Theresa Azochar, Presente!

The following letters were written after Theresa Azochar was diagnosed with liver cancer.
She is a rose, she is a flower that blooms, she is the one that has the voice to make many people?s flowers bloom. She is everyone?s best friend, a mother and my grandmother. I come to the world for help for my grandmother. I and my family are heart broken and there are no words to say.
Theresa Azochar has been the strength and encouragement for many women all over the world. She worked with Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl and numerous other Senators to help bring into law AB 231, today known as Section 4801, the section dealing with Battered Women?s Syndrome for the Parole Board.
Theresa volunteered her time in speaking at colleges, legislatures, Churches, Battered Women?s Shelters and conventions. Theresa helped many people who had no family left. We as a society need to come together to bring our voices and help to an incredible woman who is an example to all people of the world. Her dream is to see her daughter Theresa Cruz come home.
We are asking the world to come together in prayer for a miracle, and we need all the help we can get.
?Adriana, 13 years old
* * *
If she’s gone tomorrow, we must continue the fight…
Tonight I visited Theresa Azochar. She is surrounded by her family, kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, sisters, brothers and her mother. If ever a woman was to be received into sainthood, I nominate Theresa Azochar.
She is the most honest person I know, and I’m going to miss her. Short of the Goddess, Great Spirit and the Creator of All Life visiting us in life form, our San Diego-CCWP Mother is saying goodbye. I can’t even begin to know where I’m going to start without her. It was she and her drive to free her daughter Theresa Cruz that gave birth to the San Diego Chapter of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. With her spirit and a few of us following on her tail (you know who you are) San Diego’s CCWP was born in March of 2000.
For those of us who have been working on the FREE THERESA CRUZ campaign, “let’s see next year” was the final straw. Only five days after Theresa Azochar had been diagnosed with cancer in October, her daughter Theresa Cruz was denied parole again. Theresa Cruz lost her father because of her unjust incarceration and now, she can’t be with her mamma to say goodbye. I’m angry at Kaiser, I’m angry at Teledyne and I’m disgusted with the Board of Prison Terms.
Miracles have happened, and people have turned around. I’ve lit my candle and saged my house?if only she can be with us for just a little bit longer. Just to see her daughter come home . . . That’s all I want.
December 6th
* * *
Theresa Azochar lost her battle with cancer on December 7 at 11:20pm. Her daughter Myrna was by her side and holding her hand when she left this world. For the past 1-1/2 months since she was diagnosed with liver cancer, many of us have been sharing stories about her struggle to keep her family together, to secure her daughter’s release from prison and her gift of making everyone feel like they were the most important person in the world. She was an awesome speaker about the Prison Industrial Complex and its destructive force on families, communities and on the nation. I will miss her…
?Janice Jordan
CCWP and LSPC tried to get the prison to allow Theresa Cruz to attend her mother?s funeral. Because she is a life-term prisoner without a parole date, CIW denied this request.

Book review: Couldn’t Keep It to Myself

T. ?S? P., CCWF
Couldn’t Keep It to Myself, Testimonies from our Imprisoned Sisters, by Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution, Regan Books, 2003, pp.350 is an anthology of stories from 11 women prisoners. It is one result of a writing workshop at the prison conducted by Wally Lamb over several years. The women were encouraged to find their own voice, to write about their lives. In the process they not only acquired skills to write powerful stories, they changed themselves. They offer their insights to the reader.
When I first picked up Couldn’t Keep It to Myself and read a few pages, I tossed it back on the bed thinking, “hell no, this book is about abuse in a very ugly way!” After a while I picked the book back up. I could not put it down once I let it touch my heart. I know that this stuff does happen every day. It has not happened to me as a child, but as I was reading it I started to feel these women’s hurt and pain.
I got myself a highlighter and started marking all the stuff in these stories that had to do with my own life up ’til now. The book made me think a lot about my life, things I just forgot, how not caring got me here back in the 80’s. Now I got me some real soul searching to do. I know who I am, but it’s not who I should be.

Charisse Shumate video

A newly released video presentation of the life of Charisse Sumate is available for distribution. It traces her life through her own words and the memories of those she touched, both in and out of prison.
You can order your own $15 copy (in DVD or VHS) from:
CCWP
1540 Market St., #490
SF, CA 94102.

Mujeres, Latinas y madres: la triple resistencia

Patricia Chase
Cada vez hay más mujeres en las prisiones de California, concretamente en CCWF y VSPW, Chowchilla, mujeres que son madres en su mayoría y muchisimas de ellas son inmigrantes de latinoamerica.
Mujeres que tratando de escapar de la pobreza, la violencia, la ocupacion, la guerra multiple que el sistema capitalista y patriarcal libra contra ellas., vienen a este país creyendo en una fanatasía que se convierte en una pesadilla sin fin, como tantos millones de inmigrantes que creen en todas las mentiras que se exportan a nuestros países.
Estas mujeres abrazan todos estos sueños pensando en sus familias, en sus hijos que dejaron en sus lugares de origen, en los hijos que nacieron aqui, pero la historia se vuelve a repetir, aqui en el país de Alicia (Alicia en el país de las maraviilas), más opresión, discriminación, pobreza, explotación, racismo y otras tantas formas de abuso que se cometen hacia ellas. Una las más injustas y brutales consecuencias de todo lo descrito anteriormente es la prisión. Estas mujeres terminan en prisión (doblemente), por estar dentro de este sistema y por estar tras las rejas literalmente.
En un abrir y cerrar de ojos, ellas perdieron algo que era lo que más querian: SUS HIJOS.
El sistema de castigo empieza a operar nuevamente, son arrebatadas de sus hijos de la manera mas cruel y depiadada. Estan mujeres que vienene de culturas tan ricas, de historias de lucha y resistencia, de comunidades de apoyo, tienen que enfrentar un sistema que no contempla ni respeta nada. Sus hijos son puestos en foster care, en el mejor de los casos con familias de su mismo identidad cultural y/o etnica., pero solo por un tiempo, luego son dados en adopción mientras tanto las mujeres tienen que seguir su lucha y sus resistencia tratando de hacer todo lo que el sistema dice, para supuestamente poder recuperar a sus hijos, sino cumplen con todos esos requisitos pierden sus derechos como madres, todo esto puede suceder en menos de un año.
Estas valerosas mujeres tienen que hacer todo lo que no nos imaginamos, pues muchas veces ellas no reciben noticias de sus hijos, porque el trabajador social no les manda ninguna información sobre ellos. Este es el caso de Blanca, que no ha recibido ni una respuesta a sus cartas y tarjetas que ella les ha mandado a sus hijos por medio del trabajador social, pues ella no tiene la direccion, ni el telefono de donde estan sus hijos, el trabajador social no se los ha dado.
El derecho ha recibir información se reduce o casi es inexistente, pues la poca información que reciben es en ingles, si es verdad que tiene derecho a un interprete, pero solamente lo puede solicitiar la que sabe que tiene ese derecho, y si no, se quedan en el vacio, expuesta nuevamente a la injusticia.
La batalla continua, es permanente, no termina. Muchas de estas mujeres al salir de prision son deportada, pero sin sus hijos, entonces es cuando ellas sacan las fuerza de donde puedan y regresan, regresan por ellos, no tienen limites ni hay obstaculo que las detenga, y es donde el circulo vicioso se vuelve a dar, y estas mujeres vuelven a la boca del lobo. La PRISION con rejas.
Estas mujeres son de las mas valientes que he conocido, son admirables y todas ellas con sus historias deben salir a la luz. Y nosotros los que estamos afuera debemos escuchar, conocer, buscar la manera de solidarizarnos con esta lucha, abrir los ojos, la conciencia y el corazon y de cir SI SE PUEDE! Encontrar la justicia, la dignidad y la ibertad plena.

Women, Latinas and mothers: the triple resistance

Patricia Chase, translated by Zoe Willmott
There are more and more women in California prisons, specifically at CCWF and VSPW, Chowchilla. The majority of them are mothers and many of them are Latin American immigrants. Women who are trying to escape poverty, violence, the occupation, the multiple wars that the capitalist and patriarchal system wage against them. They come to this country believing in a fantasy that turns into a never-ending nightmare, just like millions of immigrants who believe all the lies that are exported to our countries.
These women embrace their dreams thinking of their families, of their children they left in their homeland, of their children who were born here, but this history repeats itself. Here in this country of Alice (Alice in Wonderland) there is more oppression, discrimination, poverty, exploitation, racism and many other forms of abuse that are committed against these women. One of the most unjust and brutal consequences of all described above is prison. These women wind up in a double prison, by being inside this system and by being behind bars literally. In one blink of their eyes, they lose what they cared about the most, their children.
The system of punishment begins to operate when they are taken from their children in the most cruel of ways. These women who come from such rich cultures, with histories of struggle and resistance, with supportive communities, have to face a system that doesn?t respect anything. Their children are put in foster care, in the best cases with families of the same ethnic and/or cultural identity. But this only lasts a little while, then they are given up for adoption while the women have to continue their struggle and resistance. They are trying to do everything the system tells them to, so they can supposedly be able to get their children back. If they don?t comply with all these requirements, they lose their rights as mothers, which can all happen in less than one year.
These courageous women have to do everything we can?t even imagine. Many of them don?t receive letters about/from their children, because the social worker won?t send them any information. This is the case with Blanca, who has never even received an answer to her cards and letters she has written to her children through the social worker. She doesn?t have their address or phone number because the social worker hasn?t given them to her.
The right to receive information has been reduced to the point where it hardly exists anymore. The little information they receive is in English. The truth is they have the right to an interpreter, but only the few women who know about this right request it, and if not they are left in a vacuum, once again exposed to injustice.
The battle continues, it is permanent, it never ends. Many of these women are deported once they are released, but without their children. When they get the strength to come back, it is for their children. There are no limits or obstacles which can detain them, so this vicious cycle continues and these women return to the mouth of the wolf, the prison with bars.
These are some of the bravest women I have ever known, they are admirable and all of their stories should be brought to light. Those of us who are outside should listen, get to know, and look for a way to be in solidarity with this struggle. Open our eyes, our consciousness, and our hearts to say we can do it! Find justice, dignity, and full liberty.

Peace and Justice Community Summits

Linda Evans
Three extremely successful Peace and Justice Commu-nity Summits were organized by All of Us or None in Oakland, San Francisco, and East Palo Alto in 2004. A total of over 1200 people attended the three Summits. For the first time, formerly incarcerated people were speaking in our own voices, making demands and policy recommendations to Action Panels that included over 70 elected officials and community leaders.
The voices of formerly incarcerated people and our families have been repeatedly marginalized in debates about policy issues affecting our communities. The Summits provided forums where people who had been in prison and suffered injustices testified, and policy-makers and community leaders listened. We hoped the Summits would help mobilize communities devastated by mass imprisonment and its after-effects to struggle for criminal justice reform.
All of Us or None members took flyers in English and Spanish to neighborhoods in Oakland, San Francisco, and East Palo Alto every Saturday during the months prior to each Summit. We talked to hundreds of people at community meetings and on the streets, handed out flyers at community fairs, events, and at bus and BART stops all over the Bay Area. We made presentations at schools, halfway houses, and drug treatment centers. We put stacks of our flyers in beauty shops, barber shops, and corner grocery stores in targeted neighborhoods.
At the Summits, formerly incarcerated people told our stories ? about being locked out of employment, housing, higher education; about our families being torn apart because of 20-year-old felony convictions; about being denied welfare, foodstamps, and custody of our children after getting out of California prisons or Youth Authority. We demanded an end to the discrimination we face in so many areas of life. We made very specific recommendations for changes in public policy to the Action Panels at each Summit.
After each Summit we held community meetings where many new members joined All of Us or None. We formed active workgroups to involve our membership in the ongoing work: Policy, Outreach/Inreach, Sustainability, and Membership. We continue to do outreach with formerly incarcerated people and to neighborhoods that are hardest hit by incarceration. We have regular programs of outreach/inreach at local jails and prisons. We are continuing to meet with elected officials and community leaders. Many of them have come forward to support our demands.
We are determined to win significant change, even though it is a long-term struggle. Most important, we are determined to build a powerful movement of formerly incarcerated people so we have a voice in our own futures and in the survival and development of our communities.

Family is Hard Won

AnnaBell Chapa, CCWF
Many family members deny you when you come to prison. My relationship with my sister-in-law, for example, is very shaky. Her son came out at his high-school graduation to 200 people. He told them that talking with me (I was telling him that he should be who he is) and reading my letters was what convinced him to come out of the closet. His mom still blames me.
In spite of being in prison, my mom and my nephew don?t judge me for being a lesbian, nor for messing up my life the way I did. My time goes by easier when I receive loving letters and feel the unconditional love, not to mention a visit, from my mom.

Prison Tears Families Apart

L. N., VSPW
I have been beaten, raped, molested, abandoned, rejected. I was left with a broken spirit. Being a mother was the best thing I ever did. My eyes lit up only when interacting with my children.
Now I am a state away. We have le
ft one abusive situation for another. But the love for my children survives. My children are left motherless, with an abusive father. I have been shut out of their lives. Court orders have been violated and my voice goes unnoticed.
My fight will never end until I have contact with and see my children again. Do they remember they have a mother who loves them with all her heart, who never forgot them?
By separating mothers from their children a whole new generation of people are wounded and lost and tend to end up money-hungry in an abusive system. Children wanting their mothers pay severely for their loss.
Our society should be ashamed. Long termers need our visits, if only for our families’ well being. The hurt doesn’t need to continue.

Giving Voice to Family Members

The Family Advocacy Network, a project of Legal Services for Prisoners With Children, is a group of family members and friends of prisoners who advocate for the safety and well being of our incarcerated loved ones. We defend our right to simply be and maintain our families in spite of the prison walls. We come together to heal from the damage caused by incarceration and to make sure our loved ones inside are free from abuse, get needed medical care, and are treated with the respect and humanity they deserve. We fight against unfair parole policies that keep our loved ones imprisoned for decades. We speak out against the injustices of a racist prison system and work to create alternatives that will lead to real healing and reunification.
We believe that the voices of family members who have incarcerated loved ones are invaluable to the pursuit of justice for all. It is because of their unique knowledge, compassion and relentless dedication that prisoners are not abandoned or forgotten, despite the many ways that incarceration attempts to separate and isolate us.

It’s Your Health

Pregnancy and Mother and Infant Health in California State Prisons
Pam Fadem
Incarceration in California becomes a go ahead for the CDC to condemn women prisoners to bad?or no?prenatal care. CDC policy results in denying the babies born in prison the good health and disease immunity afforded by at least 6 months of breast feeding and the bond built with their mothers.
Pregnant women do not receive any special diet, though they usually do get an ?extra snack? which may mean only one extra glass of milk a day! They are assigned to an OB/GYN doctor at the prison, but that is no guarantee that there will be regular check-ups or follow-up in case of any complications.
Dental care in the CDC is hard or near impossible to obtain, and for most it means getting teeth pulled rather than preventative care. For pregnant women, dental exams, regular teeth cleanings and treatment for gum disease are especially important. The bacteria from gum disease are linked to both premature deliveries and low infant birth weights.
Pregnant women are transported to the hospital in restraints while in labor and are shackled to their hospital beds. All of this jeopardizes 2 lives?the mother?s and her baby?s?as proved by the many miscarriages and stillbirths suffered by women prisoners.
The state has long had legislation requiring the CDC to allow pregnant women to live in community-based facilities before giving birth, and for up to 6 years afterwards with their child. But the Department has made it really hard to qualify for these programs, and the state has provided little funding. There are now only 3 Community Prisoner Mother Programs (CPMPs in Oakland, Pomona, and Bakersfield), also known as the Mother-Infant Program?down from 7?where women can live with their babies. A lot of ?experts? have studied programs similar to the CPMPs in other states (New York, Washington, Nebraska) and reported that not only are babies and moms healthier, but they also result in less recidivism for women and better lives for their children.
What can we do? If you are a pregnant woman inside ? or have already had your baby- and have a story that you want to share, please contact LSPC (see box on this page). And if you are on the outside and want to be involved in this advocacy work, also contact LSPC. Let?s protect our future generations!