Chinese painting featuring flowers and butterfly (ca.1800–1899) from the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Art & Architecture Collection • Creative Commons

Imagine a world where at any given time your life could be turned upside down and you could be isolated into submission. A world where speaking out could mean being separated from the people you love most and the foundation you helped build.

This is the unchecked nature of the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC). Those responsible for and enabling this culture? Well, you gotta start at the top. Will this indifference continue to be a part of Governor Inslee’s legacy?

If you’ve been following my installments of “On the Fence Line,” then you know about the attacks I’ve been facing as retaliation for my advocacy work with the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group (APICAG). After surviving a month in solitary confinement, and beating every serious infraction that administration threw at me, the DOC still had no problem placing what they call a “prohibited placement” tag on me, transferring me out of Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) — essentially banning me from the facility for the next five years. No justification required.

The only people keeping me alive —my people. The Governor’s office? Not so much.

As I write this, I’m still trying to adjust to a new facility in Shelton, WA: Washington Corrections Center. A new culture. Different people. Same oppression. Same fence line!

Most people can probably relate to the feeling of trying to fit in at a new school. Doing your best to be likeable, yet not impose on anybody’s turf. And oh… that dreadful school bully. Yes, there’s also that. Not to mention, all the “teachers” have been directed to keep a careful eye on you — the “troublemaker.”

As I’m slowly getting my life back in order, the future is unclear. But one thing is clear. We must continue to resist and love.

Y’all know my situation isn’t unique by any stretch. Everybody brave enough to resist state violence from the inside has experienced what I’ve just experienced in one way shape or form, whether it’s getting your cell ransacked, mail thrown away, or exactly what I just went through.

We know that when we challenge a system rooted in white supremacy, exposing these institutions of hate and the people that run them, we also run the risk of retaliation and violence.

That is a choice I continue to make freely, just like the powers that be continue to freely make theirs. Because we also know that the alternative to our resistance — silence — is a far worse fate.

The DOC continues to utilize solitary confinement and unwarranted transfers as a weapon to deter prison organizers fighting for systemic change into docile inmates. I don’t blame anybody for being afraid, I’m not immune to fear. We are all somehow impacted by misguided state policies and practices. Many of us are even survivors of direct state violence and abuse. In this way, we are all united by our experiences, trauma, and resilience. And it’s our responsibility to find strength in our fear.

For those who continue to survive and organize, I hope that y’all know how amazing it is to be a part of such an incredible network of organizers and thinkers such as yourselves. I commend you all for your courage and willingness to speak all our truths.

We must continue to tell our stories and find strength in unity.

The Cultural Collective at SCCC, various cultural awareness groups statewide, and Columbia Legal Services (CLS) are all coming together in a movement to work on potential legislation that would protect cultural awareness groups operating within DOC and ensure that marginalized prisoners continue to have a platform for growth and a space for change.

In addition, Disability Rights Washington (DRW) will be continuing to push another bill this legislative session that would help to curb DOC’s abuse of solitary confinement and unwarranted transfers.

It’s on us to get involved and finally end this cycle of unchecked abuse, even as the Governor’s office continues to turn a blind eye.

To support these movements please keep reading “On the Fence Line” and contact DRW and/or CLS to find out how to get involved. Also, begin researching who your local legislators are to demand that they also support these bills!

Anybody who knows me knows I’m far from a religious person (please don’t tell my mother-in-law), but I do believe that a higher power has tasked us for a mission of liberation. And we accomplish that mission everyday by continuing to tell our stories and amplifying the voices from all our prison yards, until those yards are transformed into libraries and community gardens.

I send my love to all y’all! And I hope that one day I’ll be invited to your home for a meal so we can break bread in community and laugh about a mission complete.

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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