Growing up, I didn’t even know that Juneteenth was a thing. Which is actually kind of ironic since my birthday just happens to be on the same day. I guess the universe works in mysterious ways!  

It wasn’t until a few years into my 66-year prison sentence, back in 2013, that I was invited to attend a Juneteenth event at Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC) hosted by some of my brothers from the Black Prisoners Caucus (BPC).  

By then, many of us, including myself, had already mastered the art of prison segregation and racial divides — including violent altercations between one another. However, at this event, I was welcomed with open arms and got to see how proud folks were to share their culture.  

Beautiful art was displayed everywhere, and the prison visiting room was transformed into a space of love and solidarity. Members of the BPC gave speeches, performed songs, and recited powerful spoken word pieces.  

We got to eat a special meal of fried chicken, red beans and rice, and collard greens — all which were a much welcomed break from our usual prison slop. Families were also invited, so it was amazing to see how joyful everybody was to just be in community with one another.  

My favorite part, however, was my homeboy Ace defending his dance championship belt against any and all challengers. 

It was the first of many Juneteenth events I was honored to be a part of. While I learned a lot about the history of Juneteenth at these events and was taught how the day was celebrated as a commemoration of Black liberation, it was the intersectional struggles that I learned about that were the most impactful for me.  

These events were just the seeds to many future collaborative projects between the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group (APICAG) and BPC, and were the seeds to me learning about, and fully acknowledging, how anti-Blackness continues to plague our community — and how we can begin to resist that plague by working together to dismantle the white supremacy that fuels it.  

I owe a lot of my own personal growth to my BPC brothers and those early Juneteenth events. For that, I am forever grateful.  

Unfortunately, since COVID-19 changed all our lives forever, I have not been able to attend a Juneteenth event the past few years. This is not because of a lack of desire to attend or invitation, rather an example of another one of the Washington State Department of Corrections’ (DOC) policies meant to keep us racially segregated and in our place.  

While DOC continues to tout its commitment to diversity and inclusion, its policy restricting incarcerated individuals from attending more than one cultural banquet a year proves otherwise. This policy makes it so an Asian American person like myself would have to choose between attending the annual API banquet or accepting an invitation to another cultural event such as Juneteenth. Or it forces multiracial individuals who may be members of multiple cultural organizations to choose which part of their identity they wanted to celebrate for the year, which is the case for many.  

Furthermore, while in the past, cultural events such as Juneteenth and the API banquet used to be hosted and fully sponsored by prisoner-led organizations such as the BPC and APICAG respectively, in more recent years since COVID-19, DOC has exploited the medical shutdowns as a means to co-opt and water down these events by censoring speeches and content that staff don’t agree with — changing a lot of what made these cultural events so beautiful and powerful.  

Although DOC continues to clamp down on cultural unity, personal identity, and prisoner-led events as a whole, at the Washington Corrections Center, members of the APICAG, BPC, Nuestro Grupo Cultural (NGC — formerly Hispanic Cultural Group), and Tribal Sons have still found ways to come together and form the beginnings of an informal chapter of Cultural Collective, despite all of DOC’s efforts to discourage and disrupt any sort of unity.  

This Juneteenth, through an “Inside-Out” project that was founded and inspired by the relationship between the Cultural Collective at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) and Youth Consortium (which was comprised of Creative Justice, Community Passageways, and the Rainier Beach Action Coalition), members of the Cultural Collective at WCC and our community incarcerated at Purdy will be taking part in, and sharing personal testimony and stories, at an event on June 17th at Washington Hall hosted by youth from Creative Justice’s Youth Consortium. Zines from prior projects will also be released at the event!  

Community is invited to join in on the celebration and to learn more about the “Inside-Out” efforts in keeping the essence of prisoner-led cultural groups and organizations alive so that cultural spaces and holidays such as Juneteenth remain a celebration for the people, by the people. Don’t forget to support Creative Cafe while you’re there!  

I wanna wish everybody a happy and liberated Juneteenth, and send some mad love from all of us on the inside, On the Fence Line, to the whole Creative Justice team…especially y’all young knuckleheads continuing to persevere through it all!  

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, PO Box 900, Shelton, WA 98584.     

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