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.