‘It’s a lifeline’: The colourful letters and postcards uplifting climate protesters in prison

‘It’s a lifeline’: The colourful letters and postcards uplifting climate protesters in prison

During the 77 days she was in prison, Michelle Charlesworth received and wrote so many letters that the other prisoners joked that she needed a secretary.

The 56-year-old climate protester has been jailed twice this year – both times for standing outside an oil terminal near Birmingham, England, with a placard.

The grandmother is under 152 Just stop oil Supporters remanded in custody or serving sentences for peaceful protests in 2022.

Currently 24 remain behind bars and the public shows their appreciation through a flood of letters, postcards and e-mails.

Letters make climate prisoners feel “appreciated”.

“This is a lifeline of outreach for me,” says Marcus, one of the climbers who caught the nation’s attention when they scaled the QEII (Dartford Crossing) bridge in October and closed a freeway for two days. The pair have been remanded in custody pending a trial next year.

From inside Marcus writes: “It feels really valued and knowing that I can still inspire from here. And similar to one level, when you get a notification, endorphins are released when we receive emails or letters; someone writes again, that’s something exciting that always makes my day when I get messages.”

At 15 protesters are expected to spend Christmas Day in prison, an increase from last year. Robin, director of the activist group Fossil Free London, is one of Marcus’ correspondents.

“We write to people in prison because we are a solidarity movement and we support each other,” she says. “There’s a particularly compelling reason for support there, because they’re locked in a situation that they’ve never been in before and probably never anticipated, because they took enough risk to keep everyone safe.”

How does it feel to be incarcerated for climate action?

In his broadcasts to Robin, Marcus describes how he seeks out nature in captivity.

“The yard we run in has a real grassy area that everyone runs around. I’m the only one running… I’ve picked up trash there many times and recently got a ‘positive’ for it,” he writes to Robin.

“I managed to create plants in my cell by sprouting sunflower seeds, yummy!” he adds. The other highlights are in paper form; pictures of Animals cut out of newspapers and sent out “beautiful cards”.

The letter system differs from prison to prison. But it’s more like postcards are given freer passage, while letters are opened and passed around as black-and-white photocopies. Some prisoners have to queue to access their e-mails on an intranet system, so prefer to print out and mail longer messages, poems and articles. Moonpig or other personalized greeting cards ordered online are welcome.

Letters are even coming from the UN

Michelle was released from prison for a second time on November 29 after spending 44 days between Foston Hall and Drake Hall in the East and West Midlands. “People said they had never seen so much mail for one prisoner. So I felt really blessed,” she tells Euronews Green.

Among the pile was a map from the Representative on the Human Effects of Climate Change at the United Nations Quaker Office in Geneva. They explained that adherents of the religion hold “meetings for suffering,” founded centuries ago when many Quakers were imprisoned for “telling the truth to those in power.”

“‘Blessings to you all, courage,’ she wrote, ‘Patience and love we all hold you in the light.’ News like this would brighten your day,” says Michelle, who co-founded a climate change charity in Oxfordshire.

How do climate protesters interact with other prisoners?

Her bulletin board grew three cards high, strikingly colorful in an otherwise gray cell. It was filled with “blue skies and beautiful views and animals and birds and bees and insects and anything you can think of,” says Michelle, who invited other prisoners to enjoy the exhibit.

“When I knew I might go to jail for not being a spectator, I had to prepare,” she explains. “I decided that I would try to be that shining light and keep spreading the message.”

Michelle spoke to susceptible prisoners and officers alike. She was surprised to find the latter didn’t know why she was in there, and often shocked to find out why.

“Some people were really interested, some weren’t,” she says. “And I understand why they weren’t; That’s because their lives are so complex that they’re just trying to survive in this toxic system we all live in. So no judgement. And I would know not to continue this conversation. But for those who were interested, especially the officials, I would give them homework.”

Mair (Mya) Bain, 35, is being held prison after being arrested halfway up a portal on the M25 last month holding a Just Stop Oil banner.

“I made friends with other women and trans men in prison,” she wrote in a letter copied from a friend. “I am the only climate protester on the women’s side of Peterborough Prison. Most others prisoners are curious or support our protests, although some of them are disturbed by the delays in M25 traffic. They are shocked that I am in prison and am not being released. We all agree and we know how unjust the government and the judiciary are.”

Are UK climate protesters treated fairly?

This year in England and Wales there has been a significant increase in the number of people in pre-trial detention – held on remand while awaiting trial. According to a Justice Department census, the number of pre-trial detention centers reached 14,507 at the end of September, the highest number in 50 years.

arrested climate activists by Just Stop Oil, Isolate Britain and Extinction Rebellion are among them. “I am a political prisoner, as are we all still in custody,” writes retired teacher Catherine Rennie-Nash of Bronzefield Prison.

“I think it’s a massive injustice for people to be held in custody – being locked up without the ability to defend themselves while not posing a threat to those around them in society,” says Robin.

While the justice system is struggling to bring people to justice, the UK government is looking to criminalize more aspects of protests with its Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC). invoice April passed.

“I think it’s a really worrying state of affairs that we now see people in prison who have not committed any violent crimes and who have not threatened anyone with violence,” adds Robin. “They were just trying to draw attention to the climate crisis. This is deeply concerning and welcomes Britain into a club of nations with whom we might not wish to be associated in relation to their justice system.”

Why are Just Stop Oil protesters in jail?

Michelle was sent to jail in September after it was found that she (along with five other defendants) was contempt of court for breaching a court-requested restraining order sleeve-operated oil terminal against protesters.

When you ask Michelle why she took the action she knew could land her in jail, her thoughts quickly turn to her three-year-old grandson, Oscar.

“I know it’s not just about Oscar, it’s about humanity, but Oscar is to me the closest manifestation of someone whose future is so uncertain,” she says. “And I honestly wouldn’t be able to hold him and love him authentically if I didn’t do what I do.”

Two weeks out of prison – where she was greeted by a welcome party with around 20 supporters – Michelle is focused on reconnecting with her family. Her conviction on the cause remains unshakable, despite the breakup and the “rollercoaster” days in prison where she feels too down to answer people.

“I know I’m on the right side of history. I know with every fiber of my being that we should all be in the civil resistance now,” she says.

“It really gives me so much joy, to feel that freedom, to be able to stand up and say I don’t condone it, I’ve never felt so free as I do now.”

The Facebook group Rebels in Prison Support has advice for writing to protesters in prison and is sharing their news. Climate activists are also supported in many other ways. A fundraiser for second QEII bridge climber Morgan has surpassed his £5,000 target for repair work after he claims police raided his home.

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