Written by: Dominique Morgan, Program Director, Fund for Trans Generations
On February 16th, 2009, #56892 was released from incarceration. On February 16th, 2024, I’ll celebrate fifteen years free from incarceration.
Fifteen years is five years longer than I was incarcerated, ten times the length I spent in solitary confinement, and thirty times the length of time I lived on Death Row in an overcrowded supermax prison in rural Nebraska.
It’s also been four years since the day I opened Lydon House—a community housing initiative in Omaha, Nebraska, for system-impacted people. (February 16 has since been proclaimed as Lydon House Day by Mayor Jean Stothert in the city of Omaha.)
I share all of that to say – time does heal all wounds.
Time, therapy, leading Black and Pink National, and creating a career that allowed me to become the second Black Trans Woman in the U.S. to lead a philanthropic fund definitely helped. But I’m still one year away from being eligible for a pardon. I’ve been named a Ten Outstanding Young American, but I must still disclose my background in order to rent an apartment.
Mass incarceration is a useless yet beloved system in our country. And like most systems, the most marginalized are the most impacted. For transgender individuals, the experience of incarceration is life-changing and -shattering. And for me, it made me a survivor.
One of the most well-known stories from my home state, Nebraska, is the story of Brandon Teena. Brandon was a young Trans Man who lived in Humboldt, Nebraska. You may have seen the movie based on his story – ‘Boys Don’t Cry,’ which garnered Hilary Swank an Academy Award.
Well, there were two young men in the town who saw Brandon’s existence as such an immense threat that they ended his life and the lives of three others.
Years later, during my time living on Death Row, I befriended my neighbor John – he made sure I was awake for breakfast and even gave me paper to write my songs on. I’ll never forget John maintaining my window so that I could feel the sun in my tiny cell.
One day, an officer came to my door and warned me to “watch out for John.” She explained to me that John was John Lotter – one of the two young men who ended the life of Brandon and his friends years ago.
I didn’t know then that the universe was introducing me to values that would one day prepare me to lead the largest abolitionist organization in the county.
“No one should be known by their worst decision.”— Dominique Morgan
The young man who took the life of my trans sibling 20 years prior was not the same man as my American Idol watch buddy, and I didn’t treat him as such. Years later, I even received a thank you note from John.
I have countless stories and moments like that from my incarceration. I’m thankful that I made it to the outside, but I can’t AND won’t forget my people on the inside. I carry them everywhere I go.
As the Director of Borealis’ Fund for Trans Generations (FTG), I am grateful to utilize all of me – including my lived experience of incarceration – to invest in solutions that actualize care, support, and liberation for Trans people in the United States. The Fund for Trans Generations is a unique nexus of all of the issues that we work to address at Borealis Philanthropy. From policing to disability justice, liberation lives in the fabric of FTG.
Today, on the Trans Prisoner Day of Action and Solidarity, I think of young Dominique: eighteen years old and unable to imagine a life on the other side of my prison sentence, who wouldn’t have dared to think that nearly 20 years later, the same state that took her freedom would rename a street in her honor.
Now, I’m working every day, along with Lupe Mahida, FTG Program Officer, to ensure that in 10 years, opportunities will be so immense for Trans folx that our success will no longer warrant a press release. Our newest initiative, The Flower Crown Project, is one of many steps in that direction. A historic investment in the capacity building and leadership of 10 Black Trans Femmes over two years, the Flower Crown Project is where our declaration of commitment meets action. Over $600,000 in rapid response grants, over $2 Million in general operating grants, and countless movement investments are examples of the Fund for Trans Generations’ values in action last year.
And in 2024 – it’s all gas, no brakes for the FTG. You can expect more from us, and prepare to lean into our work in ways you haven’t before. Because much like I needed a village to go from #56892 to the 2nd in philanthropy, we will need a village to take The Fund for Trans Generations to our $10 million dollar goal as we approach our 10-year anniversary in 2026.