Theresa Azochar?s life changed the moment her daughter, Theresa Cruz, was arrested for conspiring to murder the man who had abused and stalked her. Over the next thirteen years Theresa Azochar fought battles in the courts, in the state legislature, before the parole board, on the radio and on T.V. She always said that she was not just speaking for her family but also for the hundreds of thousands of families around the country who have a loved one in prison and suffer from the daily brutality of incarceration.
For her brave endurance of multiple forms of pain inflicted by this society, for her boundless love for her large, multi-generational family, for her capacity to change as a person and her will to change the prison system, we dedicate this issue of The Fire Inside to Theresa Azochar.

To All Mothers in Prison

Edaleene Smith, CCWF
There is no one on earth who can mother your children better than you. Yes, I sit here every day, hurting, thinking about my son. Praying and hoping he will be OK. He didn’t have this coming. The blame is on me. But my son acts out, blaming himself and others because he lost his mother, who is away in prison.
When you come to prison you feel just left, all alone. The separation, especially from your children, is hard. It is a punishment in itself. You try not to blame the world or your family for not doing things you would do if you could. You try not to trip out on your family for not bringing the children more often. Or because you can’t call because their phone does not accept collect calls. After all, it is me and you who are in prison. But at the same time, it’s hard not to hear from your kids as often as you’d like.
When I was on the street, I was a real mother. My sisters were running wild. My mother was already taking care of many grandkids, but she never had to take care of mine. So when I caught this case she was mad as hell at me, not just that she had to take care of mine, too, but that I was no longer there.
Since I came to prison in ’98 I saw my youngest son very few times. I can’t blame my mother, she has all the other grandkids to take care of. But I am worried not just about the things here, but also about them–out there. It’s all a part of being a mother. It’s hard not to be there (he is now 13) as he is facing the society outside. He told me that he loves me very much. But when other kids talk about their parents they ask him “what does your mother do?” He is ashamed to say, “she is in prison.” He gets angry at me for putting him in such a bad situation. I understand that. I understand that he is angry at me. But I want him to know that just because I am here, it does not make me any less his mother. There are lots of mothers here. Working hard to come out, to look ahead and not so much at the past. We know it’s hard on our children. We all love our children.

A Bill of Rights for children

Legal Corner
by Cassie Pierson, Staff Attorney, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
The San Francisco Partnership for Incarcerated Parents (SFPIP) was formed in 2000, with the support of the Zellerbach Family Foundation. SFPIP is a coalition of advocates, social service providers, and government agencies, who are concerned about families impacted by incarceration and, in particular, the children of incarcerated parents. Legal Services for Prisoners with Children is part of this coalition.
Children who have a parent in prison or jail face many obstacles in their lives and often suffer from the stigma of having an incarcerated parent. In addition to the physical separation from their mother or father these children must endure, they are often viewed only as statistics and fodder for the prison industrial complex. Those of us involved with SFPIP work to change society?s perception of children of incarcerated parents and to give these children a voice so that their needs will be met.
In October 2003, SFPIP published, ?Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Bill of Rights,? a document that was based on an original concept by Gretchen Newby, Executive Director of Friends Outside, several meetings and discussions of the SFPIP, and interviews of over 30 young people conducted by journalist Nell Bernstein.
Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Bill of Rights:
1. I have the right to be kept safe and informed at the time of my parent?s arrest.
2. I have the right to be heard when decisions are made about me.
3. I have the right to be considered when decisions are made about my parent.
4. I have the right to be well cared for in my parent?s absence.
5. I have the right to speak with, see and touch my parent.
6. I have the right to support as I struggle with my parent?s incarceration.
7. I have the right not to be judged, blamed or labeled because of my parent?s incarceration.
8. I have the right to a lifelong relationship with my parent.
Of course, merely formulating a list of rights is not enough. So, in addition to listing those rights that all children should enjoy, the personal story of one young person is used as an introduction to a specific right and each listing is followed by a ?Next Steps? section which gives suggestions on what legislators, law enforcement, social services, and the community can do to enhance the lives of children of incarcerated parents. For example, in number 1 above, ?I have the right to be kept safe and informed at the time of my parent?s arrest,? the story of ?Dave? is told and two ?next steps? are discussed, (1) Develop arrest protocols that support and protect arrestees? children but do not necessarily involve the child welfare system and increase the risk of permanent separation, and, (2) Recruit and train advocates to support children during and/or after a parent?s arrest.
The Bill of Rights has been distributed at several conferences and it is hoped that it will be adopted by the legislature.
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If you would like a copy of this booklet please write to Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, 1540 Market Street, Suite 490, San Francisco, CA 94102. There is no charge.

Stress on families

Debi Z. CCWF
My whole family turned against me since I got arrested. My own mother, my sisters, aunts, uncles, everyone. Their initial reaction was that the dysfunction of my past was going to come out of the closet and they could no longer live in denial.
My mother was angry that the facts of my childhood abuse and my molestation was becoming public knowledge. She has been trying to suppress it for years. Recently, when she became aware that by pursuing my legal recourse I might get in the papers again she was furious and told me, “why can’t you leave this alone and just do your time?” I told her it had nothing to do with her. It is my life and my mistake, but it is nice to know where I stood with her.
Since my arrest in 2000 I have spoken with my teenage daughter one time for five minutes. That was 3 years ago. She refuses to take my calls.
I am envious of other people with a good family support system. I think it will help them to successfully parole and re-integrate into society.
For myself, I am eternally grateful for the support I found with women’s rights organizations and Tanya Brannan of Santa Rosa’s Purple Berets specifically. She is now my family.

Mother-daughter in prison

A moving memorial was held at Valley State Prison for women in Chowchilla, CA, for a woman who died on the outside shortly after being released. This is her daughter’s tribute. She was able to get to know her mother only when she herself was sentenced to the same prison.
I think about how different my life may have been, if my mother would have never entered the system.
I wrote this a few hours before my mother went to heaven. For the first time, I finally had my mother in my life. Granted, we were sitting in the Pen, yet it was what I had dreamed of my whole life. It had finally happened, no one could keep her from me any more.
It seemed that no matter how hard I tried when I was growing up, nothing was ever good enough to get my mother to stay out of prison. Each trip seemed longer than the last one, and each time I tried even harder to understand what I had done *that* time to make her *want* to go back. No one could tell me it wasn’t my fault, though no one ever bothered to try. I just knew it had to be that test I took last week and only got a B+. It was the day she was arrested again. Or maybe it was because Dad said I didn’t do the dishes right.
She didn’t write because I don’t spell good enough. Not because it’s easier on her, or because Dad wouldn’t let her write.
The worst part is now sitting here, doing life without parole. I was finally given my life-long dream, a chance to see my mommy. The worst part was hearing her say she came here to be with me. The fact is, that was the benefit but not the cause. Yet the same guilt is alive and strong in me. It only sealed all those childhood beliefs.
I never thought I would hurt as bad as I did the day she walked out of those gates a little over a month ago. I knew I should be happy for her, yet feared I may never see her again. You see, for the first time I actually saw her change and seem to want to stay out of prison. She will stay out of prison. On August 25th, less than a month after getting out of prison on her third W#, she went to heaven to play with her grandson and the angels.
Looking back, I was very blessed for the time I had. As I watch women walk in and out of this prison, I wonder if they realize they are not building the children of tomorrow, but are destroying hopes and dreams.
Live each moment as if it was your last. You can change a child’s tomorrow with a letter, a smile or a hope for the future. Have you taken that time today? My mom did and I will cherish that time. Can you say that?

Family values

?Prison has severely severed my family ties by loss of communication, loss of trust, and a very hurtful and disappointing separation from those that I love.?
?EH, woman in California prison
The past decade has brought increasing attacks on prisoner families: The cost of phone calls has continued to rise as MCI and other telephone companies as well as prisons and county jails across the country gouge prisoners? families with exorbitant costs. Family living unit (FLU) visits, when families live together for 48 hours in a home on the prison grounds, have been eliminated for all but a few families. Parenting and other training programs have been slashed. Visiting hours in California?s state prisons were cut in half. There are fewer mother-infant programs than ever. Federal fast-track adoption laws have made it very difficult for prisoner mothers to reunite with their children. The two largest women?s prisons in California are in Chowchilla, three hours from the largest cities in the state. Across the country, mandatory minimum sentences mean that women are coming into prison younger and getting out older?forcing them to miss their entire child-rearing years. Finally, discrimination on the outside means that women getting out of prison are finding it more and more difficult to find housing, jobs, educational opportunities and (if needed) mental health treatment necessary to hold families together. It is no wonder that we hear over and over again from women inside that their number one concern is their relationship to their families on the outside!
?I was always the sister, daughter, and mother not to mention aunt, that everyone relied upon during hard times. Right now there?s a death in the family along with my father who is dying of cancer. Trying to keep in contact is so hard to do when?you?re only allowed one phone call per month.?
?SH, woman in California prison
Throughout history, the US has repeatedly used the forced separation of families?particularly families of color?as a tool of punishment and control. Under slavery, Black women had no legal right to their children or control over reproduction. Children, women and men could be moved around at will. As the white power structure moved west, Native American family structures were disrupted and displaced. By the time the westward expansion hit California, Chinese men were being imported for labor without their wives or children, and the border with Mexico was closed, allowing people in only when their labor was needed and deporting them when they were no longer necessary. So-called family values were abandoned whenever they interfered with the profits and control of the white ruling class. The current mass incarceration of women is a continuation of these policies.
?My father says that he?s doing his time right along with me. Every day that I?m away from him, he?s hurting. I?m his baby, and I?ve been away from him for so long. My mother can?t understand why I?m still in here. It wears and tears on everybody. They are still living their lives, but ? My family bought Christmas presents for the first few years, because they thought I would be home soon. The presents are still waiting for me.?
?YA, woman in California prison
Having a family is a basic human right. And, with awesome strength, incarcerated women fight to resist isolation by redefining and empowering their families on both sides of the prison walls.
?A lot of people are motherly, and they do things for me that are motherly, and I appreciate that. How can I not honor them for that? Over time, and getting close to people, you do end up creating your own family in one way or another.?
?YA, woman in California prison
Following the recent re-election of George W. Bush, the mainstream news commentary has credited Bush?s victory to his opposition to gay marriage and support of traditional family values. How dare the Bush Administration say that it is protecting family values while continuing to destroy families and communities of color in the U.S. and all over the world? How can the ?War on Terror? honor families when it destroys lives, livelihoods, and communities? How does the state?s mass incarceration of our mothers, fathers, sisters, children and community members support family values?
In this issue of The Fire Inside, we honor those women inside who defy the anti-family obstacles of the prison industry by maintaining ties with family members on the outside and struggling to define healthy and nurturing relationships on both sides of the walls.

Valores Familiares

La prisión ha afectado severamente los lazos entre mi familia y yo por la falta de comunicación, perdida de confianza y una muy doloroso y desepcionante separación de aquellos que yo amo.
EH, prisionera
Durante la pasada decada se han incrementado los ataques sobre los familiares de los prisioneros/as: El costo de las llamadas telefónicas se ha encarecido continuamente como el MCI y otras compañías telefónicas que cobran precios exorbitantes a lo largo del país. Las visitas a la Unidad de Vivivienda para la Familia (FLU), cuando las familias viven juntas por 48 horas en una casa en los campos de la prisión, han sido eliminados para la mayoría de las familias, solo unas cuantas, muy pocas hoy tienen acceso a eso. Los Programas para Padres/ Madres y otro tipo de programas han sido cortados.
Las horas de visita en las prisiones estatales de California han sido recortadas a la mitad. Los programas de madre-niño hoy son más pocos que nunca. Las Leyes Federales han apresurado las adopciones, lo que ha hecho muy difícil para las madres en prisión reunirse con sus hijos. Las dos prisiones más grandes en California estan en Chawchilla. A tres horas de las ciudades más grandes del estado. A traves de todo el país sentencias mínimas obligatorias significan que las mujeres estan yendo a prisión cada vez más jóvenes y saliendo de allí cuando ya son muy mayors, lo cual las fuerza a perder toda su etapa de juventud. Finalmente, la discriminación con la que las mujeres se encuentran cuando salen, lo cual hace más y más difícil el encontrar un trabajo, una vivienda, oportunidades para la educación y (si es que se necesita) tratamiento de salud mental para ayudar a las familias a mantenerse juntas. No hay cuestión alguna de que escuchamos una y otra vez de las mujeres en prisión que su preocupación número uno es la relación con sus familiares afuera.
Yo fui siempre una hermana, hija, madre, y no meciono tía. En estos momentos hay una muerte en la familia junto con mi padre que está muriendo de cancer. Tratar de mantener el contacto es muy difícil, cuando solamente tienes permiso para hacer una llamada telefónica una sola vez al mes.
SH, prisionera
A través de la historia, Los Estados unidos ha usado repetidamente la separación forzosa de los familiares, particularmente familias de color , como una herramienta de castigo y control. Bajo la esclavitud, las mujeres negras no tenían ningun derecho legal sobre sus hijos ni control sobre su reproducción. Niños, mujeres y hombres podrían ser movidos a disposición. Así como la esctructura del poder blanco movilizó el oeste, las estructuras de las familias Nativas Americanas fueron desintegradas y desplazadas. Por esos tiempos la expansion hacia el oeste golpeaba California.
Los hombres de China fueron importados para trabajar, ellos fueron traidos sin sus esposas ni su hijos, y la frontera con México fue cerrada, permitiendo a la gente entrar solamente cuando se necesitaba su mano de obra y deportados cuando ya ellos no eran necesarios. Los mal llamados valores familiares fueron abandonados al momento que sea en que ellos interferian con las ganancias y el control de la clase blanca dominante. El actual encarelamiento masivo es la continuación de estas políticas.
Mi padre dice que él está haciendo su tiempo junto conmigo. Cada día que yo estoy lejos de él, a él le duele muchisimo. Yo soy su bebé, y yo he estado lejos de él por mucho tiempo. Mi madre no puede entender porque yo todavía sigo aquí. Esto le lleva lagrimas a cualquiera. Ellos todavía estan viviendo sus vidas, pero mi familia compró regalos de navidad por los primeros años, porque ellos pensaban que yo estaría en casa muy pronto. Los regalos todavía estan esperan por mi.
YA, prisionera
Tener una familia es un derecho humano básico. Y con fortaleza, las mujeres en prisión luchan para resistir el aislamiento redefiniendo y empoderando sus familias en ambos lados de las paredes de la prisión.
Muchisima gente es maternal, y ellas hacen cosas para mi que son muy maternales, y yo aprecio mucho eso. Cómo yo puedo honorar a todas ellas por esto que me dan? Compartir tiempo, y estar cerca de la gente, es como tu creas tu propia familia en una forma u otra
YA, prisionera
Seguido a la reciente re-elección de George W. Bush, los comentarios de los principales medios de información han dado credito a las victorias de Bush a su oposición al matrimonio de personas homosexuales y su apoyo a los valores familiares tradicionales. Cuan desafiante la administración de Bush puede decir que esto es proteger los valores familiares, mientras está destruyendo familias y comunidades de color en los Estados Unidos y en todo el mundo? Como la ?Guerra contra el Terror? puede honrar a las familias cuando está destruyendo vidas y comunidades? Cómo los encarcelamientos masivos de nuestras madres, padres, hermanas, hijos y miembros de nuestra comunidad apoya los valores familiares?
En este número de The Fire Inside (El Fuego que Llevamos Dentro), honramos a esas mujeres en prisión quienes vencen los obstáculos anti-familiares de la industria de prisiones, manteniendo los lazos con sus familiares que están al otro lado de los barrotes, y al mismo tiempo luchan para tener relaciones nutricias y saludables en los dos lados, adentro y afuera.

Our Voices Within: Our Journey

Andrea Bible
More than 250 community members gathered to support survivors released this past year and to re-commit to fighting for the liberation of those who remain imprisoned. Released survivors Nora Andrade, Jeri Becker, Mary Ramp, Maria Suarez, and Melody Whitney shared their powerful and moving journeys to freedom ? and each implored the crowd to continue the struggle for justice for those they left behind.
Free Battered Women honored Senator John Burton and his aide, Anthony Williams, for their leadership in the fight for justice for incarcerated survivors. Senator Burton authored SB 1385, the bill sponsored by Free Battered Women that expands legal options for incarcerated survivors’ release. Assembly Member Mark Leno (co-author of SB 1385) presented Free Battered Women with a proclamation from the California State Assembly commending Free Battered Women for our work.
Poet and activist Roopa Singh wowed the crowd with her compelling expression of resistance against incarceration, “Cradle the Sky.” Youth Speaks poets Meilana Clay and Natalia Banderas brought the audience to their feet with their passionate expressions of outrage about the painful legacies of domestic violence.
The daughter of Vidalia Spragin, who died shortly after being granted compassionate release last year, spoke poignantly about prison conditions ? including contaminated water and sub-standard health care ? that contributed to her mother’s death. Family members of Flozelle Woodmore spoke about the pain surrounding the Governor’s recent reversal of Flozelle’s parole date. Family and friends of other incarcerated survivors asked for community support for their loved ones’ release.
Musical artist Anissa Primus Alston lifted the crowd’s spirits with her engaging performance, and a capella group Samsara tapped into the audience’s simultaneous feelings of grief and hope with their beautiful harmonies.
Throughout the afternoon, attendees had the chance to bid on wonderful artwork donated by currently and formerly incarcerated survivors of domestic violence. All proceeds from the art auction and sales of the “Our Voices Within” commemorative book benefit Free Battered Women.
We are grateful for all of the volunteers, co-sponsors, donors, performers, and contributors who made this celebration possible, and to all of the supporters who renewed their commitment to the struggle for justice for imprisoned survivors of domestic violence.
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If you could not attend the “Our Voices Within” event but would like a copy of the 2004 commemorative book, please send $15 (includes shipping/handling) to us at 1540 Market Street, Suite 490, San Francisco, CA 94102 (checks payable to “FBW/LSPC”), or write to us at to order. Bulk orders and 2003 books available at a discount ? contact us for details.
Free Battered Women relies on the generous support of individuals for the majority of our funding. If you would like to support our efforts, you can make a secure donation through the Network for Good at (be sure to designate that your donation is for “Free Battered Women”).

Parole Beat

Outrageous Denials?
In a decision released on October 22, Governor Schwarzenegger reversed the Board of Prison Terms’ decision to grant parole to incarcerated survivor and mother of two, Flozelle Woodmore. This is the third time Flozelle’s parole has been reversed. Governor Schwarzenegger’s written decision virtually copied those of former Governor Gray Davis, who reversed Flozelle’s parole in 2002 and again in 2003.
Flozelle Woodmore is a 36-year-old battered woman who shot her abusive boyfriend in self-defense in 1986. She met him when she was 13 years old and pled guilty to shooting him when she was 18. Although she has no prior criminal history, Flozelle received a life sentence, and has been in prison ever since. Her release is supported by her batterer’s family. Flozelle has not had a single serious disciplinary write-up since 1992.
The Governor’s decision will be challenged in court, but we need the public to voice outrage:
Office of the Governor
Legal Affairs Secretary
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814
Tel: 916-445-0873
Fax: 916-445-4633
On October 21st, Theresa Cruz was denied parole for the seventh time! Commissioner Angele who presided over the hearing had little to say to explain his denial. He pointed to her psychiatric evaluation as the reason for denial, but the conclusion of the psychiatric evaluation clearly indicated that she is ready for release.
Commissioner Angele also cited her original commitment offense as a reason for denial. However, the victim made a full recovery from all of his injuries. She has now served over thirteen years for this offense and was eligible for parole seven years ago. The victim now supports her release. Under parole guidelines, the original offense cannot be used to deny her freedom.
To protest Theresa Cruz?s denial write:
Re: Theresa Cruz, #W-40058
Margarita Perez, Chair,Board of Prison Terms
1515 K St., Suite 600, Sacramento, CA 95814
FAX# – 916-445-5242
And Precious Releases?
On November 11, 2004, Governor Schwarzenegger approved parole for Nikki Lee Diamond, a survivor of domestic violence who has been in prison for 28 years. Many thanks to all who contacted the Governor in support of her release!
Genevieve (“Toby”) Yniguez was finally paroled on October 18, 2004 after being granted parole four times by the Board of Prison Terms. Former Governor Davis had repeatedly reversed the Board’s previous decisions to release this 69-year-old great-grandmother. Governor Schwarzenegger declined to review the Board’s latest decision.
We also celebrate the release of the women listed below in 2003-2004. Please write to us if you know of other women lifers released so we can keep everyone informed through the Parole Beat!
Henrietta Briones Jeannette Crawford
Nora Andrade Jeri Becker
Rosario Munoz Mary Ramp
Maria Suarez Liza Brown
Melody Marks Melody Whitney
Vidalia Spragin

Judi Ricci, Presente!

Karen Shain and Heidi Strupp
Our dear friend and sister Judy Ricci passed away on November 30th. Judy was an unstoppable fighter for the rights of women prisoners, people with HIV/AIDS, former prisoners, ane everyone who was getting a raw deal. We loved her for her brilliance, her commitment and her glorious sense of humor. We miss her already. We all thought we had more time?
Known by many on the prison yard as Dr. Juju, her work as an HIV peer health educator inspired a movement of prisoner activists?inside and out. She educated her peers about HIV and HEP C and empowered others to stand up and demand the right to be healthy and well. As a hospice volunteer, she held the hands of dying women and carved out spaces of profound humanity that enabled women to pass with dignity. She laughed fully, spoke poetry straight from the heart and shared her love with all who entered her life. She liked dark chocolate, bright purple nail polish, and the sloppy droolly kisses of her two giant rottweilers. While we mourn her death, we remember that her legacy will continue on in our collective struggle for justice.
Her sisters in the peer counseling program held a memorial for Judy at CCWF. About 40 friends gathered for a memorial for her in San Francisco at the Women?s Building on February 4th.