Zine for Incarcerated Trans People Gives Voice to the Voiceless
The members of the Transformative Justice Law Project (TJLP) are thrilled for this years annual release of Hidden Expressions, a zine compiling artwork essays, poetry, and how-to-guides created entirely by incarcerated trans people for incarcerated trans people.
The TJLP is a collective of radical lawyers, activists, and community organizers using legal access and to further the prison abolition movement, while supporting trans people on the inside. It was founded in Chicago, 2007 as part of prison abolition work and began with a question: what are the needs of the incarcerated trans-person community?
One of the more frequent answers was the disproportionate harm the legal system causes to gender non-conforming people, particularly those who are low-income and of color. Often this discrimination takes the form of police profiling, gender-segregation prisons, sexual violence, and medical abuse.
Lark Mulligan, co-founder of Hidden Expressions, spoke of these responses. “A lot of people responded saying: ‘Well, we need free legal advocacy for trans-people being targeted by the legal system because there’s such a high incarceration rate, high arrest rate, high police violence rate, in Chicago.” The TJLP was founded as a way to break that cycle, “in and out of the violent prison system, and provide legal advocacy that is gender affirming.”
Since there was no trans awareness in the public defenders office, TJLP became a way to fill that gap in Chicago. They believe the Criminal Justice system is inherently unfair, violent, and too punishing to trans individuals. The TJLP likens their interpretation of justice to “the transformative justice as an alternative to the trans-people system, but a way as a working dialogue of passion and support for [trans] people.”
In the beginning, ideas of the trans community building art shows were floated around, but as the concept started to evolve it escalated to providing an outlet for trans inmates to tell their stories. “other people who are experiencing similar things as you because [a lot of times] in the legal system you don’t get to share your thoughts with the world, tell your story.” Said Mulligan.
Mulligan is a collective member of the group, though never incarcerated, she identifies as a trans woman. To capture the essence of their cause it was important for the TJLP to have one collective member from the outside to help with correspondences. Other than her, the majority of the people working on the zine have either experienced incarceration or are currently incarcerated.
There are three active members of the project who are incarcerated, and from this authenticity, an odd sort of complication arises. “It is tricky, it is really really difficult,” she said when speaking of how they communicate, “two of them are incarcerated in Illinois, and one of them [in] New York and so none of the three people can talk to each other.” Because of prison rules, it takes months for Mulligan to send and receive letters from each member.
HE (Hidden Expressions) welcomes written and drawn material ranging from erotica to how-to-guides. The TJLP wants the “zine to be an expression of what is really happening with trans people on the inside — their thoughts and strategies for survival. We are deeply inspired by these artists, writers, and revolutionaries, and want to celebrate their resilience and resistance.”
HE has grown exponentially in popularity from lasts years nine submissions. The submission deadline is February 14th, 2013 and HE already has one-hundred plus creative works from all over the United States. This is a breakthrough for the trans-person community – the message behind the zine is being heard, “which is beautiful and incredible,” Mulligan said. She admits to the difficulties this number will open up, but is resilient. As long as trans-people are allowed a voice, all the work is worth it.
“When I’m there and I’m present, it forces them to see me as one of them and see [gays] as not deviant but something that’s a fact of life and something they have to come to terms with,”October 22, 2014
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