Resting in Unsafe Spaces

 Art by Ky Peterson

Art by Ky Peterson

This article originally appeared on June 19, 2017 in Rest for Resistance*
Rest for Resistance Editor's Note: Ky Peterson is a Black trans man currently incarcerated for self-defense against a violent attacker. Here's what he shared with us about resting as an act of resistance.

Things are going pretty good considering the situation. I am able to eat, leave my dorm for classes, go outside, and connect with other people. I am lucky that I do not have to serve my time in Solitary, but that doesn't mean I don't struggle everyday. Resistance on the inside doesn't look the same as it does in the "Free World."  We cannot speak out, protest, or openly stand against inhumane treatment. The administration considers any resistance to be "Insubordination," even when we are only trying to survive.  

I have had to learn to resist quietly, and in a way that won't create a backlash for myself or other inmates.

Every day it is a new challenge or problem I have to solve or try to avoid. In here, the best resistance is simply avoidance. The "Bosses" try to push people into feeling scared and angry. They want people to act out so that they can punish folks even more. Every mark on your record is time added to your imprisonment. Folks who won't be going home have nothing to lose... they are the easiest to push over the edge.  

When I first arrived in prison, I felt sick, weak, and angry.  Most of the population here is walking around in a fog of mental health medications that many do not need. The easiest way to pass your time is to sleep through it, and the Bosses are fine with having a sedated prison. Foggy people don't cause problems. Foggy people don't question the abuse. Foggy people don't fight back. My first step to resistance was to clear my head of the fog: I stopped taking the meds.

Not taking meds forced me to look inside and deal with what happened to me.

For the first two years, no one knew what happened to me, or why I was there. I finally broke the silence to my girlfriend, Pinky. When we first met, I never needed to worry about that conversation... You know, the "How do I tell her that I'm trans?" conversation. She says she knew the first time she ever laid eyes on me. She was the first person to refer to me as  "he" and in all the time we've been together, she never gets it wrong.

As a trans person, having just one person validate your life can mean the difference between life and death. Her belief in my manhood made me stronger. Courage comes with strength, and I felt that if one person could treat me with dignity and respect who I am, so can everyone else.  

Because of Pinky, I was able to begin looking for trust in a place where everyone who controls your life is trying to hurt you. I found it with my counselor, who is one of the decent people here. I opened up to her. When I told her that I’m trans, she respectfully began using the right pronouns and my real name. That's two people on my team. Trusting her with my trauma was really hard, but I felt all the pain and anger boiling up inside me. It was getting so unbearable I needed to face the devil.  

Over the years, I have quietly and patiently begun building a small family of loving supporters, including Pinky and my counselor. Every day that passes, I have come to know who I am a little bit more, and I like who I am. I have a life and a future out there in the free world, and resting for resistance keeps me sane so that I can avoid any issues that might keep me here any longer.

 Art by Ky Peterson

Art by Ky Peterson

With help, I’ve found ways to express my feelings without physically reacting; I began reading books, meditating, and exercising to release negative energy.

For me, Resting for Resistance is all about self-control. I now walk away from the things that used to send me into a rage, understanding that nothing is personal. The way that people see me and treat me is a reflection of who they are, not who I am. I make note of the injustices and save them for a time and place when I am not living under the control of hate-filled oppressors.

My time here is for Rest, focusing on my healing and building my personal strength, strength that I will need when the time comes for me to go home. That is where my real Resistance begins.

I hope that everyone is at a place in their life where they can see how much they have grown and changed. For me, it feels good to be able to wake up everyday without anger being the first thought in my mind. At one point, I was very angry and hurt that I am here, but now I see this place for what it really is... a place for me to work on myself and help others who need someone to talk to, or just encourage them to not give up.

I believe that this will be over one day, and whenever that day comes, I will be very grateful and appreciate the time I have spent here. I have been discovering who I am and becoming the man I was always meant to be. Be safe and take care.

Appreciate life and don't take anything or anyone for granted.


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Windows and Doors: The Illusion of Transparency

by Taylar Nuevelle

The last time I was on suicide watch there was not one psychologist on the compound at the Federal Secure Female Facility Hazelton (Hazelton).  They had sent them all to the male prisons. There were three—maximum, medium, and a camp for men—that surrounded the women’s prison. Occasionally a psychologist would come to the female prison, which sat within this male complex, especially if someone was on suicide watch.  The women were left with unsupervised psyche interns who were so cruel. I had been put on suicide watch often for standing up for myself when being bullied by officers and/or inmates. I was put on suicide watch for being attacked twice. Then after suicide watch I would be put in the Segregated Housing Unit (SHU).

The last stay on suicide watch lasted three weeks. An officer had decided to destroy my cell—my area of the cell. And as he yelled and screamed and tossed my property into the main unit, I sat at the computer writing an email to the warden detailing what the officer was doing: grabbing his crotch and jutting his pelvis at me, calling me worthless, and telling me I was a nobody and no one cared about me. 

Finally, I flipped.  I started yelling back, “I’m not even sure you need a G.E.D. to work as a CO.” The unit cracked up laughing (later they would turn on me and write up lies to support the officer) and I kept going, “My time is short. I’m going home and this is as good as it gets for you.” He threw a sweater I had been knitting out and started tearing other things I knitted apart. He reminded me of my mother.  Claudia used to destroy my toys and clothes when she was enraged with me.

It ended with me going to the cell as he started ripping my books.  You do not ever destroy my books.  I don’t give a damn who you are—never destroy my books, they are and always have been my friends. As I grabbed the book he shoved me and then he radioed the lieutenant and I heard over the loud speaker, “Nuevelle.  Nuevelle. Report to the lieutenant’s office immediately.”  I yelled, “Fuck!  Fuck! Fuck!” By the time I got to the lieutenant’s office I was a wreck. 

Thus, I was sent to see the psychology intern.  She was this arrogant, snotty White woman.  I was shaking and having muscle spasms in my face.  Then I let it slip that the officer had pushed me.  “Okay. Well then you are going to have to go to the SHU if you are claiming you were attacked by an officer,” she joyfully explained. We walked back to the lieutenant’s office and she repeated what I said and the lieutenant looked at me and asked, “Is this true?” I answered, “Well everything except the part that he pushed me.  She’s making that up.”  I lied, because I just wanted to return to the unit because investigations can take months. Then I was accused of disassociating—which probably wasn’t too far off the mark of where I was headed—and I was taken to suicide watch.

There are windows all around and three rooms in the suicide watch area.  The middle room is where the inmate suicide watch workers sit.  Yeah, you read that right; inmates work the suicide watch area. The rooms to the left and right are the rooms for the inmates on watch.  There is a steel door that you are locked behind and another steel door inside the room that leads to the bathroom. The fluorescent lights are never turned off. It’s freezing cold. So cold my fingertips always turned blue.

When Dr. Benache was there and I had a break-down he would put on my paperwork that I could keep my underwear and socks and have two blankets and that the bathroom door was to always remain open because I would vomit often and he knew waiting to use the bathroom was a trigger for me. But I had to wear the Turtle Suit.  It’s a big quilted gown that is fastened with Velcro.  I hate the sound of Velcro. Dr. Benache always knocked before he opened the steel door. He always came in and talked to me like a person. Then he left Hazelton and went to work at a male prison in Arizona. My depression and fear increased.

Dr. Benache was gone so they took my underwear and socks that last time on suicide watch.  They gave me two blankets because I was so skinny.  They locked the bathroom door. The interns, and occasionally a psychologist from one of the male prisons would come by once a day and yell through the steel door, “Are you feeling like you want to hurt yourself?” I would flip up my middle finger without even turning over on the mattress to look at which idiot was asking. I stopped eating. But the officers got little paper cups and would bring me water when they walked through.

Then the intern came with another intern and two lieutenants one day and took my cups of water.  The officers informed them, “She isn’t eating and we can’t come and watch her drink water and take the cup every time she is thirsty.  It’s easier to just give her a couple of cups and leave her alone.”  The psyche interns said, “No. She needs to learn to follow instructions.” They decided I needed permission to drink water. I needed permission to use the bathroom.

This little gnome of a lieutenant wanted to talk: “So Nuevelle” she snarked, “You not eating huh?” I walked over to the window that faced the suicide watch inmate. The officer yelled at the watcher, “Don’t look at her.” Then I began to sing that Alison Krauss’s song Down to the River to Pray.

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown
Good Lord, show me the way!

O sisters, let's go down,
Let's go down, come on down
O sisters, let's go down
Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown
Good Lord, show me the way!

Over and over I sang these three verses loudly as an answer to each directive and question. My bedding was ripped apart and they left. Suicide watch made me unhinged and suicidal so I sang to ground myself.

The next day was punishment time. I asked to use the bathroom one shift and the White intern came with a lieutenant and an officer. They told me to put my hands through the slot and handcuffed me. I was told to walk to the back of the room, face the wall and wait.  Then an officer opened the steel door to the room, unlocked the bathroom door, walked out locked the door and told me to come back over. 

There I stood, hands behind my back waiting to be un-cuffed so I could go pee.  So I spread my legs, and backed up to the door and pissed and watched as it slipped under the door and evidently onto their boots and shoes. “Did she just squat and pee on the floor?” The intern asked. Handcuffs off and I turned and said yeah I did assholes.”  See the thing about suicide watch is you can cuss and call them names and you cannot be written up because you are considered, “Mentally Unstable.” I was fine mentally (relatively speaking) before this degradation and humiliation but all that was lost what more did I have to lose. I wanted to piss on them because that is what they were doing to me.

I spent three weeks on suicide watch that time—my last time before coming home. I was moved to the SHU afterwards for another three weeks and then my email was reviewed and I was set free to go back to being locked up.

Nobody talks about what happens to women in solitary or on suicide watch in prison. Windows and Doors do not lead to transparency; they are just another way of isolating us, violating us, shaming us, silencing us.