Beyond Prisons—Episode 22: Pen Pals
In a special two-part episode of Beyond Prisons, we discuss communicating with incarcerated people and interview pen pal and activist Ciara Kay.
In Part 1, we talk about forming relationships with people on the inside through email, phone, or snail mail and the obstacles you face attempting each. We also discuss how pen palling, building relationships, and maintaining communication with people on the inside is an abolitionist practice. Finally, we cover the importance of earning each others’ trust and how to approach (and how not to approach) becoming someone’s pen pal.
Ciara Kay joins us in Part 2 to tell us about how she got involved with pen palling and her experience corresponding and organizing with Michael Young, who is incarcerated in Louisiana. She talks about their friendship over the past few years, as well as their work and the challenges they’ve faced countering retaliation Michael has experienced for demanding mental health care.
We also discuss the work that goes into organizing prison solidarity campaigns and what it’s like to organize when there’s little-to-no existing public attention on your cause. Ciara explains how she and other members of her community organize regular letter writing meet-ups, and how different pen pal friendships can be from person to person—from those who want to talk about what they’re dealing with every day to those who see it as an escape and a place to talk about anything but prison.
Ciara Kay is an aspiring scholar of the amerikan carceral regime, with a particular interest in sexuality and gender as intrinsic to racial formation within the context of amerikan capitalism. She is a full-time retail worker and candidate member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Ciara organizes a letter-writing group, “Northampton Black & Pink Pen Pals,” a space for folks to build relationships with incarcerated LGBTQ+ individuals who are seeking pen pals on the outside. Recently, this group’s work has developed to include a letter-writing campaign on behalf of Michael Young, Ciara’s pen pal of two years. Ciara and Mike have collaboratively written pamphlets detailing Mike’s abuse and his struggle for justice at Rayburn Correctional Center in Angie, Louisiana. In February of 2018 they launched a letter-writing campaign directed at Attorney General Jeff Landry of Louisiana and Warden Robert Tanner of Rayburn Correctional Center demanding an end to Michael’s abuse in prison. The two are continuing to escalate their campaign and are actively seeking support from other groups around the country.
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Music & Production: Jared Ware