Through the Abe Osheroff and Gunnel Clark Endowed Human Rights Fund I worked on developing a letter writing project connecting people inside and out of the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC), one of the largest immigration detention centers in the country, which in 2004, was built on a Superfund site in Tacoma’s Commencement Bay tidal flats.
Over the past couple years I have been working with the Northwest Detention Center Resistance (NWDC Resistance)—a grassroots, undocumented-led movement that works to end the detention of immigrants and stop all deportations. Under the umbrella of the national #Not1More deportation campaign, NWDC Resistance supports and follows the leadership of those detained at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. As a movement we reject the paradigm that classifies immigrants as either “hardworking” or “criminal”, “worthy” or “unworthy,” and locates criminality on the racist detention and deportation system that profits off of the separation of families and the exploitation of undocumented communities.
Through the relationships built with NWDC Resistance, between people organizing inside and outside the detention center, and with the support of the Abe Osheroff and Gunnel Clark Endowed Human Rights Fund, I coordinated a pen pal program between people inside and out, as requested by folks inside the NWDC. The aim of the pen pal program is to build a network of relationships with people across the walls of the detention center with the goal of breaking down some of the isolation of detention, and by extension, preventing or lessening the abuse folks may face inside detention by authorities. We see this as a base-building strategy, as people outside develop pen pal relationships with people inside, we hope that folks are deepening their stake in creating systems that don’t tear apart families, or restrict people’s life opportunities, and join the abolition movement to create something else.
I met and co-planned the pen pal program with one of the people inside. We came up with a set of questions for a sign-up form, I mailed in copies, and created a system for people to sign up and be connected to one another. We translated the materials so they are in both English and Spanish. We have 73 people signed up in the network, 53 of whom are folks on the outside. Of those, 94.5% speak English; 54.7% speak Spanish; 13.2% speak other languages, including French, Swedish, and Russian. Of the 20 people inside the Detention Center 60% noted Spanish as their, or one of their, preferred languages; 30% noted English; 5% noted Russian; 5% noted Tagalog; 25% did not note a preferred language or languages, but answered in English. I’m working in partnership with the local Black and Pink chapter, a letter writing network and open family of LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies who support each other, and have ongoing dates set for folks to get together to write letters, learn about the networks, and get involved.
The $2,200 was used to pay for gas for organizers with the Northwest Detention Center Resistance to commute in order to continue to build relationships and support people inside. The funding was also set aside to pay for phone cards and credits for folks to call/email back and forth about coordinating the program. It’s important to be able to offer financial support for those services. It is not widely known how expensive it is being in detention, where the only option for making money is working at the facility for $1 a day, so sending an email that cost 50 cents is sending an email that cost half a day’s pay. Other funding received went to printing costs for materials such as sign-up sheets, envelopes, information packets, etc.
This fellowship helped kick start this letter writing network. The next phase is to host a series of letter writing house parties, grow the list of folks writing to each other—our goal is to have 50 people from inside and 150 from outside by next summer—build up a fuller website, and link folks with broader abolition movement work.
Thank you so much for all your support. Without the support this would not have been possible.