Orange is the New Black & Prison Abolition

Yeah, you could say I enjoy Orange is the New Black. 

I'm still laughing at this scene. 

A while back, I was scrolling around on the little blogging website known as Tumblr dot com when I came across a post talking about OITNB and the prison industrial complex. If you're unfamiliar with the term, here's a definition from

The prison industrial complex (PIC) is a term we use to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems.

Through its reach and impact, the PIC helps and maintains the authority of people who get their power through racial, economic and other privileges. There are many ways this power is collected and maintained through the PIC, including creating mass media images that keep alive stereotypes of people of color, poor people, queer people, immigrants, youth, and other oppressed communities as criminal, delinquent, or deviant. This power is also maintained by earning huge profits for private companies that deal with prisons and police forces; helping earn political gains for “tough on crime” politicians; increasing the influence of prison guard and police unions; and eliminating social and political dissent by oppressed communities that make demands for self-determination and reorganization of power in the US.

It's always harder to find resources/info that have to do with Canada. I find that Canadians tend to think that we're so perfect up here, that we don't have all the same problems with racism/sexism/all-the-other-isms that they have going on down in the US of A. From an article on the CBC from 2013:

New figures show the number of visible minorities in Canadian prisons has increased by 75 per cent in the past decade, while the number and proportion of inmates who are Caucasian has declined significantly.

As well, Canada’s prison population is now at its highest level ever, even though the crime rate has been decreasing over the past two decades. Ten years ago, the number of inmates in federal prisons was close to 12,000. It’s now more than 15,000.

Here's a link to a great interview on Upping the Anti about prison abolition in Canada if you're interested in some further reading. 

Anyways, back to this post on Tumblr. It was kind of one of those self-righteous, shamey posts that mean well but usually make me cringe. I can't find the original or I would link it here. Basically, it was saying that if you enjoy Orange is the New Black, you should make an effort to understand the prison industrial complex. It offered a link to, and LGBTQ prison abolition site. 

So while I wasn't a huge fan of the tone of the post, I agreed with the sentiment. I visited Black and Pink and read about their LGBTQ Prisoner Pen Pal program. Basically, a lot of people who are incarcerated for long periods of time lose touch with people in the outside world. They often lose their support systems. By writing to them, and hopefully forging a friendship, you can be a bright spot for them on mail days. 

As mentioned above, prisons are disproportionately full of queer people and people of colour. There are many trans folks incarcerated in facilities that are not gender affirming. Imagine if Sophia from OITNB was stuck in a men's prison. 

I chose three people to correspond with from a database thousands. Now, I'm in a unique position as a Canadian living in a border town. I have a PO box in the US that I can use to avoid paying extra for postage. Also, I can understand how giving out your home address to someone in prison might squick some people out. I've looked into pen pal programs in Canada but I haven't been able to find any that seemed reputable or weren't affiliated with a religious organization. 

I've been writing back and forth with my pen pals for a couple months now and it's been a great experience. I've certainly learned a lot about what it's actually like to be incarcerated. It's no Netflix dramedy, to say the very least. 

I like writing snail mail. I like talking with people of varying experiences. I like knowing that I can provide some comfort to people who haven't had the privileges I've had in life. 

If you'd like to learn more about prison abolition, or if you'd like to investigate getting a pen pal or two yourself, visit Black and Pink.