When just being yourself is a radical act

By Miley Fletcher

For hundreds of years, racism, bigotry and discrimination have existed in society but especially within prison complexes. Black men, women and transgenders have been murdered, assaulted, placed in solitary confinement, restraint chairs and psychological observation cells — humiliated and abused by officers and staff alike.

The corruption begins at the head of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) when someone challenges higher ups. They say: “we’ll check into it,” or “well, you know so-and-so is not ‘all there.’” Meanwhile, the incarcerated person who complained gets a backlash of retaliation. 

Case in point is Bryant Arroyo, who was exposing conditions at SCI Frackville until they transferred him to SCI Coal Township. Unfortunately, Frackville won’t change what they’ve been doing.

Unlike on the street where people have cell phone cameras, we inside are not allowed recording devices. If incarcerated people had such devices, many prison staff would be out of jobs. We could catch them and be heard.

I have been incarcerated for 29 years. If you point out what the Pennsylvania DOC is doing wrong, you’re seen as a thorn in their side. I was at SCI Coal Township from 2005-2010, until they transferred me because of “paperwork I filed against the institution.” The prison claimed the transfer was due to “a separation from another inmate” but gave no details. 

I reported seeing six guards attack a Black male inmate. I gave him my statement and wrote to the DOC about it. This “infraction” still appears whenever I get transferred to a new institution.

The guards and staff know they will get away with their abuse. Their superiors will back them up. They go home and brag about it.  

The guards can assault us, but if an incarcerated person does it to them, we are criminally charged or transferred. Guards and staff are never moved or fired. The administration does nothing to change conditions.

In prison, “George Floyds” are a daily occurrence. In prison, if you complain, you are given false misconducts, threatened with the Restrictive Housing Unit (the hole) and threatened with “lock down” — restrictive release list.  

Lying, denying and cover-ups have gone on for years in this prison complex. What the Pennsylvania DOC dislikes is being exposed on their daily abuses, racist bigotry and discrimination. What they fear is someone speaking out against their regime, their monopoly — so on your file, you are “problematic.” 

I love Workers World. You express the truth.

Incarcerated workers should be allowed to speak out. It is our constitutional right. Remember that what they are doing outside of these prison complexes is being done to us here. If they move a prisoner to another block or transfer them to another institution, it is because the prisoner is right. They transfer us to silence us.

Sometimes just being yourself is the radical act. When you occupy space in systems not built for you, your authenticity is your activism. To change the stories, you must change the storytellers. Racism and discrimination are part of the abuse, when someone gains power over another person. 

Like Dorothy Kilgallen [who threatened to blow the lid off the Kennedy assassination, and who was found dead in Dallas during her investigation], I am a journalist, and I speak about what I see and hear until something is done or they transfer me because I keep writing.  

It is not just in the prisons. Racism, bigotry and discrimination are everywhere.

Fletcher is a trans woman currently incarcerated at SCI Forest, Manenville, Pa.

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