Demonstrate on Friday, May 12!

by Amy Weaver
Bay Area community activists Joyce Miller and Ida McCray Robinson have their hands full preparing for the May 12th demonstration for “Mothers in Prison, Children in Crisis: a National Campaign. The event, which takes place at noon in front of the United Nations Plaza in San Francisco, is part of a ationwide day of protest against the “destructive social and economic consequences of maternal incarceration.” Speakers will include affected women who are formerly or currently involved with mother/children care facilities, various clergy and civic officials. The numbers are frightening: In 1980, there were only 10,000 women incarcerated throughout the United States. Today, there are more than 11,000 women in California’s state prisons, and thousands in county jails. The alarming rise is due in large part to the criminalization of substance abuse and the harsh sentencing for drug law violations. Ida McCray, a former federal prisoner in California, knows first-hand the damage that is being inflicted on children of women prisoners and the frustration and pain this causes mothers behind bars. “It is so important to raise awareness to the drastic need for alternatives to incarceration for mothers,” says McCray. Joyce Miller seconds that notion. “People need to be educated about this crisis.” For more information, call Families with a Future/Legal Services for Prisoners with Children at 415/ 255-7036 ext. 320.

For My Children

by Paula Foster Stallworth, Florida State Prison
I’ve picked you up when you’ve fallen,
brushed off your skinned knees
and kissed your owies.
I’ve held you after your nightmares,
checked under your bed,
in your closets for the boogie man.
I’ve watched you grow, seen you stumble
Only to catch yourself time and time again.
I’ve watched you sit on the sidelines,
when you’ve really wanted to play.
I’ve watched you fight back tears
when some idiot told you, “big boys don’t cry!”
during all these times I’ve had to stand by, helpless
to change the reality of your life.
“Why?” you ask …
because it’s all a Bittersweet Dream!
Always have loved you and
Always will –
Your birth mother

Mothers and Infants Together – the way it should be

from Donna Villanueva
[The Fire Inside asked Donna Villanueva, a case manager with the Community Prisoner Mother Infant Program (CPMP) which is run by the Friends Outside group in Salinas, to ask mothers to write about their experinces with the program. None of us knew then what we have since learned – that the CDC was planning to close the Salinas site down on June 30th because the program is not “cost effective”. After reading the letters from these women it would seem that the real problem is that it is too effective in empowering women to suit the CDC.]
I am so pleased to be able to submit these letters from the women of the Mother Infant Program in Salinas. As you know, we will be closing our doors June 30th which has made it very difficult emotionally for both the women and staff.
This was my first opportunity to work with inmate mothers. In my five years of working in the recovery field, I have to say it has been the most rewarding. It has been a joy to see the light return to their eyes, their hope for the future and the knowledge they can empower themselves as women and mothers. I am confident that the women who leave our facility leave with the tools they need to have a full and rewarding life. I hope that in the future I again have the opportunity to work with this very special population of women.
Below are excerpts from the women’s letters.
What CPMP has meant to me is that I get to start a new life with my first child whose life started without me being able to be there. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was to have him taken from me just 3 days after he was born. At 2 months I was reunited with him here at CPMP and it has been the most fulfilling experience of my life. I’ve been here close to 8 months now and have been learning things about myself and my drug addiction. I’m also learning parenting skills to help me be a good parent to this wonderful gift from God that I’ve been given who is my son. This is not my first time in treatment, but I’ve learned more here than at any of the retail institutions I’ve been through. I feel like this place has prepared me to go out into the world and make it without the use of drugs or criminal behavior. If I were to have one wish it would be that every woman who’s given this opportunity gets as much out of it as I have. Thank you Friends Outside. I love each and everyone of you who has made this all possible for me and my son Noah.
-Tracy Jane Steintrager
“From Under A Rock” (excerpt)
by Tori Alvarado
At this program we learn how to change old behaviors
All the women that work here are really like saviors.
It’s been almost 2 years now, I feel that I’m ready,
I just hope when I get there, I can keep my life steady.
It’s easy to forget all the fear that I felt,
All the sad lonely nights, locked in a cell,
A few lines and a beer, all I learned can be lost
I’m not willing to lose that, at any cost!
Coming to CPMP has given me a second chance at being a good mother, wife, and sister. I was able to be reunited with my youngest child who was 11 months old when I was incarcerated. I have also been able to open up communication with my 2 other children and I have been very fortunate to have a supportive husband…I can go back to where I came from and live a better life with the tools I acquired at CPMP.
-Mellissa

Life without Children

by Linda Field, CCWF
I came to prison when Sara was seven. She was too young to understand 25 to life meant she’d grow up without her mother. Her brother and sister, who were 15 and 12, didn’t truly understand.
Sara’s first visit was traumatic. She spent the day begging me to allow her
to stay with me. She promised to be good, never leave my room, and never bother the guards. She couldn’t understand why I didn’t want her. She sobbed, clinging to me when it was time to leave. Her little arms reached out to me over her grandfather’s shoulder, her hands rapidly opened and closed, begging me.
I kept telling her I loved her. She was finally out of sight, the dam I had erected broke and I let the flood free. I cried for my children and myself.
I cried for every mother and child who went through this. Why didn’t the courts understand? They passed a verdict not only on me but my children. My children were abused by their father, orphaned by me, and abandoned by the judicial court system.
After 13 years of heartache, we now have a governor who doesn’t want to hear any circumstances of why a murder was committed. He believes we should rot in prison. While I cannot justify my actions, no one is beating my children anymore.
The state decided family living unit visits were no longer acceptable for lifers, further punishing my children. No longer could we have visits in a little apartment in prison which allowed a pretense of normality. During
those visits mothers could rock their children, cook for them, and talk for endless hours. No more can we maintain a thread of parentship with children or grandchildren. Instead visits are conducted in a visiting room with cameras and guards who look at a mother-child relationship as abnormal. We cannot talk about important things because “Big Brother” is watching.
The playroom in visiting has few toys, only foam-type blocks. There are no strollers, no high chairs, no outside toys or activities. The few board games are geared for older children and adults.
Our children deserve better. Punish us but not our children. It is time for the state to re-evaluate their treatment of our children.

News Notes

Demonstrate at Chowchilla Women’s Prisons, Saturday July 15, 1p.m. Simultaneous demonstrations will take place at prisons around the country demanding human rights for prisoners and their families. Initiated by the Prison Reform Unity Project 2000. Chowchilla demonstration is coordinated by CCWP and California Prison Focus.
We welcome the recently formed San Diego chapter of CCWP! We look forward to hearing about thier activites in our next issue.