Primarily, we are relentlessly driven to support LGBT prisoners, meeting whatever their highest-priorities needs are.
We do that through:
- Penpal Connectons
- The Holiday Card Project
- Advocacy and Systems Change
- Story-telling and Training
At first, prisoners said (overwhelmingly) that they needed connection. Healthy, positive, supportive connections with LGBT or allied people. So that’s what we did! We put out a call for penpals, asking who would be interested in being matched with a queer prisoner. Over the years, we’ve recruited dozens of penpals into our network. We continue to manage this network nationwide, overseeing ~200 active penpal connections at present and working to support and maintain those relationships.
We eventually learned that not everyone feels able to commit to a longterm penpal connection. But we knew that even if there is a level of hesitancy… once you start writing, and feel the impact of those letters on another person… it’s hard to stop. So we began running holiday card projects. The idea came from a “holiday cards to soldiers” event, and we later realized that many other prisoner support networks do similar projects. So cool! We were connected to a national (and international) movement to connect with and support (and work with and learn from) LGBT prisoners.
Then, as our penpal network became stronger (through the holiday card project and our Facebook penpal group), one of our founders (Trystan Reese) was asked to speak on a panel at the Women in Prison Conference. The panel was focused on transgender women in prison, and Trystan was able to share first-person stories from the Beyond These Walls network. Alongside Beyond These Walls was the Director of Mental Health Services for the Oregon Department of Corrections. Because of this happenstance, Beyond These Walls is now working directly with the DOC to dismantle transphobia in clinical staff who are responsible for granting hormones and other support options to trans prisoners.