Staring into the eye of the Critical Resistance icon we see the importance of such a symbol for these times: before you can open your mind, you must open your eyes. Thanks to mainstream political and media neglect and distortion, the deliberate location of prisons in remote areas, and the social stigma ascribed to prisoners, the eyes of many Americans have been clouded or closed when
turned toward the prison system in the United States. We have reached a point, however, when society can no longer turn this blind eye toward the prison industrial complex and its injustices.
From 1980 to 1996 an absurd number of new repressive laws (over 1200 in California alone) swarmed the books. These laws, such as the fiasco known as “three strikes,” disproportionately target the young, the poor and urban people of color.
For the past two decades, women have been granted “preferential” entry into California prisons. Incarerated at a rate faster than men, more and more women are being convicted for substance abuse crimes, which require lengthy mandatory minimum sentences, and for property crimes, which reflect their worsening economic situation. Yet, most women inside do not receive drug treatment, the majority of rehabilitation programs have been discontinued.
Women who resist their abusers because they have been given no other course by the system are given life sentenes and the history of abuse is most often ignored.
While rehabilitation has been abandoned, prison industry is growing at an unprecedented rate. State and federal prisons provide private industry and its investors with dirt-cheap labor without the inconvenience of foreign limitations and tariffs, employee rights and regulations, or “pesky” unions.
More than 80% of women prisoners have children. More and more children are placed with overextended relatives or in foster care and are at a higher risk for incarceration themselves. The cyclic nature of this system is clear, and the only way to end the continued suffering by those on both sides of the prison wall is to end the cycle. Society cannot afford to treat these women and children, or any
one, as disposable people.
Women and men who have been politically active in exposing and fighting the system have in many cases been framed for crimes they didn’t commit and have been given disproportionately harsh sentences for their acts of resistance.
The tough-on-crime posturing by U.S. politicians and others is merely an evasion of the truly tough social issues of economic injustice and sharp racial disparities. The crisis in the United States is not some “crime wave” but the increasing distance between the haves and have nots, between “us” and “them,” between the dominant white society and communities of color, which are suffering the brunt of this crisis.