Is Orange the New Black? Packed event hears from women & trans prisoners

 

Shanelle Matthews, Mianta McKnight, Theresa Martinez, Misty Rojo, Miss Major, Piper Kerman

On February 23rd, 2014, over 250 people packed Humanist Hall to hear from Piper Kerman, author of the book Orange is the New Black, and a fiery panel of formerly incarcerate women and trans prisoners.  Moderated by Shanelle Matthews, the panel addressed a wide range of issues that impact people in women’s prisons, including atrocious health care, family separation and unity, gender identity, sexual expression and resistance behind walls.  Voices of women and trans prisoners were brought into the conversation through recordings from inside the women’s prisons.  After the panel, formerly incarcerated people were honored and there was time for Q&A.  In a message to CCWP and Justice Now (the event organizers) following the event, Piper Kerman wrote:

Thank you all for a truly amazing afternoon. I know it was an enormous amount of work to put together such a powerful event, and it’s worth it. I am especially honored to have shared the panel with such impressive and audacious women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Orange The New Black? A Conversation with Piper Kerman Sunday February 23, 3 pm

 

Is Orange the New Black?
Piper Kerman in Conversation With Leading Bay Area Activists On California’s Women’s Prisons

Come hear the truth about California’s women’s prisons and the issues facing the people inside from Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black, and an esteemed panel of Bay Area former prisoner activists, all of whom will be speaking from real, first-hand knowledge.

Event proudly presented by Justice Now and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP). Panelists include:

Misty Rojo (Justice Now and CCWP)
Theresa Martinez (Justice Now)
Janetta Johnson (Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project – TGIJP)
Samantha Rogers (CCWP)

Tickets available: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/556911

Real People. Real Issues.

Childcare available, provided by the Bay Area Child Care Collective, please email pipereventCA2014@gmail.com to confirm a space.

Humanist Hall is wheelchair accessible at 411 28th Street.

Any questions or offers of support, please email pipereventCA2014@gmail.com or call CCWP on (415) 255-7036 ext. 4

Cost: Tickets on sliding scale from $20-$100. No one turned away through lack of funds.

A Conversation with Piper Kerman

Piper Kerman (standing second to the left) with CCWP and Justice Now members

SAVE THE DATE – SUNDAY FEBRUARY 23, 2014

A CONVERSATION WITH PIPER KERMAN,

AUTHOR OF ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK,

AND OTHER FORMERLY INCARCERATED PEOPLE

Sponsored by California Coalition for Women Prisoners & Justice Now

Sunday, February 23, 2014

3-5 pm

Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland (between Telegraph and Broadway)

Wheelchair access on 28th St.

I have so much love for this group that helped me to be free.  These women came to visit with us as if we were a part of their family and we all came to find out later that we had actually become their family in so many ways!  

Mary Shields, formerly incarcerated for twenty years

Dear CCWP friends,

Since our founding in 1995, CCWP has fought for basic, humane health care for women and transgender people in women’s prisons.  We have insisted that reducing overcrowding is the key to improving health care and that decent health care in prison is impossible when eight prisoners are forced to live in cells built for just four.  Central to our work is that this movement is led by those most impacted by imprisonment.

This year marks the twelfth anniversary of Charisse Shumate’s passing.  Her passing was not in vain.  Not only did she initiate a groundbreaking lawsuit and help found CCWP through her efforts, but she paved the way for women like us (Samantha Rogers and Misty Rojo) to write this letter today to tell you about not only CCWP’s successes but our own personal successes inspired by Charisse Shumate and so many others.

We are living proof that this movement is most effective with the leadership of those of us who have survived incarceration.  Our efforts have led to continued success toward raising awareness and providing advocacy and support to those still imprisoned in California’s massive prison industrial complex.  And we are very excited to share our continued work and victories with you as well as ask for your vital continued support of our work.  Without your support we cannot move forward and continue this battle with the CDCR and their agents of discrimination and torture.

Some of our recent successes include:

  • In collaboration with our members inside and a coalition of organizations, family members and prison survivors, we organized the Chowchilla Freedom Rally on January 26, 2013.  Over 400 people from throughout the state traveled to CCWF to protest the inhumane overcrowded conditions as a result of the conversion of VSPW into a men’s prison.

  • Worked with Al-Jazeera News to develop a hard-hitting episode of their Faultlines show called Women Behind Bars that deals with overcrowding, sterilization and the challenges of re-entry.  (to watch go to YouTube and search Faultlines – Women Behind Bars)  .

  • Actively participated in support of the 2013 statewide prisoner Hunger Strike.  Developed a legislative memo outlining the increased use of solitary confinement in the women’s prisons due to the conversion of VSPW into a male facility.

  • Participated in Public Safety Committee and Joint Legislative Audit hearings in Sacramento about forced and coerced sterilization of female prisoners.

  • Fired Up! our weekly self-empowerment group celebrated its 2-year anniversary of working inside San Francisco County Jail, providing weekly legal advocacy, political education and re-entry support.

  • Helped initiate a city-wide coalition in San Francisco to fight the building of a new multi-million dollar county jail, and offered solidarity support to other counties battling jail construction.

  • Provided opportunities for prison survivors to educate the public by speaking at a wide range of events, from City College of San Francisco, to the United Methodist Church of Merced, to a national meeting at Columbia University on Criminal Justice and LGBTQ people.

Moving into 2014:

  • CCWP has the opportunity to sponsor legislation to expand the Alternative Custody Program to include people with manageable medical conditions through Affordable Care Act expansions.

  • Support legislation to ensure clear laws to render sterilizations for the purpose of birth control illegal in CA prisons.

  • Expose and alleviate the increased use of solitary confinement in the women’s prisons.

  • Continue to  highlight conditions such as deteriorating health care as a result of overcrowding.

  • Fight jail and prison expansions with our allies and push the state to meet the Federal judge’s order by releasing more people from prisons and jails.

  • Continue to publish The Fire Inside, oldest continuously published newsletter by, for and about people in women’s prisons

We have accomplished all this despite reducing our program coordinator staff to half-time status in 2012.  CCWP continues to thrive as an organization because we value our interconnectedness as a community.  We continue to thrive because we believe in each other and because you, our members and supporters, believe in our mission and in our vision of building a collective, caring community that struggles together for the change that is so necessary.

Moving into 2014, we need your support more than ever and we need you to reach out to others.  CCWP is a grassroots organization that knows the value of grassroots membership and involvement. We also know the importance of each individual dollar we take in.  We ask you to step up and help CCWP reach our 2014 goals by donating at least once or becoming a monthly sustainer.

Please consider pledging what you can and becoming a monthly sustainer by Clicking the Click & Pledge Donate Now button.

  • Check Recurring Payment, and indicate how many installments you want to commit to (12= one year, 24 = two years, etc.)

  • Note, if you had a Click & Pledge recurring donation last year, you will still need to renew it through our website.

If you can’t commit to a monthly donation, please make a generous one-time contribution by sending  going to our website, www.womenprisoners.org or sending a check to  CCWP, 1540 Market St., #490, SF, CA 94102.   A contribution of any amount  will make an enormous difference!

With hope in our hearts and fight in our spirits for all we can accomplish together in 2014!

In solidarity,

Misty Rojo, Samantha Rogers and Hafsah Al-Amin

California Coalition for Women Prisoners

A Strategy Meant to Break Me Fuels My Passion for Human Rights

Amy Preasmyer’s powerful article was just published in the SF Bayview. CCWP has visited Amy for several years and supported her when she wanted to write about her recent terrible experience with Administrative Segregation at CCWF.

http://sfbayview.com/2013/a-strategy-meant-to-break-me-fuels-my-passion-for-human-rights/

A strategy meant to break me fuels my passion for human rights
October 16, 2013

by Amy Preasmyer

I am an inmate at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, California. In April 2013, I and another individual were falsely accused of sexual assault and placed in Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg) immediately. I was forced to face the loss of my job assignment, property, good living quarters, placement and status in groups and organizations. I was forced to miss my scheduled final examinations for college and lost the privilege to shop, walk outside or even call home.

Chowchilla Freedom Rally 'CCWF is at 200 capacity w 4,000 people inside' 012613 by Wanda, web

This little girl and her grandmother and hundreds more traveled to CCWF, California’s main women’s prison, in January for the Chowchilla Freedom Rally to demand, “Bring our loved ones home.” Their sign highlights the dreadful overcrowding at CCWF, created in order to ease crowding in the men’s prisons. The situation has not improved. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

The federally mandated Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) protocols and the complexity of its consequences turned my world upside down in seconds.1 This protocol has no intelligence or consideration of the law or constitutional rights that the judicial system offers and in many cases merely lacks. Through PREA, I quickly learned the cruel conditions of Ad-Seg.

This false accusation under PREA meant I was abruptly removed from my bed late in the evening to face an extended wait and then a transfer to Ad-Seg. Upon entering my newly assigned chambers at 3 a.m., I found the toilet was backed up and a DD3 (EOP)2 had urinated everywhere prior to me, leaving extremely unsanitary conditions and aromas.

I was left with only a bedroll, a state issued muumuu and no panties. I was utterly distraught and in a mental state of haze and disorientation, not knowing the excessively degrading experience I would continue to face from that point forward.

The torture and anguish administered with each passing minute, the refusals, limitations, the sudden removal of rights and privileges, and the revisions established by prison officials reveals a clear abuse of authority and misuse of power.

CCWF Ad-Seg conditions and limitations include:

Inadequate (if any) legal assistance and resource access.
No phone access.
Canteen items removed from original packaging.
Absolutely NO educational or rehabilitation opportunities afforded.
No religious services.
No contact visits.
No means to properly disinfect and sanitize cells.
No sanitation in dayroom, hallways, and stairs even while escorts continually take place daily and frequently.
No efficient and proper mental health assessment, evaluation and tracking.
No razors to maintain feminine hygiene (30 day review).

And the list goes on.

I was subjected to this treatment for an investigation evidenced as false. I am forced to start over when thrown back into general population, and CDCr holds no accountability, doesn’t right their wrong, nothing.

They remain unaccountable and unmoved by the loss, humiliation and set-back I endured those countless days and nights. They failed to offer guidance, leadership or assistance in reinstating my original program, assignment and the positive participation within my community I was once commended for.

Further, the cost to arrest, charge, investigate and re-house us was absurd. No precautions were taken toward California’s budget and its continued economic crisis. Nonetheless, I was guilty until proven innocent, a constitutional right broken and overseen based on “protocols,” but in reality, it is because everything changes behind these walls.
I was subjected to this treatment for an investigation evidenced as false. I am forced to start over when thrown back into general population, and CDCr holds no accountability, doesn’t right their wrong, nothing.

In a world of hardened minds, poverty, misunderstandings and violence, PREA offers a tool for manipulation of the system, its institutions, and all of those within it.3 What is disturbing is that the woman who filed the accusation under PREA sought – and ultimately was rewarded with – a transfer to California Institute for Women (CIW), the only other institution where a woman serving a life sentence term can be housed. In addition, there was no disciplinary action for her false allegation or restitution for expenses incurred behind it.

I was sentenced as a juvenile to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), and there was an enormous capacity for me to change my life as I matured from adolescence to middle age.4 It is unnerving that my opportunity for rehabilitation and education was jeopardized and challenged by a protocol set forth by CDCr, the very department that stands firm on their claim for rehabilitation and education.

Yet, those are among the first things denied when we are placed in Ad-Seg and hold the greatest ramifications on our future successes. These are all a result of the system’s damages.
In a world of hardened minds, poverty, misunderstandings and violence, PREA offers a tool for manipulation of the system, its institutions, and all of those within it.

Must we wait for more victims before we seek and support a change? Or is CDCr simply waiting until PREA is manipulated in a way that damages them, society’s example of law-abiding citizens?

Had this woman falsely accused an officer, would that officer have been arrested and forced to relinquish rights pending results of the investigation into the accusation? Would the employee suffer a wage loss? Would disciplinary action and consequences be rendered to the accuser once charges turned out to be baseless? Are you waiting until you have to rebuild your life or are you supporting to seek change now?

After being subjected to this methodical strategy meant to break me for a mere investigative purpose based on false allegations by another inmate later evidenced, I have chosen to embark on another journey to overcome and refuse to be their puppet or their statistic. I will not allow CDCr policies or standard operating tactics to make me stray from rehabilitation, education and future re-entry into society. As many say – that is NOT an option!

I defy the daily systematic obstacles set in place to make struggles become failures. There is no expectation of success and, through this ignorant assumption, I am empowered and influenced. What was intended to discourage has fueled the passion and participation in the Human Rights Movement for humanity and peaceful resolutions when faced with resistance behind bars and in the systems of injustice.

If we believe, we can achieve. Together we can make a difference. Support restoring lives and the need for change NOW.

Send our sister some love and light: Amy Preasmyer, X-29459, CCWF 511-19-4U, P.O. Box 1508, Chowchilla CA 93610. This story will appear in The Fire Inside, the newsletter of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.

Fire Inside’s editorial notes:

1.Enacted by Congress in 2003, PREA (P.L. 108-79) sets protocols to prevent, identify, respond to and monitor sexual abuse of incarcerated or detained people in custody. PREA aims to address sexual abuse as it may occur between inmates or may be perpetrated by correctional facility staff. Grant funding is available at both the state and local level of government to implement PREA. PREA also mandates that information on rape and sexual abuse be collected and made available as part of the monitoring provision of the act. For more information, see http://nicic.gov/prea.
2. EOP stands for Enhanced Outpatient Program, a program designed for inmates who are categorized as having a disability that makes it difficult for them to interact with the general population in prison but not so serious that they require inpatient care. DD3 is a designation within the EOP classification.
3: This occurs in a context of severe overcrowding following the conversion of Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) to a men’s prison, as over a thousand women and transgender prisoners were transferred from VSPW to either CCWF or California Institute for Women (CIW) in Corona, outside of Los Angeles. CCWF is currently functioning at close to 200 percent of its design capacity.
4.: According to the ACLU, there are approximately 2,570 children sentenced to LWOP in the United States, including children sentenced as young as 13 years old. The United States is the only country in the world that sentences youth to LWOP. See https://www.aclu.org/blog/tag/juvenile-life-without-parole.

 

Over 400 protest overcrowding at Chowchilla Freedom Rally

On Saturday, January 26, 2013, over four hundred people from across California rallied, marched and chanted to protest extreme overcrowding, deteriorating healthcare and constant lockdown in the women’s prisons.  The crowd demanded an end to gender discrimination and unconstitutional overcrowding. Rallies in solidarity were also held in Redwood City, Philadelphia and London.  Local media, such as the Merced Sun Star featured the rally in their news coverage :  http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2013/01/26/2781378/hundreds-of-prison-protestors.html.

Hundreds march from Valley State Prison to Central California Women’s Facility to protest unconstitutional overcrowding.

Angela Davis and Windy Click Op-Ed: Rallying to end women’s prison crisis in California

An Op-Ed about the Chowchilla Freedom Rally co-authored by Windy Click and Angela Davis was recently published in the Fresno Bee. For the past 10 years, Windy was member of CCWP and an organizer inside Valley State Women For Prison. She was released in September 2012 after surviving 17 years inside and is a core organizer for the Chowchilla Freedom Rally. Here are some quotations from the op-ed and check out the entire article at the Fresno Bee.

“We are joining thousands of prisoners and families when we declare it is past time to bring our loved ones home. It is past time to stop the prison and jail expansion that has devastated our communities. It is past time to stop the criminalizing of our families, friends and neighbors. It is time to end policies like Three Strikes that leave many to needlessly die of old age in cages. It is time to institute and expand parole for sick and elderly people. It is time to widen alternatives to imprisonment. Thousands of people in women’s prisons can be freed right now. Money saved by reducing the prison population could provide drug treatment, re-entry services, mental health support and job programs.”

“Those of us working to end the prison crisis, and those of us who have lived inside these prisons, can tell countless stories of ongoing suffering: up to eight people living in cells that were built for four, or even two; lack of basic hygiene; the spread of infections; and failure to address preventable illnesses leading to health disasters.

The effects of poor health conditions and crowding are especially difficult for elderly prisoners, and the widespread use of lockdowns are contributing to mental health problems, including suicide. Access to jobs, programs and legal resources are largely unavailable. People living inside these prisons, along with their advocates on the outside, have noted that these unimaginable conditions and the state’s decision to continue to crowd women and transgendered people into these prisons constitute clear violations of human and civil rights.”