Lovisa Stannow, Reaching Out to Those Most Alone at Christmas, The Huffington Post, December 20th 2010
Imagine if a simple note could save a life. If it could, would you send one?
A few years ago, Scott was a nonviolent, first-time inmate in a Colorado prison. A white supremacist gang called the "2-11 Crew," which had more than 1,000 members in prisons throughout the state, targeted him for sexual abuse, and for two years its gang members raped him, day after day. Describing his desperate feeling of helplessness, Scott explained that, "Things are different in prison. On the outside, you can go to the police or your family or friends for help. Inside, you're alone. And you can't get away from your abusers."
Every year, as recent government surveys show, more than 100,000 youth, men, and women are sexually abused in American's prisons and jails. Unlike Scott, however, the majority of these people are victimized, not by other inmates, but by facility staff -- by the very same agents of our government whose job it is to protect them.
For those of us on the outside, it can be hard to imagine how a basic act of kindness can transform someone's life. Yet survivors of rape in prison often believe that they have been completely forgotten, and are amazed when someone cares enough to reach out with a message of support. For them, a simple note of encouragement from someone on the outside can have an immensely powerful impact.
This holiday season, Just Detention International is inviting others to join us in breaking down the barriers between incarcerated rape survivors and the outside world. Hundreds of people have already sent us their short messages of hope, which we will pass on directly to rape survivors behind bars.
As for Scott, he tried to get protection from staff, to no avail. They told him they wouldn't do anything unless he named names; but Scott knew that doing so -- snitching on the gang -- would mean his life was over. After two years of horror, he thought he would rather kill himself than face another day of torture and humiliation. That's when Scott received a letter from Just Detention International. "I didn't feel alone anymore, and that saved my life," he told us later.
Scott isn't the only one to credit a simple note of encouragement with turning his life around. "I think about JDI writing me while I was locked up and it brings me to tears," said Troy, who was first raped in youth detention at the age of 12. Another survivor, Gregory, wrote, "You have proven to me that I am not alone and that there are people who actually care. It is a grand thing to know that someone cares and will listen." Hope, who was raped twice by a jail guard, said, "JDI has been a lifeline that keeps me going when I feel like there isn't anybody else out there."
When the government removes someone's freedom, it takes on an absolute responsibility to protect that person's safety. No matter what a person might have done, rape is not part of the penalty in our society. Yet, every single day, hundreds of prisoners are raped. The victims tend to be young, small, nonviolent, inexperienced in prison life -- simply put, easy targets. In youth facilities, the federal government recently found that almost one in eight youth detainees were abused over a 12-month period, a shocking 80 percent of them by staff.
Sexual violence in detention is a disgrace. We can stop this crisis. But while we keep fighting to end rape behind bars, we must not forget about those who have already survived sexual abuse and who are struggling, right now, to heal.
Already, wonderful notes are pouring in to JDI's offices. A survivor of prisoner rape who is no longer incarcerated submitted this message through our website: "You are not alone! In this holiday of love and possibility you are cared for and not forgotten. I too am a survivor of sexual violence behind bars. You will survive and justice shall roll down like a mighty stream."
"You are my son, my brother, my family," wrote another person. "Please know you are a beloved child of God, keep your head up and know someone sends prayers and thoughts of compassion."
Please join us in sending some words of hope to an incarcerated survivor. It's fast, it's easy, and it's free. Click on http://www.justdetention.org/en/holiday-message.aspx and send your note now. You might help save a life.