Last month it was announced that Barack Obama made the decision to commute Cheslea Manning’s prison sentence of 35 years for leaking state secrets. The dramatic turn of events was celebrated by activists around the world, as it was widely believed that President Trump would make it impossible for her to be released.
A former U.S soldier, Manning has served six years, making her the longest serving whistleblower in US history. Much of her time has been spent in inhumane conditions and solitary confinement, and she has attempted to take her own life numerous times. This has been made worse by the fact that Manning is a transgender woman in the process of transitioning and has been jailed in a men’s military prison.
Ahead of her release in May, Manning has penned a letter to her fellow inmates who helped her survive behind bars. Published in The Guardian, the letter reads:
“When I was afraid, you taught me how to keep going. When I was lost, you showed me the way. When I was numb, you taught me how to feel. When I was angry, you taught me how to chill out. When I was hateful, you taught me how to be compassionate. When I was distant, you taught me how to be close. When I was selfish, you taught me how to share.”
“Sometimes, it took me a while to learn many things. Other times, I would forget, and you would remind me,” she continued. “We were friends in a way few will ever understand. There was no room to be superficial. Instead, we bared it all. We could hide from our families and from the world outside, but we could never hide from each other.”
Manning described the bond that she had formed with people who helped her survive a system that “discriminated against” them. In an environment where her head was routinely shaved despite her wishes, she thanked her inmates for teaching her how to “speak in her own voice”.
Ending her letter, Manning concludes: “From where I am now, I still think of all of you. When I leave this place in May, I will still think of all of you. And to anyone who finds themselves feeling alone behind bars, know that there is a network of us who are thinking of you. You will never be forgotten.”
Photograph: Francis Mariani via Flickr