Day 21: Mail Can Save Lives
Today is Day 21 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to join Black & Pink’s pen-pal program and help provide a support system for incarcerated LGBTQ individuals. Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.
My name is Shaylanna Brittney Luvme AKA “Queen City Shay.” I’m an incarcerated transgender woman in the state of New York. I am 25 years of age. I am currently serving a 20-plus year sentence. I was accused of robbery and assault. However, I only defended me and my boyfriend. There’s no self-defense in New York State.
Unfortunately, my family chose to neglect me when I came out. My mother is coming around after almost nine years, my father does not like the fact that I’m trans and he refuses to talk to me.
Writing with Reed from Black & Pink as a friend has been a very big part of my progression. Having a pen-pal from Black & Pink gives LGBT prisoners someone to confide in and it also lessens our chances of harassment by staff because they will notice that we have a non-department civilian to hear our complaints. My experience of queerness and being in the prison industrial complex is horrifying. I’ve been groped, threatened with sexual abuse, targeted, and more.
I look at the pen-pal connection as a source of comfort and also an open door to share knowledge and facts between two people.
—Shaylanna B. Luvme
Writing to Shaylanna over the past three years has been a pleasure; she is certainly one of my most steady friends. She grew up in Buffalo where I attended college, so we had that in common right off the bat. As we’ve written over the years about my life and her life before she was incarcerated, it’s become clear that we had different life opportunities.
The criminal legal system, or prison industrial complex (PIC), disproportionately impacts lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people, particularly poor/low-income LGBTQ people of color. Black & Pink is an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and free-world allies who support each other. We are outraged by the specific violence—harassment, assault, and many forms of abuse—of the PIC against LGBTQ people. As Anastasia, a transwoman prisoner in Arkansas, wrote, “You struggle daily…and no matter what, you are at the mercy of the administration, so therefore cannot escape the feelings of anger, hopelessness, isolation, and abuse.”
Currently Black & Pink’s free-world membership is primarily Boston-based, though we are in the process of creating chapters in other cities. A crew of volunteers meets weekly to respond to the hundreds of letters we receive from LGBTQ prisoners each month, and we print a monthly newsletter with majority prisoner-written content and mail it to over 2,400 LGBTQ prisoners nationwide. For many, this will be the only piece of mail they receive, having been cut off or forgotten by family and friends. Mail can literally save lives. When prisoners receive mail, it sends a message to guards and other prisoners that someone on the outside is paying attention and could take action if they are harmed. It also boosts spirits and helps prevent self-inflicted harm.
You can help! One of the best ways you can support prisoners is by becoming their pen-pal. Black & Pink has a pen-pal program, and there are hundreds of LGBTQ prisoners in need of someone to write with. By becoming a pen-pal and writing about the regular things in your life every other week, you can make a huge difference in someone’s life!
Sign up here to get more information about becoming a pen-pal.
I’ve benefited greatly from writing to Shaylanna and sharing stories and feelings with this wise woman, and it is good to know that I’m doing something to support queer and trans people who have been trapped behind bars. I hope you’ll put your love into action today and sign up to learn more about Black & Pink and our pen-pal program.
Shaylanna B. Luvme and Reed Miller are pen-pals and are also both part of the Leadership Circle for Black & Pink, an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies who support each other as well as advocating for and providing direct service to LGBTQ prisoners across the United States.