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Prisoner Correspondence Project

May 6, 2012

Filth: How did PCP get started?
PCP: Neither of the two initial organizers of the Prisoner Correspondence Project continue to be involved with it at this time, so giving a history of its origins is a little patchy! What we think we know is that the Pris Co Pro got started in 2007 as an ambitious, self-driven internship component to the HIV/AIDS course at Concordia University. The original aim of the project was to make links between prisons, HIV, and queerness, in the form of a direct-correspondence initiative between GLBTQ people in and out of prisons. Inside members / penpals were initially solicited through a short call-out that ran in an American prisoner support newsletter, which was published just once. Since then, we are still hearing from people who heard about us through that call-out, since publications circulate for so long on the inside! This call-out is also part of the reason that so many of our inside members are incarcerated in the USA, although of course massive incarceration rates in the states also contribute to this dynamic. We have grown from a project with 75 – 100 inside members (and a corresponding number of outside members) to a project with around 350 inside members and their outside penpals!

Along with the expansion of the project, our vision has shifted a number of times. Sometimes we focus on local collaborations and outreach, other times on Canada-wide discussions of prison abolition in a reform context, and at other moments we focus on resource development and publication on the inside. But our first priority, at all times, remains responding to our inside members, facilitating their penpal correspondences, and sending them resources from our resource library.


Filth: How does the collective function?
PCP: There are usually around 7 – 10 active outside collective members in the PCP. We hold collective meetings every two weeks. A lot of our time is spent checking mail, coordinating the penpal program, sending in resources, and generally responding to our inside members. We call this “boxchecking”, and we try to have at least four of our members spending at least 3 hours a week on it. Other than that, collective members take on whatever responsibilities they feel able to commit to — whether that means developing new resources, writing articles for our newsletter, keeping in touch with our longer-term committed
inside members, and so on and so forth!
Right now, we’re working to implement an “Inside Advisory Committee” that we believe should be a crucial part of a project such as ours. It will consist of 7 – 10 incarcerated / inside members of the PCP, with whom we will work to help steer the project with regards to what programming and resources we put our energies towards. Functioning as a type of board of directors, the inside advisory committee members’ input will help ground the activities of the project in the lived realities of prison and help forefront the voices of our incarcerated members.

Filth: Do you see your work as direct service, campaign-oriented, something else?

PCP: Our work is direct-service from an abolitionist perspective. We set up penpal correspondences and provide resource materials relevant to gay, trans, and queer people in prison as a form of direct support. A lot of our material provides information regarding health while in prison, legal services, and gay and trans-relevant resources and literature. We believe that these materials help people to survive their prison sentences. At the same time, we write a newsletter and provide other resources that are expressly abolitionist in nature, and we work with other direct-service and abolitionist groups in the hopes of, together, tearing down those walls one brick at a time. On the outside, you could say that our campaign is to bring the voices and opinions of incarcerated gay, trans and queer people into mainstream (or not so mainstream) gay, trans and queer events.

Filth: What are some of your favorite PCP projects?
PCP: One of our earliest projects was titled “Imprisoned Pride”, in which we asked our inside members to write to us telling us what “pride” meant to them. We read their submissions out loud one year in Montreal during Pervers/Cite, radical queer Montreal’s response to Pride Week. Following that event, we created a zine of the submissions, also called Imprisoned Pride. It still lives on as a thoughtful, critical, and inspiring collections of stories.
Similarly, another one of our projects from the early days that continues to be powerful is our zine “You Improve to Survive.” In this project, we asked our inside members to write to us about their experiences of intimacy and sex in prison. The tips, recommendations, and struggles within still inform and inspire us all the time.
This year, we submitted a lot of our inside members’ art work to the art exhibit Xpose that took place for Radical Queer Semaine (a week of radical queer events in late February – early March). We always have much more art and poetry submitted to us than can fit in the newsletter that we put out twice a year, and it was great to be able to show all of the work. Not only did we get to show the work, but the Radical Queer Semaine collective managed to secure a popular, large gallery space on Ste Catherine, and Xpose was really well-attended for two weeks! It was so awesome to curate the pieces, and really exciting to be able to show our members’ work on the outside to such a large crowd.

Filth: How can people get involved in the collective or support your work?
PCP: We are always looking for new penpals!! If you think you have the time to correspond with someone once a month, and if you’re interested in making links with queer/gays in prison and breaking the isolation that the prison industrial complex has so expertly constructed, email us! at
info@prisonercorrespondenceproject.com.
If you are in the Montreal area with a few hours to spare, we love to have people come and help us fill resource requests and respond to letters, at QPIRG-Concordia. If you are able to translate into French, we always have material that could use translation, and if you are technologically inclined, we’re always looking for people to help us with our website.
At this point, we also have many more people writing to us from the inside than our small collective can manage. We’re trying to help other groups get started in other cities, because this work is incredible and could certainly use more people doing it. If you feel interested in taking on the coordination of even a few penpal correspondences, please get in touch with us! We would be happy to help you set things up, and would give plenty of support along the way.
We have recently begun a letter-writing night, the first Monday of each month at the Cagibi in Montreal. If you want a friendly space to write the letter you’ve been stalling on, come hang out with us!
Also, we will soon be publishing the first of 4 resources that we’ve been working in collaboration with our inside members, called Fucking Without Fear. These resources will be a guide to safer sex in prisons, as presented by gay/queer/trans people in prison, and health professionals on the outside. They are intended to be a non-medicalizing, sex positive resource for queer/gay/trans people in prison. The first resource deals with men in men’s prisons. If you know of anyone or any group that would like a copy, let us know!

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