By Aldazia Green, Ella Baker Center Intern
Among the many challenges that people face when coming home from prison, having access to their basic necessities and clothing can prove to be one of the most difficult. One of the Ella Baker Center’s (EBC) bedrock values is ‘self determination’: the ability to be you, to represent yourself to the world, and to celebrate your identity always. Choosing what clothes to wear to present yourself to the world is something most people take for granted, but for a person who has been misgendered via state clothing, choosing that first outfit upon their release from prison is freedom realized.
EBC partnered with Bonafide, a local reentry organization, to raise awareness about the unique needs of transgender, gender non-conforming, gender expansive, intersex, nonbinary individuals, and cisgender women as they reenter society. We are launching the Affirmative Freedom Support Project with the goal to enhance their homecoming services. The Affirmative Freedom Support Project will build on Bonafide’s existing Welcome Backpacks and outfit shopping excursions by tailoring the support project to this specific and often marginalized community. This mutual aid includes basic necessities, hygiene products, and gender-affirming clothes – necessities that are not easily accessible or affordable while incarcerated. Expanding on the Ella Baker Center’s Freedom Fund, this project will foster meaningful relationships with people returning home from incarceration and connect them to welcoming community members.
Our work is rooted in a culture of care, a practice of consciousness, and a celebration of community.
Here at EBC, we are committed to working towards collective freedom. Our work is rooted in a culture of care, a practice of consciousness, and a celebration of community. In creating this mutual aid project, we noticed that transgender, gender non-conforming, gender expansive, intersex, nonbinary individuals, and cisgender women were being incarcerated at increasingly high rates. A recent report by the Vera Institute suggests that in 2021, roughly 70 percent of female arrests (including transgender and cisgender women) were for misdemeanors. Our loved ones are being imprisoned for more nonviolent crimes than ever before. We must increase the reentry resources available to support their homecoming.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, between 1995-2010 women (cisgender and trans women) were incarcerated in California at alarming rates (Wendy Sawyer, January 2018). In 2018, California incarcerated cisgender and trans women at higher rates compared to other countries like Canada, the UK, and France (see chart on the right).
A beloved community member shares the impact of this type of reentry support:
“I am a Transgender woman just recently released from serving about 8 years in a California state prison. I identify as she/her. In my past experiences as a Trans woman, trusting people can usually result in danger, violence, and other detrimental things. But letting go of my fear gave me resources I was able to utilize from everyone at Bonafide. The resources included my surprisingly easy return to society, thanks to everyone at Bonafide.
“On the way to my new home, they gave me a new backpack filled with a lot of essentials like a toothbrush, razors…and a new phone with the first month’s bill paid! We even stopped at a restaurant to eat breakfast before I was taken shopping for clothes that were bought and paid for by the Bonafide team! What meant a lot to me as well was that all the necessities and clothes they gave me all aligned with my gender identify. And that means more to me than they’ll ever know. My faith in humanity was fully restored the day that I reached out to Bonafide.”
It is imperative to provide meaningful, safe, and inclusive welcome home support to community members. We want to support safe new beginnings for transgender, gender non-conforming, gender expansive, intersex, nonbinary individuals, and cisgender women returning home from prison.
You can support the Affirmative Freedom Support Project here.