Centering the Most Vulnerable Means Challenging the “Movement-for-Prisoners’-Human-Rights” with Queer Analysis and Action

A few years ago, the Lifers’ Association at Smithfield sponsored a forum with CADBI (Coalition Against Death By Incarceration). It was to be an info session, an introduction to the group’s work and how we could become involved. This was the first time something like this took place at Smithfield. As expected, lots of prisoners showed up.

When the coalition members took their seats at a table placed in front of the crowd of prisoners, I immediately noticed the composition, the make-up of the group of presenters: one cis-heterosexual white male, four cisgender women (one white, one black, one Southeast Asian and one Latina), and one white gender nonconforming person. It wasn’t lost on me that not one cis-het man of color was part of the group. I wondered if the other prisoners saw what I was seeing?

Time and time again, activists, often women (cis and trans) are outside these walls and fences fighting on prisoners’ behalf. This work is often a second, third, even fourth job for some of them. Queer, trans and GNC folk are out there advocating for and supporting prisoners. Look around at almost any meeting on penal abolition or prisoner support and you will see many women and queer/trans and GNC folk of different colors. Cis-het men of color have continued to benefit from the work, the sweat, of women and queer/trans and GNC folk, but they refuse to show solidarity to us, behind the walls and outside of them too. It is time they are called out for this lack of reciprocity. They are quick to stick their hands out, expecting the world to come to their aid. But they turn their backs on us. Truth be told, many cis-het men of color out there are not organizing to help them. We are. And it’s time for them to acknowledge that truth and respect it.

Countless prisoner-led activist groups, like Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, seem to refuse this type of critical intervention. They use the “outsiders shouldn’t tell us what to do” line to deflect accusations of homophobia, transphobia and misogyny. They want support without critique. No one is entitled to that. Even imprisoned activists. 

with love and respect,

for all who consider my humanity,

for the humanity of all queer, trans, and gender nonconforming peoples


You can write to Stevie at

Stephen Wilson LB8480; SCI Fayette PO Box 33028 St. Petersburg FL 33733

Author: Dreaming Freedom Practicing Abolition

network of autonomous and self-organized abolitionist prisoner study groups, in the belly of PA DOC