Why I Support Closing Rikers Island Without Building New Jails: A Letter From Prisoner Jennifer Rose
Shadowproof exchanged letters with incarcerated people who are part of the abolitionist No New Jails NYC campaign to get their perspectives on the plan to invest billions of dollars in new jails as part of an effort to close the Rikers Island jail complex.
These incarcerated people crafted a plan with outside activists for closing Rikers Island without building new jails. It was titled “We Keep Us Safe.”
Criminal justice reformers and nonprofits backing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s multi-billion dollar jails plan have responded to No New Jails’ plan, and the legitimate critiques and analysis it included, by taking to major media platforms to characterize abolitionists as unserious, uncaring, not-in-my-backyard critics.
The letters undermine the contention that those who favor investments in housing, health care, education, and other non-carceral approaches to reducing harm instead of jails ignore the wishes and experiences of incarcerated people.
Below is one letter we received from an incarcerated transgender woman named Jennifer Rose, who relates their own experiences at the Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad, California, to struggles in New York.
Read more letters from incarcerated activists here.
Note: The letter was edited for publication. None of the content in the letter was changed.
October 17, 2019
My name is Jennifer Rose. I’m a 50-year-old trans woman incarcerated in California for the past 30 years. I’m also an abolitionist, anarchist, and Antifa member of the Fire Ant Collective, which I helped start with Maine Anti-Racist Action, other imprisoned anarchists, and Bloomington Anarchist Black Cross. I also work with many other groups such as TGI Justice Project, Oakland IWOC & National Lawyers Guild, among others.
Shadowproof: Why did you choose to participate in the development of this plan? Why is it important to you?
Jennifer Rose: I chose to participate in the development of this plan with NNJ-NYC because I believe, literally, that people’s lives depend on it! Jails and prisons are places of brutality and torture, where you’ll find the most adverse circumstances and indescribable human suffering. They perpetuate racist and patriarchal systems of oppression, exacerbate mental illness of inmates, and continue an endless cycle of criminalization and mass incarceration which disproportionately impacts marginalized communities (i.e. Black, Brown, poor/homeless, immigrants, queer/trans, etc.). It is important to me, whether here in California or in New York, that we face the same issues as a whole society. I heard recently that a trans woman was found dead, killed in a jail cell at Rikers Island. This type of gender violence deeply & directly affects me as a trans woman who has experienced it first hand. There have been at least four or five trans women killed in California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) men’s facilities, which have been swept under the rug by prison officials and ignored by the corporate media!
Shadowproof: Can you share some of your experiences with New York City jails?
Jennifer Rose: I have never been to New York but the surroundings and treatment are not much different in any major U.S. city. The guards are racist, sexist, and fascist thugs who are sadistic and scornful in their daily abuse of inmates! They act without any regard to so-called law and rights, with impunity these pigs in many cases have been able to rape, torture, and murder people without any accountability or consequence! I’ve never ceased to be amazed by every daily outrage, and the unapologetic criminal behavior of people in power. Like Donald Trump’s admitted sexual assaults of random women as he grabbed their breasts or the mass kidnapping and abuse of immigrant women and children by ICE and border patrol pigs!
Shadowproof: What do you think of New York City’s plan to invest billions in new jails over community services and life necessities like housing, health care, etc.?
Jennifer Rose: The city’s plan to invest $11 billion in four new jails over the community needs of the people, like affordable housing, health care, and education is obviously in the interests of capitalism and the colonial state. Why not invest in improving the material conditions of society, in addressing the root causes of crime and violence, and in rehabilitation/harm-reduction?
Shadowproof: Has the city given incarcerated people such as yourself an opportunity to weigh in on this plan?
Jennifer Rose: Incarcerated people are not given a vote or a voice in this fake-ass facade of so-called “democracy” in the U.S. at the city, state, or federal levels of government. How do I feel about that? Take a guess! I feel like the electoral system is rigged. Even the popular vote of “free” U.S. citizens doesn’t count at the end of a presidential election, only that of the electoral college delegates behind the smoke and mirrors.
Shadowproof: For you specifically, what are some of the services and ideas outlined in the plan that would have made a difference in your situation?
Jennifer Rose: Abolition as care, community-driven services, harm-reduction, and transformative justice are concepts and ideas that would have made a big difference in my situation if they were more widely known and accepted when I was younger.
Shadowproof: What does safety mean/look like to you? What does justice mean to you? What does freedom look like to you?
Jennifer Rose: “Safety” means I don’t have to worry about someone trying to cause me harm or injury. It means demilitarizing the police and prisons, addressing the national epidemic of police terror and gun violence. “Justice” means equal protection of the law, equitable conflict resolution in international and national politics, liberation, and self-determination of every oppressed community or group of people or culture. Ending colonialism, slavery, and genocide worldwide! “Freedom” means the abolition of the state and its authority or power, and building a new communal society based on principles of mutual aid and voluntary cooperation, non-coercive, and non-hierarchical organizational structures. It means an end to all forms of oppression, a world without police and prisons, living in harmony with nature–Anarchy!
Shadowproof: Is there anything else you want to say to the public about this moment in the fight, this plan, or about anything else?
Jennifer Rose: We cannot be discouraged or lose momentum in this moment in the fight for freedom. We must constantly revise and recommit to the abolitionist plan to close Rikers now with no new jails! We must never give up and never back down in spite of any setbacks or lost battles, just regroup and change tactics to become more effective in the struggle toward our strategic objectives. “Sustainable resistance” means we’re in this for the long haul! The current Trump regime and fascist politics are the last gasps of white supremacy!
Solidarity to imprisoned anarchists! Solidarity to all anti-fascists! Solidarity is our greatest weapon!
‘Til all are free,