Every year in Los Angeles, members of Just Detention's team of volunteers and staff join together to write and deliver thousands of holiday cards to prisoners who have been sexually assaulted while incarcerated. Jessica Testa reports for BuzzFeed that Just Detention International (JDI) sent about 10,000 holiday cards last year, including those written by Joe Booth.
Booth, who served a three-year sentence in a California correctional facility, says that he was raped by his former cell mate. Booth is an openly gay man who says he was placed in a cell with another inmate known widely for his violent homophobic attacks on LGBT inmates. Now out of prison, Booth works closely with JDI to bring holiday cheer to those for whom the holidays are a time of loneliness and isolation. At a time when he felt close to giving up, it was a holiday card from a stranger sent through JDI that gave Booth hope. Booth told Testa:
When you’re locked up, and you’re sitting in a cell by yourself, and people are telling you that you’re everything but a child of god, and nobody is saying anything good about you, it just really helps to know that you’re not alone.
It wasn't lawyers or law enforcement who gave him strength or empowered him to press charges (that subsequently resulted in a minor charge against his attacker), but JDI. JDI seeks a just detention — free of sexual assault — for those behind bars serving time for a variety of crimes.
According to the Just Detention International website, roughly 200,000 people are victims of sexual assault while incarcerated every year in the U.S.A. The charity claims that these are not isolated incidents but systematic, and represent gross injustice against prisoners by prison systems that are supposed to protect them.
JDI advocates for the safety and well-being of all inmates, whether they are confined in federal, state, or local facilities -- both private and public -- including prisons, jails, juvenile facilities, immigration detention centers, halfway houses, and police lock-ups. JDI works to: hold government officials accountable for prisoner rape; promote public attitudes that value the dignity and safety of inmates; and ensure that survivors of this violence have access to the help they need.
Along with Booth, staff, volunteers, survivors, and activists all over the world have sent hand-written or online letters of support to survivors this holiday season. It's not too late to send your support via JDI's website; I just wrote mine from Australia. You can tweet your message of support:
Or you could send a message via the website.
Another survivor of prison sexual assault — and now-activist — told BuzzFeed's Testa that the annual in-person letter writing campaign is a reunion of sorts, and an informal support group. She used to tape her cards to the wall using toothpaste.
The group comes together primarily to transcribe letters received online, but also write letters of their own, where survivors reflect on their own experiences.
You talk about domestic violence or sexual violence or rape in prison, and you’re talking to someone who’s had that happen to them. Mail is a wonderful thing in prison. You don’t just get one tiny card. You get this big package of cards. It’s indescribable. These people don’t judge you. You just feel so much love. My family totally abandoned me, and it meant so much to get so much nonjudgmental love.
JDI's Words of Hope campaign is an easy, beautiful way to spread holiday cheer to those away from home for the holidays and experiencing trauma — those who need it most.
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