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Hasan Minhaj launches TurboTaxSucksAss.com, a real website to make filing taxes less awful

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Perhaps the most egregious of all the misleading tax prep websites is TurboTax, which has a documented history of advertising “free” filing products that then hamstring unsuspecting customers into ponying up extra cash for bells and whistles they don’t actual need to submit their tax returns.


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The Russian bounties on US troops in Afghanistan scandal, explained

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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the G20 Osaka Summit 2019 Putin and Trump shake hands at the G20 summit in Osaka, June 2019. | Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russia seems to have put bounties on US troops in Afghanistan. Trump seems to have been warned — and did nothing.

The past few days in American politics have been dominated by revelations that Russia may have paid Taliban militants to kill US troops in Afghanistan in 2019 — and that the Trump administration knew about the scheme and did nothing to stop it or punish Russia.

The New York Times reported Friday that US intelligence officials found evidence indicating that a unit of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, had put out bounties on US troops in Afghanistan. It’s not clear how many Americans may have been killed as part of this plot, but at least one incident in April 2019 that killed three Marines in a car bomb attack near Bagram Airfield is reportedly being investigated in connection to the alleged Russian effort.

The Times reported that President Donald Trump was briefed about the Russian operation months ago but chose to do nothing in response.

Trump loudly denied this claim on Sunday, tweeting that “Nobody briefed or told me, [Vice President Mike] Pence, or Chief of Staff [Mark Meadows], about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians,” adding that “everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us.”

But there’s mounting evidence that this is false.

The Associated Press reported on Monday night that in March 2019, then-National Security Adviser John Bolton personally briefed Trump on the Russian scheme. Also on Monday night, the New York Times reported that the intelligence had been included in the February 27 edition of the President’s Daily Brief, a daily summary of what the CIA describes as “the highest level of intelligence on the president’s key national security issues and concerns” prepared specially for the president by his intelligence chiefs.

So what to make of all this?

Experts on Russia and Afghanistan say the underlying claim — that Russia paid bounties to Afghan militants to kill US troops — is quite plausible. Since at least 2015, Russia has attempted to undermine and weaken the US and its allies from the shadows, sometimes violently. The GRU has been the tip of Putin’s spear in this effort; it makes sense that it would target US troops in Afghanistan in particular, a kind of delayed payback for America’s support for anti-Soviet Afghan rebels in the 1980s.

“Russia, or at least some Russian agencies, apparently feel free to assassinate regime opponents in London, Salisbury, and Berlin,” says Steven Pifer, an expert on Russia at the Brookings Institution. “It’s not that big a step from there to going after coalition soldiers in Afghanistan.”

But at this point, Trump’s apparent failure to do anything about the revelations is becoming as big a story as the Russian scheme itself.

It seems pretty clear now that senior officials in the Trump administration have had intelligence of a Russian plot to kill Americans for more than a year and have briefed the president about it several times. Yet Trump not only failed to mount any kind of response but also seems to be, at best, alarmingly unaware of information he was apparently given several times, or, at worst, outright lying about his knowledge of it.

Either way, it’s further proof that the Trump administration’s approach to policymaking is profoundly broken. It once again raises disturbing questions about Trump’s policy toward Russia. And now, lawmakers of both parties — and the mother of one of the Marines killed in the Bagram attack — are demanding answers.

“We’re going to have a hearing,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) told me. “And we’re going to get to the bottom of this.”

Is Russia paying the Taliban to murder Americans? And why would they?

Initially, it wasn’t particularly clear how this Russian program worked or how solid the US intelligence about it was. But in the past day, the strength of the intelligence in question become disturbingly clear.

According to a Tuesday New York Times piece, American spies grounded their assessment in two major sources of information: interrogations of captured Afghan militants revealing the program’s assistance, and intercepted bank records showing large payments from a GRU bank account to the Taliban. This conclusion is supported by the Afghan government’s security forces, who captured a group of local moneymen who seem to have worked as go-betweens connecting the Russian government to the Afghan militants.

This finding, per the Times, helped “reduce an earlier disagreement among intelligence analysts and agencies over the reliability of the detainees.” The intelligence was evidently compelling enough that the US shared it with its British counterparts (British forces are also active in Afghanistan as part of the US-led coalition fight, and may have been targeted as well, according to the Times).

Both the Russian government and the Taliban have denied the allegations, and the militants pointed out in a statement to the Times that they don’t need any incentives from the Russians to want to kill Americans.

But experts find the claim fairly credible, noting that such schemes are broadly consistent with how Russia operates these days.

“Five years ago ... it would have been very, very shocking,” Alina Polyakova, the president and CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis, said. “But now,” she said, the Russians “feel like there’s an open playing field — that there haven’t been real consequences for similar operations in the past.”

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Soldiers lift a coffin into a van during the transfer of two US soldiers killed in Afghanistan, Sgt. 1st Class Javier Jaguar Gutierrez and Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Rey Rodriguez, on February 10, 2020.

The GRU, the military intelligence agency believed to be behind the bounties, was also a central player in Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election. The specific part of the GRU that allegedly issued the bounties, Unit 29155, tends to handle more violent operations — like the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain in 2018.

These operations reflect broader Russian strategic doctrine under Putin. Russia is, despite its nuclear weapons and massive oil deposits, a fundamentally weak country compared to its American rival.

Lacking anything like America’s conventional military strength or global network of alliances, it uses covert operations as a form of low-grade asymmetric warfare — weakening the United States, which Putin sees as an obstacle to expanding Russian geopolitical influence, without having to court an open fight with a much stronger enemy.

The result is a military intelligence agency empowered to engage in covert operations across the world, ranging from hacking to espionage to outright murder, with the aim of creating chaos and weakening America’s ability to serve as a check on Russian expansionism.

“If the higher-ups in the Kremlin didn’t authorize activity in Afghanistan, this wouldn’t have happened,” Polyakova says. “The practical details of how they carried out the bounty program — I’m sure those details never go up as far as Putin himself. But the broader directive to undermine US interests certainly does come from the top.”

Afghanistan is an ideal site for this kind of anti-American activity. War zones are inherently violent and chaotic, making it easier for the Russians to get American troops killed without having to do it themselves. It also serves as a kind of (perceived) symmetric retaliation for American involvement in Ukraine, where the US has given the government lethal weaponry to aid in its fight against Russian invaders.

It is also a sort of symbolic payback for America’s decision to arm Afghan militants fighting back against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Reportedly, some members of the GRU’s Unit 29155 are veterans of that war — and see getting Americans killed as a “dish served cold” kind of retaliation.

“Remember for some Americans, Afghanistan in the 1980s was payback for Vietnam,” says Barnett Rubin, a political scientist at New York University who studies Afghanistan. “What goes around comes around.”

This isn’t just a more violent extension of the 2016 election hacking campaign, in short. It’s a reflection of the way in which, under Putin, Russian foreign policy has become a project of attaining a particular vision of national greatness — a tool for avenging historical humiliations and restoring the Kremlin to its rightful place as one of the world’s great powers.

To do that, America must be punished.

What did the president know, and when did he know it?

If the intelligence turns out to be true — and, again, we don’t know that it is — then the Russian government hired terrorists to kill Americans. This isn’t routine spying or even “cyberwar”; it’s literally an act of war from a nuclear-armed power.

That’s certainly something one would expect the president of the United States to be concerned about, or at the very least aware of.

The general expectation would be that the president would be briefed on the intelligence assessment. If the intelligence community has credible evidence about something so politically and strategically explosive, the president needs to know in order to start thinking about how to potentially respond. At the very least, he’d be expected to try to figure out just how likely it is that the plot is real — asking questions about the sourcing, for example, and how seriously he needs to take it.

But Trump claims he was never told about the intelligence because his officials “did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP [Mike Pence].”

And White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Monday that Trump hadn’t been briefed because there isn’t “consensus” among intelligence agencies about the veracity of the claims in question. “It would not be elevated to the president until it was verified,” McEnany said.

But there doesn’t need to be total agreement among every agency for an intelligence assessment to make it to the president’s desk; for one thing, it’s possible that not every agency has seen the underlying evidence (e.g., interrogation tapes and financial records) and been able to make an independent judgment. And, again, it was apparently credible enough to brief a foreign ally, Britain, about.

“It’s one of those things that’s serious and obviously seems credible enough to send all the way to the White House — the kind of thing you want to get to the bottom of,” says Mieke Eoyang, the vice president for national security at Third Way, a center-left think tank.

Trump’s top intelligence official, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, said in a statement Saturday that he had “confirmed that neither the President nor the Vice President were ever briefed on any intelligence alleged by the New York Times in its reporting yesterday.”

CIA Director Gina Haspel was more vague on the question of whether the president had been given the intelligence, saying in a Monday statement that “when developing intelligence assessments, initial tactical reports often require additional collection and validation.”

But two reports from the AP and New York Times suggest Trump was briefed on the intelligence — not once, but multiple times, and as far back as March 2019.

President Trump Delivers Remarks To The American Workforce Policy Advisory Board Drew Angerer/Getty Images
President Trump on June 26, 2020.

“Top officials in the White House were aware in early 2019 of classified intelligence indicating Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans,” the AP reports. “The assessment was included in at least one of President Donald Trump’s written daily intelligence briefings at the time, according to the officials. Then-national security adviser John Bolton also told colleagues he briefed Trump on the intelligence assessment in March 2019.”

While the AP notes that “officials said they did not consider the intelligence assessments in 2019 to be particularly urgent,” they also reported that “the classified assessment of Russian bounties was the sole purpose of the [Trump-Bolton] meeting.” Moreover, they report that Robert O’Brien, the current national security adviser, also personally spoke with Trump about the issue (O’Brien denies this).

Separately, two intelligence officials also told the New York Times that the assessment had been included in Trump’s daily briefing in February 2020 — with one official identifying the exact date of the written brief, February 27.

So a few scenarios are possible here, though some are more plausible than others:

  1. Trump was never briefed on the intelligence, and all of these intelligence officials saying otherwise are lying to the press.
  2. Trump was briefed on the intelligence several times and wasn’t paying attention, didn’t think it was important or credible enough to pay attention to, or just forgot about it despite being told about it repeatedly.
  3. Trump was briefed on the intelligence and is lying about it.

Whichever scenario turns out to be true, any one of the three would be a damning indictment of the Trump administration’s approach to foreign policy.

Whatever the explanation, it’s a bona fide scandal

Let’s take each of the three scenarios in turn.

1) Trump was never briefed on the intelligence, and all of the intelligence officials saying otherwise are lying to the press

This is extremely hard to believe.

For one thing, the New York Times’s reporting on this has been extremely, almost surprisingly specific. The details on financial records, in particular, was reportedly included in the late February briefing on the topic.

Notably, the Times reporters cite a specific date — February 27, 2020 — as one where Trump received a President’s Daily Brief with information about the Russian plot. This is really, really easy to disprove; if the information isn’t there on that day, the White House could simply leak the PDB from February 2020 and embarrass the “failing” New York Times. If an intelligence official provided a specific date and the Times reporters cited it, they’re probably pretty confident that it was in there.

On the off chance that the White House is telling the truth, it would still be not great for the White House. It would suggest that people in the intelligence and national security community don’t trust him with information of this sort with regards to Russia — a fear that seems vindicated by the way the president has handled this issue since it’s gone public.

2) Trump was briefed on the intelligence several times and wasn’t paying attention, didn’t think it was important or credible enough to pay attention to, or just forgot about it (over and over)

It may be hard to believe that a president might not remember being briefed about a Russian plot to kill American soldiers, but in Trump’s case, it’s certainly believable.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has repeatedly blamed the intelligence community for failing to warn him about the risk from the virus early. Yet the New York Times reported that he had been warned — but that he’s so uninterested in learning, so unreceptive to new information, that he can’t be made to internalize what he’s told:

Mr. Trump, who has mounted a yearslong attack on the intelligence agencies, is particularly difficult to brief on critical national security matters, according to interviews with 10 current and former intelligence officials familiar with his intelligence briefings.

The president veers off on tangents and getting him back on topic is difficult, they said. He has a short attention span and rarely, if ever, reads intelligence reports, relying instead on conservative media and his friends for information. He is unashamed to interrupt intelligence officers and riff based on tips or gossip he hears from the former casino magnate Steve Wynn, the retired golfer Gary Player or Christopher Ruddy, the conservative media executive.

Mr. Trump rarely absorbs information that he disagrees with or that runs counter to his worldview, the officials said. Briefing him has been so great a challenge compared with his predecessors that the intelligence agencies have hired outside consultants to study how better to present information to him.

This is consistent with every insider account of the White House we’ve heard, from Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury to Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened: The president doesn’t read and just doesn’t seem to care about learning things about the country he leads. It’s entirely possible this disinterest in knowledge and policy explains why he’s done nothing to respond to what sure seems like a Russian plot to kill Americans.

3) Trump was briefed on the intelligence and remembers it, and is lying to the American people

That the president and his staff lie all the time is something we’ve all just come to accept.

But in this case, lying would be particularly disturbing. The president has a strangely warm relationship with Russia’s strongman leader, to the point where it seems like he doesn’t take objectively threatening behavior from Russia all that seriously.

If Trump is lying, the fact pattern here is really disturbing. Former counter-ISIS envoy Brett McGurk, an Obama appointee who served under Trump, notes that Trump had multiple opportunities to raise this with Putin directly. Not only didn’t he, but he actually worked to better Russia’s international image during this time period:

So this isn’t just another one of Trump’s lies, in short. It would be an epically bad lie — one covering up his decision to literally let Putin get away with murder.

This is all great for Russia

Given how bad the situation is, the Trump administration is defaulting to its typical playbook: lie and blame others. On Sunday evening, Trump speculated that the New York Times had invented this story out of whole cloth to hurt him:

This just so happens to dovetail with the official Russian approach to the scandal. Compare Trump’s tweet with one from the Russian Embassy to the United States on Saturday:

“Seeing the Kremlin and the White House aligned on the narrative around this is really shocking to me,” says Polyakova. “These kinds of operations are intentionally [designed for] plausible deniability by the Kremlin. ... It’s in chaos and in ambiguity that they [the Russians] thrive.”

The problem here, at base, is that the president is both unreliable and uninterested in the actual mechanics of US policy (both foreign and domestic). In the American system, the president has an indispensable role in foreign policy decision-making. Only the president can adjudicate among different bureaucratic interests and set an overarching policy.

When you have a leader who will not and maybe cannot play that role, the entire ship of American state becomes rudderless. US foreign policy becomes unfocused and chaotic.

And that’s exactly how the Russians like it.

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Trump's Justice Department Is Making Life Hell for Legal Weed

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WASHINGTON — Ever notice there’s no Starbucks for weed? No dominant, national retailer with outlets in all states where cannabis is legal?

The Trump administration went out of its way to make sure that couldn’t happen.

A wave of antitrust investigations unleashed by President Trump’s Department of Justice last year wreaked havoc among mid-sized regional cannabis companies, undermining their attempts to expand. The probes cost companies millions in legal fees, bogged employees down for thousands of hours with mind-numbing paperwork, and scared off investors, a half-dozen industry insiders told VICE News.

A DOJ whistleblower denounced these probes in sworn testimony to Congress last week, saying they served little practical purpose except to target companies selling a product that Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr personally dislikes.

“As a whole, these investigations had an incredibly chilling effect on the industry,” said Joe Caltabiano, a co-founder and former president of Cresco Labs, whose acquisition of Origin House was among those scrutinized by DOJ. “They didn’t stop the cannabis industry. But they definitely slowed growth.”

READ: Trump says weed makes you dumb, leaked audio reveals

The probes froze billion-dollar deals in place for months. And while companies waited, the fast-moving industry shifted to the point where deals had to be renegotiated or abandoned, even after they received approval. At least three large acquisitions failed after receiving DOJ requests for vast amounts of extra information that required months to prepare and deliver.

“It was a pain in the ass,” one industry insider at a company that went through the review and asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, told VICE News.

There are other good reasons why the American legal weed industry remains regional and fractured. Cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, even though 33 states allow medical use and 11 allow recreational consumption. Any company hoping to expand from one state to another has to cut through a thicket of complex state laws and licensing procedures.

Aggressive probes

Still, the DOJ’s probes stunted the industry’s growth at a key moment in its early development, experts on the U.S. cannabis sector said.

“If not for these DOJ actions, would we have more major players in the industry than we have today? Absolutely,” said Zachary Kobrin, special counsel of government affairs and cannabis industry expert at the Florida-based law firm Akerman LLP. “This was the icing on the cake.”

At first, industry insiders thought the wave of extra scrutiny that began pouring over them in 2019 might actually be a good thing: They hoped it meant the government was taking their fledgling business seriously and trying to learn more about it.

After all, these weren’t criminal investigations. Antitrust probes are about making sure a company won’t be able to dominate the market and jack up prices by buying a competitor.

But DOJ officials weren’t even reading many of the millions of pages they demanded that companies painstakingly produce, a whistleblower named John Elias, who was chief of staff for the DOJ’s antitrust division from 2017 through 2018, told Congress last week.

The department threw enormous resources into clobbering the industry, Elias said, pretty much just because Barr doesn’t like pot.

Normally, these requests for tons of extra info are rare: Only about 3% of deals trigger one. But the DOJ launched at least 10 major probes in the cannabis sector starting in March 2019, according to Elias.

Cannabis accounted for five out of eight active merger probes in one office, he said, even though there was no real threat of a major weed player conquering the American market and boosting prices.

“They were not bona fide antitrust investigations,” Elias testified. “These mergers involve companies with low market shares in a fragmented industry; they do not meet established criteria for antitrust investigations.”

Deals crushed

Soon, the casualties began mounting.

A DOJ probe helped blow up a $680 million mega-deal planned by a firm vying to become the Apple of legal pot: MedMen.

The LA-based dispensary and delivery service announced a record-setting deal to buy cannabis vendor PharmaCann in October 2018, which would have let it expand into Virginia, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The tie-up would have created the country’s largest cannabis company by market reach, with 66 retail stores and 13 cultivation facilities across 12 states.

But in March 2019, the Department of Justice stepped in — and didn’t clear the acquisition until September. A month later, MedMen announced the agreement had fallen apart, saying “regulatory hurdles” had “significantly impacted” the plan.

A similar fate befell Arizona-based Harvest Health & Recreation, which announced a blockbuster $850 million accord to buy Chicago-based Verano Holdings in March 2019.

The deal was trumpeted with great fanfare as the most expensive transaction the industry had yet seen.

But a year later, it was dead. Harvest blamed the failure, in part, on the “significant delays” caused by the DOJ antitrust review.

The extra scrutiny sent ripples of anxiety radiating through the industry, well beyond the companies that were directly targeted by the DOJ, said John Kagia of New Frontier Data, which tracks sales and consumer trends in the cannabis industry.

“The DOJ interventions threw a huge dose of cold water on the companies that were even thinking about M&A activity,” Kagia said. “No one knew what the rules were going to be.”

If these probes hadn’t taken place, would we now have a big national legal weed player with outlets on every corner? Given all the other restrictions facing the industry, the answer is probably still no — or at least, not yet. But it’s hard to say how different the industry might look today if these expansion plans had sailed through.

“It had a chilling effect on the money in the cannabis industry,” said Caltabiano. Startups in other industries that have since grown to become household names might have wilted under that kind of scrutiny if it had been applied when they were small, growing fast, and needed the cash, he said.

“If this had happened to Amazon in its sixth year,” Catabiano said, “Amazon probably wouldn’t be here now.”

Cover: Cannabis for sale during a stop at a dispensary on a cannabis tour organized by L.A.-based Green Tours, January 24, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

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Blending conspiracy, kung-fu, stop-motion, and Jesus Christ makes for a damn fine cult movie

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The condemned: Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway (2019)


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How to Find an Incarcerated LGBTQ Pen Pal—and Why You Should

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Queers Built This is a project about queer inventiveness and DIY culture then, now, and tomorrow.

David Booth knows a letter can change a life. As someone who spent six months in prison at the age of 19, it would have changed Booth’s.

The 34-year-old, who uses xe/xem pronouns, was incarcerated in Virginia just three weeks after the death of xyr parents. Booth recalled totally shutting down during that time and becoming a “shell of a person.” While in prison, xe could barely eat or sleep and would just go through the motions of every day. Xe compared the experience to living like a zombie.

“I was in this space of grieving on my own while I was stuck inside,” Booth said. “I didn’t even know how to exist as a human because I was so torn up with grief.”

Booth’s traumatic experience was worsened by the fact that xe had few people on the outside to call or write to when things got too difficult to bear alone. Now, Booth is the deputy director for the Omaha, Nebraska-based prison abolitionist organization Black and Pink, and part of xyr job is to help alleviate that struggle for currently incarcerated LGBTQ people. Booth helps oversee the pen pal program, through which volunteers sign up to write letters and provide support to queer and trans people in prison.

Black and Pink estimates that hundreds of the organization’s incarcerated members are enrolled as pen pals. And they are always looking for more people who are interested in writing to them. Here’s how to get involved.

Why Does an LGBTQ Pen Pal Program Exist?

Booth said the pen pal program is critical for individuals who are incarcerated because it “reminds people of their inherent value” in a system that can be especially dehumanizing when you’re LGBTQ. According to the National Center for Trans Equality, trans women are more than twice as likely as the average person to have spent time behind bars, and 10 times more likely to have been sexually assaulted in jail or prison.

The risks of incarceration are even more extreme for transgender people of color. According to NCTE, an estimated 47 percent of Black trans women have been placed in a lockup facility at some point in their lives. Many are housed in men’s prisons where they face extreme levels of harassment and violence from other inmates, as well as guards at the facility. Ashley Diamond, who was incarcerated for three years on a nonviolent offense, filed a lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Corrections after she was raped on seven different occasions.

According to Black and Pink, forming pen pal relationships with individuals on the outside is a means of harm reduction because it signals to guards and other prisoners that there are people paying attention to an inmate’s welfare. Booth said it’s also common for pen pals to send a “good portion of their paycheck” to help people in prison afford items from commissary, which can include everything from health and hygiene products to cosmetics.

How Does Pen-Palling Relate to the Greater Goals of Prison Abolition?

The end goal of the pen pal program is focused on transformative justice, a model that advocates for looking past criminal punishment as a solution and examining the root causes of why an individual might have ended up incarcerated. Booth said that a transformative justice model seeks to ask: “What are the social institutions—like racism, homophobia, or transphobia—that allow that harm to happen in the first place? And what can we do to make sure that harm doesn’t happen again?”

“When you look at transformative justice, it’s about tearing down social institutions that take away people’s equitable chance of living,” xe said. “The system itself is inherently violent, and we don’t believe you can solve harm by perpetuating more harm.”

As an organization that ultimately advocates for the abolition of prisons, Black and Pink believes the connections forged in the pen pal program can help demolish the barriers that allow the prison-industrial complex to continue to exist. The idea is that when individuals on the outside begin seeing the people they correspond with as deserving of dignity, they will begin to understand that no individual should be imprisoned.

“It’s just about realizing that we’re all in it together,” Booth said. “That connection between people is what reminds us that we can be supportive, we can be affirming, and we don’t need the system to try and change that for us.”

But Booth knows that the pen pal program is also simply about being there for others. Nearly every single day, Black and Pink hears from people who say that receiving weekly or monthly letters has saved their lives by giving them the resources they need to survive under inhumane conditions.

The experience of prison was so traumatizing that the majority of Booth’s memories from between the ages of 19 and 26 “are totally gone,” xe said. “I barely have anything left from that time period.” For people who are facing that same situation, Booth hopes the pen pal program helps to send an important message: “We see you, we hear you, and we want to provide a little bit of light.”

OK, So How Do I Become a Pen Pal?

Signing up for the program is very simple. Those interested in becoming a pen pal should visit Black and Pink’s website and read the guidelines for participants in the program. While there are no specific requirements, Black and Pink asks individuals to assess whether they have the capacity to continue a correspondence, rather than just sending a single letter. They also suggest that individuals ask themselves whether they are prepared to hear about the abuses of the prison-industrial complex and whether they have support systems in their own lives to help unpack the stories they might hear. Another thing for potential pen pals to consider: whether they are comfortable sharing personal information, such as their home address, with a stranger.

“There is... extra stigma around sharing information with incarcerated people,” the organization states on its website. “In general, we encourage people to use their home address and to take time to question where these anxieties are coming from. … We encourage everyone to do what feels right and best for themselves while at the same time looking deeper at what is causing fear and work on that as we build our movement towards abolition.”

Individuals are then directed to choose an individual they’d like to correspond with from a spreadsheet of possible pen pals and fill out an application form.

What Do I Write in My First Letter?

Black and Pink advises pen pals to communicate up front about how often they are able to write, as incarcerated people often come to depend on the correspondences for emotional and psychological support. Because prison is not a gender-affirming environment, recipients might not be using their preferred names, so Pen pals should ask what name and pronoun the individual would prefer to use in their letters as well as whether they are comfortable with discussing their LGBTQ identity openly. Prison officials often read letters that inmates receive, meaning that details regarding their sexual orientation and gender identity may be sensitive for someone who isn’t out at their facility.

Many people in prison also sign up for the pen pal program seeking companionship or an intimate relationship. While Black and Pink does not discourage pen pals from writing letters that are sexual in nature, the organization stresses that it’s important to disclose what type of relationship a pen pal is seeking early on, whether that’s strictly platonic or romantic.

Booth also suggests for pen pals to “invite curiosity, not only for yourself but for those who are experiencing incarceration.”

“It’s traumatic and violent inside those walls,” xe said. “Lean into compassion and check your privilege. Understand that you have so much more freedoms and access than people inside do. Act with loving kindness with your pen pal and make sure you know why you are writing them. That helps both of you.”


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Fans Are Digitizing And Translating A Persona Trading Card Game From The Late '90s

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Dedicated fans are digitizing an entire Persona card game that was released back in the late ‘90s in Japan and was never released in the West. They’ve already scanned over a thousand cards and all the rule books.


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