Mitchyll Mora and Reina De Aztlan are two members of F2L working tirelessly to support prisoners – they fundraise to stack commissaries, visit people in prison, and organize ‘pack-the-courts’ among other efforts.
Fight Like Hell for the Living
While being held at Riker’s Island for defending herself on the subway, Merci Chrisette, a black trans woman, was told she had visitors. “I was like, who is visiting me right now?” Merci later recalled. The CO told her that one of them had green hair.
Her visitors were two people she’d never met before. Mitchyll and Reina not only made the trek out to Riker’s, they also obtained a lawyer and raised thousands of dollars almost overnight. When they came face-to-face the first thing Mitchyll said to Merci was “Do you want to get out today?”
Merci Chrisette is one of many queer and trans people of color facing criminalization in New York State. Others are Edwin Faulkner, a black queer man, and CiCi Martinez-Herrera, an undocumented trans Latina, who were sentenced 25 years to life in prison after being convicted for the murder of a sex work client who died during a kink session. Bayna-Lehkiem El-Amin, a 42-year-old gay black man, was sentenced to nine years in prison for defending himself against Jonathan Snipes, a 33-year-old white gay man who attacked El-Amin. These are all cases Mitchyll, Reina, and other members of the support network Freedom 2 Live (F2L) organize around.
F2L show up for people targeted by the state in a myriad of ways: rapid crowdfunding, emotionally supporting people as they navigate the system, visiting people who are incarcerated, writing letters and sending care packages, coordinating legal teams, and attending court dates. This work is exhausting and often comes with lots of bad news. We spoke with Mitchyll and Reina about how they stay focused in the face of crisis, what they always have to have in their bags, and how they keep themselves nourished despite their busy schedules.
Where do y’all hail from?
Reina: I’m from Northern California, which is where I grew up, in a little town called Union City. It’s between Oakland and San Jose. The only thing really significant on the Wikipedia page for the area I grew up in is that a Chicano activist shot a police officer at the main church.
Mitchyll: I was born in Ohio, and then left as a teen, and I was in a lot of places for a while. I moved to New York when I had just turned 19, and have been here since.
How did you two meet?
Mitchyll: We met online, and then in person at a conference about…
Reina: ...white gay activism.
Mitchyll: I think we had a threesome the first night we met?
Mitchyll: We met at Creating Change [Conference].
Reina: It’s embarrassing! We met last February at the conference, I started coming to New York to visit in June. After a lot of back and forth, me coming to New Yorker every month, flying Mitchyll out one month, I thought, if I’m spending so much time trying to see this person maybe I should just move to New York and be closer to them. Eventually I lost my job because I was missing so much work and then Mitchyll offered to let me come live with them indefinitely.
Recently, you got news that Cici and Edwin were both granted their appeals, but then in the same week, Bayna was sentenced to nine years in prison. How are you feeling about this news?
Reina: I think the fact that Cici and Edwin’s appeal was granted really speaks to the reality that neither of them should have been sentenced, they should not have to be in there at all. I think it’s really great. I’m looking forward to it. But the Bayna thing is just like – I don’t understand why he got so much time. It is a mess. It’s obviously racist.
Mitchyll: Last night I was up late doing research and found that 15 percent of people in federal prison are serving ten plus years sentences and then around five percent are serving 30-year sentences or more. And a large percent are serving five years or more. They shouldn’t be behind bars to begin with. I think this happens to trans and queer people of color a lot. It’s not at all what we were hoping for. We were hopeful that Bayna could get the minimum. At the same time,the judge was completely racist, and he knew that.