Every 6 months we will be hosting the Without Walls radio show on Hard Knock Radio every 4th Friday of the month from 4-5pm.
You can hear us on January 25th and July 25th, 2008. You can listen on KFCF 88.1 FM in the Central Valley, KPFA 94.1 in the Bay Area, or listen online to the Hard Knock Radio archives for that day at kpfa.org . We encourage women and transgender people inside to send us your poetry and writing to share on the air.
On March 28 over 200 former prisoners, loved ones of prisoners, and allies gathered in Sacramento for a rally and lobby day organized by Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes (FACTS) and Coalition for Effective Public Safety (CEPS). Those most affected by the prison system meet with legislators to oppose Governor Schwarzenegger’s multi-billion dollar prison expansion plan and offer solutions to the crisis and the damage it has caused our communities such as parole reform, compassionate release, treatment instead of prison for people with substance abuse issues, and abolishing life without the possibility of parole sentencing for juveniles.
CCWP held its third annual Family Visiting Day event in February, providing transportation from Oakland and Los Angeles to Central California Women’s Facility and Valley State Prison for Women. The response this year was bigger than any previous year (we received information for over 800 visitors while we had the capacity for only 170) showing the enormous desire of prisoners in Chowchilla and their loved ones to visit one another. Many loved ones of prisoners need assistance in getting to the prisons, as the cost and distance of the trip is often too much, especially considering the disproportionate number of people from poor communities and communities of color being locked up.
The Archdiocese Catholic Center in downtown LA and Friends Outside graciously provided use of their facilities. Whole Foods, Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, Primo?s coffee, Veritable Vegetables, Noah?s Bagels, Trader Joe?s, and Safeway donated snacks and drinks for the long drive to the prisons. We provided three photo ducats to each prisoner’s visitors, and took everyone out to dinner after the visit so we could all relax, eat, and socialize with other Family Visiting Day participants and CCWP volunteers.
While the days were very long and tiring for everyone involved, the joy of being able to see and touch a loved one inside meant so much to all who participated. Our connections to family members and loved ones of the people inside were strengthened and we hope to stay in touch and work collectively with them to challenge the unjust conditions of confinement that women, transgender, and gender variant prisoners in women’s institutions face as well as the racist, classist, and sexist society that puts them there.
Some comments Family Visiting Day participants made about what the event meant to them:
It’s something very important because I have no other way of coming to visit my daughter.
A whole lot of love happiness and communication.
It meant getting together with other people that understand what you?re going through because they are in the same situation.
It?s always important to see our family member and to participate in the cause to better things for the inmates and their families.
A way to meet other families going through the same thing.
It mean a lot to us because without this program we wouldn’t be able to see her.
In addition to these heartfelt comments, in the weeks following the event we received numerous letters from the prisoners who were able to get a visit, expressing their gratitude and joy. The people who wrote to us from inside shared:
A lot of us women hadn’t seen our families. If it wasn’t for your great efforts of putting this visit together who knows if we would ever see them again. Thank you so much.
I just wanted to write a personal thank you for caring enough to bring my dear mom to see me. I hadn’t seen her in 7 years, then you wonderful people made it possible.
I’m still so jazzed…very happy.
This visit changed the remaining of my time left here at Chowchilla thanks to you. You made it possible for my kids and my precious mother to come visit me and for this I will forever be greatful to all of you. My older son is 17 years old and he was doing bad in school but after that visit he’s getting A’s?my other boy is 14 years old and you also made his day. His birthday is in February so he got to see his mom. Thank you so much.
I will never forget this. It has made me a better person to know someone cares.
This event reminds us every year how meaningful it is for people in prisons to see their children, families, and loved ones outside and break down the barriers and isolation that the system is set up to create. CCWP is committed to doing whatever we can to keep these connections strong.
An interview with Kris at VSPW
Question: How would you define your gender?
Answer: People consider me a man, but I consider myself me and free.
Q: How are you seen at VSPW?
A: I don’t fit ever. Most cops don’t like me. A lot of older women don’t like me, then some get to know me and then like me. It’s hard because my look might be like the incredible hulk, but on the inside, I’m more like a teddy bear.
Q: How do you experience your gender at VSPW?
A: It’s overwhelming. I get a lot of attention from girls here, especially with the way I look, people want to be around me. I think they like my company because it feels like being around their man. Also I get a lot of negative treatment from the cops. If I don’t fight back, they become more aggressive, trying to make me react. Even if I don’t react, they keep bugging me.
Q: Does how you look ever stop you from getting things you need or want?
A: Every single day. Sometimes I’ll ask a girlie-girl to get supplies for me.
Q: Do you get support from other people inside when you face discrimination?
A: Usually I feel supported. If I need something one of my girlier friends will help me out – from something as simple as needing a chemical to clean my room, to something as hard as asking for a room change. If I ask alone, it will never happen.
Q: How do the cops approach you?
A: The cops can never tell me to shave my face because I have a chrono for hormones that will never expire, so they can’t touch me. I think some officers are jealous because I have better facial hair than they do. I think my experience with cops is more intense than other “inmate aggressives” (a term cops use to describe more masculine people in women’s prisons) because I grow facial hair – a complete beard, nothing partial, the whole grandpa hook-up – so they trip out.
Q: Why do you think the cops treat you the way they do?
A: I think we’re treated like this because they’re intimidated by us. Because they think we look more like them, they want to treat us more aggressively. They’re intimidated by our gender difference and I think they’re afraid. I see it as a territorial battle.
Q: How do you know cops are intimidated by “inmate aggressives”?
A: On my fourth day here, I was 19 years old and I was trying to get a room change. They wouldn’t listen to me so I refused to lock-in. Twenty cops attacked me and I went to jail on a “battery”. I wasn’t trying to fight anyone, I was just trying to ask for something I had the right to ask for. They found me guilty, locked me up for 53 days, then they dropped the charges. Later, the sergeant came up to me and apologized, he stated he was scared about how I would react so he took it to the next level. He was scared about how I look! The cops just react on how you look. They don’t allow you to say anything, it’s not about your personality.
Q: Are you treated differently inside prison than you were outside, when it comes to how you look?
A: On the streets, people treated me more like a real person. Here people treat me like I’m beneath them. Here there is no in between because there’s always someone above you. Remember that!
Becoming a Trans Ally
* Seek information about transgender identities and organizing being done by transgender communities. There are many organizations with information and resources.
* Acknowledge, examine, question, challenge and change transphobia in yourself, friends, loved ones, people you work with and people who are involved in groups or organizations you are a part of.
* Don?t assume you know what pronoun a person uses. If you do not know, ask. Recognize and use the pronoun that each person feels comfortable with. If you make a mistake, just apologize. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes.
* Integrate transgender-friendly/conscious language into everyday conversations, and into your messages and materials if you are a part of a group or organization
Interview with Miss Major, Community Activist with Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project/ Transgender in Prison Committee
Most people cannot imagine what happens to a transgender person in prison. For instance, a transgender woman who is stuck in a men?s prison will be sexually abused, assaulted and degraded because of how men feel they can treat women. There is never a chance to catch your breath. At any moment that cell can pop open because some guard decides to let some idiot in to calm his nerves at your expense. Nobody wants to be assaulted and nobody wants to be degraded. The system promotes this violence and we carry the burden. And there is no help.
In prisons they also separate us from one another. To control us, they isolate us. If we complain about something happening to us, they put us in segregation. When we do get a chance to be with other girls, we bond with one another. There?s an acknowledgement across barriers such as language. When we see another girl, we give her a smile or a nod to help her keep going because we know some of what she is going through. We know that she is being abused and tortured. That?s why TGIJP?s pen pal program is so important. It helps us believe that this is not going to last forever. Because in prison, you think tomorrow will never come. They can do what they want, beat you up, throw you out, kill you and there?s no one out there who cares.
Our pen pal program hooks up transgender people inside with people on the outside, like myself, that have had a chance to get off that merry-go-round. The recidivism rate is really high. I think that 70% of the girls that get out go back in. You begin to think that it?s a done deal.
My vision is a different solution other than prison. The system is not working. It might be different if they were training, not torturing people in prison. And if people got out with a clean slate. You get out and you still have that stigma. We don’t need more prisons, we need social services, job training, livable housing.
I wish people would talk to us and realize we are no different from anyone else. We don’t want to steal and run around and hook, but if that is all that is presented to you, that’s all you can do. You have to do those things to survive, because you have to eat, and you have to have someplace to live.
There is a thread that links all people together, and if one of us is hurt, we all hurt. We all need support and encouragement for who we are. It’s difficult enough being transgender — to walk down the street and know that you have to keep your eye on everybody. It’s a scary situation. I want us to be safe wherever we go. I want that for everybody.
It is really important that we all support a trial going on right now in San Francisco. Alexis Giraldo is a Latina transgender woman who was brutally raped while incarcerated in a CA State Prison. She complained multiple times to the guards about her cellmate threatening to sexually assault her, but they did nothing and she was repeatedly raped. She went to the authorities and they locked her up and denied her medical attention for two weeks. So she is suing the prison system. It is so important for people to get involved and support this. And for people in prison who are hearing about it- stand up for your rights. You don’t have to take this anymore. Get in touch with somebody. We can at least band together and fight it. They say don’t rock the boat, I say sink it.
Resources for Trans Prisoners
Sylvia Rivera Law Project
322 8th Avenue, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10001
Transgender Law Center
870 Market Street, Room 823
San Francisco, CA 94102
Lambda Legal Defense
3325 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1300
Los Angeles, CA 90010-1729
ACLU of Northern California
Attn: Alex Cleghorn or Tamira Lange
39 Drumm Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project/ Transgender in Prison Committee
1095 Market St. Suite 308
San Francisco, CA 94103
Send legal mail to the above address, c/o Alexander Lee, Attorney at Law
by Karen Shain
In late April, five members of the state legislature and the governor struck a deal that will increase the number of beds available for state prisoners by 53,000! This deal, costing over $7.5 billion dollars over what we already pay to keep people in cages, was passed within 48 hours by both houses of the legislature and signed by the governor a week later. With the exception of a very few republicans and even fewer democrats, the largest prison expansion bill in our state’s history was passed without any public hearings or any time to oppose it! What happened?
This unprecedented expansion comes after learning that the CDCR was secretly rebuilding the death chamber at San Quentin without any approval by the state legislature. It is clear that when it comes to expanding the prison system, those in power feel no responsibility to seek public approval or even public opinion! Just like the current immigration bill that was agreed to by federal legislators using backroom deals and secret negotiations, prison expansion is something that legislators and the CDCR believe must be carried through whether or not the public agrees. Furthermore, the lease revenue bonds that will pay for this new construction (becoming over $15 billion once all the interest is paid) are supposed to be used only for public works that bring in revenue, like public parking lots or sports stadiums. It is a mystery to us how the state legislature determined that building prisons will bring in revenue! But they had to use the lease revenue bonds or bring a prison construction to the state electorate, and polls show that Californians are sick and tired of building prisons and don’t want to pay for any more construction! Finally, the California constitution calls for public comment for legislative bills. AB900 (the bill authorizing all this construction) was passed by suspending the constitution so that no public comment would be heard. (The few senators who voted against AB900 are listed below).
In the wake of this flagrant disregard for public accountability, CURB (which CCWP is part of) held a protest on May 11 outside of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez’s office in L.A. and another one on May 23rd in front of Senate President pro tem, Don Perata’s Oakland Office. CURB is also circulating a petition expressing outrage at the passage of AB900. If you want to circulate the petition write to: CURB,1904 Franklin Street, Suite 504, Oakland, CA 94612
Senators opposed to AB900: Aanestad (R), Cogdill (R), Correa (R),Denham (R), Florez (R), Kuehl (D), McClintock (R), Migden (D), Oropeza (R), Romero (D)
by Myrtle E. Green, California Institution for Women
Myrtle Green is featured on the cover of Legal Services for Prisoner’s report, Dignity Denied calling for the release of elderly prisoners. Myrtle’s situation exposes the cruelty of a system which incarcerates elders despite their eligibility for release, their deteriorating health situation and the illegal overcrowding in the California prisons. Myrtle was found suitable for parole in 2005 but GIVEN A RELEASE DATE IN 2010!! In January ?07 she had a stroke which left her blind in one eye. She sent us this statement.
“I was found suitable for parole on 12/28,/05 with a parole date of June 2010. I am now 75 years old after serving seventeen years for conspiracy. There was no murder nor any attempt made on any one’s life.
At the Board Hearing in 2005 both commissioners and the Deputy District Attorney agreed that I would not be a threat to public safety and that seventeen years was enough. My attorney filed for immediate release on 11/27/06 because of my medical disabilities and the fact that there was no matrix regarding time served for conspiracy. He asked the Board to use a matrix for “other life crimes” with a term of 15 to 17 years. The responding Board Attorney denied this request on 2/22/07. If the Board Attorney had read my Board and Decision Transcripts she would have found none of her statements were true in the denial of my request for immediate release!
I fear that I will die before 2010 and never live to see my daughter and grandchildren. They live in Jackson, MS where I plan to parole. Really, I need to leave here walking – not feet first!”
Please write the Board of Parole Hearings to support Myrtle’s immediate release. Write Myrtle to let her know she has your support.
Board of Parole Hearings
1515 K St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
#W32887, MA 31L
16756 Chino-Corona Rd
Corona, CA 92880-9508
by Diana Block
On November 7, 2006, California voters passed Proposition 83, also known as Jessica’s Law, by a 70% yes vote. The new law increases the penalties for sex offenses under Penal Code 290. It requires registered offenders to wear lifelong GPS bracelets to track their every movement. And it makes it illegal for all registered sex offenders to “reside within 2000 feet of any public or private school, or park where children regularly gather.” This makes it virtually impossible for registrants to live in any urban area in California. Proposition 83 also expanded the offenses which require registration as a sex offender to minor offenses such as indecent exposure (Penal Code 314).
CCWP received a letter from a woman who had pled guilty to a charge of indecent exposure many years ago. At the time, she made the plea in order to avoid a more serious conviction on prostitution charges. Now, she is imprisoned for an unrelated incident and years after the indecent exposure plea she is being told that she has to register as a sex offender when she is released! This terrible situation exposes the extremist agenda which motivated this proposition.
Many people who voted for Proposition 83 had no idea of the wide ranging impact this law would have on all sorts of people. The term “sex offender” is used to conjure up an image of a person who preys upon young children and whose behavior is uncontrollable. The fear of the incurable sex offender is being used to pass laws which criminalize increasing numbers of people and have nothing to do with keeping children and communities safe.
There have been several constitutional challenges made to the provisions of Prop 83. So far, there has been one ruling which says that the provisions of Prop 83 cannot be applied retrospectively. However, some confusion still remains as to the exact scope of this ruling. Other challenges regarding the GPS bracelet and the residency restrictions are yet to be decided. To make matters even more confusing, counties are responsible for the implementation of the law and it’s likely that various counties will enforce the law differently according to the resources available for enforcement.
Harsher laws and more punishment will not help California’s prison crisis or solve the fundamental social problems which give rise to sex offenses. We need to advocate for community-based solutions which address the social causes of individual problems and work together to develop restorative methods of change.
CCWP would like to gather information about women and transgender prisoners who are being impacted by Jessica’s law. Please write us with any stories you may know about.
Thanks to the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) for their original opposition to Proposition 83 and for contributing information for this article.