Introduction

Yvonne/Hamdiya Cooks
It is with great honor and privilege that I introduce myself to you as the new Executive Director of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. I am very proud to represent an organization that has historically supported the interests of women prisoners for 10 years. I spent 20 years behind prison gates, bars and fences. I personally understand what you go through.
The prison system is designed to break our bodies and our spirits, but I am here to humbly express and witness the miracle that hope and faith can bring into being. I am a God fearing person, I am a Muslim and I respect all humanity.
I urge you to stay in communication with your CCWP sisters outside who are prepared to follow your lead as we move this work forward. Those of you still inside represent the core of CCWP, our volunteers outside represent the other part. Working together we can and will change some of the conditions women suffer in prison.
My promise to you is that I will never forget where I came from; I won?t make you any promises I can?t fulfill, and I won?t promise anything on your behalf that you haven?t authorized. Remember, you are respected and you do have power.
I am going to leave you with a poem written by Marianne Williamson. The poem is most remembered from a speech delivered by Nelson Mandela. ?Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.?
In solidarity and love,
Your sister,
Yvonne/Hamdiya Cooks

Projecto Compañeras

Silvia Tello
Compañeras es un proyecto que nace de la necesidad de levantar nuestras voces por justicia, dignidad y por la defensa de nuestros derechos humanos como mujeres inmigrantes, latinas y chicanas, dentro de un sistema que pretende subordinar y quebrar nuestras fortalezas como comunidad, cultura y raza.
Este proyecto decide enfocar en nuestras compañeras dentro de prisión. Compañeras que viven privadas de su libertad, por las injusticias de este sistema que las culpa por sobrevivir las dificultades que éste les pone en el camino como mujeres latinas e inmigrantes.
Presas, la tortura continua privándolas de sus mas básicos derechos, como el tener contacto con sus familiares, mantener una relación con sus hijos, tener información acerca de su salud y/o su caso legal, pues el no hablar el idioma del imperio les dificulta, si no imposibilita, el poder obtener lo que necesitan.
Por ejemplo muchas de estas mujeres son forzadas a firmar documentos sin ningún interprete presente, documentos en los que pueden estar declarando que están dando a sus hijos en adopción, o en otros casos su defensor público les dice que es mejor si se declaran culpables para que les reduzcan el tiempo, aunque sepan de su inocencia. Ellas firman los papeles por que no tienen ningún conocimiento de lo que es mejor para ellas y su caso, o simplemente no entienden lo que les están diciendo y tan solo siguen las instrucciones de sus defensores.
Las condiciones de salud para las mujeres en prisión no son apropiadas. Para poder recibir una cita en la enfermería tienen que poder escribir detalladamente cual es su problema, muchas de ellas no saben escribir o como describir sus síntomas, si reciben la cita les cuesta $5,y si no tienen dicha cantidad en el momento es sumado a una cuenta que deberán pagar al momento de salir de prisión. Durante la cita posiblemente una enfermera servirá de interprete para la paciente y posiblemente también será irrespetuosamente, pues ellas obedecen a un sistema que no respeta a nuestras hermanas. Algunas veces cuando no hay quien traduzca, un guardia de prisión lo hace, muchas mujeres como es natural no dicen cual es el verdadero problema que esta afectando su salud y dicen algo que sea menos vergonzoso de contar frente a un abusivo guardia hombre.
Compañeras es un proyecto de la Coalición de California para Mujeres en Prisión (CCWP) comprometido a luchar en contra de la invisibilidad impuesta a nuestras comunidades por un sistema imperialista que utiliza las prisiones como forma de ocupación de nuestras mentes, cuerpos, almas, familias, tierras y comunidades y así intenta acabar con la dignidad humana.
Como parte del proyecto un equipo de voluntarios realiza visitas donde desarrolla fuertes lazos con las compañeras en prisión. Parte del proyecto se basa en construir liderazgo y educar a las compañeras en prisión acerca de sus derechos humanos y ofrecerles todo el apoyo que podamos darles.
El 5 de Mayo se llevo a cabo la primera visita por parte del equipo de voluntarias, llegamos cerca de las diez de la mañana y Valley State Prison for Women aparentaba ser un sitio casi agradable al que se va a vacacionar, incluso el carnet de visitante tiene un sol y un campo como de sitio de veraneo. Después de una minuciosa inspección en la sala de visitas esperamos ver llegar a nuestras compañeras, la realidad es otra para ellas VSPW no es mas que el sitio al que llegaron por defenderse y sobrevivir al sistema que es el que mas abusa de ellas. Cada una nos agradeció con tanto amor y esperanza la visita, muchas de ellas no habían recibido visitas desde el día en que ingresaron, otras aun esperaban ver a sus hijos después de años y aun así es un alivio poder contar con alguien de afuera, que hable su idioma y que esta ahí para apoyarlas no para criminalizarlas.
?Yo les doy gracias a ustedes y a Dios por darme esta oportunidad de visitarme, ya que me sentí mas tranquila, por que parecía que estaba cargando algo pesado en la espalda y desde ayer que me visitaron me siento como nueva? S.C.
Al final de la visita fue increíble la experiencia, ellas que están dentro nos dieron la mas grande lección de esperanza, amor y valor que pudiéramos recibir y queremos agradecerles a cada una de las valiosas mujeres por su fuerza, coraje, valentía y poder, por que esa luz que irradian, que sale de sus voces, de su piel,es algo que nadie podrá quitarles jamás.
Compañeras es una oportunidad para que estas mujeres cuenten sus propias experiencias e historia con su propia voz y verdad tomando control de su propio lenguaje y lengua. Somos una fuerza en resistencia para combatir la opresión que intenta aplastarnos para hacernos desistir de luchar por una vida digna.
Creemos firmemente que solo la unidad y el compromiso a la lucha por la igualdad, justicia y libertad hará que esta fuerza crezca de tal manera en que acabemos con la invisibilidad y reclamemos nuestro derecho a regresar?regresar a nuestra tierra, familia, cultura y comunidades, bajo nuestros términos en la manera en que lo definamos. Queremos desarrollar vínculos de fuerza y solidaridad con las mujeres dentro de la prisión para hacer de este vínculo, un instrumento mediante el cual romperemos los barrotes que transforman falsamente una sola realidad en dos mundos, separándonos así a una de la otra.
La justicia para una de nuestras compañeras, es justicia para todas!
Involúcrate en el proyecto Compañeras! y contacta a CCWP Yvonne Cooks o Karla Reyna.

Compañeras project

Silvia Tello
Compañeras is a project born from the necessity of raising our voices for justice, dignity and the defense of our human rights as immigrant Latina and Chicana women within a system that seeks to subordinate and brake our strengths as a community, culture and race. The focus of this project is on our compañeras inside prison. Freedom is denied to them because of the injustices of a system that blames them for surviving the difficulties that are put in their way as Latina and immigrant women.
Once incarcerated, torture is used extensively and deprives them of their most basic rights such as having contact with their families, keeping a relationship with their kids, having information about their health or their legal case. Even more oppressive is that many of these sisters don?t speak the language of the empire and this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to get what they need.
Many of these women are forced to sign papers without an interpretor, papers in which they might be stating that they are giving their children up for adoption, for example. In another case a public defender told them that it is better to plead guilty so their time is reduced even when they are innocent. Women sign these papers because they don?t understand their cases, or simply they don?t understand what they are being told and just follow the public defender?s instructions.
Health conditions for women in prison are sub-standard. In order to get an appointment with a doctor they have to describe in detail what their symptoms are. Many of them don?t know how to wirte. If they do get an appointment, the way a nurse might interprate shows a lack of respect. Sometimes even male prison guards will translate and many women inmates won?t speak openly about their health problems. Instead they will make up something that is not embarrasing for them to talk about in front of an abusive male prison guard.
Compañeras is a project of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) committed to struggling against the invisibility imposed on our communities by the Imperialist System which utilizes prisons as a form of Occupation of our minds, bodies, souls, families, land and communities.
Our project includes a team of volunteers who make visits to our sisters in order to develop strong relationships with them, to build leadership skills, and provide education about their human rights. We also offer as much support we can.
On May 5th we initiated our first visit with the team of volunteers. We arrived at the Prison at 10:00am. The Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) appeared to be an almost pleasant place where you might go for a vacation– even your visitors? ID has a picture of fields with the sun. After a very careful inspection, we waited for our compañeras in the visiting room. The reality for them is very different: VSPW is the place they were put for defending themselves from an abuser. The abuser can be a partner or a rapist. The biggest abuser, however, is the system itself.
Every sister thanked us with so much love and hope for the visit.
Many of them hadn?t received a visit since they were incarcerated, and many others were still waiting after years for visits with their children. It is a relief to know they can count on someone on the outside that speaks their language and is there to support them and not criminalize them.
?I thank you and God for giving me the opportunity of visiting me. I feel calm now. I felt like I was carrying something very heavy on my back and since yesterday when you visited me I feel like new.? (S.C.)
After the visit the experience was incredible. From the inside they gave us the biggest lesson of hope, love and strength that we could ever receive. We want to thank each brave woman for their strength, courage and power. The light inside them comes out of their voices and skin and is something that no one will ever take away from them.
Compañeras is an opportunity for women on the inside to tell their own stories and history with their own voices and truth by taking control of their own language. We are a resisting force to fight the oppression that tries to crush women trying to make us give up the struggle to live with dignity. We believe firmly that only unity and commitment to struggle for equality, justice and freedom will make this force grow in such a way that we will end invisibility and we will reclaim our right to return–return to our land, family, culture, and communities in the ways that we define. We want to develop links of solidarity and strength with women inside prison and use this link as an instrument trough which we will brake the bars that falsely transform one reality into two worlds separating us one from the other.
Justice for one Compañera is Justice for All!
To get involved in the project, please contact CCWP, ask for Yvonne Cooks or Karla Reyna.

Family visiting day

?It was very heart warming to see my grandchildren with their mother. They really needed to see each other. I want to thank you all for making this happen for them. It wouldn?t have been possible otherwise. I want to thank you from the bottom, top, and middle of my heart!?
The California Coalition for Women Prisoners had our first ever ?Family Visiting Day? on Saturday, January 29, 2005, to help family members in the Bay Area visit people at both Valley State Prison for Women and Central California Women?s Facility. With the support of donors and volunteers, we were able to bring thirty family members, many of whom were children, to visit their loved ones in prison. Many of the women inside of prison had not seen their families in years. One woman had not seen her family in over 10 years!
Our day started very early in the morning. CCWP volunteers and staff drove as far as Sacramento to pick up family members for the visit. We all made it to the prison right on time for visiting hours and most of the visits went seamlessly. As one visitor expressed, ?It [the visit] was very exciting! I was very happy to see my daughter.?
After the visit, we stopped in Los Banos for dinner. During dinner, people shared the experience of their visit with the rest of the group. Adults and children alike expressed their happiness and relief with seeing their loved ones as well as meeting other people who have family in prison. One woman shared, ?I got to meet others who share the same pain as myself. It was healing.?
Everyone involved agreed that we should have Family Visiting Day again. We are hoping to make this a yearly event. If you are interested in participating in the next Family Visiting Day, please write us. Thanks to all those who made this year?s event a success!

So Address Me As Such

MM, CCWF
?When you stand with the blessings of your mother and God, it matters not who stands against you!?
?Yoruba Proverb
I can see right past your intricate masks,
Give a sophisticated answer to any question you ask,
Raise 1 or 10 children through struggle and strife,
Run a major corporation and be a supportive wife,
Converse with the big wigs or holla atcha in the hood,
Say ?absolutely wonderful? or ?haay, it’s all good!?
Put you in your place without saying much
I?m an intellectual Black Sista so addreess me as such
Possessing the strength of the strongest foundation,
My voice speaks in volumes heard throughout the nation.
My hands grasp doubt and turn it to hope
And these hands have got society’s ?limitation rope.?
Because there is no limit on the strength I possess,
The determination I have, my courage or my prowess.
The force of my power can be felt with one touch
I?m a strong Black Sista so addreess me as such
My heart contains love in its purest form,
Unconditional, absolute and everyday reborn.
My love can surpass the most cruelest of tests,
It supplies assurance where there is unrest.
My love bonds and hopes and holds and holds,
It begins from birth to infinity-years-old.
You can even feel it without physical touch
I?m a loving Black Sista so addreess me as such
The passion that is swelling, brewing inside,
Rises to my surface, it never hides,
Whether it?s displayed when I take a stand
Or when it?s seductively unveiled for my man,
Its intensity is unrestrained and uninhibited
And just like my strength, it is unlimited.
It can be overwhelming for some?it?s a bit much
I?m a passionate Sista so addreess me as such
Intellectual, strong, loving and passionate,
Sophisticated, powerful, affectionate, immaculate,
I?m not your hoochie, your bitch or your hoe,
I?m the center of life, more than you?ll ever know.
I?m your sister, your auntie, your niece, your mother,
And I stand beside you, not behind you my brother.
I come in different shapes, shades and sizes
And no one can deny me when this sista rises.
My style is captivating, thank you very much
I?m a beautiful Black Sista so addreess me as such