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Elma Lewis Center, VPR Host Holiday Card-Writing Party for Incarcerated Sex Workers

Sending cards to family and friends, letting them know they’re remembered, is one of many holiday activities people indulge in. With this in mind, the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning, and Research and the Office of Violence Prevention and Response at Emerson College hosted a card-writing party to send holiday messages to incarcerated sex workers on Friday, December 15.

This event, held on the tenth floor of the Walker Building, was in support of the Behind Bars chapter of Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) – USA, a national organization dedicated to advocating for the fundamental human rights of people involved in sex work and their communities.

Zoë Gadegbeku, MFA 17’, who also works as a communications manager with the Elma Lewis Center, said beyond being a nice gesture for the holidays, the cards serve another important purpose.

“These cards are also a harm reduction technique, [because] when you’re getting mail from the outside, it looks to the prison guards and officers that someone is looking out for you and somebody cares about you,” said Gadegbeku, who said she is inspired by the work of organizer and prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba.

After learning about SWOP Behind Bars, Gadegbeku contacted them and the organization gave her a list of people who would love to hear from the Emerson community.

Students joined the letter writing party on Walker 10 optimistic that the recipients will feel the love that is being sent their way and that these letters would give them hope.

“If I [were] in their position and I was receiving these cards, I would definitely feel that people out in the world care for me, acknowledge me and understand my struggle,” said Amanda Carvalho de Silva ‘20, a Communication Disorders student.

Echoing the thoughts of Carvalho de Silva, Violence Prevention and Response Director Melanie Matson said that she hopes people take the time for personal reflection while creating these cards. 

“I hope [they think about] ‘How I’m connected to this,’” Matson said. “Is it with the beliefs or values that I might hold related to incarceration, related to objectification of people, related to even capitalism and consumerism?”

Last year, the Elma Lewis Center undertook a similar letter-writing initiative for the Boston Chapter of Black and Pink, an organization that works for members of the LGBTQ community who are incarcerated.

Ashley Tarbet DeStefano, assistant director for community engagement for the Elma Lewis Center, said that this project and other community engagement projects at the Center aim to raise awareness and to connect Emersonians with work being done in the field civic engagement and social justice.

“At ELC we want to connect folks at Emerson with these issues, these movements, these organizations, and these initiatives in the world around us,” Tarbet DeStefano said. “We can’t be artists or we can’t be communicators, we can’t be human beings in the world, without being aware of how our institutions and our systems impact other members of our community.”



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