I have often had conversations with other people who have life experience as sex workers or involvement in the sex trade and street economy in which we discuss our bodies as the actual physical site, the actual geographical location, where the intersection of racism, misogyny, transphobia, capitalism, and violence plays out. Because of this, my journey to politicization from “fuck the police” to prison abolition as an adult was not about theory. It was about being a witness. A witness to the violence in my own life and the lives of people I loved and cared for.

After my experiences with the police, the connections between sexual violence and policing were made clear to me on a different level. The people incarcerated in the minimum-security prison where I worked had almost all been arrested for breaking the law for income-generating purposes. They were in the sex trade, stealing, or participating in some other form of the street economy, like hiding drugs in their bodies for dealers or providing some other nontaxable services. I began to understand that our survival was criminalized, and that the size and damage of the penalties depended on what we were doing, in what neighborhood, and what we looked like. As I made the connections between racism, capitalism, misogyny, transphobia, and criminalization, I began to understand that for those whose lives are criminalized, fighting off an individual officer’s sexual predation was only one small part of the picture of the prison industrial complex.

At the same time, I was volunteering for the local syringe exchange while some of my chronic pain and disabilities were getting diagnosed slowly and often incorrectly. My access to health care was shit. I had no real health insurance to speak of, and I was so busy lying to my doctors (and nearly everyone I knew) about my life that I started to see the connections between the medical model, prisons, the war on drugs, and the cops. Lying helped me to understand that hiding was an essential part of navigating systems, because to be transparent about my whole life meant denial of treatment and facing possible criminalization. If I told a doctor I was opioid dependent, I would not get the critical medications and care for my chronic illnesses and disabilities. The medical industrial complex and PIC were, and are, interlocking systems, benefiting from the exploitation of nearly everybody I have ever intimately interacted with.

I believe that survivors of sexual violence have a secret stash of power; we grow our insight out of a need for protection, out of needs to anticipate a violent swipe or someone grabbing us off the street. Some people also form this sixth sense out of generational understanding and awareness of how to escape white racist predators, and they hone psychic practices that allow us to apprehend danger. The survivors I met during this time formed underground networks of safe houses that ignored traditional social service models, including domestic violence shelters, because so few people got help from those places. From where I sat, drug users, people in the sex trade, transgender people, and LGBTI people were thrown out or refused help by shelters, hospitals, police stations, and even soup kitchens every single day — all the places we were socialized to believe would help and protect us only criminalized us further and trained us to lie to get our needs met.

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