Alyssa Rodriguez Center for Gender Justice
The Alyssa Rodriguez Center for Gender Justice (ARC Gender Justice) strengthens movements for gender justice across prison walls, fights gender-based violence, and eliminates barriers to political participation for incarcerated survivors and other grassroots advocates.
Credit: Katie Crommett
Who was Alyssa Rodriguez?
Alyssa was a Puerto Rican trans woman from the Bronx. She was incarcerated at a few points in her life, including when she was young. While in juvenile detention, she fought for access to healthcare and freedom from gender-based discrimination and violence. Her work led to teens in NY juvenile jails getting access to puberty blockers and hormones. She also made it less common for teens to get punished for their femininity, masculinity, or gender nonconformity in the system. She continued her advocacy over the years through different organizations, including the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and Bronx Defenders. Many loved her. She passed away in 2020.
We recognize that incarcerated and marginalized advocates have done the most critical, ground-breaking gender justice work for decades with the least resources and support. We bring in more resources and support, so people can have even greater impact. Our work has three main parts:
Facilitating opportunities for gender justice advocates to learn from one another, build shared analysis, strategize, and collaborate to end gender-based violence;
Creating and distributing advocacy materials and other resources to support the gender justice work of jailhouse lawyer survivors and other advocates; and
Organizing to shift power through fighting for changes to court, administrative, and legislative procedure to make it easier for grassroots leaders, including incarcerated survivors, to participate politically.
We are by and for survivors and those vulnerable to gender-based violence who are who are underrepresented in mainstream feminist, LGBTQI+ and anti violence movements. That includes incarcerated, Black, Indigenous, people of color, disabled, neurodivergent, and chronically ill people who are also cis or trans women or femmes, nonbinary or Two Spirit people, trans or gender nonconforming men, or survivors of gender-based violence. Part of our goal is to build collaboration, solidarity, and understanding across differences. So our leadership works democratically as an inside-outside, multi-racial, cross-disability, intergenerational, and mixed-gender group. We work in Pennsylvania, Florida, New York, and Georgia.
Meet our Members
Pooja Gehi is a lawyer, activist and strategist who has worked for immigrant, prisoner and racial justice, trans and queer liberation, transformative justice, and cross-movement coalition building for decades. As the former Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), she centered and lifted up jailhouse lawyer members in the organization and ensured they had a seat on the national board. She also successfully brought a resolution in support of prison abolition, making the NLG the first and only explicitly abolitionist bar association in the US. Prior to that, she was the Director of Immigrant Justice at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), where she provided direct legal services to hundreds of low-income transgender and gender nonconforming clients, and achieved major victories like access to transition-related healthcare for New York State Medicaid recipients through litigation and coalition work. Pooja’s scholarly work focuses on social movements, the devolution of criminal and immigration systems, and the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class, and nationality.
Pooja serves on the Board of GRIOT Circle - a community based organization that provides services and a political home to BIpoc elders in New York City. She is a queer, south asian, cis woman with disabilities. Pooja is also a survivor of gender based violence. She has the best emotional support dog, named Henry, and has recently become an avid gardener.
Inside member (FL)
Rayne Vylette is a mixed race, Indigenous trans woman. She is an active supporter of other trans women in prison and a member of several advocacy organizations, including the Prisoner correspondence project, Black and Pink, and the transgender, gender nonconforming, intersex justice project (TGIJP). She is also in a creative writing group, the gavel club, an advanced public speaking class and a comedy class. She has authored several articles, including "Fl Trans Prison Policy," available on ARC's blog page.
Outside Member (PA)
Adrian Lowe has organized for the past 3 decades in movements for LGBTQ civil rights, economic justice, prison abolition and health justice. In 2007 he co-founded Hearts on a Wire, an inside/outside prison advocacy organization working to address the needs of transgender people in Pennsylvania’s prisons. He remains a committed member of the Hearts on a Wire collective. Adrian is also a senior staff attorney with the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania where he specializes in public benefits and HIV-related civil rights issues.
Inside Member (PA)
Niara Burton is a pretty woman of color and trans Muslimah who is assiduous at justice. As a jailhouse lawyer and paralegal, she has litigated and prevailed on the merits in over nine cases for others, and is working on her second case for herself. She joined ARC Gender Justice because marginalized communities are deprived of advocacy and a voice. As a victim of gender abuse herself, she wants to use her skills to help others access justice and feel whole! She dreams for a future where there is no more abuse, and people can live and let live. She sees equality as a human right.
Outside Member (NY)
Jaya Vasandani (she/they) is co-founder and co-director of the Women & Justice Project (WJP). WJP works in deep partnership to advance the leadership and build the power of women who are currently and formerly incarcerated to transform the criminal legal system and create a just and loving world. A community organizer for two decades, Jaya has contributed to a range of coalition efforts, including campaigns to end the practice of shackling pregnant people who are incarcerated and to establish alternative sentencing guidelines for survivors of abuse, in New York state. At WJP, Jaya co-leads organizational strategy, development, programs, and partnership work. From 2004-2015, Jaya worked at the Correctional Association of New York’s Women in Prison Project where she co-managed the Project, including leading coalition-building and grassroots organizing, policy advocacy, and prison monitoring. Jaya has worked at the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Center for Women Policy Studies. She is a first-generation immigrant and first-generation college graduate. Jaya holds a BSFS from Georgetown University and a J.D. from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
Kaylyn Alvarado, Inside Member (PA)
Kaylyn is a 38 year old mixed race (Irish and Puerto Rican), straight trans woman. She has hazel eyes, brown hair, and speaks English. One of Kaylyn's future goals is to change how the trans woman and the male prison population are viewed as different populations and make all prisoners viewed as unisex so DOCS can't use the male and female rhetoric against trans people in order to keep us segregated on things we can have and not have every time we strive for something making us road blocked by this divisiveness. Her goal is to work with ARC is to help and try to bring changes in prisons. She enjoys reading, learning, working, and being outdoors. Kaylyn has a positive attitude and outlook on life and dislikes negative people with negative attitudes. She joined ARC gender justice because she has passion for wanting to help people who are doing advocacy work and the story on how this organization formed impacted her deeply. She wants to help bring change and equality for the transgender community. Kaylyn believes that although she is only one person joining she is one of many joining to help fight the injustice that the transgender community in prison has to endure.
Gabriel Arkles is an experienced lawyer and writer who works toward trans liberation, prison abolition, and disability justice. He has experience with direct services, collective building, and community organizing support (Sylvia Rivera Law Project), teaching and researching (NYU and Northeastern law schools), and impact litigation and public education (ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project, Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund). Gabriel’s writing has appeared in publications such as the NYU Law Review, Northeastern Law Journal, Southwestern Law Review, Scholar and Feminist Online, and TruthOut.
Outside of ARC Gender Justice, Gabriel is currently Senior Counsel at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. He also serves on the steering committee for Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD) and the board of HEARD (a cross-disability, abolitionist organization). Gabriel is a white, trans, queer, Muslim, neurodivergent, U.S. citizen man and a survivor of gender-based violence. He lives with his partner and cats on Lenape land in Brooklyn. In his free time, he loves reading sci fi and fantasy, studying Islamic feminist theology, and cooking.
Inside Member (PA)
Nadirah Ali is a 53-year-old, beautiful inside and out, caring, and understanding black female of the Islamic faith. She hopes to help others to have courage to believe in themselves and to stand up for themselves and to stand up for what they believe in. She would like to help reform this injustice system. She has lived through a lot–some good, some bad, but she always tries to look at the glass as half full and not half empty. One of her biggest dreams is to go home.
Inside Member (PA)
Aryella Miclee Graham aka Ary does not like labels because she feels that they divide us more than they unite us, she likes to say that she is just her. She is a proud parent to a beautiful child, a paralegal, and an LGBT+ and gender justice activist, she strongly believes in and incorporates Malcolm X's form of activism BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. She enjoys studying and practising law, targeting inequality, discrimination, oppression and the likes through lawsuits and activism activities, listening to music cooking, tattooing, being adventurous, being outdoors, trying new things, being stimulated intellectually and emotionally, and geeking out to animation movies and shows and humorous stuff. Her goals and dreams include owning some businesses, flipping houses, finding her soulmate, getting married and living on a self sufficient environment friendly farm complete with baby goats, chickens, cows, horses, crops, a pond or creek, staff to maintain the property, and a wide range of off road vehicles to wet her appetite for mudding, rock climbing and trails. She encourages anyone to reach out to her for any reason because as she says you can never have too many loyal, honest, and helpful friends. As she always says "STAY UP".
Miley Selena Fletcher,
Inside Member (PA)
Miley Selena Fletcher has 30 years in as of 2022, and her earliest release date comes in 2024. She has done a lot of legal cases for the last 27 to 28 years, including criminal, tort, habeas, post-conviction relief act, ⸹ 1983, and ⸹ 1986 cases and cert petitions for the US Supreme Court. She is also an artist. She is a calm person who thinks before she does and researches before she speaks. She’s not the kind of woman who gets a big head–she listens and learns. She believes that as a team we have no time to belittle anyone; we need to put our heads together to bring forth success. She believes in enforcing the legal system to give transgender rights to our transgender communities, juveniles and adults, and wants to help communities in need either incarcerated or on the outside.
Inside Member (NY)
Madelyn Tamarez is a Latinx woman and a mother of two beautiful girls. She is a being who had her glimpse of enlightenment and considers herself a lifelong learner. She is down to earth, selfless, with a satirical sense of humor. She has been told she has an old soul--many people confide in her, and she can usually relate. She is proud of coming to a point in her life where she can own her story. She decided to get involved in ARC Gender Justice because why wouldn't she want to help her people? She hopes one day everyone will get that second chance they justly deserve. She loves hot sauce, dogs, and funny cards, and her sign is Scorpio.
Andria Banks, Inside Member (FL)
Andria Banks is a Beautiful Black Queen who joins us from FL. She dreams of opening her own beauty bar one day. Andria is excited about ARC because "organizations like this are so powerful and needed in communities with such little voices." Andria is scheduled to be released in August, 2024 and plans to start a resource center for trans people re-entering the “free” world.