I attended Chelsea Manning’s talk on Monday night, and what stood out to me most throughout the entire event was her incredible resilience. Manning explained that at one point she was in solitary confinement for almost a year straight. I could not comprehend how she could have psychologically survived that experience, since isolation, even for a short period of time, is one of the worst kinds of torture. Not only did she survive this experience, along with other extremely difficult experiences such as homelessness, but she seems to have found a community and hobbies that bring her real joy and support. I do not think this should be taken as a feel-good story, since no human being should have to experience what she went through, but it did make me realize how incredibly strong she must be to create a meaningful life for herself after all that has happened.
Chelsea Manning’s description of life in prison forced me to question many of the stereotypes that are enforced in media. She spoke of a real community in prison, with inmates who would look out for each other and even break rules to give each other supplies they needed. She also said the most dangerous and violent people in prisons were always the people working there. While it did not surprise me that the people working in prisons abused their power, I had always assumed there would be lots of danger and violence coming from fellow inmates as well. I got this idea from TV shows like Orange Is the New Black. This stereotype probably makes it more difficult for formerly incarcerated people to find jobs and does not reflect the experience Manning spoke about. Manning even mentioned that she did not have a bad experience being transgender in prison and that many of the other inmates were just happy that she and her lawyers had “gotten one over” on the prison system by getting her access to hormones.
I was deeply moved by Chelsea Manning’s talk. The criminal justice system and prison abolition are issues I hope to be able to learn more about through an intersectional lens with Gender and Sexuality Studies.