from Stevie

Prison isolates. Prison alienates. Prison severs relations. The prison works to keep the imprisoned disconnected from and unaware of events in the community. I have struggled for some time now against censorship in the PA DOC. Prison is censorship. Obtaining books, magazines, and newspapers is a battle. Receiving a newspaper is particularly hard. So much of the news media has moved online and no longer deliver to the rural areas where most PA prisons are located. Fortunately, I have found a way to obtain the Philadelphia Inquirer. I get it late. But I get it.***

I am trying to keep up with what is happening in Philly, anticipating my release soon and my return to Philly. So much has changed in a decade. But some things have stayed the same. I am psychologically preparing for what has changed. That includes the people who are no longer with us. I have lost family and friends while incarcerated. It is one of the worst things that can happen to someone while imprisoned. The sense of powerlessness, guilt and anger can overpower you. When a loved one dies, we are called to the chaplaincy department to receive the death notice. It is a dreaded walk.***

But with the love and support of allies, inside and outside, I have made it through those dark times. What I worry about is the deaths I missed. All the people who have died that I didn’t hear about. Coming home and hearing the news, however long ago the death occurred, will impact me. It will feel like it just happened. How does one prepare for that?***

More than a month ago, I had my sister search online for the last person I was in a relationship with before incarceration. He loved social media so I figured it wouldn’t be hard. But it was. There was nothing. After digging around some more, she discovered why. He died in 2014. Eight years ago! And I just found out. This is the person who helped me through the most devastating loss I ever felt: the death of my father. I will always love and respect him for his love and support. I wish I could have told him how much he meant to me and how I appreciated what he did. For days after learning of his death, I found myself dazing off and thinking about him. There is so much I wish I could have said.***

Tonight, I was catching up on reading newspapers. I finally received a new batch from the end of August/early September. Reading the August 30 issue, The Region section, I came across a story reporting the death of Michael Hinson, Jr. It broke me. Mike Hinson was something special. I met him as a teen. He was one of a cohort of Black gay men in Philly who mentored me. Or tried to mentor me. I didn’t learn to listen until I grew older. They loved me. They modeled care, connection and community. Along with Tyrone Smith and Hal Carter, Mike Hinson impressed upon me the necessity of community. They didn’t just complain about what the Black queer/trans community wasn’t getting. They created what we needed and told us we can take care of each other.***

Mike was a founder of Colours, Inc.. I remember when they met in a conference room on 12th Street. They didn’t have their own space. And what did they do? They invited young queer/trans people of color to share the space and hold our own support group. That is how Forty Acres of Change Youth Group, a Black and brown queer/trans youth group was started in 1994. From the very beginning, Mike felt youth must be heard and served. Mike was a rare one in that he could mix and mingle in the halls of power, and get stuff done, AND he could bump shoulders in the club with the ballroom kids. Not many people could do that.***

He never forgot his roots. He never forgot his communities’ needs. He was a model of a successful Black gay man. When in his presence, you knew and felt he was someone major, a big shot, but he never made anyone feel small or unimportant.***

Mike Hinson was one of the people I desperately wanted to see me doing well upon release. I want to return to Philly, a place where I committed harm and help people, especially my communities, heal. They say you have to plant flowers where you do dirt. I wanted Mike to see the man I have become. I wanted him to know that the lessons he, Tyrone and Hal taught me are finally being put to use. I have changed over the last decade of my life, but the seeds where planted a long time ago by men like Mike, Tyrone and Hal. It’s been almost two weeks since Mike passed. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye or send a message to be read at a funeral or memorial service. What I do have are the lessons from Mike and his example. What I can do is pass them on. I can show the same dedication and concern for my community as he did. I can work to create better opportunities for young people, especially queer/trans POC, like he did.***

I will hold onto the memories and example of Mike Hinson, Jr.. In the article reporting his death, the header read “An activist ‘superhero’ is remembered.” Mike didn’t consider himself a superhero. He was just doing what needed to be done. That is why he was a rare one. Rest in Peace, Mike Hinson.***



Author: Dreaming Freedom Practicing Abolition

> network of self-organized prison study groups at SCI-FAYETTE > consolidating networks of resistance across the PA DOC system

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