There is Strength in Numbers

by Prisoner, CCWF
Two women looking out between prison barsI’ve served 7+ years of a LWOP (life without parole) sentence and have witnessed numerous divide-and-conquer practices by the staff at CCWF, VSPW and my county of commitment. Allow me to say that these practices are only successful when we as inmates decide that our quarterly packages, special purchases and the rest of the privileges are more important than standing together for our rights and equal treatment. Before I ever stepped foot on prison grounds I was told about convicts who stuck together and fought against the cruel and unjust ways of those in authority. Yet the one sit-out I’ve witnessed, organized by Women’s Advisory Council Committee members, the organizers backed off and pretended to be spectators instead of participants once the authorities were called in to diffuse the situation. Each time we prisoners are stripped of our dignity by some new rule created to cause division, there are complaints in the thousands yet no one dares to use the appeals process, write a letter to an organization, or simply do their part to help us say to the powers that be, “Enough is enough!” As inmates we all witnessed racism, prejudice, peer pressure tactics, harassments, etc. How many times have we heard someone say, “I’m going home soon. It’s not my problem. Let the lifers take care of it.” And then we end up violating parole and return to endure these same hardships we could have put an end to. Male prisoners continue to fight for their rights and stick together against the system even if they don’t get along on the yard. Privileges come second to rights and humane treatment. This should be an example to us. Instead we often use an excuse to stay in the shadows and let someone else fight for our rights.
There’s strength in numbers! Instead of judging your neighbor, stand beside her and as a whole stand up for your rights. Divide and conquer is just one more way to keep us separated and unfocussed on what we deserve–to be treated as human beings.

First State-wide Strategy Session on Working with Women Prisoners

by Urszula Wislanka
Oakland, Ca.–About a dozen different organizations working with or on behalf of women prisoners got together on Oct. 18 to hold the first state-wide strategy session on our work. The organizations represented included California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Justice NOW, Critical Resistance, California Prison Focus, Stop Prison Rape and others. Many former prisoners and some family members of prisoners were there. People came from San Diego, LA, Bay Area, and from Eureka. It was a truly state-wide event.
Part of the day was spent on introductions and presenting the work of different groups. While we all work with or for women prisoners, the diversity was impressive: some offer direct legal help, some do community organizing, some offer a variety of services, including training and outreach.
The event created a much needed space for discussion. We talked about how our work fits into the larger “landscape” of activism. We talked about the barriers preventing the participation of others, especially former prisoners who face discrimination, disenfranchisement and marginalization. The day went by very fast and we hope will lead to better cooperation on actions in the future, such as the December 10th demonstration scheduled to advocate brining prisoners home on the Human Rights Day (see the announcement below).

Tell Arnold – Bring Our Prisoners Home!

Bring Our Prisoners HOMEThe People’s Proposition is a community initiative to “Bring Our Prisoners Home.” Across California, prisoners, family members and advocates are collecting thousands of signatures demanding that the new Governor work to:

  • Abolish Three Strikes and End the Illegal No-Parole Policy
  • Stop the Revolving Door and Discrimination against former prisoners
  • Implement Real Compassionate Release, and
  • Focus on Treatment not Incarceration.

The petition also calls on Schwarzenegger to participate in community organized forums throughout California about the People’s Proposition and the devastating effects of incarceration on people’s lives. On December 10th, Human Rights Day, the petitions will be delivered to the Governor’s offices in Eureka, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco. To become involved in this critical effort call 415-255-7036 ext. 339 or write CCWP. Look for a full report on December 10th actions in the next Fire Inside.

Cross Gender Pat Searches Halted!

by Karen Shain
After a month of intense activity by women prisoners, advocates and the international human rights community, the warden at Valley State Prison for Women has agreed to halt cross gender pat searching.
This is a tremendous victory and is a clear example of how people on the inside and outside, working together, can stop illegal activities. Here is how it happened.
In late September, visitors to the prison began hearing about a serious change in prison policy–male guards were doing pat searches on female prisoners. Apparently guards had been shown a training video that demonstrated a pat search on the opposite sex. Male guards began to do the searches and women prisoners were outraged. They wrote to many organizations and sent out a press release, stating, in part, “This is an open invitation to allow male staff/officers to violate the female inmate while having her in a submissive hold. This is extreme, unless there has been probable cause, but now this will be a daily routine activity for all female inmates.”
On October 14th, four prisoners’ rights organizations–CCWP, California Prison Focus, Justice Now and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children–wrote a joint press release in support of the women inside. In the press release, we demanded that the “new pat search procedure be stopped immediately to avoid further harassment and sexual abuse of female prisoners by male guards in California state prisons.”
The very next day Warden Gloria Henry issued a memorandum stating, “Effective immediately, Male and Female staff will discontinue conducting clothed body searches that require any touching or grazing of the breast or crotch area…You are directed to resume searching techniques used prior to my memorandum dated September 10, 2003.”
On October 31, 2003, Amnesty International issued a statement about VSPW’s pat search policy. “Male guards should be barred from carrying out pat or strip searches of women prisoners and from routine access to women’s living areas. Such practices are open to abuse and violate fundamental rights to privacy and the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment set out under international treaties. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), which the USA has ratified.”
We applaud the efforts and leadership of prisoners inside who spearheaded this campaign to stop sexual assault on women prisoners. We must now be prepared to make sure this never happens again. Cross gender pat searching of prisoners should always be illegal, except in cases of emergency.

To My Sister

by Anna Bell Chapa, CCWF
If I could give you
half of my health, I would.
If I could get you home
and do your time, I would.
If I could give you
the love only a mother could, I would.
Really would…
If I had two wishes
One would be for you and my mom
To regain your health.
The second would be for me to be
     A better person
     A better friend
     A better sister, with better feelings
And a lot more patience.