Writing to Chelsea Manning

Update: A new address for Chelsea Manning was added to this post. Also, be sure to sign the Firedoglake petition demanding Chelsea Manning receive the medical treatment she deserves.

Don’t miss yesterday’s update on Mark “Migs” Neiweem of the NATO 5.

Join Operation PenPal: scroll to the bottom of this post to find out how to send solidarity to Chelsea and other political prisoners.

After receiving a 35-year sentence, Chelsea Manning formally came out as a transgender woman. Over at Dissenter, Kevin Gosztola calls the mainstream media to task for mistreating her, and outlines Firedoglake’s support of Manning’s gender identity.

For those of us who’ve supported Manning throughout the trials, she needs our solidarity now more than ever. She will serve her sentence in a men’s military prison and will have to fight a legal battle in order to get the hormone replacement therapy she desires and deserves. Like CeCe McDonald, she faces years of imprisonment in an environment hostile and dangerous to queer people. Transgender people in prisons face difficult struggles and are often forced to do time in solitary “for their own safety.”

It’s essential that we show solidarity with Chelsea Manning with our letters and postcards of support and respect her gender identity in our communications. Unfortunately, because she is incarcerated by the gender she was assigned at birth, mail sent to the jail must be addressed to Bradley Manning. But we should always use Chelsea Manning and female pronouns in any messages we write.

From Operation PenPal‘s mailing list entry on Manning:

Manning released a statement confirming her gender as female and requesting feminine pronouns and her preferred name, Chelsea, be used. We respect and honor this request. However, mail to prisoners must bear their full legal name on the envelope to be delivered. As such, we are listing Chelsea’s legal name for mailing purposes only but request that you address her as Chelsea within the text of your letters.

Chris French, Another NATO Prisoner

Rachel Unterman and the crew at #OpPenPal are requesting support for another activist recently sent to prison for their actions at the NATO protests. Prosecutors accused Chris French (who prefers gender neutral pronouns) of breaking through a line of bicycle police to come to the aid of another activist. French was among those arrested in the chaotic scene around the NATO protests, which the city prepared for with an intense militarization of their police and weeks of scary propaganda. French was also one of the last to be bailed out.

French agreed to a plea bargain reducing charges from a felony to a misdemeanor. “The court gave Chris 364 days — a misdemeanor is capped at a year. They took a plea deal, but it wasn’t that good of a deal,” Unterman said. French does get credit for three months in jail, but faces as much as another nine months in prison.

Good News: Prisoners Released

Eric Marquez in a lockbox at the Port of Houston

Eric Marquez, imprisoned since his arrest at the December 12, 2011 Shutdown of the Port of Houston (shown here), is finally free.

In October, I reported on the plight of Eric Marquez, a member of the “Gulf Port 7.” The seven were threatened with felonies for using “lock box” devices secretly built by undercover members of the Austin Police Department:

One of the seven charged with using a ‘criminal instrument’ is a veteran, Eric Marquez, imprisoned since the December Port Shutdown thanks to complications with previous charges. After Occupy Austin successfully raised thousands in bail to free him from Houston, Dallas immediately imprisoned him again — because he missed court dates in Dallas while jailed in Houston! His bail in Dallas is now $100,000.

Though the seven accepted a misdemeanor plea bargain in February, Marquez remained in prison. He has just been released!

On Wednesday, Ronnie Garza (also a member of the Gulf Port 7) posted on Occupy Austin’s Facebook page:

Eric Marquez has been in jail since December 2011 after the Port of Houston Blockade where undercover detectives from Austin entrapped 7 activist into felony charges. The charges were eventually dropped because the state didn’t want its dirty laundry made more public than it already had been, but Eric got caught up in the gears of the jail system and the DA in Dallas used an old charge from before the port to keep him in jail. They were able to use this old charge because it was just within the statute of limitations. We just got word that Eric is now out and we are thrilled.

As expected, Sebastian Senakiewicz of the NATO 5 was deported to Poland and officially landed there on August 14, 2013. Rachel Unterman told me, according to recent Facebook updates, he’s been hiking, canoeing, and attending concerts in his native country. After so long performing jail support for Senakiewicz, “it’s very strange to get Facebook messages from him. But awesome,” Unterman told me this week.

She added:

I’m so used to letters and visits behind plexiglass and then for a long time [in boot camp] we couldn’t even do that. … He’s back in humanity! It gives us hope that this can all be over for everyone eventually.

How to Write to Political Prisoners

Many political prisoners need our support. Operation PenPal maintains an extensive list of prisoners and guidelines for how to write and what to send

Writing to political prisoners is an important way of showing solidarity. Photos and postcards can brighten dreary prison walls, while our words remind them of daily life and reassure them that they are not forgotten by the outside world. Your message doesn’t need to be long and even the most mundane details of your day could mean a lot to someone on the inside. Rachel Unterman also recommends the FlikShop app and website as a simple way to send photos.

Here are the addresses of three political prisoners mentioned in this post:

Chelsea Manning 

Bradley E. Manning #89289
1300 N Warehouse Rd
Fort Leavenworth, KS 66027-2304

Chris French

Christopher French
#2013-0815107
PO Box 089002
Chicago, IL 60608

‘Migs’ Neiweem

Mark Neiweem
M36200
Pontiac Correctional Center
PO Box 99
Pontiac, IL 61764

Photo via Occupy Austin.