This issue of the Fire Inside is dedicated to all the young women caught up in the juvenile (in)justice system.
You have far fewer legal rights than adults, as well as less access to the help and support that you need. As one young woman said, “They say we are the future, but they treat us like the past.”
You are our future, and we vow to fight for you today so that you will be able to fight for yourselves and the world tomorrow.
We dedicate this issue in honor of your energy and your courage.

NO on Proposition 21! NO to War on Youth!

The Third Eye Movement are youth organizing, among other things, against Proposition 21. They mobilized youth to challenge PG&E’s endorsement and financial contribution to the “Yes” on Prop 21 campaign. As a result, PG&E withdrew its endorsement!! We asked young women from Third Eye to comment on Prop 21 and its impact on girls. Below are excerpts from a couple of the responses.
Jasmin Barker: Although Prop 21 is not explicitly racist in its wording, race will play a central part in the implementation of the new law if it passes. Prop 21 will change the current definition of a gang … to three or more people with a likeness – name, dress, tattoos, etc. Defining a gang in this way will give police and prosecutors free reign without accountability. We already know who society thinks are gangs: Latinos, Latinas, Asians and African Americans – PEOPLE OF COLOR.
Prop 21 will affect girls in a special way. Girls who hang around young men who participate in criminal activity will find themselves facing the same charges for simply being there. I know many who are aware of criminal activity going on around them, but never directly participate. These will be at great risk because Prop 21 adds conspiracy to commit a crime to the list of offfenses of criminal “gang” activity. Therefore a girl could be labeled a gang member and be tried along with her partner without ever committing a crime. She will be tried, sentenced and incarcerated as if she planned, plotted and engaged in a crime. Also, Prop 21 will not allow pretrial release. This will affect young mothers because their children could be taken away while they await trial.
Samantha Liapes: Girls are not talked about in relationship to Prop 21 because politicians are playing off people’s fears and stereotypes of the gangbanger or super predator youth. This stereotype in the media and movies, music, etc. is almost always a young African American or Latino male. Politicians don’t want people to see the reality, the human beings that will suffer as a result of this initiative. They only present images that play on people’s stereotypes – and girls don’t fit this stereotype- though girls will certainly suffer with these new crimes and longer sentences.
The Third Eye Movement has mostly been targeting funders of Prop 21 to mobilize young people. The actions are designed to attract the media so that we can reach thousands of people about the dangers of Prop 21. It gives young people who can’t vote an opportunity to express their views and influence the ballot outcome. Our fight against Prop 21 has been overwhelmingly led by young women of color. These young women are role models for other girls and examples of the power and influence a young woman can have in determining the direction and spirit of a movement and creating change in her community.

The Community of Women Inside

by Charisse Shumate, CCWF
[We are particularly pleased to print articles which support solidarity between prisoners – Editors]
When my crime took place, I was driven with guilt, I believed that I was not worthy of love and that I could never ever love again. I could not stand for anyone to touch me. I held everything inside, not knowing who I could talk to or if I could trust anyone. After the third year of my 17-to-life sentence, I started to try and open up in one-on-one therapy. I knew I needed help but did not know how to ask for it. Then my sickle cell disease caused me to be housed at an outside hospital, cut off from the little mental support that I had just started to receive. I was forced to stay there even though I was not sick because of being at high risk for sudden death.
After nine months of being housed at a hospital, I was transferred to the new state-of-the-art medical facility at CCWF. We lifers are all on different yards and units so lifer support is cut off. There were no self-help groups when I first got here, so some of us got together once a week on the main yard and started our own battered women’s support group.
For the first time in five years I could open up and talk about the pain.
I met other prisoners who shared the very same pain and we learned to heal together. There I met a woman by the name of “Mary S.” For the next three years we shared our deepest, darkest secrets as well as our hopes and dreams for ourselves and our families. Mary is a peer counselor for the HIV women. There is no one that she does not greet with open arms and a prayer. She has been an ear to always listen and a shoulder to cry on. She is a God-sent angel right here behind prison walls. Now if I had not come to CCWF, I would never
have met Mary who I now call my sister.
Thank you Lord and thank Mary for being just as you are.

Know the Law: Dealing with the PLRA

by Cassie Pierson, Staff Attorney, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) of 1995 placed many restrictions on prisoners who attempt to sue their jailers under 42 U.S.C. ß 1983.
One key provision of the PLRA is the “exhaustion” requirement. This requires that the prisoner-plaintiff fulfly exhaust her or his administrative remedies (602 process) before filing suit. As you all probably know, exhausting the 602 process can truly be an exhausting experience. You have to file the initial appeal, wait for the answer (usually a denial), appeal to the next level, wait again, receive another denial (probably), then appeal to the Director’s level in Sacramento. Then you wait again.
All of this may sound simple. Prisoners, at least those in California prisons, know that appeals have a way of disappearing at one level or another. Of course, if your appeal is “lost” you can file another and start the whole process over again. It is not unusual for the 602 process to take nearly one year to be concluded.
After you receive the Director’s determination you have exhausted your administrative remedies and may file a complaint in federal court. Now your work starts anew. If you have access to law books, paper, pens (or a typewriter), you begin researching and writing. You will probably write many letters to private attorneys and legal services agencies asking them to review your story and take your case. However, because the PLRA also limits the amount of fees that an attorney may collect and budget for litigation may be very limited, it will be difficult to find representation.
Both of these PLRA provisions (exhaustion and fees limits) apply to class action suits as well. To satisfy the exhaustion requirement, each named plaintiff must be able to show exhaustion in order to proceed on behalf of the class. This adds to the difficulty of identifying potential class representatives. Of course, the costs associated with litigating a class action suit are much higher and place even greater burden on financially struggling legal servies agencies and attorneys.
However, none of this is to discourage you from pursuing justice if you have been harmed by a guard, a doctor, a counselor or anyone else employed by the Department of Corrections. You have the right under the U.S. Constitution to seek redress for harms inflicted upon you. More importantly, you have the right as a human, to be treated with respect whether you are incarcerated or not.

Editorial: The Invisible Targets of Proposition 21

On March 7 the people of California will vote on Proposition 21, called the “Juvenile Crime and Gang Prevention Act.” The proposition’s intent is to lock up more youth by fostering fear of them. Proven rehabilitation programs will be gut
ted to build more prisons. The proposition would sentence and house children as young as 14 as adults. It expands the “three strikes” offenses to include common schoolyard assaults as though they were gun robberies. It makes graffiti a felony, $400 worth of damage will be a felony. It expands the definition of a “gang” so that anyone can be entered into the gang database just on suspicion and then convicted by association.
The “three strikes” laws and the “war on drugs” sold the public irrationnal fear of violent, primarily minority, “criminals.” Mostly non-violent offenders, poor people, people of color and disproportionately many women have been imprisoned as a result.
Although few are focusing on the effects this proposition will have on young women, they are very visible part of organizing against it. Several young women signed a statement that says, in part, “This initiative is the real deal. It is a threat to all young people and the people who care about them…. We want to walk down the street without getting harassed by the police. We want a chance to live without being afraid of getting killed or thrown in jail. This initiative could send us to prison. We need your help.”
A young woman speaking at the Martin Luther King, Jr. freedom parade in San Francisco said “youth were heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Proposition 21 would lock us up before we can do anything.” A young Asian woman pointed out that California is number one in prison building and 41st in school spending. This proposition would take money away from the few alternative programs and spend literally billions of dollars more on new prisons.
Once in the juvenile system, the last stop for neglected, unwanted children, young women continue to be the ones most neglected and unwanted. They do not have even the limited options in alternative programs available to boys (see article on page 7.)
Given the history and the current abuse of young women in the juvenile system, can we imagine the heightened abuses if this initiative passes? Proposition 22, the anti-gay Knight initiative seeks to ban gay and lesbian marriages in the name of so-called “family values.” But where are the family values in Prop. 21 which will separate young women from their children. We have to come together to fight all these initiatives which seek to deny human rights to vulnerable communities.

to my father

by a young woman
misery loves company is what they say
who knows exactly when we will pay
don’t you see all the harm you caused
doing crazy shit and breaking laws
why is it you do the things you do?
make me look like the antagonist when it’s really you
you want your mentality to be like a peaceful dove
but hatred in your mind is what you’re full of
everyone puts up with your shit and lets it go
but now I’m gonna let you know
one minute this, the next you’re that
I refuse to fall into your trap
you are my blood and I love you so
but all this shit you gotta let go.

Through My Eyes

by Celeste “Jazz” Carrington, CCWF, death row
This poem is to all the mothers who have suffered at the hands of another. It was inspired from my own experienes with my mother being battered. I guess I speak for all the children who understand and love their mothers.
Today is a good day, there are no bruises…
Tomorrow who will know…
I’ve nursed your wounds, wiped your tears and held you as you trembled in fear.
Hoping the worst was over.
I’ve never looked down on you, you were and always will be strong in my eyes.
They say they love you, but they don’t know how…
You give all you have , but it’s not enough…
They lash out in rage, you become the receptacle of their anger
They tell you it’s for your own good.
You can’t leave because of the fear and love that paralyzes you.
They try to strip you of all they fear ? pride, self-respect and self-worth.
You look deep within and find that you are the strong one.
They are nothing more than insecure bullies. If being behind bars has freed you from them, then so be it.
You have always been the strong one
Now you rest as they too rest in peace

Honor Women Prisoners Who Dare to Fight

A Program for International Women’s Month
Video – Valley State Prison Security Housing Unit
Spoken Word by Aya deLeón
Corner Tour – Women’s Music Group
Third Eye on Girls and Juvenile Justice
Former Prisoners, Family & Friends
Join us to recognize the courage of the women who stood up to demand decent health care!
Saturday March 25, 7pm
Mission Neighborhood Center
362 Capp Street, San Francisco
$10 donation (no one turned away)
childcare provided
Sponsored by the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, 415-255-7036 ext. 4

Giving Girls An Opportunity

Lateefah Simon is the 22 year old executive director of the Center for Young Women’s Development, an independent grassroots non-profit located in the South of Market District of San Francisco. Below are excerpts from an interview which Bessa Kautz recently did for a National Radio Project show.
Lateefah: The Center for Young Women’s Development is an organization run for and by girls from the juvenile justice system and from the streets. We do a number of things, but the basis of it is we’re giving young women an economic opportunity to do social justice work. Young women from the streets and young women from the juvenile justice system often times are not given the opportunity to do movement building work, we’re not given an opportunity to really push some of the social structures in our communities. I came personally into the organization at 17, right off of probation and just struggling. And two years later I had the opportunity to think about what we were missing and I thought that work inside the jails was something that we really needed to do. So what we do is we honestly go out everyday and let girls know what’s going on, how we can fight and how we can bring them into different organizations if they so choose.
In San Francisco, what we’ve noticed in the past three to five years is that young women are being arrested at preposterous proportions for narcotics possession with the intent to sell. A lot of young women are trying to make money to feed their famlies and they’re out there and they’re selling dope, they’re trying to survive we’re finding that girls are being locked up for economical means because of an economic crisis among poor people of color. We’re seeing that if there are no well-paid, leadership, community-based ways for young women to flourish, because the education system is not cutting it, they need to have an alternative. And that alternative has been the streets.
The needs of young women are vast. From very early childhood sexual abuse to systemic poverty, lack of education, and lack of self worth. You know, we come out of our families feeling like nothing…There’s been a forgotten link in this whole conversation and debate about young people. People don’t talk about young women. When they’re talking about young women they’ll usually refer to them as a sidekick to something that’s going on involving young men. We visited the California Youth Authority and the small amount of women they had there, they were doing the laundry for the boys. Young women are being given horrible sentences and being sent up to Chowchilla and Valley State and these are 16 and 17 year old young women and people aren’t looking at the core issues that most of these young women have children…You know boys are often times given the opportunity to talk to the judge. A lot of times, we’re seeing that girls are not given that opportunity…
We think the significance of the project is that all the girls who are running it have been locked up, have been behind bars. At the Center for Young Women’s Development, we’ve reduced the recidivism rate of the young women we work with by 100%. No one has gone back to jail in the past 2 years. And how have we done that? Because if you give an opportunity to young women to organize their community, to get paid for it, to move boundaries, to call city hearings, to confront the police commission, there is a sense of power in that. And, you know, why would you wanna go back? Because you know you have a community of strong activists, strong sisters that are around you.

Proposition 21: What About the Girls?

by Julie Posadas, J.D.
As the public debates whether to punish or protect young offenders, often lost in this discussion is the plight of girls in the juvenile justice system. Since the majority of youth arrested are boys, it’s not surprising that Proposition 21 was designed to address the criminal experiences of young men. Current research on female juvenile delinquency shows that girls not only enter the criminal system for different reasons than boys, but once in the system they spend more time in custody and receive less rehabilitative services than their male counterparts. Since the Initiative does not provide prevention services, the negative impact it may have on female juvenile offenders may be worse than we realize.
As a direct result of laws like Proposition 21, the increased criminalization of young women has made them the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice system. Research on female juvenile delinquency shows that the overwhelming majority of girls in the juvenile justice system are victims of physical and sexual abuse. Abuse in a girls’ background highly correlates with her delinquent behavior. According to several studies, girls who report sexual abuse were more likely to get pregnant, be depressed, smoke, drink alcohol, and use drugs. A girl’s pathway to drug addiction often leads her to sell drugs, steal, trade sex, and prostitute to support her habit.
Once a young woman enters the juvenile justice system, additional problems emerge. According to a March 1992 study of female juvenile offenders, girls have so few prevention services that they often become chronic users of the juvenile system. Without prevention services such as counseling, mentoring or academic tutoring, many girls end up returning to juvenile hall on probation violations rather than new criminal charges. Whereas boys are given more prevention and intervention services such as anger management and rites of passage programs, a young women is often ignored until she has racked up enough probation violations and/or new criminal charges to place her in a group home or juvenile detention facility. Since many girls end up running away from these establishments, they are often pulled into criminal activity in order to survive on the street.
Since girls in the current juvenile system often receive more punishment than prevention, their plight resembles what would happen to all youth if Proposition 21 became law. There are also specific provisions in the Initiative that would not only bring more girls into the criminal system, but also keep them there for life. Girls tend to commit crimes that are relationship-oriented, meaning they will hold drugs and guns, steal, sell drugs, and prostitute for a boyfriend (usually an older man). By working in concert with men and boys, girls will be more vulnerable to conspiracy charges and being labeled as a gang member. Proposition 21 will increase the amount of girls entering the adult system for violent crimes. Because it provides no prevention funds, this Initiative will both severely reduce the small percent of rehabilitation services that currently exist for girls, and negate the overwhelming need for innovative new programs that could truly make a difference. Faced with these significant obstacles, if a young woman is successful in leaving the juvenile system, without confidentiality of her juvenile records, it will be much harder for her to find employment, get accepted into college, and turn her life around.
In order to protect girls from the prison industrial complex, it is imperative that we increase the quality and quantity of early intervention services. Prevention programs are estimated to be at least twice as effective and significantly cheaper than “3 strikes” laws designed to increase incarceration. These programs must be gender-specific in addressing all the diverse and complex issues girls in trouble face. Families, whenever possible, must be included in these services. By investing in programs promoting life skills, cultural awareness, counseling, tutoring, mentoring, employment opportunities, etc., we will not only save the lives of young women, but future generations to come.
Julie Posadas, J.D. is a prevention specialist with the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. She teaches law to youth detained in San Francisco’s Juvenile Hall and advocates for victim services and the rights of girls in the juvenile justice system.