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Why I Dedicated Myself to Passing a Bill in Tennessee – and How I Did it.

My name is Tray Johns and I fight for incarcerated women because I am a formerly incarcerated person myself. While I was incarcerated, I was treated as less than human and as a second class citizen. I served 8 years, 7 months and 19 days in federal prison for possession of less than $500 worth of drugs. While incarcerated, I became a skilled “Jailhouse Lawyer” and, since being released, a prominent and fearless social justice activist.

This year, my Dignity Co-Ambassador Clemmie Greenlee and I traveled across Tennessee working with formerly and currently incarcerated women to advocate for access to feminine hygiene products inside women’s correctional facilities in our state.

The time I spent behind bars was one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever faced. From the lack of dental care, to women being shackled during their pregnancy, to the lack of access to feminine hygiene products, what I experienced in prison led me to fight for the Dignity Act in Tennessee today. This legislation provides incarcerated women with necessary healthcare resources like pads, tampons and lye-free soap at no cost — essentials that many of us on the outside take for granted.

Incarcerated people already suffer regularly from the consequences of the decisions we’ve made; our criminal justice system needs not further our punishment by stripping us of our dignity and forcing us to live in inhumane and dangerous conditions.

When I was sentenced to federal prison, I knew my life would change but I wasn’t fully aware of how drastic the adjustment would be.

I was humiliated in front of correctional officers, stripped of my dignity and forced to succumb to punitive laws that made me feel inferior to others. Although I’ve been out of prison for years, I’m still suffering from the time I spent inside, which is why I’m fighting alongside my sisters for Dignity for Incarcerated Women.

Together with my Dignity Co-Ambassador Clemmie Greenlee and my wife Nina, I led the charge for women in Tennessee prisons to have their rights restored. Even yet, these circumstances still leave me disappointed, frustrated, and eager to keep fighting. I’m proud that the Dignity Act will supply women with healthcare products like toothpaste, lye-free soap, and feminine hygiene products. Now, I’m optimistic that our future bills will provide women with even more resources and healthcare.

When I met with lawmakers Senator Katrina Robinson and Rep. Harold Love, I saw hope for the future of my sisters serving time. I knew that getting the Dignity Act passed wasn’t going to be an easy feat, but I viewed this as just another challenge that I’d face head-on. This bill being signed into law by Governor Bill Lee gives me confidence that the future will be filled with resources and accessibility for incarcerated women.

The burden of paying for costly healthcare products weighs heavily on women behind bars and I’m proud to have lent my voice and efforts to ease some of the struggles my sisters face.

Governor Bill Lee publicly showing his support for incarcerated women is a sign that our efforts have been worth it and that these women will see their needs being addressed. I hope you will join me in celebrating this victory for my sisters behind bars and continuing to advocate for even more positive change.

Representative Harold Love, TN Dignity Co-Ambassador Clemmie Greenlee, Senator Katrina Robinson, and myself all alongside Tennessee Governor Bill Lee as he signed the Dignity Act into law.