We’ve created a more web stable link to our Sex Work Syllabus document. We continue to hope this archive of our internal political education reading group materials (from 2015 – 2018) is useful for your self-guided or group organized learning/discussing/making!
During those first few years of our organizing, we voraciously read, watched, listened to and discussed everything we could gain access to. This meant we read a lot of excellent, insightful, but also mediocre and downright wild stuff. It was all important and relevant to how we formed our own ideas, politics and shared analysis together. All of those discussions and debates also informed how we embarked on our first zine making project together, and how we continue to create and revisit the resources we’ve put out into the world.
From Brandi Collins-Calhoun, the NCRP Movement Engagement Manager: “Be Fund(ed) or Die: The Precarity of Sex Worker Organizing” by Red Schulte, with contributions and considerations from The Support Ho(s)e Collective, is about the importance of “accompliceship, not charity” and names the “potential for participatory programs led by communities directly impacted to shift the discourse away from voyeuristic donor-driven charity and into accompliceship and wealth redistribution.”
Reflections from a Movement Art Whorestorian / The Sex Worker Gazes Back
2:45 PM – 4:15 PM EST
Talk Description: Reflections from a Movement Art Whorestorian / The Sex Worker Gazes Back will be a presentation space that documents, names and traces sex worker movement organizing, art making, curating, and resistance from 2015 – 2021 in Chicago and NYC as the notions of “Decrim” and sex work positivity took hold in ways previously unseen by mainstream artists, art workers, and the general public. This presentation will specifically reflect upon: the “/Sanctuary/” exhibition of sex worker and undocumented immigrant art works at the University of Illinois at Chicago, art and protest vigils mourning the murder of massage worker Yang Song, the first Hacking//Hustling convening at Eyebeam NYC which featured the resistance-object installation “Whores Will Rise,” the indoor and outdoor art protest happenings against the closure of Backpage.com and against SESTA/FOSTA in Chicago and NYC, craftivist whore meet-ups at Bluestockings Books, the community participation and programming of “ON OUR BACKS: The Revolutionary Art of Queer Sex Work” at the Leslie Lohman Museum, the short-lived (and complicated) installation “Sex Workers’ Pop-Up” that debuted as the pandemic hit NYC, and Sophia Giovannitti’s performance work “Untitled (Incall)” which opened at recess art just as NYC began to reopen cultural spaces. This list, while long, is not exhaustive. This is only a cross-section of the explosive art/protest activity that the last six years has seen (most notably) in the US (as our movement spaces have not garnered such mainstream notoriety) and internationally for sex workers’ rights and the movement for decriminalization. My presentation places these happenings and intentional actions to take back gallery and public space led by sex working people, hustlers and survivors amongst the broader acknowledgement of sex/sexuality in art spaces.
Q&A Session: “Exhibiting Sex Workers’ Art and Histories” is a combined Q & A for the presentations “Is Moderation Violence?: Exhibiting Sex Worker Art” by Lena Chen and “Reflections from a Movement Art Whorestorian/The Sex Worker Gazes Back” by Brit Schulte. For further information about the presentations, please click on the subsessions.
// CW for mentions of death of a community member below //
Alisha’s beloved (step) father passed very unexpectedly. We are writing to ask if y’all could please share and give so that Alisha and her loved ones have the financial support they urgently need.
Derrick was a kind, gentle and extremely supportive person to all of us who rallied alongside Alisha for years. He was a co-struggler and fierce believer in freedom and justice for criminalized survivors. May his rest be peaceful, may his memory be a blessing to us all.
We’re currently on a journalism/media hiatus for all requests–especially with regard to student journalists. Please see a guide we put together years ago, to support media workers in being better accomplices, under the digital publications section of this site.
If you’re a student journalist, and REALLY want to get our attention/time/energy, consider offering to let us use your department’s xerox machine, copy codes, Jstor login, or liberate office supplies for us etc!
If you read this and still feel compelled to reach out, please know that our consulting rate (for any requests coming in from unvetted / non-comrade media workers) is $150/hour, with a minimum of a one hour booking.
We encourage all media workers to use our website, zines and social media presence as a resource, and if you cite us, to please compensate us accordingly.
Sever of our comrades are currently hurtling toward Lincoln (aka evil cornfield prison land) to stay the night in preparation for picking up our beloved comrade and friend Alisha early in the morning! Please send your love and well wishes as we navigate every emotion under the sun right now.
Please continue to share bit.ly/FundLeLe so we can ensure robust support and resources as we welcome LeLe/Lili home!
Thank y’all for always demonstrating solidarity and care for us. It’s been six long years—here’s to this freedom day eve, to friendship and much love, compassion and support for years to come and of course the fiery end to all prisons!
The most recent art fundraiser raffle may be over, but our comrade Dante (they/them) has some words for you to encourage folx to keep sharing and giving to Alisha’s welcome home fund! Please join us in these final pushes to welcome our dear comrade home with an abundance of resources!!
Something Red and Alisha have been working on for quite some time about the violence of prison technology and the importance of inside/outside communication, is finally debuting today in honor of International Whore’s Day! Please read and share, “Care and Connection as Resistance to State Violence and Surveillance” with your communities!
This letter writing workshop series is conducted to raise post- release funds for a dear friend and comrade Alisha Walker. Learn more about Alisha here: http://bit.ly/AlishaWalker
During this generative letter writing workshop you will learn: Things to keep in mind before you begin writing to an incarcerated person. Best practices of letter writing and expectations. E- Correspondence suggestions. Prompts for new letters, and ideas for content.
ALL Participants will receive: Gentle constructive feedback on any writing you create during the session. Genuine warmth, validation and encouragement to continue writing from community members and the facilitator. Printing, shipping and mail support for sending your letter generated during the workshop.
First dibs sign up for Donna Gary’s donation based poetry workshop series with limited space in April and May. Participants who donate 15.00 dollars or more will receive: One zine from the Support Ho(s)e zine store shipped to your home.
For requests about accommodation please email firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Letter Writing Party’ in the subject. This event will be auto captioned via Zoom. This event will not be recorded to respect the privacy of attendees.
Workshops are hosted virtually over zoom: Saturday April 10 1pm-2:30pm CST Wednesday April 14 1pm-2:30pm CST More dates coming soon depending on feedback, donations and engagement from the first two events.
Today, we’re turning 5 years young as a collective!!! We’re taking time to reflect on the last five years and invite you to support our work by donating to Alisha’s post-release fund, celebrating the launch of our latest yearbook zine and purchasing copies of our benefit zines + buttons! https://sxhxcollective.org/store/
In late March of 2016, we organized our first demonstration in solidarity with Alisha Walker and all criminalized/incarcerated sex workers who had survived violence. It was our first formal action as a collective. Since then, we’ve fundraised, visited, developed friendships and organized alongside LeLe and other comrades inside, protested, found pro bono legal aid (a few times over), and maintained a grassroots campaign for clemency and her release. #FreeLeLe #StandWithAlisha
We’ve taken public space, held teach-ins, trainings, knowledge shares, hosted letter writing events, Know Your Rights events, spoken at virtual vigils + actions, and crafts workshops to demand rights, respect and protection of sex working people. https://www.internationalwhoresday.com
We created guides for Letter Writing to incarcerated folx, best practices for Academics, as well as Media and Health & Wellness professionals to become sex work competent and create more ethical conditions for working with sex workers. https://sxhxcollective.org/digital-publications/
We’ve been honored to work closely with Alisha’s mother Sherri and family and have helped to facilitate numerous articles to highlight LeLe’s case for clemency. ((We’ve also pushed back on poorly written, disrespectful pieces.))
We saw and celebrated the release of our comrade Ada, and have crowdsourced and fundraised for her to be able to support her daughter. (( Her CashApp is $ada3636 ))
We have continued to expand our organizing work in NYC, and are helping to build radical community amongst current and former sex working people and co-conspirators. We’ve been humbled and thankful to forge bonds with Survived & Punished NY, Hacking//Hustling, Red Light Reader, Red Canary Song, IWD NYC, Kink Out, Bluestockings, and other renegade comrades who we learn from everyday!
We can do even more as a community. We’ve got to keep lifting up our incarcerated sex worker family and work to get them free. Especially now amidst a global health crisis and pandemic. More people are learning about and deepening their mutual aid/care practices and it’s so hopeful to see. It’s going to take all of us to resist the death blows of capitalism and the racist whorephobia of criminalization + punishment.
Thank y’all for all your support along the way. Please keep sharing, keep writing LeLe, keep telling folx that she should be free–extend this care to everyone on the inside. bit.ly/AlishaAdvocate
We’ve got a long fight ahead of us, but having these years behind us, we’ve learned a hell of a lot. We are a small, extremely small, formation, and yet we feel committed and focused. We’ve learned hard lessons, and have fortified bonds of trust and love. You can be small and make shit happen.
From the Red Canary Song solidarity + response statement: “Decriminalization of sex work is the only way that sex workers, massage workers, sex trafficking survivors, and anyone criminalized for their survival and/or livelihood will ever be safe.”
We’ve signed on in support. Read the full statement here, listen to and act on its demands:
Mourning with Asian Massage Workers in the Americas
In the wake of the deaths of multiple Asian women massage workers in Georgia, we are sending radical love, care, and healing to all of our community members. We acknowledge the ongoing pain and grief from continued violent assaults on our Asian and Asian American, APIA community, which has been compounded by the alienation, isolation, and violence brought on by racist rhetoric and governmental neglect in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are concerned that many of those calling for action in this moment have and will continue to endorse violence towards Asian sex workers, massage workers, and survivors.
We reject the call for increased policing in response to this tragedy. The impulse to call for increased policing is even greater in the midst of rising anti-Asian violence calling for carceral punishment. We understand the pain that motivates our Asian and Asian-American community members’ call for increased policing, but we nevertheless stand against it. Policing has never been an effective response to violence because the police are agents of white supremacy. Policing has never kept sex workers or massage workers or immigrants safe. The criminalization and demonization of sex work has hurt and killed countless people–many at the hands of the police both directly and indirectly. Due to sexist racialized perceptions of Asian women, especially those engaged in vulnerable, low-wage work, Asian massage workers are harmed by the criminalization of sex work, regardless of whether they engage in it themselves.
Decriminalization of sex work is the only way that sex workers, massage workers, sex trafficking survivors, and anyone criminalized for their survival and/or livelihood will ever be safe.
Media coverage that examines the racist or sexist motivations of the killings as independent of each other fail to grasp the deeply connected histories of racialized violence and paternalistic rescue complexes that inform the violence experienced by Asian massage workers. We see the effort to invisibilize these women’s gender, labor, class, and immigration status as a refusal to reckon with the legacy of United States imperialism, and as a desire to collapse the identities of migrant Asian women, sex workers, massage workers, and trafficking survivors. The women who were killed faced specific racialized gendered violence for being Asian women and massage workers. Whether or not they were actually sex workers or self-identified under that label, we know that as massage workers, they were subjected to sexualized violence stemming from the hatred of sex workers, Asian women, working class people, and immigrants.
We are asking that the community stand in solidarity with us and all immigrant and migrant massage workers and sex workers. We highlight the following demands from NY-based massage parlor workers:
1. Pay attention to the life and work safety of massage and salon employees!
2. Asian massage workers and businesses come from the community and give back to the community!
3. The legal working rights of Asian massage workers must be protected!
4. The lives of Asian massage workers must not be lost in vain!
5. The legal profession of massage work should be respected and protected by US society!
From Red Canary Song: “Eight workers in massage parlors have been killed in Atlanta. This is horrific, and is indicative of the violence that massage workers face daily. We are saddened and angered to learn of this, and we are sending our love to the workers in Atlanta.”
Our hearts break and we are filled with rage and a fierce commitment to solidarity with all our Asian family and comrades–sex working, massage working, immigrant, migrant, undocumented; we grieve those taken by this racist and whorephobic horror with you.
Please show up especially for our dear comrades Butterfly & Red Canary Song (both are grassroots organizations dedicated to supporting Asian and migrant sex workers and massage parlor workers)– and take supportive action as you mourn.
From our dear comrade Caty Simon of Whose Corner Is It Anyway:
This International Women’s Day, please donate to the 150 + low-income sex working, drug-using, housing insecure, Boricua, Dominican, Black, Native, and white cis and trans women of Whose Corner and all our organizing and mutual aid on each other’s behalf. Please help Whose Corner, our org by/for low-income/street/survival #sexworkers using opioids/stimulants or experiencing housing insecurity, reach Weds’ 2 K goal. We just served 113 members at our supply pickup and co-launched #decrimMA with Black and Pink Massachusetts. I will detail all our million and one projects, but we have been going through monies like no one’s business and could really use your support this cycle!
So, besides, you know, making MA history with the launch of #decrimMA , we have had a busy couple of weeks! During these last few cold nights, we launched a successful pilot of a program we wanna scale up next winter, providing emergency overnight shelter for some of our most vulnerable houseless members during snow/hail storms and below 10/15 degree weather. Many thanks to organizers Ivaneliz, Shae M, and M’s teamwork on that one.Our harm reduction advisor is now running more organized harm reduction/reproductive health supply access during our weekly drop-in hours, and helping our organizer Ivaneliz make plans for consistent outreach efforts to our community. We are now serving 10 people with syringe and safer crack kit access services during our weekly drop-in hours, and about 60 people–about half of the total number of members we see—during our monthly supply pickups.
Another one of our organizers, Vanessa, has been prepping a presentation on barriers to healthcare access for opioid using sex workers and how we provide healthcare options to each other as a community for a class of Umass nursing students. She’ll discuss bad overdose responses by EMTs; redflagged files &the perception of “drug-seeking”; lack of adequate opioid maintenance in in-patient care; verbal abuse; neglect of patient health in in-patient drug treatment; barriers to methadone access; difficulty acquiring prescribed antibios for abscesses; problems w/harm reduction based care; sexual exploitation of sex working, drug-using women(or drug-using women perceived to be sex worker) by clinic security guards and MART drivers; why drug-using sex workers rarely disclose sw in healthcare settings, and more.“ I told my family–’the next time I overdose, just let me fucking die,’ ” Vanessa commented in reference to the verbal abuse she encountered from small town EMTS responding to her last overdose.Our subcommittee member Shae McQuade, an ex-financial advisor before she became a survival sw, is now being consulted to do ongoing, specialized financial research for an exciting project soon to be launched by our allies nationally.
Finally, our bureaucratic midwifery/weekly drop-in hours team created a list of the referral skills we’d like to develop more, as well as beginning a fledgling resource list, collecting commentary from members on how each service provider treats us.
After March 14th, when Pandemic Unemployment Assistance stops taking new claimants, our drop-in hours team will start keeping the site open for 5 hours instead of 7 hours weekly, and then spend two hours in trainings each week designed to give us new skills providing resources.But you all wanna hear about #DecrimMA!Again, in coalition with Black and Pink Massachusetts, we launched the #DecrimMA campaign on 3/2, consisting of decriminalization of sex work legislation, HD 2200, An Act To Promote The Health And Safety Of People In The Sex Trade, our decrim subcommittee wrote in the MA House, sponsored by Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa (malegislature.gov/Bills/192/HD2200 ), and a bill in the MA Senate sponsored by Julian Cyr, SD 2226, which would at least strike common nightwalking from MA General Law, something Whose Corner has been aiming for a while.
(malegislature.gov/Bills/192/SD2226) A version of Julian Cyr’s bill–an Act to Stop Profiling Transgender People And Low-Income Women—has also been introduced to the MA House by Liz Miranda: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/192/HD3761…I have been bursting with pride but unable to tell you all about the hours of work weekly our decrim sub—composed of Ivaneliz, Madeline, Jaylanee, Kela, and my co-organizer Naomi Lauren—has been doing for months on this project! Our organizers partnered with mentors from the national community to learn how to create soundbytes and present their stories to journalists and legislators in a way which protects them from the retraumatizing process of having their lives turned to trauma porn. This is something us older sex worker organizers had to learn the hard way so many times, so now we at WCIIA hope to stop this cycle of fumbling autodidactism so that organizers on our decrim subc can learn how to frame their lives for the telling more intentionally.
Our organizer Jaylanee has been working with her mentor, Lorelei Lee. Jaylanee, always a strong voice in our organizing whether working on the crack kit, skeleton, or syringe access subcommittees, wrote about the racism she endured at low-wage work like Mcdonald’s, and experiencing sex work as a partial refuge from such racism. She also recounts the structural violence of being arrested when a client attacked *her*.“Ever since I got arrested, it’s been a living hell—the cops harass me and profile me as a sex worker forever because I once got arrested for it. In this way, the criminalization of sex work allows for discriminatory policing. Racism will never end…[sex workers of color] know that decriminalizing sw is the only path forward.”
Her fellow decrim subcommittee member Kela echoes her on the long term consequences of criminalization, “When you have a record you can’t get housing or a good job. It’s like a scarlet letter on your chest.”Our organizer Madeline states, “Everyday, people do what they need to do to survive—that is clear today now more than ever. For the LGBTQ, especially trans women of color like myself, that is nothing new. Many of us have been shoved out of our homes as teenagers and discriminated against when seeking a job. Do we want to do [sw]? Well, I’m sure different people would answer differently, but that’s not a question many of us have the luxury of asking.“Sex work should not be criminalized. We have learned that the criminalization of sex work violates many human rights. The fight for sex workers’ rights has always been an inseparable part of the fight for LGBTQ rights.”#DecrimMA has collected a powerful group of allies from other marginalized groups— GLAD, The Transgender Emergency Fund of MA, Urban Survivors Union, Reframe Health and Justice, Out Now of Springfield, ACLU of Massachusetts, and many others have signed on in support. For those who missed it, here again is @melissagiragrant ‘s New Republic piece quoting my work wife/Whose Corner co-organizer Naomi Lauren at length on the #DecrimMA campaign. https://newrepublic.com/article/161525/sex-workers-win…
So, we are chock full of activity and accomplishment, but the only problem is we are currently going through funds like water! Though now we have a small separate fundraiser for #DecrimMA, we have been spending $500-$800 a week on it for a while. Even the pilot version of the emergency shelter project is costing about $400 each night we do it. We are staffing extra subcommittee members at our drop-in hours to provide more services to our members, and that also carries a larger weekly price tag. Our last supply pickup ended up costing about $4.9 K just in cash honoraria, to say nothing of food and supplies. We will also be continuing to order tents, rope, duct tape, reflective blankets, wool blankets, ponchos, and mummy sleeping bags to distribute to our houseless members at our drop-in hours each week for as long as demand continues.After my long couple week hiatus from fundraising, this is a week where we could DEFINITELY use your help meeting and exceeding our 2 K goal for Weds. Beloved and consistent donors—help us out, but more importantly, please brag on us to all your trusted friends & convince them to invest in us as well! And remember, we couldn’t have done thing A—not to mention things X, Y, Z, etc unto infinity like we’re doing now—without your dedication and loyalty. Even when you don’t have funds to give us, we value your persistent cheerleading and tweeted lurv.All our love back to you in return. After what might have been the last life-threateningly cold night in MA for a while, we hope all sex workers, drug users, poor people, community members etc are warm and safe today and tonight.
It’s been time for the world to be unapologetic about the survival of sex working people! We rise up with our comrades Women With A Vision, INC. in Louisiana calling on all their community members to utilize their newly released “Deep South Decrim toolkit” to get educated and to push for the decriminalization of ALL sex work in their state!
Sharing this latest news from our comrades at Third Wave Fund: The Sex Worker Giving Circle Fellowship application is now live! 2021 Fellows will lead the SWGC in raising money, building community & political power, & making at least $550K in grants to SW-led groups, our biggest year yet. Deadline to apply: 3/14.
San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, and the St. James Infirmary, named for its most storied founder Margo St. James, announced that St. Valentine’s Day in San Francisco is now officially, Margo St. James Day.
St. James, who founded the prostitutes’ rights organization, COYOTE, (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), and later, the St. James Infirmary, was honored by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors at its January 26, 2021 Board Meeting. “I am thrilled to honor Margo in this way. She was a tireless activist, and with a broad smile and sharp wit, exposed hypocrisy in public policy. What better way to honor a great sex worker than to name St. Valentine’s Day for her,” said Mandelman.
Veronica Vera, writer and former member of P.O.N.Y. (Prostitutes of New York) said of San Francisco’ Re-Naming of Valentine’s Day, “Margo turned St. Valentine’s Day into a celebration of women’s liberty. She used the joy of the Day to draw back the curtain on laws that marginalized mainly women. It’s taken all these years but look at what the New York State Legislature finally did – they repealed a law that sanctioned arresting people for standing on the street. Margo championed the disparity in bad laws starting Mother’s Day, 1973 when she founded COYOTE.”
Anita O’Shea, Operations Director for the St. James Infirmary also announced that a Celebration of Margo’s life is planned for May 1, 2021. O’Shea said of the event, “As Margo would say, ‘We want everyone to come.’” The online event will begin at 11 AM Pacific time on May 1, 2021. More details will appear on the St. James Infirmary website, at www.stjamesinfirmary.org
The St. James Infirmary, the first of its kind occupational health and safety clinic for sex workers in the US was founded in 1999 by St. James, Johanna Breyer and Dawn Passar, both of the Exotic Dancer’s Alliance, and with the help of Margo’s former campaign manager, in collaboration with the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The St. James Infirmary was designed originally by Priscilla Alexander, who headed COYOTE with Gloria Lockett, now retired, but who for over 30 years, was the Executive Director of CAL-PEP, (California Prostitutes Education Project) of Oakland, CA. Alexander developed a model for a peer-based health care clinic while working at the World Health Organization in Geneva, at the height of the AIDS pandemic.
Management at the St. James Infirmary come from the very same population served. In every way, the provision of health care is non-judgmental, informative, and has become a model for providing peer-based health care. Over the last twenty years, volunteers and staff have received PhD’s, become health educators, and collaborated with doctors at UCSF on studies, presented at the World Health Organization, and have found their own positions in health care, including contact tracing in this new global pandemic.
St. James Infirmary’s first Executive Director Johanna Breyer said of St. James, “She was a life force, a total BOSS and a friend and mentor to us all. Her memory, generosity, and kindness along with her fierce advocacy and unforgettable laughter are not just worth celebrating but honoring by passing on her legacy to the next generation of radical women.”
The announcement for the May 1, 2021 Celebration is attached, and was designed by Hoshi Hana, a member of the Art Tarts, part of the Margo St. James Memorial Collective.
Donations toward memorial organizing can be made here.
Kristal Lis is a self-described survivor, mother, daughter, avid reader, animal lover, college student, and advocate for justice who is currently incarcerated at York Correctional Institution in Connecticut. With her supporters outside, Kristal has created a blog where she will regularly speak out about the violence she is surviving at York CI and share her reflections on inside organizing, self-growth, healing, and true justice. To launch her blog, Kitty’s Corner, Kristal has shared her first post to be featured here. Please follow Kitty’s Corner here for updates!
Please write to Kristal by mail if you can:
Kristal Lis, #365845
York Correctional Institution
201 W Main Street
Niantic, CT, 06357
Please also support her post-release fund by purchasing small knit items that Kristal has made in solidarity with other folks inside (pay what you can!) or by contributing directly. Please send funds via Venmo to @Joshua-vanBiema. If you’d like to purchase one of Kristal’s knit works you can reach out to Josh, one of Kristal’s outside supporters, at email@example.com.
[cw: abuse, sexual violence, suicide]
“Why I started this blog”
By Kristal Lis
“You have the right to remain silent, but I don’t recommend it”
I refuse to sit by any longer & not speak about all that has & does go on at York Correctional Institute the only female jail in Connecticut. I hope you follow my blog & share it with others as well so people can understand the injustice of what is called justice.
Before I go any further I admit to commiting the crime that got me here & by any means I am not saying that I do not take full responsibility or that I can commit a crime & there not be repercussions but I personally do not believe it is handled the right way. Before serving this 3 ½ years I’ve done so far out of my 5 year sentence I’ve been given, I believed jails/prisons were a place only bad evil people were sent to who had no respect for the law & that they were sent here to be corrected, like a child in time-out. Boy that was far from the truth as I am experiencing first hand myself.
First I was medically abused thinking & feeling like I was going to die ending up finally in surgery, then I was physically assaulted for trying to commit suicide, then I was given a controlled substance medication on accident for 10 days, & to top it off I was sexually assaulted by a marshal & when I reported it I was told I couldn’t even get counseling & I started receiving retaliation for reporting it. I have physical proof of all of this. The problem is people do not care because I am a poor woman who is a recovering addict, previous sex worker, & a convicted criminal so what I suffer behind these walls does not matter right?
Please if you don’t hear my voice find it in your heart to hear the voices of others going through abuse in prisons. I am not alone it happens more than you would believe.
Feel free to write me directly if you would like
Kristal Lis, #365845
York Correctional Institution
201 W Main Street
Niantic, CT, 06357
[Image Description: Original art by Kristal; People hold hands in a line in front of a prison wall topped with barbed wire. The words “We All Have Rights” cross the sky in red and black.]
Much of the violence experienced by people doing sex work is at the hands of the carceral state; the sexual and physical violence experienced at the hands of clients, abusive partners and neighborhood vigilantes is a direct result of the state’s permissiveness of all forms of violence toward those stigmatized, marginalized and criminalized in society. The criminal codes, the cops and the courts (all of which are manifestations of white supremacy) sanction gender and sexual violence every day. This carceral logic is far reaching: our society has deemed punishment as “justice,” and locks up thousands of survivors.
December 17th is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. On this day, and always, we honor the memories and lives of those taken from our community and recommit ourselves to solidarity–to the struggle to decriminalize + destigmatize our work and demand an end to criminalization. This is a day to demand the end of all racist, transphobic and whorephobic violence.
Alisha has been moved to Housing Unit 4, the “sick unit.” She’s dealing with bad headaches now but no other change, it’s definitely covid, her test results came back positive.
For now, she can still call and email but is unsure about video visits because the GTL kiosk screen on the “sick unit” has been broken for awhile. She’s got friends in the “sick unit” too and will call again hopefully soon to give us a conditions update.
From the time she felt sick to now has been over 5 days, she said “I’ve just been giving this to everyone I guess.” She sends her love and also rage. There’s of course been no way to self-protect or distance to protect others inside prison.
We, along with countless others who have loved ones inside, have BEEN raising the alarm about the rate of those becoming sick and dying. It’s been time to FREE THEM ALL!
Logan Prison COs are pulling Alisha and others off their unit this morning (12/10/20) for testing. She got a call out to Red and Sherri to let them know. If positive for covid, she likely won’t be able to call for 2 weeks because there’s only one phone on the so-called “quarantine” unit.
That “quarantine” unit is a catch all for all those who test positive, and of course there’s no increased care or personal safety for them. Just more of the same prison shit.
Another horrible thing: we have to wait to *not* hear from Alisha to know that she tested positive, since the prison isn’t offering ways to get word to loved ones outside about our people’s status or condition.
Alisha has also heard that the WiFi over there on that “sick unit” is spotty at best too, so she’s not sure about if she’ll be able to send emails or get video visits. Forever and ever, fuck prisons.
There’s a slim chance (but it’s still one we’re actively preparing and pushing for) that Alisha could come home in February. Please help us ensure she has what she needs: http://bit.ly/FundLeLe
Comrades, our fears are playing out every day, and now this. One of our organizers just had a video visit with Alisha and let us know that Lele is sick with COVID like symptoms and will be tested on Thursday. The delay is apparently due to the prison wanting to wait in order to save time for themselves by conducting a “group test.” According to Alisha, her getting sick felt like it was just a matter of time with the number of cases they already had inside Logan prison and the terrible existing conditions. We’ll keep y’all posted as word reaches us. Please keep Alisha, and all those caged up, in your hearts.
Donate TODAY to show up for a criminalized survivor as we plan for her release. Our goal is to raise $10K for this #GivingTuesday for Alisha’s post-release fund–and you can help us make this happen! When Alisha comes home from prison, she’s looking forward to establishing a home, looking into college courses and beginning her healing journey with friends and family.
Logan Prison is on increased lockdown AGAIN because a CO tested positive. Governor JB Pritzker, Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton when will our loved ones be released?? Our friends, family and comrades are trapped inside these deadly cages. We see and hear about this injustice. We are watching.
Comrades, rise up with us to call, email, fax and write letters Monday-Friday for Alisha and for everyone locked up inside Illinois cages. Visit: bit.ly/AlishaAdvocate for sample tweets, call and email scripts to put the Governor and Lt. Governor on blast.
Letters from Comrades on the Inside: In this episode, we hear from Alisha Walker, a comrade on the inside whose story is uplifted by Survived and Punished. She shares her experiences as an incarcerated person and her thoughts on justice and access to information.
This episode of Audio Interference is part of a series in collaboration with Survived & Punished NY, a coalition of defense campaigns and grassroots groups committed to eradicating the criminalization of survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and the culture of violence that contributes to it.
Visit audiointerference.org to listen to more letters from Survived & Punished’s comrades on the inside, as well as a longer interview with two Survived & Punished members. Visit www.survivedandpunishedny.orgto read Survived & Punished NY’s newsletters and explore their work.
A huge thank you to Alisha Walker for sharing her story. We’d also like to thank Lae Sway, Yves Tong Nguyen, Heena, Zoe Vongtau, Red Schulte, Mariah Hill, and Martina Ilunga, along with everyone else at Survived & Punished, for working with us on this episode.
To learn more about Survived and Punished NY, visit survivedandpunishedny.org
Last night Alisha had another video visit cancelled, but she was able to have one earlier in the week with another of our comrades and she was able to get a call out this morning with updates from “Hell” aka Logan Correctional.
After almost all of her personal items (clothes, letters, food, photos, bedding, etc) was lost, destroyed or confiscated during her forced relocation to Logan, she’s had to spend considerable time building her necessary items back up. This means less money can be spent on buying edible food because she’s had to prioritize bedding, clothes, hygiene items and more. The prisons are limiting shopping/access to commissary and citing this as a “pandemic precaution.” What this actually looks like is folx having fewer access points to things they need to survive inside.
Alisha still cites the increasingly deteriorating mental health of her fellow incarcerated community, calling the in-house counseling a joke a best and dangerous and harmful at worst.
There’s little to no access to wifi for emails unless she’s allowed in the day room. The law library is still closed, another so-called “pandemic precaution.”
There’s only one clothes dryer (which she said looks like it’s about to break down for good) for about 400 people to use, and everything must be washed by hand so that labor and the costs of detergents is taking its toll on everyone.
Even still, she talks about trying to reach people, build herself up, think through how to reduce harm in the now and the fight to get everyone free.
Survived & Punished NY (S&P NY) is the New York chapter of Survived & Punished, a national organization that seeks to end the criminalization of survivors of gender violence. Red, an organizer with both S&P NY and the Support Ho(s)e Collective, helped draft the group’s best practices and guides for letting writing. S&P NY has hosted in-person group letter writing events for members to connect with one another as they correspond with those inside. While they have had to take these events online due to the pandemic, participation has only increased.
“Letter writing is transformative,” wrote Red in an email to Prism. “Writing letters and building relationships with those inside spits in the face of the violent isolation that is incarceration. We are cultivating comradeship in the face of state violence. Letter writing is harm reduction, it demonstrates to the [correctional officers] that our comrades have people outside who will rally around them. It demonstrates to fellow incarcerated people that there is hope being organized and there are [folks] who will have their backs because letters and messages are shared, passed around and ripple beyond the first individual who receives one.”
Red notes that the benefits of letter writing programs are immense and are shared by those who participate both inside and outside. For those inside, it serves as a reminder that there are people who “care and will fight for their freedom and well-being.” For those on the outside, letter writing can put real names and stories onto the issues that they are advocating around.
“Building alongside criminalized survivors puts our politics in practice,” wrote Red. “It makes clear that we aren’t organizing around nameless oceans of statistics or cases but rather people, largely women, femmes and GNC [folks] of color, Black and Indigenous people, queer and trans survivors, who’ve been punished for their (violent) acts of self-love.”
Letter writing also provides an alternative to what S&P NY describes as the “violence and dis-connection of prison communication technology,” like video visits, emails, and phone calls provided by companies like GTL Network and Securus. In addition to these platforms’ high cost, low quality, and the fact that they are subject to surveillance, Red also notes that a lack of knowledge about how to even set up accounts can be barriers to accessing them and getting connected with loved ones.
Much like other organizers that foster connection through pen pal programs, Red sees the process of letter writing as a way to put their ethics of abolition into practice and undermine the dehumanization that incarceration inherently imposes.
“We are all shaped and changed by the relationships we choose to build and cultivate,” wrote Red. “The conscious act of writing, listening and learning alongside someone who’s incarcerated (ie someone who’s surviving state violence in a very specific way daily) is an act of rejecting the invisibilizing and disappearing work of the prison. When we intentionally decide on practicing radical empathy and solidarity we ourselves move toward healing.”
For our newer fam visiting our site! We’re a TINY formation of militant sex working people + trusted accomplices who put our energy into building radical ho community via agitating publicly + politically educating + resource + art making efforts! We also coordinate our incarcerated comrade Alisha Walker’s defense campaign #FreeLeLe, and support two of our formerly incarcerated comrades, Judy + Lorena! This often looks like making #zines, toolkits, doing protest trainings, and supporting our people materially!
This video was conceived by Mariame Kaba and narrated by CeCe McDonald. Directed and produced by Dean Spade and Hope Dector. Audio editing by Lewis Wallace. Artwork and photographs by Chartreuse Jennings, Alisha Walker, Bob Simpson, Love and Struggle Photos, Paul Goyette, Matt McLoughlin, UIC Gender & Sexuality Center, and Jean Lotus of the Cook County Chronicle. Created by Support Ho(s)e, Barnard Center for Research on Women, and Survived and Punished.
Alisha is finally out of quarantine/isolation after her forced relocation/transfer to Logan prison from Decatur prison. She just got a call out to Red and wanted some updates shared!
She’s beginning to recover from stomach/digestive issues that were a result of her not having access to safe drinking water or edible food for the past two weeks. Her only source of drinking water was from the small sink in her cell and COs told her not to drink from it starting about 5 days ago because it “wasn’t safe.” They wouldn’t comment further. She was eventually brought a bottled water. The chow meals were bad/inedible (almost as bad as cook county she said). So she wasn’t eating much.
She was able to shower this morning and was very relieved to have that “luxury” again.
She’s been put on D Wing, which is bringing up a lot of trauma responses for her. She’s trying to process and keep herself calm, but the terrible memories of last being kept on this wing are a lot to handle.
She’s working on finding her people, and building up a community for herself inside.
Email via ConnectNetwork is still the best form of correspondence for anyone wanting to reach out!
She still hasn’t received word about her property transfer or if her Decatur mail will be forwarded.
She sends love, solidarity and thanks to everyone who keeps her name circulating and to all those who send support funds!
A recap of the 2020 IWD Digital Rally staged by NYC and Philly sex working organizers. We invited you to protest, celebrate, support, and flood our feeds with messages of love and solidarity with sex workers — you delivered!
Video by Bambi for Kink Out Events. All Rights Reserved.
Those who’ve been emailing her, she’s sending updates as fast as those CO censors will approve them!
She’s got lots of takes on Logan vs Decatur! She’s hating the isolation, the lack of edible food, the lack of art supplies but she is looking forward to reconnecting with friends + family inside at Logan.
She’s resolutely committed to building community wherever she is, including this prison she hasn’t been in for several years. She should be FREE and out here!! These dangerous transfers must end!
Alisha got word to us last night that she’s at Logan, still very concerned and has been put in lockdown (no regular phone use, no video visits) for 12-13 more days.
They won’t disclose how long it will take to “move her commissary funds” to Logan from Decatur, so we’ve sent new funds that she can hopefully access after lockdown. She’s without much of her personal property which “is still being transferred.” She has no art supplies, no books, no writing materials until those deliveries happen.
She does have her tablet and so she said the best way to communicate immediately is through ConnectNetwork emails. You can also begin sending her physical mail at Logan–we’ve updated the mailing information here:
We received word from our emergency phone tree that Alisha is being relocated (against her will) to Logan prison. We do not know specifically why, but we believe it is in direct relation to the existing harassment and retaliation she has recently endured. Her mom Sherri was able to get through to the prison to confirm this news we received.
Upon her relocation, she’ll likely be on a two-week lockdown, so calls, video visits might not happen. We will keep y’all posted as we’re able to get back in touch with LeLe and know what she needs and how we need to respond and take action.
We are beside ourselves with worry. Please keep checking in to this resource, to take action: bit.ly/AlishaAdvocate
C-grade kicked in so I cant make phone calls! I don’t know what else that includes as of right now..I can only call on Mondays I think? Tell everyone please! Idk about video visits? I just don’t know about anything, but I’m grieving it all because it’s very excessive for what actually happened! So it’s C Grade for two months, then B grade for two months, thats four months of this!! I won’t be “back to normal” until November!! Please keep calling Springfield! Keep going hard! They got me all the way fed up!
Alisha sends her love and appreciation to everyone who’s been calling, writing, emailing and faxing to support her clemency and to demand an end to solitary confinement and punishment against inside organizing. She asks to please keep it up! Please see bit.ly/AlishaAdvocate for how to get involved!
So far, there has been only one incident that we’ve heard of involving a covid positive staff member. Alisha mentioned that they increased the amount of time temps were being taken but that it’s obviously still impossible to social distance in prison, and new masks are only administered every Friday.
A “100 series” category 105 “Dangerous Disturbance” ticket has been administered against LeLe. No witnesses were called in her internal process per even the prison’s policies. She said they made it clear she was “guilty before she was able to speak her case about her actions.”
So far, she has not been “C Graded.” Meaning, she can still have a 20min phone use time per day, get ConnectNetwork emails usually, and receive video visits. However Decatur hasn’t rescheduled her legal call access yet, since the last one they denied.
She and her fellow roommates had a recent scare, one of her new roommates suffers from seizures and had an extended one a few nights ago and it took COs far too long to respond. As of our call, the roommate had not returned from “healthcare” (the medical wing). Alisha and her fellow roommates fears for her well-being.
She’s been focusing on writing and drawing–really channeling her recent traumatic experiences enduring solitary confinement into reflective and healing pieces.
We have also set up a new status check every two days to make sure we know exactly what Alisha’s status/grading is so we know her communication access.
**Update! LeLe called and even though her legal call was cancelled by the prison because of lockdown she’s still going to be allowed 1 call a day. Very relieved to have heard her voice. She says so far they ARE going to let emails and video visits go thru for now. **
This morning we received alarming news that Decatur prison, where Alisha is caged, has gone on Level 1 Lockdown because a staff person tested positive for covid. Please help us continue to put Governor JB PritzkerLt. Governor Juliana Stratton on blast!
We’re beside ourselves with fear for our loved ones and comrades who are being forced to work while caged during this pandemic. It’s unthinkable that anyone is still incarcerated during a global health crisis!
Starting at 10AM cst! Call throughout the afternoon!
Phone/Email/Fax Jam for LeLe + demanding an end to solitary confinement (aka SEG) + the immediate release of everyone caged inside IDOC!
Sample Letter/Email/Fax/Call Script:
My name is _______, and I’m (calling/writing) to demand an end to solitary confinement (aka “SEG”) and retaliation against the self-organizing amongst incarcerated people currently caged by IDOC. Recently, Alisha Walker, a criminalized survivor of gender-based violence was punished, again, this time for naming and attempting to raise awareness about the ongoing mental and physical health crises of people currently incarcerated at Decatur Correctional Center during this global pandemic. Alisha and a few others attempted to draft and share a letter with the warden outlining their concerns and paths to better, safer living and working conditions.
For this act of community love, Alisha was targeted, threatened with bodily harm and then removed to an interrogation room for over 4 hours. From there she was put in solitary confinement (aka “SEG”) for five days. Among the already tortuous conditions of severe isolation, she was also not allowed clean clothes, any form of communication with outside friends, family, lawyers, showers, anything to read or write with, or any privacy while using the toilet. She is now being denied access to commissary shopping, the only way to access edible foods and necessary hygiene items. This must stop.
I demand the immediate end to this hyper-punishment being used against Alisha. End the torture of solitary confinement and the blatant retaliation policies against those trying to reduce the harms they and their fellow incarcerated comrades endure every day while in prison, especially now during a pandemic.
Free Alisha Walker, free them all!
CALL: IDOC (217) 558-2200 x 2008 Gov’s Office 217-782-6830 or 217-782-6831 or 312-814-2121
After 5 days without contact, we finally heard from our friend. Alisha called Red around 2:30pm today, immediately after being released from “SEG” (solitary confinement) after 5 days of severe isolation.
On Thursday, July 2nd Alisha and several other comrades gathered (what she described as peacefully sitting together) to discuss their growing concerns for each other’s mental and physical health, lack of education programs being returned to them, the new forced work they’ve been mandated to do for the state, and other grievances. They had drafted a letter imploring the warden to care about what they saw as growing harms that were resulting in their collective rapidly deteriorating mental health during this pandemic. They gathered, with masks on, sitting 6 ft apart, and informed the COs who asked what they were doing that they wanted to discuss their concerns with the warden and offer solutions and ideas to solve the problems they were facing.
Immediately, more than 6 COs were called to “the scene” and began threatening Alisha and her friends. They were told if they did not disperse they’d be punished and possible bodily harms they might endure were also listed off. Alisha and her friends explained that they weren’t doing anything other than trying to offer a clear path to better conditions and weren’t going to stop discussing their concerns together.
Alisha was targeted and removed to an interrogation room for over 4 hours. From there she was put in segregation, “SEG” until today. Among the already tortuous conditions of isolation, she was also not allowed clean clothes, any form of communication with outside friends/family/lawyers, showers, anything to read or write with, or any privacy while using the toilet.
Alisha was also the only one retaliated against out of the small group who assembled to discuss their concerns. Upon being released from SEG she’s been told she won’t be allowed to shop for essentials until August at the earliest and her mail has been confiscated.
She wanted this account of what happened to her shared publicly. All Alisha did was gather with a few others to offer solutions to the harms they’ve been enduring. That’s enough to bring threats and acts of violence down upon their heads.
We’ll be planning online/call-in actions soon. In the meantime, please continue to use our support resource bit.ly/AlishaAdvocate to show up for LeLe!
Well the prison cancelled Red + AH’s first video visit with Alisha this morning. No warning, started the visit, empty chair where LeLe should be and then shut it off after 2 min. They waited for their second visit (so they’d have almost half an hour to visit) and that one was left on a blackout screen for the duration of the visit. Not officially “cancelled” the prison is just letting the time run down…
Obviously our comrades are worried about LeLe and also angry at yet again more prison tech communication fuckery.
From Project NIA: This conversation between Dr. Beth Richie, Moni Cosby & Rachel Caïdor is excellent. It kicks off Love & Protect & Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration’s Prison Is Gender Violence, Free All Survivors Week of Action. It addresses the ways that prison IS gender violence, and why we must work toward abolition if we are ever truly going to confront gender violence.
Did y’all know Give OUT Day is the only national online day of giving for the LGBTQ+ community? We know our queer, trans, and gender non-conforming communities of color have consistently been the first ones throwing down for each other before & during the pandemic and uprisings.
We also know that the police use sex work criminalization to target Black and brown queer and trans people. We say there can be no pride without abolition and no abolition without decrim!
Give to Third Wave Fund‘s Sex Worker Giving Circle this #GiveOUTDay(Tomorrow, June 30th) to resource sex worker-led collective liberation!
Every dollar up to $15,000 counts double thanks to an activist donor. To learn more about their work and donate, please visit bit.ly/2020swgc
We’ve got an ask from our comrades at Hacking//Hustling!
Take action today! If putting senators on blast is your thing, we need you to add this demand to your roster! The government is coming for internet privacy (again), and we gotta push back in every way! More details at the link!
One of our organizers spoke with Mike Ludwig for Truthout, about sex worker mutual aid and safety outside the carceral state:
“In the face of criminalization and whorephobic violence, sex working people have always sought to create our own systems of support and protection outside of the cops, criminal legal processes and societally accepted channels because most sex workers know those systems will never bring justice and have no interest in listening when harm happens…”
Did y’all know our comrade Donna Gary is holding down Twitter for us through the 28th?!
From Donna: Taking over the Support Ho(s)e twitter for the next 8 DAYS! I go way back with this lovely disruptive org! Learn more about how this poet gal got involved as a co-conspirator with sex workers, particularly incarcerated folks. I’ll be talking disability, poetry, black lesbians and MORE ! Can’t wait to get those cross movement vibes going for you all. Stay tuned, share and by all means give Support Ho(s)e that well deserved Follow for their commitment to Prison Abolition one clemency campaign at a time!! ❤️
What amazing news!!! Chrystul Kizer is free, out on bail, and with comrades and family! We’re with you Chrystul, we have your back!
From our comrades the Chicago Community Bond Fund:
Chrystul Kizer is a Black 19-year-old survivor of sexual violence currently facing criminal prosecution for actions taken in self-defense. For almost two years, Chrystul has been incarcerated in the Kenosha County Jail while awaiting trial and presumed innocent. In February 2020, Chrystul’s $1 million dollar bond was reduced to $400,000—still an unimaginable sum. Today, the Free Chrystul Kizer Defense Committee, Chicago Community Bond Fund, Milwaukee Freedom Fund, and Survived and Punished paid Chrystul’s $400,000 bond so that she can continue fighting her case from outside of a cage and with the support of her community. When Chrystul’s case ends, the bond money will be used to establish a national bail fund for criminalized survivors of domestic and sexual violence under the direction of Survived & Punished and housed at the National Bail Fund Network.
In June 2018, Chrystul was charged in the death of Randall P. Volar, III, a white man from Kenosha, WI. Prior to his death, Volar was known to authorities in Kenosha. In February 2018, he was arrested on charges including child sexual assault. Police discovered evidence that he was abusing multiple Black girls, including Chrystul, then age 17. While Chrystul has maintained that her actions that led to Volar’s death were in self-defense and evidence demonstrates that Volar had trafficked her since she was 16-years-old, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley is pursuing charges that would incarcerate Chrystul for the rest of her life.
Far too often, survivors of violence—especially Black women and girls—are punished for defending themselves. Chrystul’s case highlights the urgent need for the criminal legal system to stop prosecuting survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. The police and government systems set up to protect Chrystul failed her. Instead of being given care and support from the beginning, she has been wrongfully incarcerated for nearly two years now for choosing to survive.
Since our founding, supporting criminalized survivors has been a priority for Chicago Community Bond. Since 2015, CCBF has paid $346,500 in bond to free eight criminalized survivors of domestic and sexual violence in Chicago. Like many community bail funds around the country, CCBF has received an unprecedented outpouring of support following Black Lives Matter protests in response to the police murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Tony McDade. Using those donations, CCBF has paid bond in six Illinois counties for everyone arrested on charges related to the uprisings (that we are aware of), and we will continue to do so as needed. For more information on the bonds already paid, see our updates from June 4th and June 16th. This support for Black people’s liberation struggle has now also enabled CCBF to pay Chrystul’s bond with plenty of money leftover for ongoing use in Cook County and Illinois.
We are elated to know Chrystul will no longer be locked in a cage simply for wanting to live. We are proud to stand with Chrystul and will continue fighting by her side to ensure she can put this tragic incident behind her and begin to heal from trauma she has suffered at the hands of her abuser and the state that failed her. Chrystul should have been given support from the beginning instead of being caged and held for ransom by Kenosha County. No one should be incarcerated for surviving violence against them.
Please take the following actions to support Chrystul:
Here’s to holding space for Freedom Day, for finding joyful community advancing Black Liberation. Uplift incarcerated families and friends today, our collective struggle toward a truly free world depends on our commitment to abolition. #FreeThemAll
“Informed by her own experiences using drugs and living on the streets, and fierce when necessary, she let her eloquent voice ring out in City Hall, on a state commission, and in groups advocating on behalf of those who suffer, often unseen, at society’s neglected margins.”
Yesterday Chrystul’s request for a reduced bail was DENIED by the judge. Graveley used yesterday’s hearing as a way to deny Chrysul’s survivorhood as a survivor of sexual exploitation, to deny risks she faced/s to the coronavirus in pre-trial jail & deny Chrystul’s right to self-defense. WE ARE NOT BACKING DOWN! We know that Chrystul is a survivor and that her actions saved her life!
We are calling on you to continue uplifting her story, let DA Graveley know that Chrystul is a survivor of sexual exploitation and send Chrystul letters of love and support so she knows we are here and not going anywhere!!!
Stay tuned for more calls to action coming soon…..
In the meantime: Call & Email DA Mike Graveley at: 262-653-2400 Michael.Graveley@da.wi.gov
“Hi! My name is _________ and I am calling to let you know that Chrystul is a survivor and she should not be punished for surviving! Drop all charge and free her now!”
And please please please send Chrystul some love at:
Chrystul Kizer (ID: 138378) Kenosha County Pre Trial Facility 1000 55th St Kenosha, WI 53140
“While communities across the country mourn the loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Jamel Floyd, and so many more Black victims of police murder, Campaign Zero released its 8 Can’t Wait campaign, offering a set of eight reforms they claim would reduce police killings by 72%. As police and prison abolitionists, we believe that this campaign is dangerous and irresponsible, offering a slate of reforms that have already been tried and failed, that mislead a public newly invigorated to the possibilities of police and prison abolition, and that do not reflect the needs of criminalized communities.”
Hey y’all, I’m sharing on behalf of our collective, both inside and outside members, but I want to give a special s/o to our comrade Alisha Walker who contributed heavily to the writing and shaping of this statement.
Alisha “LeLe” Walker is an incarcerated former sex worker and current inside organizer with the Support Ho(s)e collective. LeLe was criminalized for surviving a violent attack on her life and the life of a fellow sex worker. LeLe fought back out of self-love and out of defense for her friend and fellow worker. She was punished for this, sentenced to 15 years and is caged, right now, during this pandemic at Decatur Correctional in downstate Illinois. We’ve been fighting for over four years for her release, and we won’t stop fighting.
I’m thankful to be able to bring Alisha’s words and spirit into this space too. Thank y’all for inviting incarcerated sex workers’ voices into this action–it’s only right that we lift up our incarcerated comrades, since this day is so much about resisting state violence and criminalization and also about the state’s repression against those taking action!
Black Lives Matter.
Black trans Lives Matter.
Black Incarcerated People Matter.
Black Sex Workers Matter.
First let us begin by saying, our collective is firmly anti-prison, anti-police, and anti-capitalist. We believe we must embody these politics to fully decriminalize survival, dismantle racism, and meaningfully build toward all our collective liberation.
We believe we must say fuck prisons, because our friends and comrades are caged and they have taught us to know and feel the horror of incarceration. We have listened to and learned from so many Black feminists, and through their work, writing and care have raised our horizon line of imagination of addressing harm beyond carceral punishment.
We believe we must say fuck the police, because as the comrades of Critical Resistance remind us: “Instances of police killings, violence, and targeting of Black people & people of color are not instances of “bad policing” or “policing gone wrong.” They are the manifestations of policing itself.”
We believe we must say fuck capitalism, because our comrades are criminalized workers, or while incarcerated have had their labor stolen to profit the prisons and the state, or have precarious housing, or live in places where the air and soil have been poisoned by land development and environmental racism.
We believe we must name these things. We also believe sex workers have vital insight to share about building a world of safety and support outside of the state, outside of reliance on cops and courts. Those systems were set up to fail Black people, cash poor people, drug-using people, sex trading people–so let us work toward building a world without those violent systems.
Over the past three years sex workers have seen unprecedented organizing, resistance, and advocacy for our labor rights. We’ve seen struggles against racist transphobic anti-loitering ordinances, protests in the streets and the most writing on sex work we’ve personally ever seen. We’ve spilled into art and cultural spaces, demanding to be seen, heard and finding support. This has us shocked, in the best possible way. This is a fight decades and decades in the making, and I’m grateful to be able to share space today to honor our elders, our whoremothers, and celebrate however we can. We need to hold onto our joyful militancy, now more than ever.
Now let us say something else, we also believe our sense of solidarity and resistance needs to be strengthened by more than just our collective rage at the white supremacist in office. Our commitment to throwing down for one another must be based in radical compassion, an insistence that lives other than our own individual selves matter, and with common goals that honor the fact Black women, trans people, incarcerated people, drug-using people, and femmes of color have been doing this work for fucking ever forever.
Has a radical thought about harm reduction and mutual aid come to you in time of need? A Black sex worker probably planted that seed 50 years ago.
Our point is: we exist in a rich, messy, nuanced legacy from which to draw inspirations and lessons from. We should embrace it! Our vibrant and often explosively creative organizing history is often ignored or erased from labor and queer history–and we say, “Fuck that!” We struggle, we remember, we read, we listen, we learn, and we won’t stop!
We hold close these words from Mariame Kaba, “Hope is a discipline.” Let us practice and kindle our radical hope together.
We chant this mantra from Emergent Strategies “We practice what we want to create.”
Y’all, we must rise up together against xenophobia, whorephobia, environmental racism, and all state violence. Only together are we going to realize our goal of a just world without criminalization, without white supremacy, without whorephobia, without patriarchy, without exploitation and oppression!
In closing, I wanted to say something about remembering and honoring voices.
You may have seen the phrase “Whores Will Rise” circulating. This is a line taken from a piece written by our comrade Alisha Walker, called “Whore…?” These words, Whores Will Rise, remind us that an unapologetic resistance to state violence, policing, the criminalization of survival and whorephobia is what is needed now. Sex workers have been at the forefront of liberation struggles, these words are an articulation of a community ready to fight.
This is from Alisha’s introduction to her poem: “I wrote this piece, Whore…? because I’m incarcerated for being a whore who survived, so I’ll never turn my back on whores. Hasn’t the government done enough to try and separate us? I’m writing this as a young, queer, Black, multi-ethnic woman. I wrote this piece to celebrate International Whores Day. Whores are the hardest working people I know, I’m proud to be in their ranks. I didn’t know about this day when I was working, but now I’m locked up and I know about it, I need it. I wanna be connected to whores around the world fighting. I want us to shut down the shame, shut down the racist pigs. Whores will rise.”
Mark your calendars for 💥”DIY RESISTANCE: Sex Workers & Organizers Talk Art-making & Mutual Aid for International Whores’ Day”💥 June 3rd 2020 / 8-9 p.m. EDT
Join a live conversation and Q&A around artmaking as resistance, mutual aid, and “whorestories” of zine-making with Red Schulte, curator of the The International Whores’ Day Zine and co-organizer of the International Whores Day NYC 2020 Digital Rally, and zine contributors JB Brager, Mistress Velvet, Ariel Wolf, and Empress Wu.
Commemorating the 45th International Whores Day (IWD), an event that began in Lyon, France in 1975, the International Whores’ Day Zinecontains information and art from over 15 sex worker rights activist artists, conveying sex workers’ struggles against racist, anti-immigrant, classist, homophobic, transphobic, and misogynistic conditions.
The International Whores’ Day Zine honors the resilience of New York City’s sex working communities who continuously care for and provide mutual aid to one another, and celebrates contemporary sex worker artmaking and resistance, as we’re witnessing in real time through the work of protesters around the United States actively confronting state violence against Black people.
Download the free International Whores’ Day Zine from the International Whores’ Day website, presented alongside a live digital rally on June 2nd from 12 to 2 p.m. EDT.
ICYMI: Red & Alisha wrote a piece for Tits and Sass, that also features words by our comrade, Lorena*.
“This pandemic is yet another horrifying worst case scenario. It exists on top of Alisha’s incarceration being its own terror and the assault on her life being another. And of course, all of this exists in the context of our belief that prisons have been the pandemic all along.”
It’s almost one of our organizer’s birthday! Let’s help them celebrate by raising much needed funds for S&P NY and for Alisha’s post-release fund!
If you want to celebrate with me, please consider making a donation of any amount to Survived & Punished New York‘s Summer Mutual Aid Commissary Drive and/or to Justice for Alisha Walker’s post-release fund!
These two support funds are near and dear to me, and my preferred gifts would be making sure my friends and comrades inside New York State prisons have what they need, and that my bff LeLe has emergency release support and what she needs when she comes home.
No cash? Trust me, I totally empathize. Please share these fundraisers instead.
On March 27, Congress passed The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion economic relief package intended to help workers, families, and small businesses with the economic impacts of COVID-19. But federal regulation dating back to the ’70s bars anyone whose work is of a “prurient sexual nature” from receiving relief funds and loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA). In other words, strip clubs, sex shops, and sex workers can be excluded from receiving government assistance during the pandemic.
The official clemency process is dubious and daunting, but we’re still pursuing it. If you’re an anti-racist lawyer who’s serious about showing up (ie down to advise and help file pro bono) for incarcerated sex working people, get in touch.
As we navigate those “official” channels, help support our popular defense campaign by putting pressure on Illinois Governor JB Pritzker to free our comrade, Alisha Walker, and free every single person caged in Illinois.
We are calling Gov. Pritzker every single day. We email his office every single day. We’ve been doing this alongside many other amazing grassroots organizations and dedicated individuals as well.
We created a resource to help you, help us, keep raising the alarm–demanding Alisha’s and everyone’s freedom!
This resource should be shared using the shortened link:
We made sure to include lots of resource links in the video’s description too!
Zine Reading + Talk Back with Alisha Walker Transcript
Matilda: Here we go. Good morning, everybody. Thank you so much for joining us. This is Bluestocking’s online event series. Just a final reminder that this call is being recorded and will be published to our YouTube. For those of you who don’t know, this is Bluestockings. Scattered to the winds, but we are a small collectively run intersectional feminist bookstore and activist space that’s been part of the Lower East Side community for over 20 years now.
Matilda: Like a lot of small businesses, we are really hurting right now because our store is closed and we still have landlords and rent to deal with with no income stream. So we have been completely relying on membership and donations. If you have the means to make a small donation or, even better, to become a sustaining member, you are literally our lifeblood right now and it’ll ensure that we’re able to reopen when it’s safe to and continue to serve our Lower East Side community. I’ll drop a couple of those links in the chat, but for now I’m going to turn things over to Red.
Red: Thanks so much, Matilda. Thanks for everyone for being here this morning. Hey y’all. My name’s Red. I use they/them pronouns and I’m a part of the Support Ho(s)e Collective and help coordinate our Justice for Alisha Walker defense campaign. I’ll be joined hopefully by my comrade and dear friend Alisha in roughly 30 minutes by phone. She’s attempting to call from inside Decatur Correctional Center, aka Hell, in downstate Illinois. There have been multiple issues with their phone access recently due to new punishment policies brought on by the pandemic.
Red: We’re just playing that by ear, fast and loose, and we can respond to whatever Alisha’s needs are when she’s able to call. I can move content around based on when she’s calling us. Alisha and her fellow incarcerated comrades have been condensed into fewer units, meaning their access to phones has shrunk and there are new highly restrictive time limitations put on phone use. In case she’s not able to join us for this call, LeLe has sent ahead written responses as well that I’ll share out about art making, prison newsletters, and conditions inside right now.
Red: I wanted to start with a heartfelt thank you to Matilda and Bluestockings Books. Y’all have been such amazing comrades to us as a collective and also to Alisha directly. I feel really lucky to be a part of the community and collective that is Bluestockings. Much appreciation and love. If folks on this call haven’t already considered becoming sustaining members of the space, I want to just take a moment and also just put that out there again. If you’re at all able to consider something like that right now in this moment, please do because Bluestockings needs you.
Red: It’s a queer, trans, and sex worker lead space. That’s so rare in this world and so beautiful. We really wanted to just put that out there. Both Alisha and those of us in Support Ho(s)e wanted to do this event as a fundraising effort for Bluestockings as well to raise awareness around just how few sew worker spaces there are that allow folks to come be in community and build radical compassionate structures of care for one other. That space has done that with and for us.
Red: Who the hell am I? Who is Alisha? What is Support Ho(s)e? Like I said before, I’m Red. I’m an organizer. I make zines and I’ve probably invited you to a letter writing event for incarcerated comrades. If you live in Chicago or New York, you’ve seen me there. I’ve probably compelled you to stuff envelopes and lick stamps. That’s me.
Red: Alisha Walker, who I’ll be joined by either in written response or by phone, is a 27 year-old former sex working person originally from Akron, Ohio. In January of 2014, Alisha was contacted by a returning client, Allen Filan. This is where I’ll give some content warning and trigger warnings for folks. Mute me or take a walk away if you don’t want to hear some of the details of Alisha’s case.
Red: I’m not going to get into extreme details, but there are mentions of whorephobic and racist violence and an attack on her life, so content and trigger warnings now y’all. Take deep breaths. Walk away if you need to. She was contacted by this returning client, Allen Filan, who had agreed to pay her and another sex worker for sex in his Orland Park house. This was back in 2014, like I said, and when Alisha and the other sex worker arrived, Filan was very intoxicated and demanded that the sex be unprotected.
Red: Now, Alisha and her fellow worker refused what they saw as totally unsafe services for themselves, asserting that Filan had to stick to their agreed upon terms. Filan became violent. He punched Alisha in the face before grabbing a knife from the kitchen and Filan threatened both women with the knife. Alisha then struggled with him. She managed to wrestle the knife away, stabbing him in self defense, and both she and her fellow worker fled. Filan was still alive when they left his house.
Red: Alisha was arrested and charged with second degree murder despite no physical evidence ever being recovered. She was held without trial for 20 months in Cook County. At her trial, the prosecutor portrayed Alisha as a manipulative criminal, a mastermind of crime, calling her a monster, and spoke disparagingly about her family and her profession as a sex worker. Her defense attorneys sexually harassed her and never requested bond. A jury convicted her of second degree murder and Alisha was sentenced to 15 years in prison. She’s currently incarcerated at Decatur Correctional Center in Decatur, Illinois.
Red: That’s a little bit about Alisha’s case and what brings her to the struggle. The Support Ho(s)e Collective, of which we are a part, is a small, very small, leftist formation of sex workers, current and former, and our trusted co-conspirators and accomplices that’s based in Chicago and also New York. We aim to build radical community for all sex workers through political education and public agitation. We also coordinate the Justice for Alisha Walker defense campaign, which is a popular grassroots campaign demanding Alisha’s freedom.
Red: We’re currently a closed collective, meaning that we don’t accept new membership. We decided to remain closed until Alisha is free. That was a decision that we made together based on the kind of work that we needed to do and keeping our central focus on Alisha. Y’all, we are real small. We’re real real small and more than happy to be. People often confuse large membership with success and effectiveness of organizing. While it is so awesome to have a show of force in numbers, where we’ve found ourselves is preferring to work with very trusted accomplices who have demonstrated through their work that our politics align.
Red: Our approach has been this. We’ve built trust slowly and patiently, prioritizing political education and correspondence with our loved ones inside, and rely a lot on our periphery of comrades who aren’t necessarily part of the organized collective, but who rise up with us to work when they have capacity to support us. This has worked for us. So I just wanted to share that you should never think that a small dedicated group of folks can’t get shit done, because you can.
Red: It’s really important to have that trust building, especially if you’re going to be a small formation. As for our work, we’ve primarily provided resource-based support for grassroots organizing including information on building popular defense campaigns for criminalized survivors of gender-based violence inspired by and supported by our comrades in Survived and Punished. We’re created sex worker-centered political education syllabi. We’ve assisted other organizations in planning protests and demonstrations, holding space for formal and informal knowledge sharing sessions, doing know your rights trainings for other activist sex workers, produced tool kits on media, health and wellness from sex working perspectives.
Red: Really our main organizing focus currently is to provide material support to Alisha while we advocate for her release. To create art and political education resources for other sex workers and those looking to center decriminalizing all survival tactics in their own political analyzes. That’s a little bit of an overview of Support Ho(s)e. Who we are and what we do as a collective. Wanted also to just share a little whorestory of our collective as well and walk folks through. We get this a lot. We get questions online a lot of, “How long have you been doing this? How did you get started doing this?”
Red: Just wanted to give folks a little bit more of an intentional overview. We’ve been active for a little over four years now. In late March of 2016, we organized our first demonstration in solidarity with Alisha Walker and all criminalized incarcerated sex workers who have survived violence. It was our first formal action as a collective. Since then, we’ve fundraised, visited, developed friendships and organized alongside LeLe. We’ve protested, found pro bono legal aid for her, and launched a grassroots campaign for clemency. We’ve developed, like I said before, a syllabus for political education reading groups for our own sex working comrades and accomplices and adjacent queer communities. That’s something that we can send to any and all of you.
Red: It’s basically a catalog of things that we read, and watched, and listened to together for discussion and round tabling. We’ve taken public space. We’ve held teach-ins, trainings, knowledge shares, hosting letter writing events, know your rights events, and crafts-based and making workshops to demand rights, respect, and protection of sex working people. We definitely believe that art in practice and action in the streets are inherently connected.
Red: In terms of the art that we’ve made, we’ve created print resources like zines, posters, banners to more artistically intervene with sex workers’ resistance and visual culture. We’ve also created a best practice resource for writing letters to incarcerated folks that Survived and Punished has also included in their newly released letter writing resources and tool kits on their website, which is an amazing resource.
Red: I really think that people should visit that Survived and Punished website and just absorb and then practice because there’s so many amazing resources there. In addition to that, the tool kits that we’ve developed for media use and for health and wellness professionals to become more sex work competent and create ethical conditions for working alongside sex workers or caring with sex workers was some of the first resources we created. Through Alisha’s direct insight organizing and relationship-building, we’ve been able to build many comradeships with others inside at Decatur and Logan Correctional prisons.
Red: We’ve seen the release of one of our comrades, Judy, who we’ve also co-authored a forthcoming book chapter with that’ll be a part of an anthology of sex worker writing through Feminist Press. We’ve also engaged in mutual aid efforts to help Judy and her partner establish their new life together in Illinois post-release.
Red: We’re currently and have supported our undocumented comrade, Lorena, which is a pseudonym to protect her identity in voicing condition concerns at Logan with the help of the Hacking Hustling Collective. We’ve gotten Lorena commissary support to continue being able to correspond with comrades outside and also get the hygiene items that she needs.
Red: We’ve also continued to expand our organizing work in New York City and are helping to build radical community amongst current and former sex working people and co-conspirators. That’s always our first and foremost goal is to help foster that radical community amongst workers and those in the trade. We’ve been humbled and really thankful for forge bonds and continue working alongside Survived and Punished New York, Hacking Hustling, Red Light Reader, Red Canary’s Song, Kink Out, Bluestockings, and No New Jails New York City along with other renegade comrades who we learn from every day.
Red: That gives us a little sense of some of the work that we have done, some of the work that we’ve been doing, and a little bit about our motivation around building out a structure of support and solidarity both in Chicago and also in New York, which is a lot. It’s a whole lot. I think a lot of folks on the call right now, I’m just looking at our participant list, have also been engaged in this community building and also movement building work. I’m really thankful to have y’all on the call as well and building out this new resource, which will be recorded and shared, and hopefully hear from Alisha. Get to not just hear her voice, but also get updates from her in real time from her about what’s going on inside of Decatur and talk more about art making as a practice of both self care and also community and collective care.
Red: I wanted to just take a moment because I am seeing some chat activity. Oh, great. Thank you Matilda for sharing those. Hopefully folks have some time to check out these resources. We’ve got links here right now in the chat to supporting Bluestockings, but also to following the work that we’ve been doing online. The Justice for Alisha Walker defense campaign on Facebook. Also our Tumblr.
Red: Yes, we are still holding it out on Tumblr. They haven’t deleted our quote unquote adult content, though they have flagged many of our videos from protests because of tags like sex work. We’re also very difficult to search for and find online because of pretty rampant shadow banning practices and also just good old fashioned bad algorithmic data. Either way, direct links are the best way for y’all to follow us. Definitely copy these down, bookmark them.
Red: Can we turn on Donna’s mice and also Erica F’s mic?
Donna: Thank you for that beautiful presentation.
Red: Donna, am I hearing you?
Donna: Yes, that’s me.
Red: Yes. I’m so glad you’re able to be on the call.
Donna: Yeah. I was really happy I was able to make it too.
Red: Yes. Y’all right now are hearing Donna’s voice. Donna helped hold things down for us in New York with Support Ho(s)e for the last few years. We’ll get more into some of Donna’s reflective work in one of our zines later when we do our zine reading. We’ll also hear from and share out a little bit about Donna’s work, Erica’s work in the zines, and another one of our collective members, Aaron. We’ll be hearing some actual work from them in a little bit, but love to hear y’all’s voices and that you’re actually able to be on the call with us.
Erica: Yeah. Hello.
Red: Hey. There is Erica’s voice. So glad to have you on here.
Erica: I’m just excited to be here. I love seeing the work that y’all are doing right now because I know that summer is usually such an active season and I don’t want it to be an inactive season just because people are going to be home a little bit more. I’m excited to see so much mobilization happening around getting people out of prisons. I really do feel like people have been more active I feel like because they’re at home. That’s exciting to see. There’s been a lot more of my friends reaching out to learn how to call people and how to call clerk’s offices and stuff like that. Wanting to spend their free time doing it. That’s been really exciting to see.
Red: Yeah. Everything that’s happening back in Chicago right now with the mobilizations and the caravans is really inspiring. I know doing some more things here in New York too, but just with sheer fact of having comrades in Chicago closer proximity and being able to do those caravan mobilizations more frequently. Actually surrounding Cook County Jail, which is where Alisha was incarcerated without trial for over 20 months. Just thinking about everyone encircling that hellscape. Just blasting their horns, and flying banners, and staying safe while still sticking it to Cook County Jail, it was life giving. It was really reinvigorating to see those images coming out of Chicago.
Erica: Yeah. I do think that folks on bikes have really just … I feel like even with delivery and mobilizing to help make sure people are still getting books, and groceries, and the things that they need. I’ve been seeing a lot of bike mobilization in Chicago, which has been really wonderful.
Red: Yeah. Absolutely. Y’all, I got to express and be honest about my nervousness about Alisha being able to call in. I just want to make space and room for that. Right now there’s nine of us on this call. I know almost every single one of you. Real talk, Alisha and I have been able to call on the phone at least every other day. When this first started going back almost five weeks ago, they still had regular access to the phones. Five weeks ago she was calling twice a day because the panic and the fear was so palpable and high. She was calling to check in and say, “We still don’t have any word about this. Can you let me know what’s happening in the news?” We were doing a morning check in and an evening check in around that.
Red: As the weeks have worn on y’all, we’ve gotten to experience in real time what those new punishment policies inside of the prisons look like because of the pandemic. It’s wild. Decatur is running wild and it’s not an exception. I can share a little bit about what’s happening at Logan also, which is where one of our … We have a lot of pen pals there, and comrades, and Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration, also, Love and Protect have a lot of comrades inside of Logan. Alisha has a lot of friends, loved ones, chosen family inside of Logan. That was where she was incarcerated after Cook County initially.
Red: If Decatur is bad, Logan is next level right now is what we’re hearing from folks inside. Our comrade, Lorena, who has been able to email us but not able to access phones and call us has been talking about just the rampant unsanitary conditions, the fear, the internal tensions that are now just really explosive amongst fellow incarcerated people, as it pertains to resources, just because of the fear and anxiety. Lorena was talking about them providing, and by them I mean the COs, the correctional officers, right? The inside cops.
Red: They were essentially supposed to be providing a bucket of bleach and cleaning implements for every single unit. They’ve provided buckets that barely smell like bleach, so everyone inside thinks that essentially they’re just being given water or such watered down bleach that it wouldn’t be killing any kind of bacteria or virus that it comes into contact with. There is also an update from Lorena two days ago that was talking about the fact that they have limited showers for folks who might be sick, who are sick.
Red: That they’re not allowing people to purchase new hygiene items or replenish their hygiene items at commissary. That there’s just been incredible abuses by the COs. The shouting, the berating, the separating of people who have been on housing units with folks for many years and shuttling them into new configurations that are even more cramped and condensed. When Alisha joins us or if I end up having to read her responses that she sent us, y’all are going to hear similar characterization there too. Where there is no logic, or if there is a logic, it’s just a logic of punishment and torture.
Red: We’re not speaking pejoratively. We’re not speaking in an exaggerated way. What is actually happening with the kind of confinement that we’re seeing is nothing short of torturous and people really need to internalize that and to think about what this means in general. Despite there being a global pandemic health crisis, this is always a crisis. The confinement of people in prisons, jails, detention facilities, and those confined against their will at mental institutions. This is a crisis already.
Red: That’s something that we’ve been talking with our folks on the phone. Through letters and emails. Y’all, this had been a problem and really glad that y’all care right now, but we really need to expand the framework. It shouldn’t be free them all because of a pandemic. It should be free them all period. End of story. None of this nonviolent offender apologetic politics. This is not the way. This is not how we deal with harm. This is not how we respond to community need for healing and transformation, right?
Red: That’s been part and parcel of conversations that we’ve been having and they’re even more intensified now in this moment. Yeah, just wanted to bring that into the conversation too and just be real. I’m really nervous. I’m nervous that I won’t hear from Alisha today. Erica, when was the last time you got a call from LeLe?
Erica: Two days ago. Yeah. This same pattern of as this pandemic really took hold in the US, I was hearing from her every day, which was nice because I love hearing her voice, but also scary because she was constantly, “I don’t know what’s going on. I’m so confused. This is stressing me out.” I can hear it in her voice. Then it tapered off to every other day. Then there was a few days where I didn’t hear from her at all and that started to worry me. Yeah, I can see where there is the graph of intense anxiety and uncertainty and then it fell off. Yeah, it hasn’t been as frequent recently.
Red: Right. It’s been the same for video visits. GTL Network, for those who don’t know on the call, is a profit making monster. They charge exorbitant fees for video visits. As a gift to us on the outside, they removed for the last three and a half weeks or three weeks give or take. What is time right now anyway?
Erica: Actually a month. It’s been a month. It’s a whole month.
Red: Oh my God. Thank you. Four weeks. They removed the option to have our regular 50-55 minutes and replaced them instead with … Ooh, she’s calling. Okay. I’m going to turn you up so you’re nice and loud.
Erica: Hey, sexy.
Red: LeLe, can you hear Erica’s voice?
Alisha Walker: I heard.
Alisha Walker: Back at you. Hi, Erica!
Red: We’ve got Donna on here too.
Alisha Walker: Hey.
Red: The gang’s all here. Matilda’s on here too. They’re on here too.
Matilda: Hi. Good to hear your voice.
Red: It’s so good to hear your voice, babe.
Alisha Walker: I’m [inaudible 00:27:02].
Red: Yes. We’re not going to miss this. I know that we only have a few minutes.
Alisha Walker: 20.
Red: We have 20 exactly. Okay. I’m so glad you were able to get on a phone. I’m so relieved. Erica and I were both just …
Alisha Walker: I’ve been waiting in line since 10:30.
Red: Oh my God. The lines have been that long?
Alisha Walker: Yeah. I’ve been in line since 11.
Red: I love you. You’re a fucking champion.
Alisha Walker: Are you in the group?
Red: Yeah, we’re on here now. Can we start talking through some of these questions that we discussed?
Alisha Walker: Yeah.
Red: Awesome. Wanted to start. Before we tell everybody and share about all of the really enraging and upsetting shit that we are definitely going to get to, we wanted to start maybe with a conversation around art and our poetry. Does that sound good?
Alisha Walker: Sure.
Alisha Walker: Absolutely.
Red: When did you actually start making art and writing poetry?
Alisha Walker: I figured out I could draw probably when I was in Logan and I was stuck in [inaudible 00:28:25] all those months when I first got there and I didn’t have [inaudible 00:28:40]. Stuff like that and [inaudible 00:28:40] draw because I wanted to do pictures and stuff for my brother and [inaudible 00:28:44] birthday card. “We should [inaudible 00:28:49] a birthday card and it turned out really [inaudible 00:28:52]. Well, let me see if I can [inaudible 00:28:59] more details. I don’t know. [inaudible 00:29:06] huh. Then I was just like, “Well, let me draw what I would like to be.”
Alisha Walker: [inaudible 00:29:23] if I like something I draw, I [inaudible 00:29:26] to it. [inaudible 00:29:32] writing my poems [inaudible 00:29:40]. I kind of [inaudible 00:29:42] I like some stuff on paper, but I never really sat down and tried to write stuff out. When [inaudible 00:29:58], I didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t have a way to release [inaudible 00:30:05] have no idea what to do and I was just writing and I was like, “Let me write this and this.” Then [inaudible 00:30:15] no idea what to do with what I was feeling and I was like, “Well, let me just write it.” That’s how my poetry just came along. I’m not really good at talking.
Red: Yeah, you are.
Alisha Walker: Well, now, but I wasn’t. I feel like poetry [inaudible 00:30:36] because before I wasn’t able to express what I was feeling until I started writing the poetry. Then it was like, “Okay. This is how I feel. This is what this is.”
Red: Yeah. I feel like that’s something that we’ve talked about during visits and also just for years now you’ve talked about you’ve always been a creative person and you were doodling on everything. Doodling on surfaces and designing elaborate tattoos, but that the art practice came later. That the poetry practice came a little bit later than that too. As you began trying to articulate the pain, articulate your healing process, and just having that time, that unfortunate time of being inside, also trying to figure yourself out and figure your shit out too with those artistic mediums.
Alisha Walker: That’s the main thing of what the poetry did for me. It helped me realize who I was. You know what I mean? [inaudible 00:31:46] it’s because when you’re young your emotions are just all over the place. You really don’t understand. You’re just living off pure emotions and making your way through it. It helped me start going through the process of thinking things through. “Okay, let me take a pause. Let me jot this down and get this out. Okay, this is what I’m feeling. That’s why I feel that way. What’s the root cause of it?”
Alisha Walker: The poetry really helped me grow as a person. Also, having just time to … Literally all I did was focus on me. I was antsy before. You know how you know yourself but you don’t know know yourself. That’s what this time has gave me. Is this opportunity to know what I like. What I don’t like. What I want to do. [inaudible 00:32:38] person. Then I wanted to change the whole process of, “I don’t like this quality about me, so I want to change it.”
Red: Yeah. It sounds like it’s helped you focus and stay calm even when you’re on fire and angry. It channels that rage in this really intense way for you. Just all the stuff that we collected that became the zine A Survivor: Alisha Walker, all of that was just the most intense raw shit. You were attempting to heal in the face of this awful state violence.
Alisha Walker: Yeah.
Red: It’s so necessary and so important. Related to that, I wanted to see if you wanted to talk a little bit more about how those art practices, like how drawing or how creating poetry and using rhyme and word patterns, how has that helped keep you centered? Keep you grounded and show you what you’re capable of?
Alisha Walker: Well, if I am not focused on drawing, I can’t draw. Really. My lines don’t look right. I have to hone in on what it is that I’m [inaudible 00:33:59]. I can’t just be like, “Oh, well let me just go ahead and sketch this out on [inaudible 00:34:03] emotional ass shit going on. I can’t sit down and draw. That’s why sometimes I’ll be like, “I don’t want to draw. I don’t want to do it right now. I don’t want to be [inaudible 00:34:26] away and if I’m not in the mood to do it, I can’t draw. My lines and everything was horrible. I don’t know why, but I can’t [inaudible 00:34:45]. It’s stupid and I don’t want it. It’s like [inaudible 00:34:54].
Red: Yeah. Totally. I think I’ve heard you say … I have it jotted down right here because I wanted to remind myself of how you’ve said this before, but you’ve said it’s helped keep you in your mind. That you’ve characterized making art and poetry is helping to keep you in your mind. What does that mean? What does that mean for you?
Alisha Walker: Okay. A lot of times, I [inaudible 00:35:21]. It’s so hard to not think about that. It’s why [inaudible 00:35:48] my school work and just [inaudible 00:35:59] and all this stuff, now I want to write. You know what I’m saying? Now that’s what I want to do. Before when I was like, “Let me [inaudible 00:36:13], it’s because if I don’t have something to say, I focus on the negatives. [inaudible 00:36:21]. I don’t even want to do it. [inaudible 00:36:31]. I focus on the future instead of what’s going on or what happened in the past. This is the only way I can get through what I’m going through right now.
Red: Totally. I also just love and I know that I can’t go into detail on the phone about it, but I love how you have incorporated … I’ll say incorporated, maybe snuck, messages and symbols into projects. I love that you’ve used your art practice to do this important, subversive, amazing work inside too.
Alisha Walker: Of course.
Red: I just want to shout you out for that. Always being down and giving zero fucks. I also wanted to ask you about the importance of getting zines and newsletters inside. Blank and Pink’s zine and Survived and Punished New York’s free survivors. Can you talk a little bit about why it’s important to get things like that inside?
Alisha Walker: Okay. At some point, it all makes you realize other people are going through what you’re going through because [inaudible 00:38:04]. We’ll talk, but we don’t like to talk too much about how we’re feeling and all that because we’re all a little broken. Sometimes when you talk to someone [inaudible 00:38:20], they might not talk the way that normal people would. So they’ll use your vulnerabilities against you, so you don’t want to talk about it. A lot of times [inaudible 00:38:32] what other people are going through [inaudible 00:38:37] okay, we’ll there’s someone. This is how they’re feeling.
Alisha Walker: Not only that, but the prison will not tell you what the laws are. What your rights are. You have to dig for it. Not only when you’re in prison. Once you realize that it applies to [inaudible 00:38:51] that you can do something about it, [inaudible 00:38:54] really hard. [inaudible 00:38:55] the newsletters they tell you what’s going on and how [inaudible 00:39:00]. What else is going on. Especially even just in other states.
Alisha Walker: It’s just the fact that it’s happening [inaudible 00:39:04] that it could happen in here. You have to know about what’s going on. It’s the only way to connect things. We realize, “Okay, we can do something about this [inaudible 00:39:15] the laws and how to [inaudible 00:39:20] going on. It’s so important. It’s so important to be connected. Not only that, but it’s also a connection to the world.
Red: Yeah, totally. You’ve also talked about how important it is for us to be the people writing our own stories. For us to be using our voice. I want to maybe move into that for our next question. Let’s see here. I’m scrolling down now. Yeah. I think one of the reasons those zines and newsletters are so important is because it keeps us all connected too. It keeps us connected on the outside to y’all inside and then y’all inside to other folks inside.
Red: Like you were saying, it works in all these different ways to continue keeping people connected even though we can’t necessarily call each other all the time. We’re not allowed on all the phone lists. We can’t do in-person visits if some of us have records. All of those things prevent people from being a part and being a community. When we can build community in this creative way, it can really help.
Alisha Walker: Yeah. Like I said before, if I did not have you guys, I wouldn’t have a voice. I would not have a voice. I would not be able to say my opinion. It wouldn’t matter how I felt. It wouldn’t matter. Literally, I’m telling you all the time, you are my voice. Without you, I literally would just be [inaudible 00:40:58]. I feel like that’s why I don’t forget about [inaudible 00:41:03] while I’m in here. It’s because they know I will make sure that whatever is going on we’ll get out and then we’ll get revenge. That’s the last thing that they want. I feel like a lot of times this is the proof that we’re not playing with them the whole time. Now they’re acting like they finally got it. It took them like two years, but then they got it.
Red: Yeah. It’s exactly what you’re saying. The prisons want to keep y’all invisible. They want to keep your voices shout out of everything. Not just decision making over what happens to your bodies and minds, but they want to keep you cut off from people on the outside. We can tell our own stories. We can take back these narratives and get them out there, right? That’s what these zines and newsletters can do.
Alisha Walker: Yeah, but there’s the oldest trick, divide and conquer. It’s the same thing. Divide us to keep us away from everybody else and they go ahead and conquer everything. [inaudible 00:42:07] department of corrections. [inaudible 00:42:17].
Red: I love you.
Alisha Walker: I love you.
Red: In our last few minutes here, we’ve got four minutes left. What do you want people to know right now about what’s happening inside during this pandemic?
Alisha Walker: That they’re fucking liars. I guess on the news there was some girl that they were talking about on the news from Logan and she was Decatur is so good. They have hand sanitizers and they’re getting their temperatures and everything checked. We’re not getting that.
Red: Yeah, that’s not happening at Logan. That’s a lie. That’s not happening at Logan.
Alisha Walker: Yeah. Well, it’s not happening here at all. We have the non-alcoholic hand sanitizer, which of course does really nothing. [inaudible 00:43:06] some of the guards aren’t wearing gloves all the time and they take their masks off. [inaudible 00:43:15] I’m pretty sure there was an issue of what was going on. It’s just scary. Possibly it seems like a deliberate attempt at hurting us. It’s just insane. Not only that, but we’re all stuck here on the unit and [inaudible 00:43:41]. Everybody wants to argue. We have [inaudible 00:43:48]. I would have waited until I don’t know, 10:30 to get in or to get back in line or it wouldn’t have happened. Thank God that they all went to chow and I sit here and held my spot down. Had that happened, I wouldn’t have been able to be on the phone right now. [inaudible 00:44:18] October 30th, but I supposed to graduate the horticulture and get my certificate in July. [inaudible 00:44:26] I missed out on all that month and a half of [inaudible 00:44:30] that I could have been getting [inaudible 00:44:32] out earlier. Everything’s just …
Red: It’s fucked.
Alisha Walker: Oh, yeah.
Red: Yeah. I remember for a while when we were starting our phone calls, you would start the phone call by saying, “Social distancing does not exist in prison. This is not real.”
Alisha Walker: Because it does not. Clearly [inaudible 00:44:51] right now I’m sitting next to someone on the phone. [inaudible 00:45:02] bathroom with eight women. I sleep with four women. You go to chow and there’s a line but you’ve got to sit three chairs apart when you go to chow. It’s stupid. It’s fucking stupid.
Red: Last thoughts, LeLe, before they disconnect us. Anything else you want to share?
Alisha Walker: Love you guys. That’s it.
Red: We love you too. So much.
Donna: Thank you so much.
Alisha Walker: Aww. I have something that I want you to read. I’m going to have to call you back.
Red: Yeah, babe.
Alisha Walker: I don’t know when. Are you going to busy later?
Red: No. Just call me whenever.
Alisha Walker: All right. I’ll be on the 26th. So excited.
Erica: Yeah, I’ll see you Sunday. You get to see the view from my window.
Alisha Walker: Love you guys.
Red: I love you. We love you.
Alisha Walker: I love you.
Red: We love you so much. Thank you for taking time.
Alisha Walker: I love you so much. Bye.
Red: Bye. Okay. Alisha is the goddamn best. I know I’m swearing a lot. I’m from the rural south. This is how we talk.
Erica: It’s part of our whole being.
Red: Exactly. I pretty much still know every single person on this. Eventually, once it is recorded, then people will know my true limited vocabulary swearing self, but until then. Oh my God, y’all. No one should be in a fucking cage. No one should be in fucking prison. I know we were cut off there at the end, so I wanted to read a portion of what Alisha had emailed about the conditions too. For the most part, could people hear even though it was a little garbled sometimes?
Erica: Yeah. It cut out a little bit here and there, but I was able to hear most of it.
Matilda: We’ll make sure to do our best captioning it too. That should help a lot.
Red: Thanks, Matilda. What’s been happening now that, since everyone is being condensed … Well, let me just go ahead. I’ll start with Alisha’s words. They’re more important. Then I can rhapse angrily about what that means for the phone quality after that. Alisha had sent this via writing, and I want it to be a part of this recording.
Red: “Social distancing does not exist in prisons. They’re cramming us in here like sardines. None of these policies make sense or make us safer. They’ve condensed us to a few units all on the same side of the prison, creating what we all think is a death ward for when the virus gets in. Then they’ll isolate us over there. It feels like they don’t care if we get sick or if we die. A lot of us are already sick in here and they don’t care.
Red: “Our phone use has been cut to 20 minutes max. Our video visits were cut down to only 15 minutes. The wifi barely works. Sometimes we can get the Connect Network emails to work, but we can’t reply, so we can read them, but we have no ability to write back to folks. Commissary has been restricted and shopping limited. For cleaning supplies, we get bleach water and a rag to share.”
Red: “It’s a joke. It’s a deadly fucking joke. It’s hell in here. The fear and anxiety that the whole country is in a panic over this virus thing and we’re trapped, unable to be in contact with loved ones, but in direct contact with COs and who knows where the hell they’ve been. I want people to know we’re in here and that we want out. We want and deserve to be safe. Please do something. Get pissed and do something.”
Red: I wanted to share out that written response as well. Also, say a few weeks back when Alisha and I were on the phone and the governor had been compelled to do a few releases, which I don’t know the exact numbers on, but they are not where they should be obviously because Alisha is still inside and there’s still people in prison, so the released are not mass and they are not what they need to be.
Red: We were on the phone and I could hear all of a sudden this booming din of noise and I could barely hear Alisha’s voice. It was just the COs shouting. Just shouting what seemed like inches away from the folks who were using the phones. The very next day, I heard a second kind of din and it was the shouts of women being released and other folks being released. Their names were getting called up and they were having to move everything out on carts from their housing unit. It was this really mixed emotional space. It was super garbled.
Red: I couldn’t distinguish all of what was being said behind Alisha, but I could just hear the exclamations, and screams, and cries mixed with the COs just shouting at people. It was really incredibly intense and the kind of sound that’s being heard now behind Alisha, the kind of noise that we’re hearing has typically now just been completely COs arguing with folks inside. Shouting at folks inside. Then folks inside arguing amongst themselves waiting for the phones because these tensions keep building and keep mounting and resources are being spread so thin inside. That sound that you could hear behind Alisha, I just wanted to give that some characterization too.
Red: With everything that we’ve been talking about, we’re still also going to be talking about why we make things in the face of these conditions, and in the face of state violence, and dealing with criminalization, and our own mental health. I’ll leave it at that. We wanted to make space to talk about why zines? Why make these things? Why put our time, and energy, and resources into making these objects? Like LeLe was saying, zine and art making can be these practices of self care and collective care.
Red: We all learn and process shit in different ways. Being able to creatively construct responses to criminalization, to oppression, and exercise our own narrative making is so important. We’ve been making zines as a collective from the beginning and our main creations have been taking the form of these yearbook perzines. Perzine means personal zines. It’s usually reflective-based that chronicle the year’s actions and events and our feelings. Right? The hardships and the breakthroughs. The things that made us feel like we were grasping onto some powerful activity and also feeling disconnected and feeling shot down. All of that stuff has been pumped into those zines.
Red: Our first zine, which is Support Ho(s)e Year One, this one was an amazing joint project that included all of our political education reading circle comrades in Chicago. A lot of us have been making, and trading, and collecting zines since our teens. There’s a really rich tradition of radical sex worker made popular literature in zines. I’m just thinking right now of Gender Trash, Maggies, Be Easy, Stay Safe by Jinjavitis, Leave Us Alone. I’ve got that one here. Also thinking of Our Voices. I’ve also got that one here. Ho Lover. Who can forget this phenomenal read about relationship building? Also the incomparable Don’t Hate My Heels. Incredible work here. Basically all of Annie Koyama’s work. This is the one that I just happen to have at the ready here right now. All of Annie’s zines are incredible.
Red: I could go on and on. There’s such a rich tradition and legacy of ho zines. Also, just sex worker literature and popular print material and ephemera. Sex workers love to make a flyer y’all. We love that. Zines are also a way for us to tell our own stories, right? Without relying on mainstream media or book deals. Although if you are in publishing and are listening to this, you need to give whores more book deals. Please fucking call us. We could really use that. We want to tell stories.
Red: Zines are way more affordable than books. People can make their own copies and pass these things around and trade them. We can tell our own stories more accessibly for ourselves by using images and text, right? That helps to actually set the record straight around things, do political education, chronicle activity. For instance, Alisha uses her art practice to mediate and alleviate stress, right? I make collages to calm the fuck down. Donna creates poetry and reflective embodied performances of resistance and memory. Erica speaks her truth Riot Grrl style, taking down our enemies by cutting and pasting and likely farting on those images while making them. Amazing powerhouses. Both of these [inaudible 00:55:11]. Aaron writes. A lot and beautifully about all the pain that we hold. He has sung and writhed around on stage in an anarchic frenzy to raise money for Alisha’s commissary.
Red: We’ve all documented these experiences and these ways of engaging with the world in our zines. We hope that these bundles of paper, these little talismans of resistance and ink, become tangible proof that whores fought back and that our voices and art have power together. That we can make powerful narratives together. I want to give a special shout out to Julia Arreddondo, formerly of Vice Versa Press, who’s now making art under Curandera Press. Also, want to shout out Chartreuse Jennings for all of their artistic support in the making that has helped as get these beautiful visual representations of what we’re all about, which is this high heel stomping on this little dude.
Red: I also want to thank Jonas Cannon of Midwestern Cuisinefest, Fixer Eraser, and We, The Drowned zines. We’re always making sure that sex workers have space at their table and at any zinefest. Also, our dear comrade, Martin Cassa, for ensuring the same. I think that zinesters have this incredible community-based response to stuff. We have these beautiful things that we want to share in the world and we get fiercely passionate about ensuring that people get these things right into their hands, into their laps, and into their lives in whatever way we can.
Red: We do zine readings to make things accessible. We experiment with different kinds of zines, whether they be digital, whether they be the xerox-copied things that I’m a little bit more familiar with and more comfortable with. There are zines that are just all images. Whatever the shape they take, they can be really powerful organizing tools and also just tools of healing. That’s one of the reasons why we do these things. Why we make. I wanted to move into some time now to share some readings.
Red: I wanted to kick things off by sharing a piece of Alisha’s poetry. It’s a piece that’s just called Whore. It’s by Alisha Walker and it’s from the zine A Survivor: Alisha Walker. This is a joint project of the Support Ho(s)e Collective which we basically had Alisha just mail us everything. Hand written poems. Different pieces of art that were mostly graphite on paper with some colored pencils. She also was making this incredible nail polish art for a while. She is making her own nail polish.
Red: I won’t go into the details on here because I don’t want to out anybody’s ingenuity and get that contraband taken from them because everybody needs their nail polish. She was operating at this level of ingenuity to make art all the time and was just sending us stuff and wanted it compiled into a zine. We took all of those things, retyped, transcribed, did stuff over the phone, and we’d just like to have all that stuff in one place, so that’s how that zine came to be.
Red: Sorry. I’m trying to read the chat at the same time as talking and clearly I can’t do that even at 12:30 in the afternoon. I want to start with that piece from Alisha. “I wrote the poem Whore because I’m an incarcerated one and I’m incarcerated for being a whore who survived, so I’ll never turn my back on whores. Hasn’t the government done enough to try and separate us? I’m writing this as a young queer mixed woman. I wrote this poem to celebrate International Whore’s Day. Whores are the hardest working people I know and I’m proud to be in their ranks. I didn’t know about this day when I was working, but now I’m locked up and I know about it and I need it. I want to be connected to whores around the world who are fighting. I want us to shut down the shame. Shut down the racist pigs. Whores will rise.”
Red: “Whore. Why use such a nasty word? Wait, was this word nasty and tasteless not too long ago? Sex workers, prostitutes, escorts, strippers. A list could go on and on, including the word whore. Whores provide. We give love, attention, and a listening ear for coin. Being a whore is work. This ain’t all I am, but it is an important part. Honestly, I thought we all evolved as a society. Putting the reigns on a word because some like it and some don’t? It’s ridiculous.”
Red: “When International Whore’s Day started in 1975, the whores of France banded together because they were sick and tired of being harassed and abused by the same people who use their services. They were tired of the cops. They were tired. Isn’t that our fight? To bring awareness to us whores? To stop the neglect and abuse caused to us by the ones who still can’t stamp us out? Being a whore isn’t a category of sexuality. It is a right to express oneself as a worker. Why is everyone scared of whores? Well, shit. Maybe they should be. Whores are taking power back. In solidarity and ho love, signed a whore for life. LeLe.”
Red: That’s from this zine here. I excerpted it because I’m sneaky and if you want to read the entire thing, you’ve got to buy it, which goes directly to Alisha’s commissary. That’s this piece, which is just one of 20-some-odd beautiful, and intense, and deeply upsetting, and deeply empowering pieces that Alisha has in this collection. I also wanted to share Donna’s reflection from the zine, which is Support Ho(s)e Year Two. It’s this one here. I’m also going to excerpt it because you don’t get all of Donna’s words for free. Here we go.
Red: “I’ve never been good with dates or timelines. There isn’t an exact date or moment where I felt more or less like an organizer or an activist. I just remember too many high school nights spent huddled with my poetry team around the tv watching another white police officer get away with murder. I wondered what it was doing to us to watch as judges, jurors, and prosecutors keep indictment at bay and to know as young people we could be murdered on camera and that there would be no form of justice.”
Red: “My politics has always been deeply tied to my poetry. To the people I shared that poetry with and the people I wrote poems about. The first poem I wrote that mattered to me was about my time as a houseless young person. Then next about my phone calls with my brother on the inside and so forth. I was finding my words at the same time as I was going to the protests and leading chants. I never confidently picked a political party because that’s not what determined for me whether someone deserved to live a life with dignity and care.”
Red: “Showing up for vigils and jail support at the Cook County Juvenile Corrections, fighting for bail reform at city hall, demanding police accountability and exposing militancy in the CPD, walking out when schools were closed and supporting Chicago teachers on strike, fighting for a living minimum wage was always connected to holding it down for incarcerated sex workers and moms at Slutwalk Chicago. Showing up, whether that be virtually or in person, was about demanding folks be heard and that we mattered to somebody.”
Red: “Even if it wasn’t, the people who were impacted in all these spaces usually overlapped. Even if they didn’t, there was never a good enough reason for me not to go if I had the time and energy. When people ask me why I’m here, I say, ‘Why not?’ Why sex workers? Why sluts? Why queers? Why disabled people, Donna? Why? I say why not show up if I’ve got it in me? Would I want someone to list the reasons not to give their time if I were in need? If my family was in need? If my people’s life was on the line? That’s not solidarity. We all need each other and we all have something to offer and only we can offer what we got.”
Red: That’s from this one and, Donna, I hope I did you justice. I hope I did your words justice. This is in this zine here and it’s excerpted. Wanted to just read one last piece. This one is from Aaron in Support Ho(s)e New York. It’s also from this zine and it’s the closing remarks for this zine.
Red: “It turns out the political is personal insofar as the personal is political. The movement for sex workers rights has a necessarily short memory in some regards and a notoriously long one in others. We don’t forget the White Slave traffic Act and we keep receipts on FOSTA and SESTA for a long while, but we understand that radical community must morph and reorganize. Galvanize at sunset as conditions change and as tactics are proven more or less successful. As new formations become necessary and others outlive their usefulness. The enemies and adversaries are numerous. Some inadvertent. Many whose charge is predicated completely on eradicating not just a set of professions, industries, and survival strategies, but the very idea that people, mostly women and femmes, have the capacity, self awareness, and responsibility to govern their own bodies, time, and way of living.”
Red: “Those who make the laws, adjudicate, and enforce them are hardly surprising obstacles to getting free. Political expediency, moral panic, and furious impotence expressed as power over are far from limited to state violence towards sex working people. Through another year of this project, it’s those who opt to have a stake, the radicals, the workers for whom federal legislation isn’t a near death sentence, the Marxists who preach solidarity of the working, the underclass, the choice activists, the prison abolitionists, the better world anarchists to whom we sound the alarm. It’s not personal for you perhaps, not yet.”
Red: “Even if someone you love is a former or current sex worker. Possibly because this work seems secondary. It seems based on choice. It might be that somehow you figure that when the bigger problems are taken care of, this one will naturally follow. People die. Risk harm in various levels and valences of working conditions markedly unsafe due to criminalization. They’re harassed by cops and other agents of the state in unspeakable ways. They are stigmatized at levels which magnify those experienced by women, queers, trans folks, and people of color. That’s what we all struggle against anyway, no? No, I think not. This is your flash point. Your crucible for your leftist politics. For people’s control over their own bodies and futures that they choose and seek.”
Red: “Any activism, any organizing, any conversation about women’s rights, or queer rights, or trans rights, black and brown liberation which misses sex work it misses. You can call the workers miner’s canaries or you can call them vanguards. Either might be apt in its way. I’m another year into the struggle, having moved my own activism back into a classroom. Honestly, it’s fish in a barrel. Anyone with a heart and half a brain when presented with the facts is forced into empty platitudes and vacant moralizing when attempting to argue against the full decriminalization and immediate de-incarceration of people.
Red: “That students who have not reached their quarter century can pick up on this in all of its immediacy while anyone involved in whatever leftist quote unquote movement struggles to keep up, is boggling. You see in these pages a mixture of the bullhorn and the pamphlet. Another score of months off of our incarcerated comrades’ caging. Another set of tragic utterly preventable losses and screaming into the sky both literally and figuratively resistance. Sign on or get the fuck out of the way.”
Red: That’s, again, a piece excerpted from Support Ho(s)e Year Two zine written by one of our comrades. Y’all, in closing, we’ve created artistic resistance through visual works, amplified Alisha’s poetry practice, fundraised, held demonstrations, made consciousness-raising zines for ourselves, and fellow sex workers and demanded our comrades on the left center sex workers’ experiences and everyone in the trade when developing their analyzes. We’ve only been able to do that work because of intentional relationship building and learning alongside LeLe and other incarcerated sex working comrades that she’s connected us with. There is no one without the other. I want to be really clear about that.
Red: Since all of Alisha’s appeals have been denied, we focus more intensely on a clemency campaign. Honing in on Governor J.B. Pritzker’s purported progressivism and of course maintaining material support and commissary aid for Alisha while she’s inside. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to help some of her friends, and chosen family, and lovers who also need help when we can. I want to shout out The Third Wave Fund for helping to make that a reality for us to continue to do our work.
Red: The Third Wave Fund is so important. They are modeling what it actually looks like to support people who are doing the work. Who never get grants. Grassroots organizations who are just completely abandoned by mainstream nonprofits and grant givers. Third Wave Fund shows up for people and primarily shows up for youth, and trans youth, and trans youth of color and they keep showing up. Many thanks and appreciations to give for Third Wave for helping us realize our organizing work. We’ve established a post-release fund that people can contribute toward. Again, we’ll provide all these links and resources, both in the description of our recording, but these are also things that are all on our website that you can drop in the chat as well.
Red: We’ve started this post-release fund for Alisha that focuses on we’re encouraging y’all to also amplify and give to if you actually have money to give. We’ve working with Hacking Hustling, which is another sex worker lead collective, to co-create a funded project for Alisha when she’s out that she’s helped design. When she’s home, she’s got not just housing and not just a post-release fund, but this project-based work that she’s tailored and created the parameters for.
Red: Housing and material support when folks get out is overlooked by lots of mainstream organizations. By lots of nonprofits that work with folks who are incarcerated. I’ve just got to be really real about that. If you’re not showing up and literally housing our people when they come out of prisons, we’re not doing enough. I’m just hearing Monica Cosby in my ears right now sitting and having beers with her months ago. Just hearing that and that is the lesson that I think we need to take back to all of our formations. How do we get smart, and get safe, and get working on housing justice for folks when they come out? Alisha has 19 months left y’all unless Jimmy Pritzker can be forced to do the right thing and free everyone who’s incarcerated in Illinois during this pandemic.
Red: We can do a lot more as a broader community and we need to. We’ve got to keep lifting up our incarcerated sex worker family and agitate to get them free. Especially now amidst this global health crisis and pandemic. I want to urge people to look into the work and also the calls to action from Survived and Punished, from Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration, from Love and Protect, and also from Free Them All For Public Health. Please, please, please look into those organizations and formations who are just spearheading, and guiding, and leading with such force of love, and care, and action.
Red: Also, read zines made by sex workers. We talked about several of them just on this call as I was just sharing a few out, but read zines made by sex workers. Make your own. Make your own zines. Subscribe to prison abolitionist newsletters like Free Survivors and write to incarcerated people. More people right now are learning about and deepening their own mutual aid and mutual care practices. That is so hopeful to see and it is incredibly life-giving. Also, it’s going to take all of us to resist the death blows of capitalism and the racist whorephobia incarcerality. We need to get to work and we need to support one another in this work.
Red: It can look like creating for one another and creating to bring people on board with these struggles. With that, I will shut up. I want to just thank Bluestockings again and thank all y’all for joining us this morning and this afternoon to just talk zines, and newsletters, and listen to Alisha’s voice together, and to be made together, and to lift each other up. So good to hear Donna and Erica’s voices on here as well. I love y’all so much. Thank you for everything that you do and for being such and intrinsic part of this collective.
Red: Please y’all, follow our work online since we are online all the time now. Follow the projects that we’ve mentioned too. We’ll continue to drop those things into not just the recording description, but I’ll make sure that they’re all boosted and lifted on our socials pages right now. So the second you go to them, you can access those things too. Matilda, do you have anything to send us off with?
Matilda: Red, I want to say thank you so much for your strength, and your message, and for holding this space with us, which is a fraught but important space. I’m going to close out by thanking everybody who attended and reminding you to if I’ve just shouted too many links at you, follow Bluestockings and we’ll get you the rest of them. Thanks so much y’all.
Alisha just called with an update! As of Saturday, May 2nd, 2:30pm est:
Each incarcerated person inside Decatur has been given one (and only one) “medical grade” mask with their name and ID number written across the front of it in sharpie (so all they can smell are the marker fumes). She also mentioned that the COs have stopped wearing gowns and the purple “rain coats” today, and are just wearing masks and gloves.
She also thinks they’re going to start allowing video visits again, and wants to test the waters by re-scheduling the ones that were canceled this past week for next week. Fingers crossed!
She recommends trying to still email her via Connect Network (wifi willing) to get in touch as phones are only being allowed once a day.
We got word from Alisha last night (4/28/2020) that Decatur had put itself on “Level 1 Lockdown,” as of a few minutes ago we still believed she’d be able to leave her cell for scheduled video visits.
However, an email she sent early this (4/29) afternoon that just posted notified Red that all video visits are being suspended until further notice.
LeLe no longer has regular access to phone use or to showers. One person allowed to phones and showers at a time is what COs are instituting. She and her cellmates are being confined to their room for the entire day, a room she shares with 3 other people, who share a toilet with another 4 people on top of that. As of today, chow is being delivered again on trays directly to rooms.
She said in the email, “they [COs] are now wearing gowns and placed hazard trash by each of our doors, and now they say there is no cases here… But since that girl had a fever they went through all this… So i think they are lying. And just wont tell us whats happening.”
We are calling JB every single day. We email his office every single day. We’ve been doing this. Please join us. Let’s get our loved ones out of these hell holes.
Call JB Pritzker and tell him this is torturous! Springfield offices: 217-782-6830 or 217-782-6831Chicago office: 312-814-2121
Much love to everyone who joined us and Bluestockings Bookstore, Café, & Activist Center for our Zine Reading & Talk Back with Alisha this past Friday! We’ll have a recording up ASAP as well—and we wanted to make a findable post for all those shoutouts we made during the event!
We highly suggest following Survived and Punished, Survived & Punished New York, Quimby’s Bookstore NYC, Quimby’s Bookstore, Love & Protect, Black and Pink: Milwaukee, #FreeChrystulKizer, Midwest Perzine Fest, Curandera Press, and Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration for starters!
Join inside and outside comrades from the Support Ho(s)e Collective for a zine reading, history of organizing and a conditions update from inside an Illinois prison on Friday, April 24th 2020.
This event will be held over Zoom, please RSVP for a meeting link.
Participant Bios : Red (they/them) makes zines that center sex worker organizing, activist-oriented political education, prison/police abolition and incarcerated comrades’ stories.
Alisha Walker (she/her) is a multi-media visual artist, poet, inside organizer, (former) sex worker and criminalized survivor. LeLe is a mixed ethinic, Black woman and self-described unapologetic whore. She is a member of the Support Ho(s)e Collective. Alisha is currently (forcibly) based in Decatur, Illinois.
Just got off a video visit with Alisha! GTL cancelled our 50min and swapped with a “free” 15min but kept our money. She was able to use the new kiosk on unit which meant a little more comfort (durag on, makeup off), and no awful “strip and squat” search prior to our visit.
She’s being moved to another unit soon, like her friends before her. Decatur is compressing people, forcing them into even tighter/closer configurations than they’ve experienced before. The din in the background held the nervous, agitated voices of LeLe’s unit-mates and also the booming voice of the COs shouting at folx. LeLe looked lovely but self-described her look as tired and “over it.” She asked about Uptown People’s Law Center’s lawsuits and is excited about upcoming actions Survived and Punished, Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration, and Love & Protect are taking.
She sends love to everyone and also wanted to convey that it’s okay to feel pissed off; she’s pissed! She’s also thankful and energized to hear people outside are fighting to #FreeThemAll however folx can.
One of our organizers spoke with Kate for this piece, “Many of us…have [now] taken up this work against EARN IT. We see this newly proposed bill as a part of the dangerous legacy of SESTA/FOSTA, the PATRIOT Act and other insidious state surveillance efforts; bent on censorship and punishment.“
We’re taking time today, in spite of the fear and anxieties swirling within us to take stock of the last four years. Today, we’re turning 4 years young as a collective!!!
In late March of 2016, we organized our first demonstration in solidarity with Alisha Walker and all criminalized/incarcerated sex workers who had survived violence. It was our first formal action as a collective.
Since then, we’ve fundraised, visited, developed friendships and organized alongside LeLe, protested, found pro bono legal aid for her, and launched a grassroots campaign for clemency.
We developed a syllabus for political education reading groups for our sex working comrades and accomplices in adjacent queer communities.
We’ve taken public space, held teach-ins, trainings, knowledge shares, hosted letter writing events, Know Your Rights events, and crafts workshops to demand rights, respect and protection of sex working people.
We’ve created art and print resources like zines, posters, banners and more to artistically intervene with sex workers’ resistance in visual culture.
We created toolkits for Letter Writing to incarcerated folx, as well as Media and Health & Wellness professional to become sex work competent and create ethical conditions for working with sex workers.
We’ve been honored to work closely with Alisha’s mother Sherri and family and help facilitate numerous articles to highlight her case.
Through Alisha’s inside organizing, we’ve built many comradeships with others inside at Decatur and Logan Correctional Centers/Prisons.
We saw the release of one of our comrades, Judy, who’ve we’ve co-authored a forthcoming book chapter with. We’ve engaged in mutual aid efforts to help Judy and her partner establish their new life together.
We have continued to expand our organizing work in NYC, and are helping to build radical community amongst current and former sex working people and co-conspirators. We’ve been humbled and thankful to forge bonds with Survived & Punished NY, Hacking//Hustling, Red Light Reader, Red Canary Song, Kink Out, Bluestockings, No New Jails NYC, and other renegade comrades who we learn from everyday!
We can do a lot more as a community and need to. We’ve got to keep lifting up our incarcerated sex worker family and work to get them free. Especially now amidst a global health crisis and pandemic. More people are learning about and deepening their mutual aid/care practices and it’s so hopeful to see. It’s going to take all of us to resist the death blows of capitalism and the racist whorephobia of carcerality.
Thank y’all for all your support along the way. Please keep sharing, keep writing LeLe, keep telling folx that she should be free–extend this care to all on the inside.
We’ve got a long fight ahead of us, but having these years behind us, we’ve learned a hell of a lot. We are a small, extremely small, formation, and yet we feel committed and focused. We’ve learned hard lessons, and have fortified bonds of trust and love. You can be small and make shit happen.
We finally got word from another one of our comrades who’s currently incarcerated in Illinois right now.
On 3/21 Lorena (pseudonym) wrote us: “So I am here on an immigration warrant, I was at work release and tried to fix my green card and it put a red flag out and got me a warrant.. My mom has a lawyer working on it right now..but it might take forever.. I heard Chicago is a sanctuary city or something, could you check? I’m in a drug treatment program so I’ll be out in October.. This place is so crazy.. I wish I could’ve gone back to Decatur… We are on full lockdown right now. We can’t do anything .. As for commissary, money is a lil tight…”
Our comrades working with Hacking//Hustling were able to send funds immediately to Lorena for when commissary is reestablished and she can shop again.
On 3/24: “Thank you for the funds!!! Yes, please share everything.. I want to help when I’m out by advocating for women behind bars because they [the prison staff at Logan] treat us very badly!!! I’m so stressed about getting deported but it’s something that’s out of my control.. We still get fed and get showers..but shopping [commissary] is on hold and phones are so crazy to get on without arguing..everyone is going crazy..”
We waited to share until we got express consent to give folx updates. At Lorena’s request we also forwarded the details she sent us to Uptown People’s Law Center via their survey!
Alisha and Lorena are very close and incredibly worried about each other. Prison policy expressly forbids correspondence between incarcerated folx (with very few exceptions–LeLe was denied writing a cousin because he wasn’t deemed “close enough kin.”)
We’ll continue posting updates and messages from our comrades inside, since JB Pritzker has refused to do the right thing and #freethemall4publichealth to voice their needs directly.
LeLe, and many others inside, elected to get flu shots that were being offered by Decatur yesterday.
Last night through this morning Alisha and others she knows on unit, including a close friend experienced allergic reactions as a result of the shots ranging from mild to serious. Alisha’s friend went into anaphylactic shock, unable to breathe, and was rushed to an outside hospital. Alisha does not know her friend’s current condition. After receiving her shot, Alisha experienced throat swelling and itchiness, overall body welts and general discomfort (this is her first flu shot since being inside). She said he welts and pain is starting to subside, but her throat is still very itchy and swollen. No other medical support has been offered or extended to folx managing these adverse side effects.
The new on-unit video visit GTL kiosk appears to be almost functional. LeLe saw them working on it this morning. She and others are excited for this because it likely means they won’t have to be strip searched and squat (which is typically required even for video visits) before using the kiosk on unit for visiting.
LeLe sends love and solidarity to all those fighting for the release of incarcerated comrades, and strength to the hunger strikers.
Decatur has implemented “Administrative Quarantine” furthering their lockdown practices.
The incarcerated mothers with babies have been released. Many had no where to go, LeLe heard some had been sent to shelters/hotels but has no way of confirming this. She’s worried for them. She’s worried for herself and those left caged.
They prison is doing “half and half’s,” based on odd and even room numbers, limiting who can leave their rooms to use phones, etc.
Mostly folx are being confined to unit. COs brought meals to people in cells on disposable trays. Limited access to gym is still being negotiated.
Email is down, completely. It stopped working on Friday. They’re getting server errors when trying to log onto tablets.
They received a notice last night about how the prison administration plans on handling this crisis that was vague. It promises “alternative programming for contracts and days” but doesn’t specify what or how.
The notice also stated that showers, GTL kiosks (video visits), commissary and the law library would still be accessible.
There is bleach to clean the phones finally. Though that cleaning labor has been put onto folx inside.
Midway through the call LeLe said: “Social distancing. Psh. All they talk about is social distancing. How the fuck is that supposed to work in here? I’ve got people less than a foot away from me right now!”
Red and LeLe had a check-in call, LeLe’s voice was bright and hopeful. Alisha let us know that so far no one inside Decatur is sick/showing signs of symptoms, commissary is still open, and soap is still available. LeLe is super worried about her fellow incarcerated family however, because so many of them are immunocompromised and the “care” they all receive inside isn’t really care.
She was horrified by the news of some prisons cutting off access to commissary and care-packages. She said, “We all rely on shopping to survive. How will they survive without commissary?”
She also let us know that regular phone use has been reinstated, and that gym and chow are still happening for now. Our video visits are still on, and LeLe encourages everyone who doesn’t have this GTL account to set it up, as well as the Connect Network email, because folx are really feeling even more isolated without access to in-person visits while on lock down.
Alisha said the prison is taking precautions about the CO’s health, but doesn’t feel like it’s enough. She’s been following the Governor’s statements and efforts and is hopeful, but also expressed that even when people get things right on the outside, folx on the inside are the ones left behind.
Alisha wanted to express support for the CCBF‘s actions and demands that everyone be released to prevent an outbreak at Cook County. She said, unless Cook County releases everyone, they’re condemning folx to illness.
She’s also very worried about friends and comrades at Logan, it’s almost impossible to get word about their well-being.
Even though her Shakespeare practice and her classes have been cancelled for now, she’s practicing her lines, doing math problems, and working through her introduction to soil horticultural science text on her own time. She very recently got some surprising but positive family news, and is processing that and feeling excited for the relationship-building opportunities that presents.
Red spoke with Alisha on Friday (3/13), and LeLe said Decatur is going on lockdown.
All in-person visitation has been cancelled, and video visits are tentatively going forward, but that it is unclear if GTL tech staff will be allowed into the prison for technical support and administration of video visitation. LeLe also mentioned that the GTL staff were working on installing a video visitation kiosk on unit but that she doesn’t know what the ETA for it going operational will be.
As of now, Red and Aaron have a video visit with LeLe scheduled for this coming Thursday evening.
LeLe said no one she knows is sick, and that she and those she’s talked with on unit are being proactive and buying soap at commissary (the hand sanitizer they are offered at commissary has no alcohol content, which means it’s virtually ineffective).
As of an email we got from LeLe today (3/15):
All activities have been cancelled (including educational classes, other certification courses, and their Shakespeare rehearsals) except for Chow and Gym, but she said the COs said those are next to be cancelled too.
They’re currently only being allowed two 20 minute phone calls a day.
We’ll keep you updated on what Alisha wants shared! Right now, we’re asking our community to please share and circulate these resources and demands:
Our beautiful comrades with @MomsUnitedChi are hosting a “Valentines Against Violence & Incarceration” letter writing event, and will also be gathering letters for Alisha’s birthday! Please come through!
It may be a new year, but we’re our same old “fuck prison” selves. LeLe sends love and appreciation to everyone who sent holiday solidarity!
Below are some reflections from Red about their visit:
Finally getting together my notes and reflections (that I can share on here) from our visit. Reeling from the news of airstrikes and imperialist violence that we saw after leaving the prison.
There were car shakedowns again, which almost put us in danger of crossing into the dead zone that is afternoon count. Thankfully we were processed with 3min to spare and got in for our visit just under the wire. The arbitrary evil of prison policy never gets easier to navigate. You can build up expectations and anticipate fuckery, but it’s never “easier.”
LeLe looked so good, and was excited for our own version of a new year celebration: shit talking, drinking fruit juice and holding hands across the table a lot.
She spent a lot of time persuading Aaron on where to get their friendship-freedom tattoo when she’s out. She and I (and E) already have our placement planned!
We spoke more about gender, gender neutral pronouns, and practicing asking what feels good to people. LeLe is so demonstrably kind and genuine in her questions, thoughts and insights about sexuality, gender expression and freedom. People are gonna learn so much from her. We have.
BE IT RESOLVED, NLG condemns SESTA-FOSTA and all attempts to further criminalize people’s involvement in the sex trade. NLG is in solidarity with the plaintiffs in Woodhull Freedom Foundation et al. v. United States and all others harmed by SESTA-FOSTA.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, in line with the 2016 NLG Resolution Supporting the Abolition of Prisons, the Guild adopts a position for the full decriminalization of sex workers, their clients, and related third-parties, and demands an immediate end to the policing of communities profiled as sex workers and all sex work criminalization laws and practices.
From Kink Out: As an extension of Kink Out’s residency at MoMA PS1, LEATHER LIT DAY on January 11th, brings together kink and sex working people and allies for a day of storytelling, zine making, and community building.
PROGRAM 2–5pm zine making, facilitated by Niko Flux & Letter writing to incarcerated sex workers, facilitated by Red
ZINE MAKING: Zines are both whimsical and powerful tools in queer and sex worker communities. Inherently anti-establishment, these DIY magazines circulate to connect communities with art, literature, news, health and safety information, and activism. Queer leather zines like FIST (www.fistzine.com) and TOKEN (from 1998), have shared the identities of sadomasochists, pups, and punks, and the poetry that brews from blood, piss, queer bodies, and bondage. A selection of these zines, curated by Red, are available in Artbook at MoMA PS1 for perusal and purchase.
***SxHx will have our collection of zines for purchase, with all proceeds going to our work and to supporting our comrade Alisha Walker.***
LETTER WRITING: By writing a letter of support to an incarcerated sex worker, we can let community members know they are not forgotten. Writers are asked to keep letters positive, not to out people as sex workers, and set realizable expectations. Additional information and guidelines provided by the Support Ho(s)e Collective can be found at the letter-writing station.
🌹 Grantees Announcement! We’ve committed over $800,000 to sex worker-led groups in just two years! 🌹
Sex worker activists led powerful organizing in 2019, despite being targeted at every turn. But many sex worker communities must self-fund their work because philanthropy has historically undermined and under-resourced their movements. That’s why Third Wave Fund started the Sex Worker Giving Circle (SWGC) in 2018.
With your support, we’ll be funding sex worker-led organizing for years to come. AND, as a symbol of our appreciation for your commitment to this work, we’re giving all new monthly donors who sign up pre-New Year’s Day an amazing “Sex work is Work: Decriminalize Now” tote designed by friend JB Brager! http://bit.ly/donatetoswgc
As the year winds down, we’re remaking history — committing over $800,000 to sex worker-led groups in just two years. And we owe this success to both the SWGC Fellows and the twenty-three incredible SWGC grantees, who take big risks every day to fight criminalization and keep their communities safe. Check them all out here: http://bit.ly/granteesswgc2019
On our way to see LeLe! Excited to see our beautiful comrade and catch up in person! Shoutout to the comrade at the IDEVASW vigil last night who gave us cash to use on vending machines for visitation today!
Just got home from our December 17th protest vigil and community gathering. I kept thinking about what LeLe said on the phone this morning, “Tell people I’ve only got one more D17 inside, then I’ll be out there with y’all fighting. Remind people about all the hos in county and all us in here!”
I’m feeling so many things. Mostly grateful and relieved to have a space to grieve and express collective love and rage. So much appreciation to Colette from CGLA for ensuring we had a warm indoor space to feed people and share projects and comrades who need support. Much love to La Flor Azteca for the beautiful and nourishing food!
To all the folx who helped us hold space and speak names in the cold, thank you. To everyone who came to share space in comradeship and eat together, thank you. Organizing these gatherings and taking back/up public space is hard but so crucial. Here’s to mourning our fallen, holding each other with care and fighting like hell for the living, in the names of those taken from us.
People asked us for the piece that Red shared this evening for International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, below is their introductory statement and Alisha’s poem.
Tonight I’m reading a poem written by my friend and comrade Alisha Walker. Alisha is a self-described queer, mixed, Black woman and unapologetic whore. She is a member of the Support Ho(s)e collective, a poet and an artist. Alisha is also a criminalized survivor, currently incarcerated at Decatur Correctional. LeLe was sentenced to 15 years in state prison because she fought back against a violent client, Alan Filan, who was demanding unprotected sex and threatening her and her friend with a knife. Alisha saved her life and the life of her fellow worker that night. When Judge Obbish sentenced Alisha to 15 years he ostensibly said that she should have died that night when Filan attacked her. He ostensibly said that her life didn’t matter as much as that well-connected white man’s. Alisha’s survival and subsequent punishment underscores the racist and whorephobic violence of the police, courts and prisons. When Alisha called me a few days ago, she was adamant on me also sharing with y’all the violence of erasure that prisons perpetuate. She excitedly yelled into the phone, “tell them to remember all the hos in county and in the prisons! Remember us!” She wanted me to me also share that as it’s so important to come together to mourn and grieve our lost, it’s equally important to organize and fight to end the everyday violence sex workers face at the hands of the police, the courts, the prisons, the jails, the detention centers. She sends her love, rage and support to all y’all tonight.
Here are Alisha’s words:
I wrote this poem called “Battle” in honor of December 17th, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. It’s gonna take all of us to fight this hatred of us, and we need you to fight alongside us now. If you support sex workers rights you are supporting all other kinds of rights too–because it’s the most diverse and marginalized profession out there. Show up for us.
How did I get here? What wrong did I do?
Defending myself? I guess was the wrong thing to do.
They said I should have laid down, that I should have gave up and quit.
Should have been a compliant little whore. Gave into a trick. That I have no right to say no, I don’t deserve to choose “She’s nothing, she’s useless, what’s she going to do?”
My escorts, workers, my family, you feel my pain, as I do you.
They have a plan: “take away our little security,”
Kill us off, decrease our numbers, divide and conquer
But they forget, we are mothers, daughters, partners, and friends. We have our own army. We will never end! We’re survivors!
When you knock us down, it makes our skin tougher See….
We are a different breed
They fucking envy us! So they try to make us bleed.
We’ve lost so many in this war.
Just to name a few…
Hande Kader Alphonza Watson Vanesa Campos Yang Song Sisi Thibert Alloura Wells
So listen up!
We as a community have shit to do. Stand! In solidarity!
Because this is a fight for our lives, WE WILL NOT LOSE!
Please join us in solidarity for International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. There will be a protest vigil and community gathering.
We’ll gather in Millennium Park beginning at 4:30pm at the Millennium Monument corner of Randolph & Michigan (looks like a colonnade), for a vigil action to hold space for those we’ve lost and for those kept from us because of state violence, please dress warmly. Feel free to bring your own candles to light, we will have some votives to share. All are welcome to bring the names of their loved ones and comrades to uplift.
We’ll move on to our indoor location, the offices of Cabrini Green Legal Aid (6 S Clark suite 200), at 6:30pm for food, warm drinks, communing and healing-work. We’ll hold space until 8:30pm. If you’re able, please bring cash to tip our caterers and healers.
Catering is care of TCEP’s Cooperative Project, La Flor Azteca.
More details TBA! Follow bit.ly/ChicagoD17
If you’re a part of a grassroots org looking to show up for sex working/trading people, please get in touch about how you can support! We need hand warmers, lighters and welcome donations of dairy-free hot chocolate.
We’ll have red bandanas and scarves for anyone who needs them. This event is open to accomplices and co-strugglers.
Flier art by Red, featuring a photo provided by Hacking//Hustling’s craftivism project with lettering and designs by @yourpeachyboy and Paul Glover.
It is at once a preposterous and necessary act, to demand an end to violence against sex workers. I cannot help but be reminded, at this moment in the midst of the extended decrepitude of American moral authority and prerogative, of another, equally preposterous and necessary ask, on behalf of Black lives, and wonder how many ways there are to request the same, basic dignities: freedom from violence, empowerment to self-determination, enablement to survive. Of the many sex workers with whom I have been privileged to break bread, commiserate, or whose stories I have directly or indirectly been able to convey to college classrooms or other more or less casual company, “violent” would not be high among the modifiers I would use to characterize them. “Strong,” obviously, in the sense of both conviction regarding their right to exist, and equally willing to discuss, when asked respectfully and at the appropriate interval, moments when that conviction has been most tested. “Intelligent,” yes, but neither restricted to formal education nor the instrumental knowledge necessary to perform stigmatized and often criminalized labor. No, the intelligence of the sex workers I know and know of extends both to emotional expediency and care (it is generally a talking crime, after all, as MGG reminds us) and to a highly acute sense of what they do, why they do it, and the extent to which it does or does not define them. “Generous” is also apt; the workers I know are magnanimous even at their most desperate, because they tend to be willing to do for themselves and theirs whatever is necessary to resist the many vestiges of this world that does not want them to, either through neglect or aggression, from the pulpit or the precinct, chambers of government and chambers of cold, withered SWE®Fs with no purpose but to rescue those who do not need rescuing, or ignorance of how to help those who need it most. Sex workers tend to know who fits into those categories, too, and I rely on them to remind me.
So I am sickened at the necessary commemoration of harms and losses that is endemic to the struggle for sex worker destigmatization, decriminalization, and decarceration. I am disgusted at having to choose between sadness and rage, rather than celebrating future success and solidarity. Because there is nothing inspiring about today, at least for me. I hope that these people with whom I feel such strong kinship, my sisters (and especially LeLe), brothers, and others, find some comfort in the bitter cold of D17, are able to take a great breath and exhale before another day of avoiding ending up on a list read in a quavering voice, a voice of sadness and rage, and helping ensure others do not end up on that list, either. It is a day of cessation, a demand for respite from violence, and a day of remembrance for struggles past and lives stolen. For me, it is a day considering what it would mean for it not to need to exist, and scheming how best to keep moving towards it. This I wish for sex workers and their chosen families.
Our collective’s statement read by our dear comrade Julie at last night’s vigil to remember Yang Song —so much love to Red Canary Song for holding space.
Yang Song Statement Transcript
Julie: Hi, everyone. The Support Ho(s)e Collective sends its love and solidarity to Red Canary Song and all of you today who want an end to the harassment and criminalization of our immigrant, migrant and sex working communities.
Like our comrades in Red Canary Song, and all of you gathered here today, we want police out of massage parlors. We want an end to police demanding sexual services for free and entrapping workers.
We want an end to the NYPD coercing workers to become informants against one another. We want an end to the stigma and shame that surrounds survival of any kind.
We have collectively mourned the murder, yes, we charged the NYPD with the murder of Yang Song, and we have held space for our righteous anger for three Novembers now. We were with you outside of the 109th Precinct, demanding justice for Yang Song on December 17th for International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Again, in this very spot last year, as we built our own community altar of memory and resistance, and here we all are, again, are gathering now even larger, growing with resilience and rage.
We will keep coming back, joining together until we see a flushing and a New York that respects and uplifts migrant massage and sex working people. Their workplace needs their access to community resources, their freedom of movement without fear of harassment from judgemental neighbors or police.
We will only see personal and political safety when those directly impacted lead their communities. Develop solutions that do not rely on fear, arrest, entrapment, deportation, and incarceration that the police bring. We will only see safety when the cops are out of parlors and massage workers are able to freely and openly address the real harms, grievances and struggles they already self-organize to address every single day without the threats and harassment they currently survive.
All power to migrant sex workers, all power to migrant massage workers, solidarity forever.
Our collective’s statement, that our comrade Julie read, for this evening’s vigil action for Yang Song:
The Support Ho(s)e Collective sends its love and solidarity to Red Canary Song and all of you today who want an end to the harassment and criminalization of our immigrant, migrant, and sex working communities.
Like our comrades in Red Canary Song, and all of you gathered here today, we want police out of massage parlors. We want an end to police demanding sexual services for free and entrapping workers! We want an end to the NYPD coercing workers to become informants against one another! We want an end to the stigma and shame that surrounds survival of any kind!
We have collectively mourned the murder, yes, we charge the NYPD with the murder of Yang Song, and we have held space for our righteous anger for three Novembers now. We were with you outside of the 109th precinct demanding justice for Yang Song on December 17th for International day to end violence against sex workers, again in this very spot last year as we built our own community alter of memory and resistance and here were are all again, our gathering now even larger, growing with resilience and rage.
We will keep coming back, joining together until we see a Flushing, and a New York, that respects and uplifts migrant massage and sex working people—their workplace needs, their access to community resources, their freedom of movement without fear of harassment from judgmental neighbors or police.
We will only see personal and political safety when those directly impacted lead their communities, develop solutions that do not rely on fear, arrest, entrapment, deportation and incarceration that the police bring. We will only see safety when the cops are out of parlors and massage workers are able to freely and openly address the real harms, grievances and struggles they already self-organize to address every single day without the threats and harassment they currently survive!
All power to migrant sex workers! All power to migrant massage workers! Solidarity forever!
Today, in Flushing Queens comrades will gather to mourn the death of Yang Song and share collective outrage at the continued criminalization of massage and sex working migrant people. We send love, support and righteous anger as we rise up alongside our comrades today.
Alisha wanted to share these words with folx as they head to the vigil action, “We love and support all sex workers, and their right to be heard, especially on this day. This day that we will never forget. We will never stop demanding justice for Yang Song, and her family. It is proven fabric threaded together is stronger. What more is there to say about resilient hoes, woven together by a common purpose!”
From our comrades Red Canary Song * Vigil for Yang Song *
Time: Saturday 11/30 3-6PM Location: 40th Road (near the LIRR tracks), Flushing Rain Location: Chinese Democracy Club/Flushing Quaker Meeting House
We are gathering for a vigil to honor the life of Yang Song, who passed away after a police raid at the massage parlor where she worked in 2017. Together, we will be remembering her and imagining a world beyond criminalization.
This vigil is organized by Red Canary Song in community with a coalition of activists, allies, and workers. Red Canary Song is a grassroots organizing group of volunteers, healthcare providers, activists, and sex workers fighting to secure the rights of Asian and migrant massage parlor workers and sex workers.
We encourage you to send us a short message of support that we will translate and post at the site of the vigil. Please send by 11/23, if you can!
Please save the date Saturday, November 30th and show up to hold space with Red Canary Song as community uplifts the memory of #YangSong and continues the fight against criminalization of massage and sex working migrant people.
Vigil action from 2-5PM on 40th Road near the LIRR tracks in Flushing, Queens.
Watch this video created collaboratively by Kink Out, Red Canary Song, featuring comrades from Decrim NY and one of our Support Ho(s)e Collective members.
Next Week! Many thanks to Kink Out & the Leslie Lohman Museum for organizing and hosting!
One of our comrades will be speaking on this panel discussing art, politics and queer liberation organizing!
Tuesday, November 19, 20196:30-8:30 PM
Bow Down is a conversation between queer kink sex workers who discuss their particular field of sex work and how their sex careers inform their activism.
Our panelists will dig into particulars of the Whorearchy (the social, political, and economic hierarchy of sex work, both systematic and internalized), fetishism, power, sex, money, slut shaming within the broader sex industry, and how we fit into queer culture and LBGTQIA communities.
Kink Out presents an evening of Art x Activism x Conversation in conjunction with Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art’s exhibition, ON OUR BACKS: The Revolutionary Art of Queer Sex Work , which explores the history of queer sex work culture.
Hacking//Hustling @ Harvard was a truly life-giving and labor-affirming convening.
Here are just a few candids from the convening! In one, you can see Red holding a mic to the phone, sharing the floor with LeLe.
So much love and appreciation to everyone who helped Hacking//Hustling realize this convening. So much love to those who couldn’t be with us in person but who still played vital roles, like our comrades from DecrimNow DC and Alisha!
So much love to our fam who abstained from being photographed. You’re still “seen,” supported and loved!
Endless appreciation to Whose Corner Is It Anyway comrades for their knowledge sharing and their critical insights about supporting drug using and offline sex working people.
The evening was filled with food, and stories and meeting new comrades and catching up with old friends. Together we wrote 77 letters to criminalized survivors of violence and incarcerated sex working people.
Just had a video visit with Alisha this morning! Of course the quality of the video was terrible and the sound kept cutting in and out, again. This has become expected, but no less frustrating.
We caught up on organizing tasks for our collective, what she’s reading now (digging into some romance novels after finishing All Our Trials), Decatur drama, and recapped how the No New Jails action went on Friday–she loved getting to hear the recording of Jessica reading our statement!
We made each other laugh, talked through some rough patches we’ve each been having and made some new commitments. We have to be a little cyptic these days, for inside organizing reasons.
It was so good to see her and hear her voice. To hear her plan her release outfit (only 17 months away now!!!) She conveyed love and support to everyone who is taking to the streets to fight the NYC mayor’s jail expansion plan, and to everyone back in Chicago holding it down against Lightfoot’s cop-loving policies.
The Support Ho(s)e Collective sends its love and solidarity to our comrades in the No New Jails NYC coalition and to all of you today who want an end to the criminalization and caging of our sex working and hustling communities.
Our collective is comprised of current and former sex workers and militant co-conspirators. We seek to build radical community for sex workers in Chicago, comrades who are incarcerated at Decatur Correctional, and here in NYC. Our organizing is directly guided by the insights of our currently incarcerated collective member and insider organizer, Alisha Walker, and by our formerly incarcerated comrade, Judy.
Alisha wanted to directly share the following thoughts about what her time spent in jail, in pre-trial detention for 18 months, meant for her and fellow prisoners:
All the jailers did was dope us up on psych medications while awaiting trial. They tried to make us docile and complacent in our caging. We were barely fed, and when we were, there was never nutritious food. We regularly found roach eggs and pieces of plastic in our “meals.” We were actively pressured to take horrible deals to escape the abusive treatment and isolation. We were routinely dehumanized, drugged up, exposed to emotional and physical violence. We had no shower curtains or doors on our toilets, COs stared at our naked bodies and as we menstruated or shit. This is a system that works as designed. All jails and prisons do this. Call them humane, and I’ll call bullshit. I’m in downstate Illinois and I’m fighting against jails in New York City for this very reason. No person belongs in a cage.
Corey Johnson, do you hear Alisha? Do you hear us?!
For our comrade and for ourselves, we rise up with you today to demand the immediate closing of Rikers. We rise up with you today to shout “no new jails!” As sex workers we are keenly aware of the police and prosectutors roles in caging and criminalizing.
The violence of policing like raids on massage parlors, or in-call spaces in the name of rescue has never been justifiable. The targeting of vulnerable communities like migrant or new immigrant workers must stop. The police-led propaganda campaigns to incite people to report on their neighbors whom they suspect to be selling sex must stop! We want an end to police demanding sexual services for free and entrapping workers! We want an end to police coercing people to become informants! If you’re concerned about labor trafficking, remember this, the police traffic survivors of violence into the courts and jails.
DAs and prosecutors aggressively prosecute sex workers, especially Black and Brown, queer and trans folx to the fullest extent of the law, and migrant workers are pushed through the Human Trafficking Intervetion courts and into a system of surveillance.
District Attorneys, so-called “progressive” prosecutors, do you hear us? We are done with you! We have been done with you!
We will not have safer communities through policing! We will not have safer communities through jailing. We will not have safer communities so long as elected officials only care about their wealthy and well-connected constituents who are dripping with respectability politics that shames their neighbors!
We know that we must insist on and demand community-led solutions to harm. We know what’s best for our lives, our families and our broader communities–because we and our fellow hustlers live this shit everyday!
Comrades, accomplices, queers, fellow radical hos, it’s going to take all of us, advocating and fighting to build a better world—one that recognizes our value, humanity, bodily autonomy and agency as sex working or trading people. A world that protects our trans and gender non-conforming fam, a world that is free from white supremacy and bigotry. A world that truly believes Black lives matter. A world that fully acknowledges sex work is work. A world without police, without prisons, and without the criminalization of survival.
We will only see personal and political safety when those directly impacted lead their communities, develop solutions that do not rely on fear, arrest, entrapment, deportation and incarceration that the police bring.
We will only see safety when the cops are out of our communities, and sex workers are able to freely and openly address the real harms, grievances and struggles they already self-organize to address every single day without the threats and harassment they currently survive!
No cops, no new jails, not here, not anywhere, not ever!
(Art by Alisha Walker, words by SxHx Collective members)
Adjusting to life post-release requires caring support networks and funds. One of our recently released comrades needs our collective help to relocate and pay for housing, and repair a damaged car. Support survivors, give what you can and/or amplify this ask!
Just had a video visit with Alisha! Of course the quality of the video was terrible and the sound kept cutting in and out, but we perservered.
We caught up on organizing tasks for our collective, CO drama which seems never ending, and how she’s preparing remarks for Aaron’s students.
She recited a sonnet she’s memorized from Twelfth Night for the Shakespeare program she’s been a part of for years at Decatur. She’s excited to channel her anger and grief into this year’s performance.
We also worked on our statement of support for No New Jails NYC. Alisha is drawing on experiences of pre-trial detention in Cook County to counter rescue industry reformist garbage about the proposed plan to build new borough jails in NYC. She said it didn’t matter that she doesn’t live in NYC, because a plan to new jails anywhere must be stood against by everyone.
These letters are important gestures, but they can do work beyond that. Receiving mail can be a form of harm reduction, it signals to the prison guards that your comrade has people on the outside who are concerned with their well-being. It can also signal to fellow incarcerated folx that there are support networks out there to be tapped into.
Don’t let the cruel and arbitrary prison mail room policies scare you into not establishing relationships with folx inside. Yes, it’s frustrating and infuriating, don’t give up.
Always double check the prison’s website for any changes or updates in mail restrictions. It’s a good practice to check monthly at a minimum if you’re writing with regularity. Every prison mail room is different and their policies frequently change.
First things first, banned/censored materials to remember:
The following things seem to be censored at most prisons, so you should refrain from using them to ensure your mail has the greatest chance of making it to your comrade inside:
Thick, multi-layered greeting cards (especially made of cardstock)
Colored paper of any kind (including construction and computer paper)
Stickers, glue, confetti, glitter, ribbons/additional items on greeting cards
Oversized envelopes (Try to only mail standard sized envelopes, legal-size paper and preferably 8 ½ x 11 max)
Drawings on envelopes (unfortunately, your art might be considered “graffiti”)
Crayon and colored markers (this one really hurts because kid’s drawings are frequently rejected)
Tape on envelopes in general, clear scotch tape or otherwise
Peel and press envelopes, and envelopes with metal brads that press down.
Best practices when writing:
You must have a complete name and return address on all mail, including post cards.
They’ll be returned or possibly thrown away if not!
Remember to set boundaries and expectations if you’re beginning a pen pal relationship. Let me know how often to expect to hear from you, and what kind of pen pal relationship you have the capacity to be in. They’ll be able to assess if this works for them too. From Survived & Punished: Please be aware of the scarcity of resources for incarcerated survivors and the power differential that creates — do not make commitments or promises that you cannot keep.
If you want, or are open to, a direct reply, put your name and preferred mailing address in the body of the letter and/or somewhere written inside your card, as sometimes envelopes are damaged or destroyed by mail room prison guards.
If your writing a several page letter and are including multiple sheets of paper, make sure you don’t exceed the amount of pages allowed by the prison per envelope. On every separate page, write your comrade’s name and “inmate ID number” in the top right hand corner, it’s also a good idea to write the date and number every page (ie page 1 of 5, 2 of 5, 3 of 5 etc).
Send a photograph of yourself if you’re beginning a pen pal relationship. Make sure you write your comrade’s name and their “inmate number” on the back of the photo. List the photo on a cover sheet that you make for your letter that lists all contents (ie 1 three page letter, 1 photograph).
Consider where folx are coming from in terms of vocabulary/language accessibility. From Survived & Punished: Please keep in mind the mixed literacy levels among incarcerated people and try to respond appropriately — ask questions to help assess what the survivor needs and what is the most accessible way for them to receive support.
Don’t forget to check the formatting of the prison address when addressing the envelope, it’s gotta look the way the prison wants it or it’s likely to be discarded.
Remember, your mail is being read by prison guards. They can deem content of any kind reason enough to reject your letters. Don’t out people in letters; take cues from your pen pals. From Survived & Punished: Remember that letters will be opened by prison staff — ask survivors to let you know what they are comfortable sharing and discussing by mail.