Chelsea Manning, whose prison sentence will conclude this May after President Obama commuted her sentence in one of his final monumental acts in office, has published a heartfelt, hopeful open letter in The Guardian, crediting her fellow prisoners for helping her through her time served. It’s a testament to how brave she’s been throughout her ordeal—which for six years has been largely inhumane, much of it spent in solitary confinement—and a direct counter to any pervasive outside perception that imprisoned people lose their humanity just because they’re imprisoned.
In her piece, Manning describes the intimacy that she apparently had with unnamed persons, and that they “kept me alive” (Manning was put on suicide watch at least twice during her incarceration). She writes:
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.
We argued, we bickered and we fought with each other. Sometimes, over absolutely nothing. But, we were always a family. We were always united.
When the prison tried to break one of us, we all stood up. We looked out for each other. When they tried to divide us, and systematically discriminated against us, we embraced our diversity and pushed back. But, I also learned from all of you when to pick my battles. I grew up and grew connected because of the community you provided.
It’s one of the clearest looks we’ve gotten at Manning’s life inside the prison at Fort Leavenworth, and despite the unsettling picture we’ve gotten so far, it depicts a deep emotional tenderness. “Not only did you teach me these important lessons, but you made sure I felt cared for. You were the people who helped me to deal with the trauma of my regular haircuts,” she writes. “You were the people who checked on me after I tried to end my life. You were the people that played fun games with me. Who wished me a Happy Birthday. We shared the holidays together. You were and will always be family.”
Manning will be released on May 17, 2017. Read the entire letter here.