I know at some point of our lives we’ve all felt overwhelmed. In those moments, it’s tempting to feel disconnected from community and those who love us most, to feel immobilized by fear, shame, guilt, and regret. In those moments, we love harder. We have to.
As I write this, it’s currently my second week in solitary confinement. It’s a place I’ve been before. A prison within a prison — a rite of passage in my younger days.
The prison alleging some trumped up infractions to further disrupt the advocacy work of the Asian and Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group (APICAG), retaliating against me for knowing exactly who I am as a person? That’s the short story, and no one in solitary confinement wants to hear long stories.
While I can’t go into details about my specific situation, I want community to know that our sun continues to rise. And my spirit remains intact. They’re watching. They’re always watching.
I was recently blessed to get a visit from my wife. Cuffed behind my back and attached to a leash, I was escorted by two guards to a small holding tank with glass in between us. Thankfully they brought me first and uncuffed me before she had to witness her husband being dragged around like a rabid dog.
Finally, she appears — the sight of her worth every moment with “Officer Leash.”
We both grasp at the phones we have to speak into to communicate. Her voice is a much needed break from the constant yelling and sounds of people kicking their doors day and night.
Although our visit was only two short hours, her strength and determination reminded me that I wasn’t alone. I was so happy to see her that I even thanked the officer afterwards.
For what? I don’t know.
Back in my cell, the loneliness returns. The flickering overhead light, which stays on 24-hours-a-day, reminds me that I haven’t had a good night of sleep in over a week. My stomach growls to ensure I don’t forget how hungry I am. I’m still irritated at the guard who trashed the peanut butter and jelly sandwich meant to get me through the night.
Solitary confinement is just that — sitting in a cell with nothing. Locked down twenty three hours a day, sometimes twenty four. One hour of recreation and access to a phone five times a week. Three 10-minute showers in those same seven days.
No. Solitary is not meant for people. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody. Not even those who placed me here.
I think of my friend Thea, who awhile back tragically ended his own life at this same facility while placed in solitary after a tuberculosis diagnosis. The pain and despair he must’ve felt after months of isolation. My heart breaks.
I think of all the victims of the Department of Corrections as they’ve continued to abuse solitary confinement and the Administration Segregation process to target people and isolate them into submission — those sitting in these same solitary cells throughout the state for weeks, months, and years at a time.
How do they always get away with this?
I know I’m blessed to still get visits. And I will always be grateful for those advocating for me. I also will never take for granted that there are still people at the other end of my phone calls. But as community and those who love me and advocate for me, please also advocate for those who’ve been here… long forgotten. Those who don’t get visits. Those with nobody at all. Those who’ve persevered alone for so long that they should be allowed to rest.
Though my fate is uncertain, my love for my community is not. By the time y’all read this, my world may have shifted tenfold. But do not forget ALL of us trapped in the DOC’s system of abuse, or else they’ve already won.
Though my stomach is empty, my heart is full.
I close my eyes and find peace in knowing my brothers Billy, Time, Phon, Cisco, Jarrod, AZ, Jojo, and the whole cultural collective have my back. That Oloth, Brandon, and Andy are holding it down. That ACRS won’t let me be forgotten. That Disability Rights Washington will maintain a watchful eye. That KO and Tabs will remind my wife to rest. All y’all keep me going.
This is far from the end. Our love is resistance.
Until next time, keep dreaming.
Felix Sitthivong is a journalist, organizer, member of Empowerment Avenue, and advisor for the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group (APICAG). Through APICAG, Sitthivong has organized immigration, social justice and youth outreach forums and has designed Asian American studies courses, an intersectional feminism 101 class and an anti-domestic violence program. You can reach him with questions for “On the Fence Line” via Securus (WA #354579) or write to him at Felix Sitthivong #354579, WCC, PO Box 900, Shelton, WA 98584
In light of recent repression we are calling on electeds to support our loved ones facing increasing repression at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Please read the demands below and from your position as elected contact these DOC and Washington State administrators:
- Jason Bennett, SCCC Superintendent
- Cheryl Strange, Secretary of the Department of Corrections
Additionally we ask your office to observe live infraction hearings of targeted APICAG members to ensure they are given fair hearings.
- We demand an end to the racist targeting of APICAG members.
- We demand targeted members be returned to their units to program without harassment or further retaliation by staff.
- We demand Karin Arnold be held accountable for her discriminatory actions, as she has a pattern of abusing her power.
- We demand APICAG be allowed to continue their essential community work building up community members, providing culturally competent healing spaces, connecting members to resources for their release and generally supporting the growth and development of our incarcerated loved ones.
- We demand fair process and hearings for targeted members.
Editor’s note: As of Sept. 2, 2023, when this column was published, columnist Felix Sitthivong remains in in solitary confinement out of retaliation for his organizing work with APICAG. If you would like to write a letter to the DOC in support of Felix, challenging their attempts to disband such cultural groups in Washington State prisons, go here: https://bit.ly/3DYjhvc.