Advocate Highlight: Casper Cendre

Casper grew up in San Diego, California, an area he describes as, “terrible,” as he adjusts his mint green colored hair.  He elaborates on his roots in the college town, “there’s not a lot of room for differing opinions.”  Three years ago, Casper fell in love with Oakland and moved to the bay on a whim after he was offered a job doing bookkeeping for a local business. A self-described “goth anarchist”, Casper is months into an innovative project called No Walls Collective. No Walls Collective sells works created by incarcerated artists with 100 percent of the proceeds going back to the artists struggling to survive in prison. What is unique about No Walls Collective is that all of the artists the organization highlights identify as queer and trans. Casper explains that queer is an umbrella term for marginalized sexualities and gender identities used by those who don’t identify as straight or the gender they were born as. 

Casper has built up his population of queer and trans artists through his participation in Black and Pink, an organization made up of a “family” of LGBTQ Prisoners and “Free world” allies. Black and Pink resists all forms of oppression, meets people where they are at with acceptance, and is overwhelmingly inclusive to LGBTQ and/or HIV positive people. Black and Pink works to support prisoners through a pen-pal program that helps build relationships through prison walls. Furthermore, the organization hopes to abolish the prison industrial complex. Black and Pink is supported by volunteers and a small staff of four formerly incarcerated queer people. According to Casper, Black and Pink currently supports approximately 20,000 members in prisons throughout the United States. As an active supporter of Black and Pink, Casper has been writing letters to prisoners for years. He currently corresponds with at least 10 prisoners who are incarcerated for varying levels of crimes, from drug possession to conspiracy charges to murder. Casper receives stacks of letters every week, when asked about the emotional toll of such an endeavor, he replies, “it’s a hard balance, it’s definitely difficult, it’s great because you make connections with people on a level that I’ve never found if you just approach someone on the street.” With the letter writing, Casper has experienced, “instant connections,” with people and commends the level of trust and vulnerability displayed between Black and Pink pen pals and prisoners. He states that the relationships he is nurturing through Black and Pink, No Walls Collective, and ABO Comix, is significant because they are building community in the already small queer prison population. He explains, “I feel like we’re sort of the only ones that have reached out to them. A lot of people have lost all family connection, all friends connection, all connection to the outside world and feel completely alone and targeted in prison, so when someone reaches out and says, ‘I’m here for you, I care for you and I’m gonna do my best for you,’ maybe it’s the first time that they’ve heard that in a while.”  Although there are amazing connections, Casper still exercises caution for his personal safety as a queer person in his letters, because, “It’s still a stranger.”

Casper’s compassion for prisoners and ties to the prison system run deep. When he was very young, Casper visited his uncle in prison, an experience he describes as, “jarring.” He has vivid memories of the trek, specifically the prison being in “the middle of nowhere,” and the large distance between the parking lot and the prison. When he finally got inside, Casper and his family went through extensive security under harsh lighting in an environment, “built to make you feel very caged.” When he finally saw his uncle, it was from behind a glass window. He recalled, “Seeing the way the prison system impacts a person, it’s emotionally devastating, it’s very scary, it looked like he had aged like 20 years overnight.” 

No Walls Collective was inspired by the desire to support prisoners and make up for the funds they lack. Casper stated that prisoners are required to pay for their meals, supplies from commissary, and for their health care. The price of life in prison combined with the lack of paid work opportunities within prison makes access to items for daily living, according to Casper, “completely impossible.” No Walls Collective is managed by Casper and his teammates: Quiver, Rosella, and Courtney. The etsy store for No Walls Collective launched in October 2017 and has already had four sales.

ABO Comix was formed by Casper and his friends Io and Woof when the three activists decided to create an abolitionist comic. Casper is a true abolitionist fighting to end prisons which he describes as, “new age slavery.” He hopes to one day turn ABO Comix into a publication that can feature the work of incarcerated artists to facilitate story-telling, healing, and expose the emotional damage being done by prisons. Casper believes, “Community can only be built by reaching out and continuing that care with folks and we will never be able to change the world or change the system if we don’t build those relationships with people.” 

When asked about the trajectory of his pen-pals in prison, Casper’s face lights up and states that one of his pen-pals is being released next month. He is excited that they will be, “home for the holidays,” and wants to coordinate a meeting as the prisoner has expressed interest in helping run No Walls Collective. An inmate set to be released next year has also set his sights on moving to the Bay Area where he can be a part of ABO Publishing and help, “turn it into a real organization instead of three little punk anarchist kids who don’t know what they’re doing,” he says with a laugh.  With regards to any misconceptions about anarchists, Casper stated, “I think anarchism for the most part stems from uplifting one another in our community . . . compassion for one another, and protection of those who are most vulnerable in our society,” he added that anarchists work towards, “uplifting oppressed people and tearing down systems of oppression.”

Smalltown Society will feature No Walls Collective at the space where art will be available for purchase.

No Walls Collective can be found on facebook and art is available for purchase on etsy.