Family Visits: Keeping Precious Connections Strong!

by Diana Block
On Saturday Feb. 4th, family members of women incarcerated at CCWF and VSPW boarded buses in Los Angeles and Oakland to participate in CCWP?s second annual Family Visiting Day. For many of the family members who participated, this was a much welcome chance to visit loved ones in prison, some of whom hadn?t been visited for years. It was also a wonderful opportunity for families to get to know each other and to get to know the people in CCWP who visit and advocate for their loved ones.
CCWP started Family Visiting Day in 2005 when we realized how many women were not getting regular visits from their families because of the difficulties involved with transportation to the prisons. In 2005, we brought families from the Bay Area but this year we expanded the event to include a bus from Los Angeles. We spent several months raising money, getting donations of food, collecting names and information from families who were interested in participating, researching chartered bus companies and working on dozens of other details to make it all possible. Some families were picked up by volunteers and some got to the meeting places on their own. There were packets of information which included descriptions of CCWP?s programs for each family, as well as healthy snacks, and crayons, paper and flash cards for the kids to pass the time on the long bus ride there. Although everyone was sleepy because of the early hour, you could feel the excitement running up and down the aisles!
One major accomplishment was that all the family members who came on the trip were able to get in to visit, which is a big hurdle to cross given the many rules and regulations which need to be followed. Friends Outside staff who run trailers on the prison grounds graciously hosted the CCWP volunteers and staff while the families were inside visiting. They even prepared special gift bags for the children. After the visit was over, both buses drove to the Merced Hometown Buffet where we all had the opportunity to share stories and pictures of the visit while eating a delicious, all-you-can-eat dinner. Afterward, we all had a chance to introduce ourselves and say a little about our experiences that day. Then family members completed a short survey before getting back on the buses to head for home.
Here are some of the things which family members shared in response to the question ?What did participating in Family Visiting Day mean to you??
-Hard times kept me from visiting on my own as I usually do, so this visit kept me in touch with my loved one without a long absence.
-Fue un dia muy especial porque la pase muy feliz con mi hija!
-It is a wonderful thing you are doing for the families and the women prisoners ? the looks on the faces of my grandchildren when they saw their mother was heart warming and something you never forget ? and it would not be possible without the bus trip.
-It was very nice visiting my daughter and meeting new people.
-It meant a lot to me because I got to hug and kiss my auntie.
-Fue un regalo de ustedes!
The main thing that people wanted to change for the future was to do Family Visiting Day more than once a year!

Parole Beat

Precious Releases?
Medina Ibbotson was released at the end of her sentence from CCWF in October 2005. We have been in touch with Medina and understand that she is doing very well in her new life.
Incarcerated survivor Linda Field was released on Tuesday, January 3rd after serving 19 years. Linda was released with the help of the Habeas Project and pro bono attorney Terry Gross. Linda has been a consistent, eloquent contributor to The Fire Inside since 1996 writing about medical abuse, children, battering and philosophy. We know that Linda will continue contributing to the newsletter in this new stage of her life.
Debbie Flannery was paroled on October 25th after serving 25 years on a 15 to life sentence! Congratulations and thanks to her friend who sent us the information for Parole Beat.
Shirley Ree Smith?s verdict was overturned by a federal appeals panel, which concluded there has been ?a miscarriage of justice? during her trial.
Outrageous Denials?
YaVonne Anderson (also known as Hakim) was denied parole. Although Yavonne has registered for and is beginning college courses, continues to participate as a leader in peer health education and the commissioners applauded her for these activities, they still said she had not served enough time. YaVonne?s poetry and prose have been featured in The Fire Inside, on Alternet and also on the CD “The We That Sets Us Free: Building a World Without Prisons,” produced by Justice Now.
Thanks in part to Free Battered Women for the information on releases and denials of incarcerated survivors and to the women prisoners for the information we received about their own cases. WE INVITE OUR READERS TO SEND US INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR OWN RELEASE DATES OR DENIALS!