for my mom
surrounded by cold gray
enclosed with hard steel
uncomfortable plastic chairs
around tiny two-foot beige tables
I sit there
?Donna Willmott, Please report to visiting room?
still echo from my four-year-old mind
ice-cold stares from guards
quickly awaken anxiety in the depths of my belly
cause me to swallow
gulp down my uneasiness
disguise it as best I can
rush and hug
from across the room kisses blown
tender arms scoop me up
across the same two-foot table
which once looked so small
my desire to hug you/my own mother
by side-ways glances from prison guards
weekly trips to FCI Dublin prison
time flies too quickly
to feel it rush past
before I know it
I?m torn between
desire to stay
be with you/my mother
and need to get away from this place
to go home
to a place where complexity disappears
sharp pains in my stomach
reminders that it will soon be time
to say good-bye
desperate attempts to avoid
the awkward moment
by harsh prison environment
rises in my throat
tears trickle down
pale white cheeks
my most hated place
becomes my favorite
because of you
the visiting room
where I cry more tears
and crack more missing-tooth smiles
than anywhere else
place of my nightmares
wake up in shaky sweats
also the place of my dreams
the visiting room
is where I get
to be with
On June 14, 2007, four young African-American lesbians were convicted of 2nd degree gang assault and sentenced to prison time ranging from 3 to 11 years. These four friends had dared to defend themselves against a sexist and anti-gay assault during a night out in New York City?s West Village, a neighborhood historically known as a hangout for queer and transgender youth of color.
According to the women?s testimonies, the incident began when Dwayne Buckle, an African-American man selling DVDs, sexually propositioned one of them as they walked by. She dismissed his advances, telling him that she wasn?t interested in men. He followed them as they kept walking, saying anti-gay and sexually aggressive remarks like ?I?ll fuck you straight.? The women stopped and confronted him, and a verbal confrontation turned physical when Buckle flicked a lit cigarette and spat at them. During the altercation, Patreese Johnson pulled out a small steak knife from her purse in attempt to stop Buckle from choking her friend. Two other men came to help the woman being choked, one of which may have had a knife as well. The women walked away with Buckle on the ground, but clearly alive. The other men ran off. The women were arrested later at a nearby McDonalds. Buckle spent the next five days in the hospital with a lacerated liver. The other men involved in the fight were never sought by the police. Three of the seven women present took pleas of attempted assault and received six months jail time. The other four went to trial. None of them had previous records.
The women were demonized by the mainstream media who invoked racist, sexist and homophobic imagery, turning the group of friends into a ?lesbian wolf pack? and ?a seething Sapphic septet? and an incident of self-defense into a ?gay-on-straight gang assault?. Buckle?s actions, however, were portrayed as harmless and innocent. He described the incident to the press as a ?hate crime against a straight man by a ton of lesbians? that happened after he just said hello to the ?slightly pretty? one in the group.
During the trial, Judge Edward J. McLaughlin clearly sided with Buckle, at one point opening disbelieving Johnson?s explanation that she carried a knife for self-protection. He told them that ?they should have heeded the nursery rhyme about ?sticks and stones? and walked away?. Maybe he didn?t hear about what happened to Sakia Gunn, a former schoolmate of the women, who was stabbed to death after she told a man who propositioned her that she was gay. Maybe Judge McLaughlin, as someone who experiences the world as a white man, had absolutely no understanding of the verbal, physical and sexual violence that women, queer and transgender people experience everyday. Maybe he just could not grasp that a group of African-American lesbians are not a ?man-hating gang? but rather are looking for a place to feel safe- a place that becomes harder and harder to find as the gentrification* of cities translates into increased policing and incarceration of communities of color, especially queer, transgender and homeless youth.
The jury seemed to agree with the judge, finding the defendants guilty even though no forensic testing was ever done on Johnson?s knife to prove that it was the knife that stabbed Buckle. The judge then sentenced Patreese Johnson, age 19, described as the ?pint-sized ring leader of a gang of seven rampaging lesbians? by New York Post, to 11 years, Renata Hill, age 25, to 8 years, Venice Brown, age 19, to 5 years, and Terrain Dandridge, age 20, to 3 , the shortest sentence because, according to judge McLaughlin, she was the only one who took responsibility for the incident. The guilty verdict and long sentences send a resounding message about who the legal system thinks has a right to self-defense and who is ?worthy? of protection.
CCWP sends out our love and support to the New Jersey 4 and their friends and family. We pledge our solidarity to them and all queer, transgender and homeless youth who are fighting for the right to safety and community in the face of increased criminalization and policing.
?We must always stand together, fearless and unified against any intruder who tries to take our lives, our families or our freedom.?
?Merle Africa, MOVE
*Gentrification is city development by wealthy real estate and business interests that intentionally targets working class communities of color to be redeveloped for mostly white, wealthy people. Working class residents are pushed out because of increased policing, eviction, real estate values and taxes, and much of the public spaces (like neighborhood parks and rec centers) are privatized.
* * *
Thanks to FIERCE, Imani Henry, Suzie Day and Womanspace for informative articles on this case, which served as source material for this story.
The New Jersey 4 needs your support!
Contact FIERCE at www.fiercenyc.org or at:
147 West 24th Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10011
Send your letters of love and solidarity:
Patreese Johnson #07-G-0635
Bedford Hills Correctional Facility
PO Box 1000
Bedford Hills, NY 10507
Renata Hill #07-G-0636
Bedford Hills Correctional Facility
PO Box 1000
Bedford Hills, NY 10507
Terrain Dandridge #07-G-0637
Albion Correctional Facility
3595 State School Road
Albion, NY 14411
Venice Brown # 07-G-0640
Albion Correctional Facility
3595 State School Road
Albion, NY 14411
…And Outrageous Denials
Sandra Lawrence was released in May 2007 after serving twenty years when a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal agreed with the Parole Board which had found her suitable for release and rejected the Governor’s decision to keep Lawrence locked up. However, the California Supreme Court decided in October 2007 to review Lawrence’s release, which means that Lawrence could end up back in prison.
The outcome potentially affects thousands of other cases of life-term prisoners.
CCWP will keep you posted as to developments with this case.
The telephone system is one of the most necessary forms of communication prisoners have to connect to their loved ones. On July 17, 2007, the former MCI Department of Corrections line of business was acquired by Global Tel*Link (GTL), to continue the inadequate telephone service previously provided by MCI in the prison system.
CCWP members are being told that the new telephone system does not allow accounts to be set up where calls can be received in Mexico. This type of discrimination prohibits a significant number of people from talking to their families who live outside the U.S.
Global Tel*Link?s website tells us what the company considers most important: ?GTL understands that completed calls equal happier inmates and families. Most importantly it means increased revenue to your facility.? Exorbitant per-call surcharges and per-minute usage charges are continuously levied against poor people and prisoners, those who need assistance most.
A lot of families of prisoners don?t have the financial means to visit their loved ones in prison on a regular basis; the occasional phone call is what keeps the family connected. Incarcerated people understand that calling home can also be a burden on an already depleted budget. However, for people locked up, keeping connected to loved ones is the life line for remaining sane in an insane environment. When prisoners are not considered important or their needs aren?t recognized, the result is hopelessness. One family member has related that even though funds are in the prisoner?s account to cover telephone charges, the phone lines are still blocked.
I have tried to contact employees at Global Tel*Link to no avail. This is unacceptable. We ask you to work with CCWP and other organizations working to combat the forces that keep our families and loved ones apart. Together we can support one another and come up with solutions to change this inhumane system.
La habilidad para conectar con el mundo afuera es crítica para mantener nuestro bienestar emocional y espiritual mientras estamos lejos de nuestros hijos, padres, seres queridos y familia extensa. El sistema telefónico es una de las formas más necesarias de comunicación que los prisioneros tienen con sus seres queridos. El 17 de Julio del 2007, el anterior MCI la línea de negocios del Departamento de correccionales fue adquirido por Global Tel*Link (GTL), para continuar el inadecuado servicio telefónico previamente provisto por MCI en el sistema de prisiones.
A los miembros de CCWP se les ha dicho que el nuevo sistema telefónico no permite arreglar cuentas donde las llamadas puedan ser recibidas en México. Este tipo de discriminación prohíbe a un significativo número de gente de hablar con sus familiares que viven afuera de los Estados Unidos. Cuando haces una llamada telefónica es muy raro que una persona te conteste, lo mas común es hablar con una computadora que te va cobrando mientras te dejan en espera.
El sito de Web de global Tel*Link nos dice lo que la compañía considera mas importante: ?GTL entiende que las llamadas hacen completamente felices igualmente a reclusos como a los familiares. Y lo mas importante es que significan ingresos para sus instalaciones.? Exorbitantes sobre cobros por llamada telefónica y por minuto usado son constantemente impuestos en contra de al gente pobre y los presos, quienes son los que mas asistencia necesitan.
Muchas veces los familiares de la gente que esta encarcelada no tienen el dinero para visitar a sus seres queridos de manera frecuente, entonces son las llamadas telefónicas lo que los mantiene conectados. La gente en prisión entiende que llamando a casa puede ser una carga para el presupuesto de sus familiares. Sin embargo para las personas en prisión, mantenerse en contacto con sus seres queridos y pensar en el momento en que saldrán es la fuerza que los mantiene sanos en tan toxico ambiente. Cuando los prisioneros no son considerados importantes o sus necesidades no son reconocidas, el resultado es la desesperanza. El testimonio de un familiar es que a pesar de estar cubierto los costos de las llamadas telefónicas, las líneas están todavía bloqueadas, prohibiendo llamadas aun a la familia. He tratado de contactar a los empleados de Global Tel*Link pero sin éxito. Esto es inaceptable. Les pedimos que trabajen con CCWP y con otras organizaciones para combatir las fuerzas que mantienen a nuestros familiares a parte. Juntos podemos apoyarnos unos a otros y encontrar soluciones para cambiar este sistema de opresiones tan inhumano.
This is in response to the incident in Jena, Louisiana. Allow me to introduce myself. I choose to call myself Los Angeles 1 (LA 1). I have been incarcerated for 27 years for ?felony? murder,? a murder committed by a co-defendant in the commission of another felony.
Two male co-defendants were 8 and 9 years my senior and I was 18 years young. They committed a robbery, to and from which I was forced to drive them. I was told to wait in the car and if I left I, as well as my family, would suffer terrible consequences. I did what I was told in fear of my life.
The two males returned to the vehicle and told me to drive away. I would learn later that they robbed the place and for unknown reasons shot into a group of 8 people killing 3 and wounding others.
I have never used, held or discharged any firearms nor was I aware of any murder, so why am I serving a 25 to life sentence? As a result of the crime, I was given three choices at the age of 19 they were as follows:
1. The Death Penalty
2. 100 years in State prison
3. 25 years to life (of which I was told I would only serve 12.)
Our injustice system told me if I went to trial, I would have no chance and would end up with the death penalty or the 100 years. I accepted this so called ?plea bargain? of 25 to life and kept my mouth shut.
For readers who are unaware, 25 to life is the standard sentence by law for anyone who commits a premeditated murder with intent and malice. Now, I actually believed I would only serve twelve years for the poor decision I made to drive that car and my failure to stop the crime or report it.
In 1983 I was sent to state prison. I met hundreds of inmates of other ethnicities (not Black) incarcerated for the same type of crime, and in some cases worse. But none of them were serving life sentences. I accepted the hard cold reality that I would be here longer than twelve years and I needed to do the time and not let the time do me.
The hundreds of women I met served time for accessory before or after the fact, or had the murder charges dropped, pleaded guilty to a lesser crime all together. What made me different? It was society?s way of reminding me one of the disadvantages of being born African American. You ask me my opinion on Jena 6, I?m LA1 so I understand.
I am 46 years old now, I?m still African American and still incarcerated.
Oh, please don?t misunderstand me, let me make it perfectly clear to you, I am not prejudiced. Some of my biggest supporters and people who showed me love during my 27 years are some of those other ethnicities who did not get a life sentence. They also motivated and encouraged me to continue fighting a system which is so unfair and corrupt they don?t even follow their own laws.
For those Blacks who are serving lengthy sentences or life sentences because of the color of your skin I guess we?re all too Black to receive support from our own kind. And you ask me my opinion on the Jena 6, I?m LA 1, so I understand.
When I read the contents of one of the articles on Jena 6 it was interesting how, when discussing the Blacks involved they referred to them as the ?Black teenagers? and when referring to the whites they referred to them as the three ?white students.?
In the article it states there was no law to support prosecuting juveniles for hate crimes for the hanging of the nooses in the ?white tree? by the three white students, while a law was found to prosecute the six ?Black teenagers.? You ask me my opinion on Jena 6? Again, I say I am LA 1. I understand. It?s also evident racism definitely has a lot to do with the thousands of African American women and men in our prisons with lengthy sentences.
In closing Jena 6 is a tragedy, but LA 1 is a devastating reality that our system is partial to other ethnicities. They will have better choices than LA 1. They will probably get 2 years for rape and surely not a life sentence for murder. Instead he will be admitted to a mental hospital to get healing treatment to do it again.
And you ask me my opinion on the Jena 6.
Virginia made the journey home last October. She was in severe pain the night prior to her death, but was still denied medical care. Virginia Garcia was well-loved and respected. We will cherish the days we were fortunate to spend with her. She is free now, although her absence is painful, we must accept her departure to a better place. She is survived by numerous family and friends who loved her very much. I am asking you to print this in her memory. I also request an investigation into the matters of inadequate medical care here at Valley State Prison.
?Bambi Boyer, VSPW