
- Online banking
- Applying for healthcare online
- Filing Taxes
- Posting to a wordpress site/blog
- Setting up a Smartphone
- Setting up a laptop
- Account Recovery (social media/emails)
- Video Calls
- Screening/Harm reduction online
- Overview of AVN/OF/NF
- Social Media Tutorials
The proposal was accepted, funds were sought after and at longlast allocated and the work began heading into 2021. Months before what would be Alisha’s release, initial emails went out and phone calls took place in March of 2021 to share news of this effort with a dozen co-conspirators whose passions, expertise and work focus areas spanned all of the ask and needs identified areas–some of whom had direct lived experience with incarceration as well. The majority of people contacted expressed capacity and enthusiasm for such a project and signed on to participate in various ways. Necessarily embracing loose directives, these meetings were intended to be just as much about building comradeships as well as imparting knowledge about a particular subject area.
At long last, Alisha was home. Come early July 2021, Alisha was eager to rebuild, grow and learn alongside a community she had only had prison-mediated contact with thus far, and meet entirely new-to-her comrades. We’ve learned much in the months since she was freed from Logan Prison. Some of the biggest takeaways I’ll expand on below:
Be flexible with timelines for programming. Healing and navigating trauma, especially after incarceration, isn’t a linear process, and flexibility affords a real responsiveness and responsibility to checking in and actually meeting needs as opposed to forging ahead for the sake of a projected timeline for a thing. Case and point, we thought initially this program would kick start immediately upon Alisha coming home, and parts of it absolutely and crucially did! However, Alisha quickly voiced a need to change pace, scale down, and reassess capacity. So we did just that. The first and most practical elements that we were able to meet were surrounding physical technologies: phone, phone coverage, wifi, laptop, email, encryption and online safety explainers. The second, equally important and of course more difficult to obtain because of bureaucratic obstacles: SNAP benefits, Medicaid healthcare coverage, and government identifying documents—the latter would try all our patience and strength at times.
Be realistic with outcomes, objectives and setting intentions. It is actually alright for a set goal/outcome to be about connecting two people for the sake of doing so, providing uninterrupted space to talk about experiences and feelings, to create a moment of support and encouragement. Interrupting the violence of the carceral state means cultivating connection, community, communication on our own terms, and fortifying consent in all its forms. Plenty of the meetings were spent talking, asking questions, laughing, shooting the shit and just sharing space. That is a valuable and important aspect of this work too—not to mention, the pandemic necessitated many of these meetings happening over video calls and email/text exchanges. This too became a practical application and learning practice with new communication technologies outside of the direct purview of the prison’s surveillance (of course the state still watches, monitors and censors us on this side of the wall, but damn did it feel amazing to be able to text my friend, watch my friend be able to hop on zoom on a whim after the hellscape that was prison video visits and shitty phone connections).
Move in this work with compassion and boundaries. There will be an urge, many urges even, to do everything for/on behalf of/in place of your friend doing this work. Learning takes all shapes and forms, sticks to no set experience or time, and that is frustratingly important and beautiful. Supporting agency, autonomy and self-determination actively is doing freedom work. Yes, there are things you should be doing, within your set capacity, however, there’s a balance that you, your support team, your loved ones should strive for and work within. Of course there’s going to be missteps, just be honest, open and take care of yourself as well as your chosen family.
Toolkits are vital, and messier archives are too. Starting out with specific containers in mind is a great idea, it can help determine what directions to go in, identify gaps in existing resources in circulation, and provide context and clear goals for your project work. That being said, don’t be afraid to mix things up and go with what everyone *actually* has capacity for! Asking questions throughout y’all’s process, creating opportunities for people to engage with one another across multiple platforms and methods is rooted in meeting needs and responding to varying learning styles and capacities. Resources are still resources, even if they’re not graphically designed and organized traditionally. Embrace the organized chaos!
Create internal reflection time. One of the defining features to wrap up the first iteration of this program area was to extend an invitation to Alisha to do an “exit interview” or an intentional time/space to share with Hacking//Hustling about how the meetings with comrades went and what may help improve upon this program should it receive funding again to support another community member when they come home. Another, was to offer a position on the collective to help inform, shape and grow our shared tech/sex work analysis from the perspective of formerly incarcerated people. Both of these things are on the horizon for us! This essay is also a reflective practice–taking time to document, write down actions and thoughts is (in my opinion) equally essential to doing the work itself. How else will our movement’s have memory?
Reflections on the FIWSP experience from the Hacking//Hustling annual retreat session here:
“This project area was my primary focus. It was the culmination of many months of discussion, a vessel to collect experiences, needs, asks, and demands. It went from an intense sketched out plan to something much more messy, and beautiful. Because we were recording it in real time, we shifted from thinking about creating a toolkit to instead making a multimedia archive of how experiences were being processed and navigated. This last year was so very hard, but there was also such joy in the midst of loss because of these connections. I have so much gratitude for space to slow down and take time and be with people in ways that feel generative to all of us, enabling people to be okay.”
“The knowledge and resources that I’ve gained, wow. Just wow. I’m emotionally and mentally in a bad spot, it’s been so hard. I wouldn’t have made it to this point without you guys. I have so much shared love and appreciation.”
“I didn’t even understand how integral something like this would be until we were in this work. Even the things we predicted would come up, after we’d spend more time meeting, we’d discover new things! To build confidence and having that caring support with you, alongside you, is so integral. Knowing the neighborhood and seeing the resources, and being able to guide, it became an opportunity to connect other people to resources that I discovered in our networks. Connecting people who wanted to donate time and labor, I really did appreciate the structure to get to know eachother better in a way that helped establish caring boundaries. This was impactful on me, remembering my favorite and my own resources too. I’m really grateful for this connectivity, I had grown really isolated and this was so nice to be a part of.”
Linked/embedded [coming soon // archive build-out in progress] is an archive of experience–you can listen to our frustrations and triumphs, read about our meetings, explore the zines created with Alisha’s needs in mind and more. I hope this welcomes experimentation, the transition of defense campaign work into homecoming support care work and illumination and appreciation around just how incredibly difficult navigating *anything* is after incarceration. Here’s to creatively thinking through what support can look like, what resourcing people once they’re “free” can look like and imagining worlds without these needs.