Human Rights Day Rally

On December 10th 2003 — International Human
Rights Day — rallies demanding that Governor
Schwarzenegger, Bring Our Prisoners Home! took
place in San Francisco and San Diego. In San
Francisco over 75 people gathered at the State
Building. Petitions containing 4,000 signatures,
which had been circulated by women prisoners all
over California, were presented to the Governor’s
representative by a delegation of family members,
former prisoners and advocates. The
representative listened closely to the points
that the delegation raised regarding parole,
three strikes and compassionate release and
promised to pass the concerns on to the Governor.
In the street, the crowd listened to a variety of
moving speakers, including former prisoner Alice
Moore who insisted that drug convictions don’t
mean that you are a bad person or should be
discriminated against. An inspired hip-hop
performance speaking to prison injustices caused
people walking and driving by to stop and find
out what was going on.
In San Diego, CCWP and other groups held a silent
vigil in support of the release of women
prisoners including Jeri Becker (who has since
been released) and Theresa Cruz. A former parole
officer and a minister from Families to Amend
Three Strikes voiced their hope that
Schwarzenegger would release more people from
prison.
Building off the December 10th rally, Bay Area
CCWP has joined with All of Us or None to
organize a series of Peace and Justice Summits in
neighborhoods around the Bay Area. The Summits
will be a chance for people from the community –
people who have been in prison or whose parents
or family members are in prison – to tell their
stories to elected officials and demand change.

SB 1385: Expanding Habeas Corpus Provisions

Olivia Wang, Free Battered Women
Free Battered Women is thrilled to report that SB
1385 passed through the Senate Public Safety
Committee on March 30th, 2004.
The bill (authored by Senator Burton and
co-authored by Senators Kuehl, Romero, and
Assembly Member Jackson), expands the class of
domestic violence survivors who are eligible for
habeas relief. It also changes language about
“Battered Women’s Syndrome” to the more favored
term “battering and its effects”. Current law (PC
1473.5) allows survivors of domestic violence who
killed their batterers prior to 1992 to file
habeas corpus petitions challenging their
convictions. SB 1385 expands relief to include
not just survivors who defended themselves, but
all survivors whose offenses were directly
related to the abuse they faced (for
example, survivors who were coerced by their
batterers to commit crimes). Among other proposed
changes, SB 1385 also extends the current 1992
cut-off date to 1996. For more information go to
www.freebatteredwomen.org.

Where I Come From

Stormy Ogden, Tule River Yokuts & Kashaya Pomo, Ex-prisoner & Survivor
Where I come from
I come from those tears
that my mom shed as she hid in the fields
her belly round with life
As my dad chased after her
to beat her once again
because he was drunk
I come from that anger
that my dad holds in his heart
because he was left behind
to be raised by a white family
because his mother died giving him life
I come from the pain
of these two people that had the cards stacked against them
from the beginning
because she was a white woman
and he was an Indian man
I come from that bitter-sweet love
of these two people
that brought a half-breed child
into this world
Where I come from
I come from that burning
as the first swallow of whiskey
slides down my throat
taking me along with it for 18 years
I come from that shame and fear
as I sit in a bath full of cold water
washing the blood away
from my torn and beaten 12 year old body
after 4 boys raped me
I come from that special place
that I go to as the ones that say
they would always love me
hits, kicks, shoots, and rapes me
one more time
I come from that blood
that runs down my fingers
as I slide that razor blade
across my wrist
one more time
Where I come from
I come from too many bars
and back seats of cars
too many lovers that had no names
and always
not enough whiskey
I come from
jails, prisons, mental institutions
boarding schools
the reservation system, the mission system
extermination, assimilation, relocation, self-determination
all meaning
GENOCIDE
I come from
I will never forget you my Sisters
as I leave them behind at the gate
Where I come from
I come from
HEY
I’m Indian too,
I just do not know what tribe
can you teach me how to be Indian
can you give me an Indian name
can you take me to a sweat lodge
HEY
what do you mean that you will not take me
to ceremonies
Where I come from
I come from the water
that travels over the rocks
that my Auntie listens to
because they teach her the songs
that will heal our people
I come from hot acorn soup and dried seaweed
that our women made
to feed the people
I come from the sounds
of the elderberry clapper sticks
that our men play
as the women dance upon the lands
I come from
that pebble that Raven
carried in his mouth
then dropped on the land
to give to my people

Why Philosophy?

Urszula Wislanka
The theme for this Fire Inside is domestic and
state violence. All violence hurts. And while
the physical pain may pass with time, women
prisoners have shown us how they deal with the
more insidious results of violence: the attempted
destruction of their sense of self. Most women
prisoners experienced tremendous oppression and
self-doubt. Yet the women who talk to us have
reconstructed themselves, redefined who they are.
One woman, for example, said that when she came
to prison, she felt she was not the person she
wanted to be. There were parts of her that led
her to drugs and behavior she did not want to
condone in herself. While in prison she turned to
the practice of her religion, Native American, to
cleanse herself, to find balance and to become a
new person. It was through the practice of her
religion that she re-created herself as she also
created a community of which she wanted to be a
part: through participating in ceremonies such as
sweats and feasts and through making religious
objects to give to others. She felt she gained so
much that she also wanted other Native American
women in prison to have an opportunity to do
that. She turned into a fighter for the religious
rights of Native American women in prison. She
turned her own inward development towards others.
What she has done is two-fold. 1) She set out to
improve herself. And she found that 2) in the
process of changing herself she became a part of,
she also created, a community that could nurture
the “new” self, a community she contributed to
and wanted to share with other women. She found
her individual “I”, included a sense of “we”, a
collectivity that was not opposed to her sense of
self, but integral to its creation. Her new
definition of herself as an individual included a
creation of a community. Such a transformation on
the part of several women led to the creation of
CCWP, as part of a community outside supporting
the changes inside. The “we” can get expanded to
include the whole society and its prison system.
The definition of who we are as human beings is
the work of philosophy. What comes from the
stories of women prisoners is that philosophy, in
this total sense, isn’t practiced only by
professors sitting in ivory towers spinning ideas
in their heads, unrelated to the “real” world.
All of us as human beings are capable of
practicing philosophy. We are all able to ask the
question “who am I” and provide an answer. If we
do it honestly, we may not like our own answers.
So we may want to change ourselves to become the
person we would want to be. This process of
asking oneself basic questions leads not only to
“finding” oneself, who one wants to be. It leads
to changes in one’s activity, how one relates to
others. It also gives a lie to the standpoint
that we are only isolated individuals, with no
control over what connects us.
Taking back the process of collectively defining
who we are as human beings can help us to finally
transform the way we all live. But in order to
realize that transformation, we-each one for
herself-has to be able to single out aspects of
our concrete experience, i.e., to make
abstractions or categories, to decide for
ourselves what our activity means for us and in
the social context.
This is the practice of philosophy, which is
theoretical. Theory means being able to look at
all the experiences of concrete life and being
able to abstract from them the principles that
define my “I”, who I am, and understand how my
actions create my “I” not just as an isolated
individual, but in a community, a “we” that is no
longer just in opposition to who “I” am but is
clearly my creation.
It is the transformation of the way in which a
society connects the “I” and the “we” that can
lead to a new society, fundamentally different,
one in which we are finally able to fully
consciously practice the creation of our
humanity. Violence that is so much a part of this
society, forces not just prisoners but all of us
to find ways to change the whole as we are
changing ourselves.

To CCWP Visiting Team

Anna Bell Chapa, CCWF
You both do so much for others
Rest assured none of it goes unnoticed
Your kindness comes from within
It shines through almost effortlessly
And with little intent.
Between the two of you
You have all my appreciation and thanks.
You’ve brought me great happiness –
the generosity you’ve shown
is limitless and cherished.
Your thoughtful and selfless gestures
Are truly definitive of all that you are.
Your hearts and personalities
Exude unfathomable kindness –
thanks for everything.
But my greatest thanks go out to you
Not for what you have done
But for all that you are
quite simply!!
Thanks for being you.
January 2004