Introduction

Yvonne/Hamdiya Cooks
It is with great honor and privilege that I introduce myself to you as the new Executive Director of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. I am very proud to represent an organization that has historically supported the interests of women prisoners for 10 years. I spent 20 years behind prison gates, bars and fences. I personally understand what you go through.
The prison system is designed to break our bodies and our spirits, but I am here to humbly express and witness the miracle that hope and faith can bring into being. I am a God fearing person, I am a Muslim and I respect all humanity.
I urge you to stay in communication with your CCWP sisters outside who are prepared to follow your lead as we move this work forward. Those of you still inside represent the core of CCWP, our volunteers outside represent the other part. Working together we can and will change some of the conditions women suffer in prison.
My promise to you is that I will never forget where I came from; I won?t make you any promises I can?t fulfill, and I won?t promise anything on your behalf that you haven?t authorized. Remember, you are respected and you do have power.
I am going to leave you with a poem written by Marianne Williamson. The poem is most remembered from a speech delivered by Nelson Mandela. ?Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.?
In solidarity and love,
Your sister,
Yvonne/Hamdiya Cooks

Projecto Compañeras

Silvia Tello
Compañeras es un proyecto que nace de la necesidad de levantar nuestras voces por justicia, dignidad y por la defensa de nuestros derechos humanos como mujeres inmigrantes, latinas y chicanas, dentro de un sistema que pretende subordinar y quebrar nuestras fortalezas como comunidad, cultura y raza.
Este proyecto decide enfocar en nuestras compañeras dentro de prisión. Compañeras que viven privadas de su libertad, por las injusticias de este sistema que las culpa por sobrevivir las dificultades que éste les pone en el camino como mujeres latinas e inmigrantes.
Presas, la tortura continua privándolas de sus mas básicos derechos, como el tener contacto con sus familiares, mantener una relación con sus hijos, tener información acerca de su salud y/o su caso legal, pues el no hablar el idioma del imperio les dificulta, si no imposibilita, el poder obtener lo que necesitan.
Por ejemplo muchas de estas mujeres son forzadas a firmar documentos sin ningún interprete presente, documentos en los que pueden estar declarando que están dando a sus hijos en adopción, o en otros casos su defensor público les dice que es mejor si se declaran culpables para que les reduzcan el tiempo, aunque sepan de su inocencia. Ellas firman los papeles por que no tienen ningún conocimiento de lo que es mejor para ellas y su caso, o simplemente no entienden lo que les están diciendo y tan solo siguen las instrucciones de sus defensores.
Las condiciones de salud para las mujeres en prisión no son apropiadas. Para poder recibir una cita en la enfermería tienen que poder escribir detalladamente cual es su problema, muchas de ellas no saben escribir o como describir sus síntomas, si reciben la cita les cuesta $5,y si no tienen dicha cantidad en el momento es sumado a una cuenta que deberán pagar al momento de salir de prisión. Durante la cita posiblemente una enfermera servirá de interprete para la paciente y posiblemente también será irrespetuosamente, pues ellas obedecen a un sistema que no respeta a nuestras hermanas. Algunas veces cuando no hay quien traduzca, un guardia de prisión lo hace, muchas mujeres como es natural no dicen cual es el verdadero problema que esta afectando su salud y dicen algo que sea menos vergonzoso de contar frente a un abusivo guardia hombre.
Compañeras es un proyecto de la Coalición de California para Mujeres en Prisión (CCWP) comprometido a luchar en contra de la invisibilidad impuesta a nuestras comunidades por un sistema imperialista que utiliza las prisiones como forma de ocupación de nuestras mentes, cuerpos, almas, familias, tierras y comunidades y así intenta acabar con la dignidad humana.
Como parte del proyecto un equipo de voluntarios realiza visitas donde desarrolla fuertes lazos con las compañeras en prisión. Parte del proyecto se basa en construir liderazgo y educar a las compañeras en prisión acerca de sus derechos humanos y ofrecerles todo el apoyo que podamos darles.
El 5 de Mayo se llevo a cabo la primera visita por parte del equipo de voluntarias, llegamos cerca de las diez de la mañana y Valley State Prison for Women aparentaba ser un sitio casi agradable al que se va a vacacionar, incluso el carnet de visitante tiene un sol y un campo como de sitio de veraneo. Después de una minuciosa inspección en la sala de visitas esperamos ver llegar a nuestras compañeras, la realidad es otra para ellas VSPW no es mas que el sitio al que llegaron por defenderse y sobrevivir al sistema que es el que mas abusa de ellas. Cada una nos agradeció con tanto amor y esperanza la visita, muchas de ellas no habían recibido visitas desde el día en que ingresaron, otras aun esperaban ver a sus hijos después de años y aun así es un alivio poder contar con alguien de afuera, que hable su idioma y que esta ahí para apoyarlas no para criminalizarlas.
?Yo les doy gracias a ustedes y a Dios por darme esta oportunidad de visitarme, ya que me sentí mas tranquila, por que parecía que estaba cargando algo pesado en la espalda y desde ayer que me visitaron me siento como nueva? S.C.
Al final de la visita fue increíble la experiencia, ellas que están dentro nos dieron la mas grande lección de esperanza, amor y valor que pudiéramos recibir y queremos agradecerles a cada una de las valiosas mujeres por su fuerza, coraje, valentía y poder, por que esa luz que irradian, que sale de sus voces, de su piel,es algo que nadie podrá quitarles jamás.
Compañeras es una oportunidad para que estas mujeres cuenten sus propias experiencias e historia con su propia voz y verdad tomando control de su propio lenguaje y lengua. Somos una fuerza en resistencia para combatir la opresión que intenta aplastarnos para hacernos desistir de luchar por una vida digna.
Creemos firmemente que solo la unidad y el compromiso a la lucha por la igualdad, justicia y libertad hará que esta fuerza crezca de tal manera en que acabemos con la invisibilidad y reclamemos nuestro derecho a regresar?regresar a nuestra tierra, familia, cultura y comunidades, bajo nuestros términos en la manera en que lo definamos. Queremos desarrollar vínculos de fuerza y solidaridad con las mujeres dentro de la prisión para hacer de este vínculo, un instrumento mediante el cual romperemos los barrotes que transforman falsamente una sola realidad en dos mundos, separándonos así a una de la otra.
La justicia para una de nuestras compañeras, es justicia para todas!
Involúcrate en el proyecto Compañeras! y contacta a CCWP Yvonne Cooks o Karla Reyna.

Compañeras project

Silvia Tello
Compañeras is a project born from the necessity of raising our voices for justice, dignity and the defense of our human rights as immigrant Latina and Chicana women within a system that seeks to subordinate and brake our strengths as a community, culture and race. The focus of this project is on our compañeras inside prison. Freedom is denied to them because of the injustices of a system that blames them for surviving the difficulties that are put in their way as Latina and immigrant women.
Once incarcerated, torture is used extensively and deprives them of their most basic rights such as having contact with their families, keeping a relationship with their kids, having information about their health or their legal case. Even more oppressive is that many of these sisters don?t speak the language of the empire and this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to get what they need.
Many of these women are forced to sign papers without an interpretor, papers in which they might be stating that they are giving their children up for adoption, for example. In another case a public defender told them that it is better to plead guilty so their time is reduced even when they are innocent. Women sign these papers because they don?t understand their cases, or simply they don?t understand what they are being told and just follow the public defender?s instructions.
Health conditions for women in prison are sub-standard. In order to get an appointment with a doctor they have to describe in detail what their symptoms are. Many of them don?t know how to wirte. If they do get an appointment, the way a nurse might interprate shows a lack of respect. Sometimes even male prison guards will translate and many women inmates won?t speak openly about their health problems. Instead they will make up something that is not embarrasing for them to talk about in front of an abusive male prison guard.
Compañeras is a project of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) committed to struggling against the invisibility imposed on our communities by the Imperialist System which utilizes prisons as a form of Occupation of our minds, bodies, souls, families, land and communities.
Our project includes a team of volunteers who make visits to our sisters in order to develop strong relationships with them, to build leadership skills, and provide education about their human rights. We also offer as much support we can.
On May 5th we initiated our first visit with the team of volunteers. We arrived at the Prison at 10:00am. The Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) appeared to be an almost pleasant place where you might go for a vacation– even your visitors? ID has a picture of fields with the sun. After a very careful inspection, we waited for our compañeras in the visiting room. The reality for them is very different: VSPW is the place they were put for defending themselves from an abuser. The abuser can be a partner or a rapist. The biggest abuser, however, is the system itself.
Every sister thanked us with so much love and hope for the visit.
Many of them hadn?t received a visit since they were incarcerated, and many others were still waiting after years for visits with their children. It is a relief to know they can count on someone on the outside that speaks their language and is there to support them and not criminalize them.
?I thank you and God for giving me the opportunity of visiting me. I feel calm now. I felt like I was carrying something very heavy on my back and since yesterday when you visited me I feel like new.? (S.C.)
After the visit the experience was incredible. From the inside they gave us the biggest lesson of hope, love and strength that we could ever receive. We want to thank each brave woman for their strength, courage and power. The light inside them comes out of their voices and skin and is something that no one will ever take away from them.
Compañeras is an opportunity for women on the inside to tell their own stories and history with their own voices and truth by taking control of their own language. We are a resisting force to fight the oppression that tries to crush women trying to make us give up the struggle to live with dignity. We believe firmly that only unity and commitment to struggle for equality, justice and freedom will make this force grow in such a way that we will end invisibility and we will reclaim our right to return–return to our land, family, culture, and communities in the ways that we define. We want to develop links of solidarity and strength with women inside prison and use this link as an instrument trough which we will brake the bars that falsely transform one reality into two worlds separating us one from the other.
Justice for one Compañera is Justice for All!
To get involved in the project, please contact CCWP, ask for Yvonne Cooks or Karla Reyna.

Family visiting day

?It was very heart warming to see my grandchildren with their mother. They really needed to see each other. I want to thank you all for making this happen for them. It wouldn?t have been possible otherwise. I want to thank you from the bottom, top, and middle of my heart!?
The California Coalition for Women Prisoners had our first ever ?Family Visiting Day? on Saturday, January 29, 2005, to help family members in the Bay Area visit people at both Valley State Prison for Women and Central California Women?s Facility. With the support of donors and volunteers, we were able to bring thirty family members, many of whom were children, to visit their loved ones in prison. Many of the women inside of prison had not seen their families in years. One woman had not seen her family in over 10 years!
Our day started very early in the morning. CCWP volunteers and staff drove as far as Sacramento to pick up family members for the visit. We all made it to the prison right on time for visiting hours and most of the visits went seamlessly. As one visitor expressed, ?It [the visit] was very exciting! I was very happy to see my daughter.?
After the visit, we stopped in Los Banos for dinner. During dinner, people shared the experience of their visit with the rest of the group. Adults and children alike expressed their happiness and relief with seeing their loved ones as well as meeting other people who have family in prison. One woman shared, ?I got to meet others who share the same pain as myself. It was healing.?
Everyone involved agreed that we should have Family Visiting Day again. We are hoping to make this a yearly event. If you are interested in participating in the next Family Visiting Day, please write us. Thanks to all those who made this year?s event a success!

So Address Me As Such

MM, CCWF
?When you stand with the blessings of your mother and God, it matters not who stands against you!?
?Yoruba Proverb
I can see right past your intricate masks,
Give a sophisticated answer to any question you ask,
Raise 1 or 10 children through struggle and strife,
Run a major corporation and be a supportive wife,
Converse with the big wigs or holla atcha in the hood,
Say ?absolutely wonderful? or ?haay, it’s all good!?
Put you in your place without saying much
I?m an intellectual Black Sista so addreess me as such
Possessing the strength of the strongest foundation,
My voice speaks in volumes heard throughout the nation.
My hands grasp doubt and turn it to hope
And these hands have got society’s ?limitation rope.?
Because there is no limit on the strength I possess,
The determination I have, my courage or my prowess.
The force of my power can be felt with one touch
I?m a strong Black Sista so addreess me as such
My heart contains love in its purest form,
Unconditional, absolute and everyday reborn.
My love can surpass the most cruelest of tests,
It supplies assurance where there is unrest.
My love bonds and hopes and holds and holds,
It begins from birth to infinity-years-old.
You can even feel it without physical touch
I?m a loving Black Sista so addreess me as such
The passion that is swelling, brewing inside,
Rises to my surface, it never hides,
Whether it?s displayed when I take a stand
Or when it?s seductively unveiled for my man,
Its intensity is unrestrained and uninhibited
And just like my strength, it is unlimited.
It can be overwhelming for some?it?s a bit much
I?m a passionate Sista so addreess me as such
Intellectual, strong, loving and passionate,
Sophisticated, powerful, affectionate, immaculate,
I?m not your hoochie, your bitch or your hoe,
I?m the center of life, more than you?ll ever know.
I?m your sister, your auntie, your niece, your mother,
And I stand beside you, not behind you my brother.
I come in different shapes, shades and sizes
And no one can deny me when this sista rises.
My style is captivating, thank you very much
I?m a beautiful Black Sista so addreess me as such

Dictionaries to Women in Prison

Chicago Books to Women in Prison is having a Dictionary Drive and we need your help. We are a volunteer collective that distributes books free of charge to women in prison nationwide. Incarcerated women send us their requests for books and we attempt to furnish the requested materials.
No other request comes in more frequently than the one for a dictionary. A woman incarcerated in Florida writes “I will be incarcerated for up to two more years and receive very little support from my family. However, I’m trying to further my education. Please send me a dictionary and any other reference material you think would help. Anything you could send will be greatly appreciated.”
We are unable to provide dictionaries to everyone who requests them. You can help us meet this overwhelming need by donating dictionaries or money to purchase them.
Please contact us at chicagobwp@hotmail.com to let us know how you wish to be involved. We will publicize a list of supporters on our website and in the next edition of our newsletter. We thank you in advance for helping us provide this much desired and necessary resource for the women in prison.

Parole Beat

Precious Releases?
Valere Boyd is free on parole after having been imprisoned since 1986 for killing her abusive husband. On March 16th, 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger approved the Board of Prison Terms’ decision to grant Valere parole. This was the third time that Valere had been found suitable. Governor Schwarzenegger reversed the Board’s decision in December 2003, and former Governor Davis had reversed the Board’s decision in 2002.
Pat Caetano had her parole approved on March 16, 2005 by Governor Schwarzenegger. This was the second time that Pat had been granted parole by the Board of Prison Terms. Former Governor Davis reversed the Board’s decision to grant Pat parole in 2003. Pat, a survivor of domestic violence has been in prison since 1986 for killing a stranger during a robbery along with a co-defendant.
Ana Garcia was released from CIW at the beginning of May.
Susan Greenberg was released on a 1473.5 habeas petition on July 8. Susan had served over 18 years at CIW on a 25-years-to-life sentence. She is now happily reunited with family in another state.
Outrageous Denials?
Governor Schwarzenegger reversed the Board of Prison Terms’ decision to grant parole to Linda Lee Smith and Karen Narita.
This was the SIXTH time that Linda Lee Smith was granted ? and subsequently denied ? parole. She has now served 25 years on a 15-years-to-life sentence for the death of her young daughter, who was killed by Linda’s abusive boyfriend in 1979. Linda’s other daughter has been leading the campaign to free her mother and we stand behind Linda and her family in the continued fight for her freedom.
For Karen Narita, it was the first time she had been granted parole after serving 20 years in prison for a homicide committed by her abusive husband. As with Linda, it is senseless that Karen continues to be incarcerated at the state’s expense after two decades.
Thanks to Free Battered Women for the information on releases and denials of incarcerated survivors. WE INVITE OUR READERS TO SEND US INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR OWN RELEASE DATES OR DENIALS!

Anti-ribbon cutting ceremonies for Delano II

Oakland, Ca.?On June 1, 2005, California opened its latest prison, a maximum security facility in Delano. Demonstrators opposed to prison building included Critical Resistance, Education Not Incarceration, Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) and others. We staged a ?reverse ribbon cutting? to call attention to the skewed priorities: opening more prisons, rather than spending state money on classrooms, books, or healthcare.
Similar demonstrations were held at the same time in Delano, Fresno, and Los Angeles.

Health care hard to find

It’s Your Health
Pam Fadem
Health care in immigration detention centers?and information about it?is hard to find.
CCWP would like to publish an article about conditions for women being held in California’s immigration detention centers. We feel pretty sure that the conditions are bad?while peoples’ legal rights are being violated, we assume their human right to decent health care is also in jeopardy. But making assumptions and having a fact-based understanding are two different things!
So we are asking for your help. Are there people you would refer us to who have been detained themselves, or have family members or clients who have been detained and would be willing to share some of their knowledge and experiences? If so,then please have them write to Pam c/o Fire Inside. Or call CCWP and leave a message for Pam with the contact information, and I’ll get back to you.
With many thanks ahead of time,
?Pam Fadem

CCWP honors 10 years of work with women prisoners

San Francisco, Ca.?CCWP celebrated our 10th year anniversary on June 9, 2005. The event, held at the African American Art and Culture Complex, opened with a dedication to women inside. As a special welcome, Saron Anglon, one of CCWP?s volunteers performed a heart-breaking rendition of Miss Celie?s Blues (see right).
Three dynamic women, Adrienne Bernard, Sherrie Green and Ida McCray served as mistresses of ceremony. Former prisoners in the room took a collective bow to great applause from the audience. CCWP staff?Christina, Patricia and Yvonne?said a few words and CCWP members performed a dance choreographed by Colby (see below). We also heard beautiful acapella ballads sung by Samsara, composed specifically for women prisoners. During the program members of the audience were asked to send messages of solidarity to women who could not be with us, because they are still inside.
The highlight of the evening was the premiere showing of ?Charisse Shumate: Fighting for Our Lives?. The video, produced jointly by CCWP and Freedom Archives, documents the life of Charisse ?Happy? Shumate, one the the cofounders of CCWP and the lead plaintiff in the historic law suit Shumate v. Wilson, which charged California prison system with medical abuse and neglect. CCWP came into existence as the outside support for the organization women inside already undertook in demanding humane treatment.
As a special treat, we heard from Demund, Charisse Shumate?s son, and his family, who came from Illinois to join the celebration.