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Out in the Bay: An update on queer comix from prison

by Truc Nguyen

Cover art for "Confined Before COVID-19: A Pandemic Anthology by Queer Prisoners" Photo: Courtesy ABO Comix
Cover art for "Confined Before COVID-19: A Pandemic Anthology by Queer Prisoners" Photo: Courtesy ABO Comix  

This week'sĀ Out in the Bay offers an update on an issue first reported last fall.

As Out in the Bay previously reported, Casper Cendre started writing letters to people in prison while in high school.A little shy, getting to know people through letter writing felt natural. "I had family members who had been incarcerated but I didn't know that much about what life was like for people in prison," he said, "especially queer people."

A decade later, Cendre is running a collective as director of ABO Comix, an art driven non-profit. Contributor Eric Lee Tadana defines themselves as "a beautiful contradiction" and is "gender-fluid, pansexual, [and] polyamorous."

In a previous phone call from prison rebroadcast on this week's Out in the Bay, along with some small updates, Tadana recounted a moment of psychosis while in prison. "As a part of the treatment in the psychiatric hospital, I was sprayed with pepper spray in the face," they said. This experience led Tadana to think about "alternative therapies" and inspired a story called Habanero Lipstick, about "turning a negative into a positive."

Making artwork in prison is one way Tadana continues to turn negatives into positives. Another is through advocacy work for organizations like Black and Pink. "I didn't get a lot of help," says Tadana, "so what I want to do is be the help that I didn't get instead of being bitter about the help that I didn't get."

Queer life presents enough challenges on the outside, Cendre said, but in prison, there's a new set of life-threatening complications. Trans prisoners are often housed in facilities that do not align with their gender, leading to violence and sexual assault by staff and prisoners alike. Often, people also stop receiving hormones, the impact of which is major, both psychologically and physically.

Cendre is still learning new things about prison. Among the most shocking: prison protocol during COVID-19.

ABO Comix's latest anthology is about COVID in prisons. "The truth is we here are packed together with no options," contributor Metro wrote. "Maybe it's time to stop mass incarceration and start helping each other be better people."

Cendre said, "There's a lot of chaos and confusion inside." He's read accounts of people not getting fed or receiving medication regularly. He calls for compassion over punitive systems, which Cendre says aren't "working for our communities and our families, so we have to try something new."

ABO Comix welcomes volunteers, pen pals, and donations to help people on the inside buy food, gender-affirming items and more.

Hear more from Casper Cendre and ABO Comix artists — in their own voices -- on this week's Out in the Bay. It will re-air at 9:30 a.m., Saturday, March 20, on KSFP Radio, 102.5 FM in San Francisco only, and is and is available anytime on Out in the Bay's website.

Out in the Bay also airs at 10 p.m. Tuesdays on KALW, 91.7 FM throughout the central SF Bay Area.

Truc Nguyen is a producer at Out in the Bay — Queer Radio from San Francisco. Learn more and listen at https://www.outinthebay.org/

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