It?s All About Us: Getting Ready to Get Out

by Yvonne/Hamdiya Cooks
During my 20 years of incarceration I witnessed many women come, go, and a lot of times, come back. Those of you still inside know what I?m talking about. Whenever one of our sisters was released, our spirits shared in her victory leaving those prison gates. It was almost like a part of us was leaving as well. We were always so happy to hear stories of different sisters successes outside and not so happy when we heard sad stories or other disappointments. Despite everything, when news hit the compound of how a formerly-incarcerated sister was doing it was always a big deal. Those memories are what inspired me to create this column. I want to share the stories of sisters who are living on the outside after surviving what we lived through. We weren?t meant to survive. The criminal justice system is not designed to deliver us back into society as healthy, whole, and complete human beings. It is by the grace and mercy of God that I was able to leave prison after 20 years and be somewhat whole. While inside, we must do whatever it takes to nurture our spirits and keep our bodies and minds healthy. I will continue to keep you informed of my joys and struggles as well as other sisters who survived after being away from society for such a long time. We hope to feature stories of sisters you have lived with for many years as well.
It is not without damage that we succeed; we just continue to struggle and believe above all that life is worth living. Thank you for the opportunity to share these stories.
Directly prior to my release and for about two months after I kept a daily journal detailing every single moment so I would never forget. I would like to start ?It?s All About Us? by sharing one of those experiences with you. The following words are my actual journal writings.
3 days before release?Preparing to leave this environment is a BIG event for me. Praise be to Allah (God). I am very calm in spite of the madness. Today the mailroom officer talked very crazy to me, asking specifics about why I was expecting a release box, where was I going and when. I answered all her questions with the patience of ?Job.? She further goes on to say that ?my family? is driving them crazy, calling the institution twice today. I politely asked what member of my family kept calling and for what reason. She rudely tells me she didn?t know who was calling but they?re wanting to know what happened to my release box. I told her they may be concerned because I told my friend the release box had not arrived here as of last Friday. It was mailed UPS and delivered to the institution on Thursday 7-18-02, however, the mailroom did not receive it until today, Monday, 7-22-02.
To be continued…

Se trata de nosotras: Preparándose para salir

por Yvonne/Hamdiya Cooks
Durante mis 20 años de encarcelamiento vi a mujeres entrar, salir y muchas veces volver. Ustedes que aun están adentro saben de lo que hablo. Cuando alguna de nuestras hermanas era liberada nuestros espíritus compartían su victoria al dejar las puertas de la prisión.
Era casi como si una parte de nosotras se fuera también. Siempre nos ponía contentas escuchar las historias de los éxitos de nuestras hermanas afuera y nos sentíamos afligidas al escuchar historias tristes y otras decepciones. A pesar de eso cuando una noticia llega acerca de la situación de una ex-prisionera siempre es importante.
Esos recuerdos son los que me inspiraron a escribir esta columna. Quiero compartir con ustedes historias de hermanas que están afuera después de sobrevivir lo que vivimos. Nosotras no estábamos destinadas a sobrevivir.
El sistema de justicia criminal no esta diseñado para devolvernos a la sociedad como seres humanos saludables y completas. Es gracias a la gracia y compasión de Dios que pude salir de prisión después de 20 años y estar de alguna manera completa, mientras que adentro debemos hacer todo lo posible para nutrir nuestros cuerpos y mentes sanos.
Continuare informándoles mis luchas y alegrías así como otras hermanas que han sobrevivido luego de estar lejos de la sociedad por tanto tiempo. Esperamos también resaltar las historias de mujeres con las que hayan vivido mucho tiempo.
No hemos triunfado sin daño alguno, solo continuamos luchando y creyendo por sobre todo que vale la pena seguir viviendo. Tengo tanto que quisiera decirles, gracias por la oportunidad de compartir estas historias.
Antes de salir de prisión, por dos meses mantuve un diario detallando cada momento para no olvidarlo. Me gustaría empezar ?Se trata de nosotras? compartiendo algunas de esas experiencias con ustedes. Las siguientes palabras son escritos de mi diario.
Tres días antes de ser liberada-Prepararme para dejar este ambiente es un GRAN evento para mi. Alabado sea Allah (Dios). Estoy calmada a pesar de la locura. Hoy la encargada del correo me hablo muy extrañamente preguntándome por que esperaba un ultimo paquete, a donde iba y cuando, le respondí todas sus preguntas con mucha paciencia.
Después me dice que ?mi familia? la esta volviendo loca llamando a la institución dos veces al día, educadamente le pregunte que miembro de mi familia había estado llamando y con que motivo. Ella me dijo de mala manera que no sabía quien había estado llamando pero que querían saber que había pasado con mi último paquete.
Yo le dije que de repente estaban preocupados por que le conté a una amiga que hasta el viernes pasado aun no llegaba, lo mandaron por UPS y lo dejaron en la institución el jueves 7-18-02, pero la oficina de correspondencia no lo recibió hasta hoy día, Lunes 7-22-02.
Continuará…

Freedom

by Yvonne/Hamdiya Cooks
Freedom finds me waiting
A few more minutes
Waiting
Waiting for me
I will greet her with love and longing
I will respect her with dignity and grace
I will smell her sweetness and breathe her reality
I will accept her as a friend and offer her a loyal and
sincere heart
And, most of all, I will thank Allah who made her possible.
3-29-00

Letters for Liberation

by Anonymous, CCWF
A group of inmates are spearheading a letter writing campaign to legislators. This campaign involves two projects:
1. Release women from prison;
2. Return family boxes, eliminate vendor boxes and amend the new matrix to include reasonable requests.
We are asking all inmates to get involved. We will provide model letters and news articles (where available) addressing concerns.
Ladies, there is strength in numbers.
Please join together so we may be heard on these very important issues!

The Fire Inside received the announcement above anonymously. We support this great effort to get all prisoners, families and friends involved in letter writing.
We cannot print the names of all the state legislators, but here are the websites where you can find out specific information about your state senator or assembly member:
http://www.senate.ca.gov/~newsen/senators/senators.htp and
http://www.assembly.ca.gov/acs/acsframeset7text.htm
If you don?t have access to the web, please contact CCWP at: 1540 Market St., #490, San Francisco, CA 94102. We wii send you contact infornation for tyour elected officials.
Below is a list of the names of the current Public Safety Committee members. This Committee is responsible for overseeing the penal code and the prisons administration and therefore it is particularly important to let these legislators know what women prisoners think.
Mark Leno, Chair
Jay La Suer, Vice-Chair
Rebecca Cohn
Mervyn Dymally
Jackie Goldberg
Todd Spitzer
The central address for all legislators is:
State Capitol
P.O. Box 942849
Sacramento, CA 94249
Sample Letter:
Dear Legislator,
We encourage you to adopt sweeping reforms to the Youth and Adult Correctional Authority. One immediate step that would save hundreds of millions of dollars would be to adopt legislation similar to that which Massachussetts (and twenty five other states) have passed.
Release low level non-violent offenders, especially women, back into the community. Many organizations (such as the Justice Policy Insititute) indicate this move would not increase public risk. In fact, it would improve public safety because taxpayers? dollars could be directed to more effective community-centered programs to promote education, job training, and self-help. The states fiscal resources, could be put to much better use.
Sincerely,

Are We the Lost?

by Angelina Rodriguez, Death Row, CCWF
For the son of man has come to seek and save that which is “lost”. ?Luke 19:10
Who are these “lost”? My name is Angelina Rodriguez. I have been on California’s Death Row for a little over a year now. For the past 4 years I have met hundreds of these “lost”. I am one, too.
U.S. society inflicts torment, false arrests and imprisonments. Innocents are executed. Sexual, physical, mental, verbal, and emotional abuses are rampant. Desperate cries for help issue from correction facilities where Americans are unjustly persecuted. Corruption in government leads to cruelty towards men, women and children.
Do you find yourself angry that these things are happening and want them to stop?
You are familiar with rights in the criminal justice system such as innocent until proven guilty, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, due process of law, no cruel and unusual punishment, Miranda rights must be read before being interrogated, and persons may not be tried twice for the same offense. But the truth is our courts, judges, prosecution teams, attorneys, jailers, and civilian personnel disregard any and all of our rights in order to win a conviction.
Here is a rundown of some of the violations of legal rights I have endured throughout my four-year battle:
No telephone access permitted, even to my attorney.
My legal documents, crucial for my defense, were removed from my cell by LAPD deputies and thrown out!
For 3 years I was locked down 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in a tiny cold, dirty, and infested cell with no windows.
The prosecution used what California courts call “non charged offenses” against me. This is where a defendant accused of a serious offense can be found guilty of charges that they were not tried for, or were tried and then dismissed due to a hung jury. Non-charged offenses are used to increase convictions and to impose the harshest sentence.
So here I am, convicted and sitting on the California women’s death row. Thousands of other prisoners in the general population are also here because of such violations of their legal rights!
I am currently enrolled in a paralegal correspondence course (blessed by my beloved step-dad), applying what I learn to work on my case and advocacy work for others. There are many others who are pursuing education and using their skills to achieve the same purposes ? to change the country’s correctional systems. I hope that you will see we are determined to work as hard and long as it takes.
There truly are very few organizations and individuals who stand up for the incarcerated. Thank God we are blessed with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. It is these angels who give us a bit of comfort in knowing both that we are being heard through them, and especially, that we are not alone. So we thank you CCWP. I thank the women prisoners who share their thoughts and give added support, comfort and companionship.
I will continue praying; will stand up in one way or another to help stop our own concentration camps of hell. Please add your prayers and voices, too. We need not be “lost.”