It is pretty damn hard to get around in L.A. without a car.
I know that this is common knowledge for most people, but after spending 8 months getting myself all around the U.S. with nothing but a backpack and a beckoning thumb, I was pretty casually dismissive of the whole L.A. public transit issue. That was a mistake. Because as it turns out, Orange County is pretty damn far from my friend’s house in West Los Angeles.
But one of the upsides of being a weirdo activist punk in Oakland is that the other weirdo activist punks tend to sense when you need help and show up (at least, in my own experience). The night before I left, a friend of Sweetheart’s who I had talked to for all of thirty minutes lent me her car, which turned out to be completely necessary for getting around at all in this mess of a city.
So it was that I showed up at a towering hotel and walked through the doors into a faux-jungle paradise, complete with growling robot lion and tropical bird sounds. It looked just like it looked fifteen years ago when I ran down the hallways screaming with delight about a dreamy trip to Disneyland. Only this time, I was here for something much more exciting.
Over the past year I have been writing to a friend, Ricky Zepeda, who has been in and out of solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison since 2001, the most recent stint for 5 years. He would send me letters describing what it had been like to be repeatedly hospitalized during the hunger strike, to be tortured by guards waking him up every half hour and turning the temperature in his cell down as cold as it would go. I would read the letters sitting in solace on a tiny boat afloat on the bay and cry. Or, maybe more often, I would laugh at his jokes, smile at his honesty and passion, and recommit myself to fighting the prison system and getting him free.
Then, suddenly, his time was up and Ricky was released back into the world, free.
And I sat nervously in the lobby of this fancy ass hotel in Orange County, anxious to meet this friend about whom I simultaneously know so much and so little. And he walked in, smiling, arms spread wide. Our hug was one of pure love and celebration. We talked for hours, him bursting with appreciation for everything about the world I take for granted, or even despise (including L.A. traffic) but also working through the reality of being labelled a “felon” in a world that denies housing, job opportunities, and respect to anyone coming out of prison. He tells me every time he has come out of prison, he has committed himself to not going back, but every time he has had to fall back on illegal hustles just to survive. But he’s sure that isn’t going to happen this time. He can’t go back there.
I tell him that sometimes my life is so comfortable I feel detached from the struggle, feel too relaxed and at ease, can’t bring myself to face the urgency of fighting for justice. He looks at me, puzzled. “I never feel that way.” A lot has changed for me since my childhood trip to Disneyland, but sometimes I’m still caught up in that fantasy, the lie that my life is somehow safe and stable. It is, but only for now. The world we white/class privileged built for ourselves won’t stand for long, and I remind myself every day that this fight is for me, too, to save myself from the illusion of stability.
The only stability we really have is our trust and our reliance on the communities we are building. This stability comes from someone trusting me enough to lend me their car just because they know I’m fighting on their team. And hopefully the stability Ricky can build through the people he is connected to outside the prison walls, including me.
Let’s build it together. Help support Ricky Zepeda in a difficult re-entry into the world outside prison, with your dollars and/or with your broader networks by sharing this link on facebook, twitter, and through personal emails and phone calls and most importantly face to face conversations.