Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

A short interview with Terrain Dandridge of the New Jersey 4, just after her release from prison

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | July 01, 2008 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Media, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Angela Davis, black lesbians, New Jersey 4, nj4, prison, queer youth, rikers

(I had the chance to sit down briefly with Terrain Dandridge of the New Jersey 4 just two days after her surprising release from prison, after 673 days in prison for fighting back against a homophobic attacker.)

Mattilda: First of all, congratulations on getting out of prison!

Terrain: Thank you.

Mattilda: And I know you were just released two days ago.

Terrain: Yes.

Mattilda: After two years behind bars, and then you flew cross-country to San Francisco, where you've never been before, and appeared at an event with your mother and the legendary Angela Davis.

Terrain: Yes.

Mattilda: So how are you feeling about all of that?

Terrain: Great! Great, and you know, once my mother told me that I was being released and I knew prior to that decision that she was coming out to California and I was excited for her. But she really was shaky about coming because I was there [in prison] and she didn't really want to leave the state. But I told her, "you're a great mommy and you know, you need a break, so enjoy yourself." But she told me, "you're being released so now I can't go to California." And I'm saying, "you know, why don't we both go? That would be a great experience for me." Which it is. It really has been so far.

Mattilda: And how was the event last night with Angela Davis?

Terrain: Oh it was great. It was great, it was very beautiful. It was definitely a pleasure. Just all the support and all the love you could feel as soon as I walked in there. And Angela Davis speaking, it was very emotional. Very emotional.

Mattilda: And tell me about your continued struggle to free your three friends who are still behind bars for trying to defend themselves against a homophobic attack.

Terrain: [I will do] whatever is possible, given that I was lucky enough to leave the situation without a record, without anything behind me. Renata [Hill] just went down to Rikers and we are getting ready for her trial, her re-trial. So I'll be there -- as soon as I get back I'm going to see her, and I'll be back there every day for trial. Whatever it is that I can do here or in the city, because there isn't much, they don't do much in Jersey as far as for queers. So whatever anyone needs of my assistance, I'm there. All day.

Mattilda: And, since you've just come from inside, I'm wondering about your thoughts about the conditions inside and about the larger movement against prisons in general.

Terrain: One thing that I do know, once everyone got a chance to meet me and socialize with me [in prison], the first thing people would say to me off the bat was, "you don't belong here." And I've come across plenty of people in the prison system that are innocent or don't belong there as well, but they don't care. They'll hold you until you are blue in the face. So, it's really a messed up situation and I wish that some justice would come out of all of these situations.

Mattilda: And with all the violence impacted upon people who are inside prison, do you think that anyone belongs there?

Terrain: No. Not at all. Not at all. I mean, even in there, it's funny because, it's not so much violence between inmates, but I've been present in situations where the officers and sergeants and captains are beating up an inmate. And that's ridiculous. I've come across someone who went to lock because they had a ticket or something and somebody came in there and raped them. It's crazy. The cops are more criminals to me than who they are calling "criminals."

For more information on the campaign to free the New Jersey 4, go to or contact [email protected]

Most recently, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is the editor of an expanded second edition of That's Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation. Her home blog is

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I remember the event that got them sent wrongly to jail. I was so happy that someone fought back against a bashing coming so soon upon the severe beating of a T-performer

It seems, though, that the DA and the Judge wanted to scare the community back into cowed submission..

Very good interview, Mattilda. I'm glad to see she's out of prison. The other inmates were right - she didn't belong there.

Maura, indeed you're right! And the media as well...

And thanks, Bil -- and Terrain is right as well, no one belongs there!