by Sara Olson, CCWF
Who has the right to be a mother in the United States? Are women who are incarcerated ?fallen women,? examples of the patriarchal version of the Garden of Eden story and ineligible for motherhood? Do we feel love for our children? Do we miss them like women who have never been to prison? Yes. We do.
Most of the prisoners at CCWF are mothers. On Friday, May 12, 2006, CCWF hosted the annual Get On the Bus (GOTB) Day, reuniting 143 women prisoners with our children and loved ones to honor Mother’s Day. GOTB Day is organized by Catholic dioceses throughout the state, along with several other charitable organizations. The churches raise money to pay for the buses, breakfast and dinner meals en route both ways, food in the Visiting Center for inmates and guests, a gift tote bag of art materials for each child and two Polaroid photos. They also help the kids come by paying for identification, birth certificates and notary services. The organizing inside the prison is spear-headed by Ms. Hansen of Friends Outside, a self-help group working both in- and outside of California prisons.
On the big day, inmates come to the gym on the Main Yard. The night before, we receive ducats (an in-prison appointment pass) on the three facility yards for 9 AM. As the buses arrive (usually between 10-11 AM), women are called to the Visiting Center to meet with their children and other loved ones. The visits last until 3:30 PM. We share a meal of hot dogs, chips, soda pop and ice cream. Besides the art tote bag, this year the kids were able to choose a book or two and a Pound Puppy provided by members of the Inmate Family Council.
The week before the event, the mothers write a letter telling our children how much we enjoyed the visit. Then these letters are distributed on the bus ride home. The children tell Mom how thrilled they were to read them!
After the visit inmate mothers, like all who get a visit, are strip-searched. We are allowed to bring one Polaroid photo back to our rooms. It’s a magical time even though moms can’t bring back the cards our children made during the visit or, if the kids have drawn a creative handprint on mom’s shirt, mom may be threatened with a write-up for “destroying State property”. No matter. It’s worth it.
Get On the Bus Day is the only time most mothers see our children each year. It’s a precious gift, but it’s hardly enough. Many mothers are lifers or very long-termers and are denied the right to overnight visits with our children. In 1994 California outlawed Family Visits (FLU) for lifers, and later this cruel law was extended to all Close A and Close B (Closed Custody) inmates.
Children of prisoners and we, their moms, need to see each other more often. We want more GOTB Days, restoration of Family Visits for lifers, and a reduction in the Close Custody designation. In prison or not, for a woman who is a mother, every day is Mother’s Day.
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is ruthless in experimenting with new and improved objects of torture. The following items are some of the recent instruments used to inflict pain on prisoners who don?t conform to the wishes of their captors.
The Spit Net affixes under the arms for additional security while transporting ?threatening subjects?. Ideal for prisoner transport, the Spit Net protects against spitting and biting. (description from a sales advertisement on the Internet).
The ?Devils Chair? This restraining device has led to many serious abuses, including torture and death. Belts and cuffs prevent the prisoner’s legs, arms, and torso from moving.
Orange crush is a type of pepper spray that is much more toxic than other types of pepper sprays. It dyes everything it comes in contact with a bright orange color (skin, clothes, etc.) and stays on the skin for up to four days. Moreover, it is reactivated by water so a prisoner who has been sprayed and then takes a shower will experience the full force of the irritant for days.
Rubber Bullets are rubber or rubber-coated projectiles fired from guns. They are usually non-lethal, unless fired at short range, but are often heavy enough to pierce skin. These ?rubber bullets? were recently used to stop a ?fight? on the yard at VSPW where they were fired directly at one of the women instead of aiming at the ground first and deflecting onto the body which is the allowed method of use.
Mexican Women Beaten, Abused and Imprisoned!
In May, 2006 CCWP Patricia Chase, former CCWP volunteer coordinator and founder of the Compañeras project, called CCWP from Mexico to tell us about a terrible assault. The people of Atenco, Mexico were organizing against a government takeover of their land to build an airport. A demonstration was met with great brutality by the police, and the women who participated were targeted for abuse. Patricia asked CCWP to write an urgent letter of protest to the government of Mexico and a letter of solidarity to the women prisoners, which we did. Muchas gracias to compañera Patricia for sharing this story with us. Below is an excerpt of a public letter which the women issued from prison on May 12th.
Santiaguito, Almoloya, Mexico
To the population in general:
We women, workers of the country and city, housewives, students, etc.; political prisoners since the 3rd and 4th of May?are enraged by the formal indictment handed down on May 10th. Not only were we insulted, humiliated, beaten, tortured, sexually abused, and raped, but now we are also prisoners?. Nothing can heal us of the sexual abuse and rape we suffered. We were touched, pinched, kicked, hit with fists, batons and shield on our breasts, buttocks, and genitals?In addition to being subjected to this abuse, we continue to be victims of medical negligence?.Some of us should have been bandaged and cured since the day we arrived, some of us have vaginal infections, others infections in our wounds, others of us can?t even sit down because of the blows we received, and despite all this we continue a hunger strike because we will not take one step back in this struggle?.
We demand our liberation! We demand justice for the physical and sexual abuse and rape! May no one be indifferent to the pain that we have lived!
Free political prisoners!
The women political prisoners
Mujer Mexicana golpeada, abusada y encarcelada!
Mayo, 2006 Patricia Chase, comunicadora del CCWP; que a su tiempo fue coordinadora y la fundadora del proyecto compañeras nos hizo una llamada desde Mexico y nos compartio una historia terrible de abuso. En la cuidad de Atenco, Mexico la gente estaba organizando una marcha en contra del govierno los cuales querian tomar tierras para construir un aeropuerto. La policia respondio con gran brutalidad y unas de las mujeres que participaros fueron victimas de abuso y puestas en prision. Patricia nos pidio escribir una carta urgente en protesta de lo ocurrido al govierno de Mexico en solidaridad de las mujeres encarceladas; deseamos expresar nuestro agradecimiento con nuestra compañera Patricia por contar y compartir esa terrible historia con nosotras, debajo les mostramos la carta la cual la hacemos publica para tomar conciencia de lo que paso en Mayo 12.
Santiaguito, Almoloya, Mexico
A toda la poblacion en general:
Nosotras mujeres, trabajadoras de un pais y una cuidad, amas de casa, profesionales y estudiantes; etc.y prisioneras politicas desde el 3 y 4 de Mayo?estamos alzando nuestra voz en contra de los sucedido en Mayo 10, no solamente fuimos insultadas, humilladas, golpeadas, torturadas, sexualmente abusadas y violadas si no que ahora tambien somos prisioneras?.nada nos sanara de los abusos sexuales y violaciones que sufrimos, fuimos tocadas, pinchadas, patiadas, golpiadas en nuestros partes y senos y genitals?y no solo eso seguimos siendo victimas del sistema carcelario dentro con negligencia medica solo algunas de nosotras fuimos curadas desde el dia que llegamos, otras tienen infecciones vaginales y otras clases de infecciones algunas no se pueden ni sentar por el dolor continuaremos levantando nuestra voz seguiremos luchando aun en la condicion que estamos no daremos un paso atras en nuestra lucha?!
Demandamos liberacion , Demandamos justicia por los abusos sexuales y fisicos y violaciones pido a que nadie sea indifernte al dolor que nosotros vivimoss!
Prisioneras politicas libres!
Las mujeres prisioneras politicas
by Angela and Linda, VSPW
In the last issue of The Fire Inside we reported the horrific story of Martha Fernandez? family when they were trying to arrange a burial for Martha last December. This time we print letters from her friends inside to Martha?s family. These letters are published in Español to honor and respect the rich culture that Martha?s family understands and lives.
En la pasada edicion de nuestra revista The Fire Inside reportamos la horrible historia de Martha Fernandez y su familia cuando tuvieron el dificil obstaculo de su entierro en Diciembre; ahora les compartimos cartas de los amigos de Martha Fernadez dirigida a su familia
Para la Familia de Martha con aprecio.
Hola mi nombre es Angie, yo era una de las compañeras de Martha de cuarto en el tiempo que ella estaba enferma, aun en su situacion Martha tenia fortaleza y seguia asistiendo a la escuela y ella hacia todo lo que necesitaba hacer;recuerdo que me dijo que estaba tranquila porque sus hijos quedarian en muy buenas manos,y que sus padres cuidaban muy bien de ellos. Le ayudabamos a vestirse por que era dificil para ella a veces, ella nunca iba a la cena con todas por las noches y nos quedabamos con ella para que no este sola.
En la prision solo le chequeaban sus signos vitales y luego la enviaban de regreso a su unidad, nunca le daban medicina para el dolor solo le daban Tylenol 3 con Codeina, La mayoria de los encargados, o medicos de la yarda C constantemente le decian que no tenia nada grave; solo les quiero decir que Martha fue muy querida y muchas compañeras la extrañamos mucho sentimos mucho su perdida y cuenten con nosotras en lo que necesiten .
Angela Scott (VSPW)
* * *
Me dirijo a la familia de Martha ,
Hola mi nombre es Linda, y Martha era una muy buena amiga, cuando ella se movio al cuarto ella era muy callada, pero tomo un minuto para que ella se sintiera confortable y bien con nosotras, Ella era graciosa, amorosa y respetuosa, ella nunca se metio en problemas y siempre fue a la escuela aun que ella estaba enferma, nunca perdio las esperanzas de un dia volver a casa, ella amaba mucho a su familia, sus hijos eran todo para ella, siempre estaba muy feliz despues de las visitas con ellos.
Ella no tuvo ningun problema hasta Octubre del 2005, fue tremendo verla que se ponia peor cada vez mas rapico, hicimos todo lo posible para que ella se sienta confortable y un poco mejor, le di mi cama para que el aire fresco le ayude a respirar y no toser mucho.
Yo estaba realmente molesta por la actitud de los medicos, de no hacer nada finalmente le dieron pastillas para el dolor ese dolor que le hacia llorar , caminaba con ella a recoger sus medicinas cada dia;Escribi una carta en Noviembre 25 para que me expliquen por ella ya que nos tenia preocupadas, siento que CDC no hizo lo suficiente por Martha.
Quise a Martha mucho, Ella me hizo pensar mucho de la importancia de la libertad, hasta ahora recuerdo su risa y su bondad ella estara siempre en mi Corazon, les deseo a su familia mucha tranquilidad y amor.
by Yvonne/Hamdiya Cooks
Diana Block, University of California, San Francisco Senior Analyst, (Children?s Cancer and Blood Diseases), founding member of CCWP and Advisory Board member was honored with the prestigious Chancellor?s Award for Public Service from UCSF. Diana was recognized for her volunteer efforts as an advocate and organizer to improve health care for incarcerated women. A special luncheon was held at the University on May 4th where she and other award recipients were honored and received their awards.
Diana has worked in Pediatrics at UCSF for ten years. Her volunteer work is to be commended as she also volunteers as the financial advisor for the Women?s Building in San Francisco and is a steering committee member for Free Battered Women. Her dedication to CCWP has been instrumental to our growth and success. Diana assists in writing grants that contribute to our sustainability. Over the course of the last ten years, Diana has advocated for women in prison in many arenas; she visits prisoners in CCWF, CIW and the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, Ca.
As an activist, Diana collects and disseminates information about the long list of medical abuses which have been documented in women?s prisons, including needless deaths due to lack of emergency medical treatment; lack of diagnosis and treatment of such diseases as sickle cell disease, cancer, HIV and hepatitis C; lack of basic preventive health care and grossly inadequate nursing facilities. Diana helped work on legislative hearings about the conditions of health care in prisons, contacted media outlets, written many news articles, and continuously circulates information to the public through presentations to community groups.
CCWP Director Yvonne Cooks shared a few words about Diana. ?I met Diana over 15 years ago during one of her hundreds of visits to incarcerated women?. ?I knew then she could have given her skills and knowledge to the corporate world, however, her life choice was to work alongside the underserved and underrepresented women in society. I respect, appreciate and trust Diana Block?.
This award is well-deserved and long over-due. On behalf of all of us at CCWP inside and out, thank you Diana for your tireless energy and dedication to the well being of women prisoners.
Lawrence ABC Publisher and Distributor sends free literature (including booklets, pamphlets, resource guides, and zines) to prisoners. Topics available include political theory, anarchist history and thought, and the prison industrial complex.
Unfortunately, in most instances we are not able to send books to prisoners, and we cannot provide legal assistance.
Please write to us for a list of materials we have available.
P. O. Box 1483
Lawrence, KS 66044
Have you or a loved one been locked up because of Katrina? Critical Resistance (CR) is fighting for amnesty for people arrested because of the storm. We are looking for people whose cases were impacted by the hurricane (held beyond release dates, evidence destroyed by the storm, etc.) and individuals arrested for trying to take care of friends and family.
Contact: Critical Resistance
P.O. Box 71553
New Orleans, LA 70172
AMNESTY SUNDAY IS DECEMBER 10TH, 2006
Faith-based organizations are being asked to dedicate services to amnesty, reconciliation and healing for those incarcerated in connection with the storm. Contact CR for information.
On Sunday, November 5th, The California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) will be celebrating the 10 year anniversary of The Fire Inside newsletter with our honored guest, Alice Walker. Ms. Walker will read from her new book We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Light in a Time of Darkness, which will be released on November 1st.
CCWP is especially excited that Alice Walker, a writer who has illuminated the voices and experiences of women of color for the past four decades, will be speaking at an event which celebrates the writings of women prisoners in California for the past ten years. The Fire Inside began publication in 1996 with feature stories about lack of healthcare in prison and has continued publishing on a quarterly basis over the last ten years covering a wide variety of topics such as compasionate release, death row, SHU, work in prison, HIV/AIDS in prison, parole, and others. The Fire Inside is the only continuously publishing newsletter devoted to the issues that impact women prisoners and it is written through a collaboration between women prisoners, former prisoners, family members and advocates.
Please join us:
Sunday, Novemeber 5, 2006, 2:00 – 5:00 p.m.
African American Art & Culture Complex
762 Fulton St., San Francisco, Ca.
CCWP will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of printing The Fire Inside newsletter with a program on November 5, 2006. We invite all women living in a CDC & R institutions to send us:
Short statements about what The Fire Inside mans to you
Some poetry and statements will be read at the Nov. 5th program and some will be printed in the program and ad booklet that will be distributed at the event. Artwork will be displayed at the event. We can?t promise to print everything we receive, but we?ll send everyone who sends us a submissiona copy of the program book. Help us celebrate the past 10 years and look forward to the next decade!