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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, May 29, 2024

New group offers support for students exchanging letters with LGBTQ prisoners

A new group in the LGBT Center provides a support and discussion space for students who exchange letters with queer prisoners through the organization Black and Pink.

Black and Pink is a national organization … where members of the queer community of the free world can come and support members of the queer community who are incarcerated through maintaining pen pal relationships,” Cecilia Petit, who founded the group at Tufts, explained.

Black and Pink describes itself as “an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and ‘free world’ allies who support each other,” according to its website. Its work is “rooted in the experience of currently and formerly incarcerated people,” and its goals are liberation and abolition of the prison industrial complex. Besides matching pen pals, the organization produces a monthly newspaper and is involved in advocacy and education.

The Tufts group, which meets every other Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the LGBT Center, is not meant to be another chapter of Black and Pink, Petit, a sophomore, explained. Rather, it is a support group for those who are writing letters through Black and Pink.

“It’s a place to work out the details of these [pen pal] relationships,” she said. “It’s a place to work out issues that might arise, because it’s not clear-cut and set. These are human relations and interactions."

One such issue is the power dynamic of the situation, Petit said, citing the pen pal selection process as an example. According to Petit, there is a list of prisoners who have requested a pen pal on the organization’s website, from which free world members choose someone to write.

“[It’s] problematic, but it’s also hard to find another way to do it,” she said. “That’s something we talked about in our first meeting -- what are the power dynamics there, that we’re scrolling through this list and choosing the pen pal that we want, and they don’t really get a say in that.”

Petit also emphasized the importance of setting personal boundaries and voicing them in a respectful way, while asking pen pals what they need and want from the relationship.

“The point of [Black and Pink] is to create this queer community that’s supportive of people who don’t have a lot of support, who are incarcerated and might not have other queer people around them,” Petit said.

“Mass incarceration in the U.S. is a whole issue [in itself], but on a person-to-person level, I think everyone deserves someone to talk to,” Nina Hofkosh-Hulbert, who had been writing letters through Black and Pink for a few months before the Tufts group’s first meeting, said.

“It’s been good so far, [but] definitely a little bit weird because it’s someone I don’t know at all,” Hofkosh-Hulbert, a first-year, said. “It’s different from writing letters to friends at summer camp, which is all I’d done before … There are so many experiences that are completely not shared.”

Hofkosh-Hulbert explained that while she believes Black and Pink is a great program, uncomfortable issues often come up in the letters she exchanges. Having the support group on campus helps in navigating these issues, she said.

“The idea of having some other people to bounce ideas off of and debrief with seemed appealing because there’s so much … delicate territory to be walking in this process," Hofkosh-Hulbert said.

According to Petit, her short-term goals are to get a steady group of people coming to meetings, writing letters and talking about these issues. She also hopes that the group can provide an educational space for students to learn about the conditions of the people they are communicating with.

“I’d like to start bringing in articles … to talk about what’s going on in the larger picture and the politics behind it and learning more about the actual conditions of incarcerated queer people,” she said.

Petit mentioned the possibility of field trips to the national headquarters of Black and Pink in Boston, where students could volunteer to sort through a backlog of letters.

Hofkosh-Hulbert added that this would involve inputting addresses and contact information from handwritten letters into computers, as well as inputting data from a recent national survey about the experiences of queer prisoners.