Ten Things You Can Do To Support Incarcerated Sex Workers
- Add Someone to our Newsletter! If you know someone who is in prison we can send a newsletter to, there is a form on the FRONT PAGE of the www.swopbehindbars.org website that makes it easy for ANYONE to add the name of an incarcerated sex worker to our Master Mailing List.
- Send a book to a specific SWOP Behind Bars member! Check out our requests lists here!You MUST send it using Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble or directly from a large bookstore or publisher. There are no exceptions to this requirement in any jail or prison in the US.
- Donate books to Lowell Prison Library!If you are the author or publisher of a book you would like to donate, instructions can be found here. The books most often requested are biographies, short stories and self-help books, particularly those that assist with addiction and trauma-related issues. SWOP Behind Bars will be happy to send you a tax deductible receipt for the published price of the books, the cost of printing newsletters, and any shipping or mailing costs you incur.
- Become a Pen Pal! Fill out our form here, and we will match you wtih individuals. You can also organize a letter-writing party or campaign.
- Donate to SWOP Behind Bars! All donations go directly to supplies for incarcerated or recently incarcerated SWOP Behind Bars Members. Some of our core costs include: postage & printing for newsletters, shipping costs for responses to requests for information and referrals, GED and self-help books, and resources to help recently released individuals get on their feet.
- Send your newsletter or resources to sex workers behind bars! Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information!We are not publishing an online list of sex workers behind bars until they request us to do so.
- Submit a story or column to our monthly newsletter!Please send it to us at email@example.com.
- Donate Your Old Books! If you want to donate USED BOOKS to the prison library, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will tell you how this process works and send you instructions. The books most often requested are urban fiction, true crime, poetry, diaries, and self-help books, particularly those that assist with addiction and trauma related issues.
- Start your own book donation program! Or support a books to prisons prison already running in your area! If you want to start your own book donation program in your state prison or county jail, let us know, and we will be happy to share our tips and tricks. Or Start your own local outreach project! We are building a toolkit for sex work activists to use to reach out to recently arrested sex workers, and we will publish that information on the website and on Facebook and Twitter when it is complete.
- Share Your Resources & Ideas! And finally, if you have ideas or resource material that you think would advance this project or assist in the creation of re-entry resources, please let us know about it. We are particularly interested in people who are willing to engage directly by phone, mail, or email with recently released sex workers who need a sex worker friendly, non-judgmental mentor.
Thanks for reading, and we would love to involve you further in our endeavor! Please reach out to us if you have questions, ideas, contacts, or opportunities to share!
There are almost 6800 women who have been convicted and sentenced to a term of incarceration in Florida Prisons and another 38,000 women who are on state-supervised probation. Women make up approximately 7% of the Florida prison population with 144 of the incarcerated women are under the age of 21. Black and Hispanic women outnumber white women 3 to 1. Programs for women behind bars are very limited, inadequately funded, and mostly faith based. Re-entry services for women are pretty much limited to $50 and a bus ticket home, wherever that might be. While the biggest fear for a sex worker might be arrest, the biggest fear for women in prison is what will happen to them when they are released. These women return to their communities desperate and defined by their experience. There is virtually no housing for those recently release,d and they will be denied almost all public benefits because of their incarceration. ISome may be disconnected from their families, and they must find their own way to rebuild their lives. Sustainable employment is difficult to find, and they won’t be able to get a student loan in order to advance their education if they can’t or don’t want to engage in sex work. As advocates, it is our responsibility to offer our support and guidance.
No one really knows how many women who are imprisoned have been involved in the commercial sex industry, but some estimates are as high as 70%.It’s difficult to ignore the connections between the criminalization of sex work and its impact on the prison population. And when criminalization is combined with the ever present stigma and shame surrounding those engaged in sex work by choice or by force, women who have been incarcerated have virtually no opportunity to thrive on release. The stark lack of community and virtually no resources or support create a perfect storm where poverty and injustice lay in wait to further marginalize women who are released from prison.
The SWOP Behind Bars project at Lowell Correctional Institution is working to reach out to sex workers behind bars to – over time – create a sense of community and support. By donating books to the prison library, sending newsletters to those currently incarcerated, and building a nationwide network of sex worker supported letter writing, we can create a network that strengthens all of us. Women in prison who receive regular mail are envied, and it is the hope of SWOP Behind Bars to flood our sisters who are incarcerated with mail. We are currently working to integrate with other prison book donation organizations to duplicate our efforts nationwide.
This didn’t happen overnight and it’s not even an original idea. In the early days of sex work activism, Margo St James sued the state of California and loudly insisted on improving programs and services for women in prison. As the sex worker rights movement grew over the next 20 years and – thanks to social media – went mainstream in, we still loudly protest the criminalization of sex work and work diligently to minimize the danger. There are still so many sex workers in prison, and they need to know we are here for them. Many do not identify as sex workers, and yet it only takes a cursory investigative search of the Department of Corrections websites to recognize that there is a large incidence of prostitution convictions. Women in prison do not know about the vibrant sex worker community that is rising up in the US, and we think they should. Those of us who live in the free world have connected with each other on the outside through social media and through the organized efforts of sex worker rights organizations. We have shared our experiences and our knowledge with each other on Facebook, Instagram, Tumbr and Twitter. We have art shows, operas, and international days we recognize together. We have at last created our own community that – for the most part – has given some of us a solidarity that is unprecedented. We even have our own insignia…the Red Umbrella. Now we need to get back to our roots and reach out to those behind bars because that is where those who have suffered the most from criminalization reside.
Reading books is a popular prison past time, and unless you have someone sending reading material inside, one is limited to what is in the prison library limited to what was left behind by others, legal books, and a flurry of faith-based material.
Our goal is to provide books that will improve the lives of prisoners, to provide educational resources, and to help reduce the likelihood of their returning to the prison system. Our communities fare better when prisoners returning to society have had an opportunity to learn, grow, and mature as individuals. Books provide the inspiration and knowledge for that growth. And books provided by sex workers, about sex workers, for sex workers, and to sex workers are the greatest way we can invite them to participate in our community and let them tell us how we can improve our efforts to make sure that they have the tools to develop the best version of themselves.
Already the Lowell Correctional Facility for Women has been inundated with books donated by authors and individuals that tell about our history, our stories, and our hopes for the future. The generosity of the sex worker community has been overwhelming. Each book donated will have a label placed inside that will identify our community and let them know how to reach out to us by phone and by mail. The SWOP Community Support has been activated with a new flock of enthusiastic volunteers to answer calls. SWOP Behind Bars fourth newsletter will be completed in the next few weeks and will be mailed to more than 300 recipients who live in prisons throughout the United States. In previous newsletters, we have asked them to write to us and tell us their stories, and they have. We hoped they would organize support groups inside the prison, and they have! We have provided them with evidence-based material so they can learn more about sex worker rights and about themselves and they are asking questions.
We are also working to create re-entry support services to support those released to accomplish the goals they set for themselves and locate the resources they need. We are creating community!
Photo by M. Dante Philadelphia