CCWP held its third annual Family Visiting Day event this past February, providing transportation from both Oakland and Los Angeles to Central California Women?s Facility and Valley State Prison for Women, both in Chowchilla, to the loved ones of prisoners in each institution. The response this year was bigger than any previous year showing the enormous desire of women, transgender and gender variant prisoners and family members and loved ones of these prisoners to visit one another. This huge response also illustrates the absolute need many have for assistance in getting to the prisons, as the cost and distance of the trip is often prohibitive, especially considering the disproportionate number of people from poor communities and communities of color being locked up. The fact that we received information for over 800 visitors while we had the resources and capacity for only 170 shows how much this opportunity means to people in California women?s prisons and their loved ones on the outside.
We decided given the high volume of people wanting to participate that we would break up the event into two days, one for Northern California?s one bus and one for Southern California?s two busses, as the majority of responses came from people with loved ones in the Los Angeles area. For a second year the Archdiocese Catholic Center in downtown Los Angeles allowed us to use their building as our meeting place so people could wait inside the building while we were preparing to board the busses. 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. We provided enough money for each prisoner?s visitors to purchase get three pictures taken during the visit, which enabled the visitors, prisoner, and CCWP to each keep a photo of this special visit. Again the people at Friends Outside graciously hosted the CCWP volunteers while the family members and loved ones were inside visiting. We were able to get many donations for snacks on the way to and from the prisons and took everyone out to dinner right after the visit so we could all relax, eat, and socialize with other Family Visiting Day participants and CCWP volunteers.
Our connections to family members and loved ones of the people inside were strengthened and we hope to stay in touch and work to 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 from Family Visiting Day participants on what the event meant to them include:
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 your going through cause they are in the same situation.
Its 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 wouldn?t for your great efforts of putting this visit together who knows if we 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 for several reason, 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 preciouse 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 As?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 women and trans prisoners to see their children, families, and loved ones outside and break down the barriers and isolation that the system is set up to create. Visiting is of such great importance to both the prisoner and loved ones from outside, and CCWP is committed to doing whatever we can to strive to keep these connections strong.