The Write to Win Collective is a penpal project for transgender, transsexual, gender self-determining, and gender-variant people who are living and surviving inside Illinois prisons. Members of the Write to Win Collective are radical trans, queer, and ally activists working in solidarity with prisoners by providing consistent support, resources, and communication to people in our communities who are living on the inside. We stand firmly behind the values of transformative justice, gender self-determination, and prison abolition, and see these values as fundamental to our project.
Our mission is to provide individual emotional support; to articulate, build, and mobilize networks and resources; and to identify the needs of transgender, transsexual, gender variant, and gender non-conforming people surviving inside Illinois prisons through letter correspondence. We believe that communication is integral to honoring the people in our communities who are systematically targeted and silenced by the prison-industrial complex. We are committed to accountability, harm-reduction, and intentionality in our correspondence.
The Write to Win Collective started in 2009 in response to the disproportionately high rates of policing, criminalization, harassment, and incarceration of transgender and gender variant folks—specifically young transpeople of color—in the Chicagoland area. After researching other correspondence projects, we realized that there were no Midwest-specific projects in the country for trans and gender non-conforming folks. Since so many penpal projects exist in other parts of the country, we felt it necessary to create a project specifically for the disproportionate number of people imprisoned in the Midwest. Additionally, our decision to keep our project local to Illinois is rooted in our belief in community-based transformative justice and our commitment to supporting the existing networks of local communities inside Illinois prisons.
While our mission is to reach out to trans and gender non-conforming prisoners specifically, we do not have a formal “screening” or “eligibility” process for inside penpals. We don’t ask explicitly how people identify unless they offer that information to us. This is a matter of safety for many of our penpals. Instead, by sending incarcerated folks our mission statement, we are allowing them to make the decision whether they feel the project is right for them or not, rather than us making that decision for them. As a result, we have several penpals that identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, allied, or choose not to disclose any of that to us. But there is an understanding that they are atleast “allied” with trans/queer communities based on their interest and support for our project. We also recognize that non-trans or non-queer people are part of trans prisoners’ support networks on the inside, and we want to foster those networks and support systems, therefore including these people as penpals.