Critical Resistance: Expanding Our Vision of What Is Possible

For three years now California Coalition for Women Prisoners has been inspired by the resistance of women inside California state prisons. Through our activities and writings, we try to bring out the voices of the women.
Sometimes it is a “simple” story of resisting systematic de-humanization through expression of indignation and anger.
Sometimes it’s a story of helping other prisoners with their daily life: setting up peer counseling for HIV+ prisoners, helping new women know their rights, helping them fill out a complaint against a particular case of abuse, as well as millions of other ways. Guards consciously play one prisoner against another, heighting racism and all other divisions present in society. Any act of solidarity is precious in that it resists that form of control.
Sometimes this resistance takes the form of an out-right challenge to the whole system, such as when Charisse Shumate agreed to become lead plaintiff in a suit charging the whole Department of Corrections, Governor Wilson and the State of California with cruel and unusual punishment of women prisoners through intent or non-existent health care. She wrote: “Now my concerns are no longer for myself. But my sisters…who I have seen die.”
The courage and vision of the women inside inspire us on the outside to find ways to fight the de-humanization existing in society. The critical connection between the women inside and those on the outside, is the way in which the women inside expand our thinking of what is possible. For example, the Department of Corrections claims that the health care given to women inside is comparable to care given on the outside. While that is clearly a lie, Charisse stuck to her position, that the quality of care be measured in absolute human terms, not as a comparison to what someone else might or might not be getting.
An important question for the conference on Critical Resistance is: what do we bring to meet the voices and vision from inside? Can we, in solidarity with women on the inside, make it possible to expand what freedom means, so that it does not merely mean releasing prisoners into a society that creates prisons in the first place?
Critical resistance is when…

  • Charisse Shumate, who endures constant painful flare ups of her sickle cell disease, makes the difficult decision to become the lead plaintiff in a suit against the California Department of Corrections, for its medical abuse of women prisoners, standing up to a system that is slowly killing her.
  • Robin Lucas files a suit agains the Federal Prison in Dublin for systemic rape
    perpetrated by the guards and other prisoners, instituting, for the first time, a rule that any sexual activity between a prisoner and a guard is illegal.

  • Theresa Cruz refuses to accept abuse by the injustice system after years of abuse by a former partner, and wins a habeas corpus ruling that overturns her conviction in a legal climate where that is nearly impossible
  • Women in the Valley State segregated housing unit blow the whistle on guards who are sexually harassing them even though they know they will face harsh retaliation.
  • Mumia Abu-Jamal keeps writing eye opening, passionate columns from his cell on death row where he has been kept for sixteen years .
  • Women and men in the outside world refuse to cast a blind eye on the horrors that are going on inside prisons all over this country and join with incarcerated people to say we will watch you, expose you, and bang at the gates of the fortresses you try to hide until there is real change!