I recently finished Kristin Schreier Lyseggen’s book, The Women of San Quentin– Soul Murder of Transgender Women in Male Prisons. The book is based on a series of interviews of transgender women who are incarcerated in U.S. prisons. It reveals the chronic abuse of, violence toward, and refusal to recognize the gender identity of transgender women in the prison industrial complex. For those of us who watch the Netflix series, Orange is the New Black, Lyseggen’s book provides a reality check about life for transgender women behind bars.
The book had an unexpected affect on me: I can no longer support our current prison system. I question the rehabilitative possibilities of such a system. I question the sanction of a system that dehumanizes persons at every turn. I found myself wondering if I could survive incarceration. Solitary confinement is now being recognized for what it is: torture. I have long known that our prison population is disproportionately made up of people of color due to a combination of both racism and classism. I have come to conclude that our current prison system actively participates in the “soul murder” of all within its confines. Soul murder has been defined as “the deliberate attempt t eradicate or compromise the separate identity of another person.”
One of the reasons that the Black Lives Matter Action of Immediate Witness at the General Assembly last summer was so controversial was because it included the dismantling of the prison industrial complex. At the time I found that clause to be troublesome. But I find myself wanting the United States to look at the prison systems of other countries like Norway. For in those systems, the “inherent worth and dignity” of persons is honored. The violence that exists in our prison system does not exist in other systems.
Do we need to potentially remove persons from the general population who are a threat to others and the fabric of safety in the societal web? Of course. But we need to remove race and class as a factor in who goes to prison and who does not. Do some persons need to be removed even from the general prison population? Probably. But they do not have to be dehumanized and tortured. Nor should beatings, rape, and all sorts of assault be a prison norm. We are far behind much needed reform to our prison system. Why can’t we invest as much in truth and reconciliation processes as we do in building more prisons? Why can’t we allocate monies for prevention and drug and alcohol treatment rather than the millions that go into death penalty cases?
Unitarianism: “ There is a Love holding us.” Universalism: “Love will not give up on you and neither will we.”
Peace, Shalom, Salaam,