by Urszula Wislanka
In June, Prison Resource Activist Center (PARC) and California Coalition for Women Prisoners co-sponsored a showing of Carol Jacobsen’s 1994 movie From One Prison. It is an interview with four women, now in prison as a result of attempts to stop being battered.
The women are Juanita Thomas, Violet Alan, Garaldean Gordon and Linda Hamilton. All four told strikingly similar stories. They said that when the abuse starts, you feel you have to help him. After years and years of it, you can’t take it any more, you have to stop him. They said, “Something snapped inside of me.” But there was nowhere to go, nobody to go to. So they did what they could, taking, or attempting to take, his life.
One woman found the first person she could talk to while in jail. In general, the court system fails women. It’s not just some judges’ lack of knowledge of domestic violence. It’s the whole system.
Once you are convicted and sentenced, you have no privacy, no dignity. They strip you of everything, including your self-esteem.
And don’t get sick! If you get sick, you’ll die. One woman had an asthma attack. An officer came by and kept walking. She died. He said she must have been on drugs. Another woman had a heart attack. She kept calling, complaining about chest pains. They did nothing and she died.
The women said, “I have a right not to be treated like an animal, not to be humiliated.” “I feel like I’m treated like by my husband. I have no control.”
One woman told of being raped in prison, too. It was a maintenance worker coming from what she called “the free world.”
You’re not allowed to have any feelings in prison, not allowed to reach out to anyone. If you put out your hand to touch someone, that’s a ticket.
You learn you just can’t give up. You learn to love yourself and forgive yourself.
The movie’s message was powerful, and moved many in the audience. It showed how the abuse of women by individual men is completely supported by society. In prison, it is the society that directly abuses women. The only way out is for women to get together. We have to stop the abuse of women and the justice system from being another stage in a life of abuse.
by Urszula Wislanka