The Prison Letters of CeCe McDonald
CeCe McDonald is a Black Trans woman who was sentenced to 41 months in prison for defending her friends and herself from racist, transphobic assaulters. Her imprisonment for self-defense, as well as her placement in a male prison, led to an outpour of support from local, national, and transnational communities. During her imprisonment she wrote letters to her supporters who then published them into a blog. There are ten letters in total that range from personal narratives to direct advocacy for activist causes. In each letter, McDonald poses the transformative and political power of love and compassion despite the rejection and violence she has faced for her very existence. McDonald’s ability to draw from the strength of her relationships and the love she’s formed with others proposes a radical approach to social and political revolution in which unity and change must stem from our collective care for each other.
As Angela Davis recently said in a panel hosted by Dream Defenders called Sunday school: Unlock Us, Abolition in Our Lifetime, “…if we want to develop an intersectional perspective…the Trans community is showing us the way…the Trans community taught us that it is possible to effectively challenge that which is considered the very foundation of our sense of normalcy. So if it is possible to challenge the gender binary, then we can certainly, effectively, resist prisons and jails, and police.”
CeCe McDonald’s existence is a radical one because of the conceptions of gender perception, sexuality, oppression, empathy, and love that she developed as a Black Trans woman. Her work warrants attention now more than ever, and is why I want to share two of her prison letters. The first letter has been posted in its entirety while the second is an excerpt from her last letter.
February 14, 2012
Sometimes I feel blank, like a canvas. Waiting for its oils and pastels and water- colors to help bring out its true colors. To become the Monet or Mona Lisa of this reality. I dream for the paints of life to create my beautiful existence. Where vibrant colors aren’t just seen, misunderstood. But taken for all their glories. Bright and Beautiful like you and I . . . we are the colors. And without the colors our lives will be blank. Like the untouched canvas, mundane and lacking.
Our canvases are created to be filled, which is condign. And the colors of our lives are to consume the canvas to express love, joy, individuality, growth and all the pictures that express our lives. And as we are the canvas, we are also the illustrator. And with every stroke of the brush, we decide how our art of life will be. Pictures full of life’s achievements and the possibilities. Creators of our own masterpieces, how will you depict your picture? Will you leave your canvas blank and unfulfilled, or will your tableaux show all that life has to offer?
And so, I ask that you all will not leave your canvases undone. Use every color imaginable to show who you are inside and out, for every tint and every hue counts. And as you create your picture remember you are the illustrator, so no one can create your picture but you. So make it the most precious and most beautiful picture that you can, with love, truth, and joy in every color.
August 4, 2013
Injury and Insult: Trayvon Martin, Racism in the System, and a Revolution amongst Us
…I feel a revolution is amongst us, and I know that there is no better time than now. I wish that I could march with the many of people who will be marching across Washington this August in honor of the 50th year anniversary for the Civil Rights March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent figures of the Civil Rights Movement of that era. I encourage everyone to join the march and the experience of unity amongst all people — races, genders, sexualities, social statuses, and cultural backgrounds. Even if you can’t make it to the march still get active and get involved however that may be.
Before I go, I just want to say that I love you all more than ever now. I couldn’t be more conscious of the love and support you all give me—my family, and that’s kin and chosen, and of course I have chosen all of you. You’re all my family and I will love and cherish and appreciate you all until there’s no more of me. We are the future, we are the revolution!
Until next time my loves keep fighting, stay strong, and live out loud. Do you, cause no one can do it better!
Today, CeCe McDonald works as an artist and activist to dismantle the Industrial Prison Complex and to liberate all oppressed people. The values that shine through her work are recreated time and time again in the High Road - fighting for racial and socioeconomic equity and liberation, collective power, centering the needs of marginalized folk, and most of all, having a genuine investment in the communities you work with.
Trans is revolutionary. Black Trans is revolutionary. Support the work of Black and Trans women and people while they are still alive.