Family values

?Prison has severely severed my family ties by loss of communication, loss of trust, and a very hurtful and disappointing separation from those that I love.?
?EH, woman in California prison
The past decade has brought increasing attacks on prisoner families: The cost of phone calls has continued to rise as MCI and other telephone companies as well as prisons and county jails across the country gouge prisoners? families with exorbitant costs. Family living unit (FLU) visits, when families live together for 48 hours in a home on the prison grounds, have been eliminated for all but a few families. Parenting and other training programs have been slashed. Visiting hours in California?s state prisons were cut in half. There are fewer mother-infant programs than ever. Federal fast-track adoption laws have made it very difficult for prisoner mothers to reunite with their children. The two largest women?s prisons in California are in Chowchilla, three hours from the largest cities in the state. Across the country, mandatory minimum sentences mean that women are coming into prison younger and getting out older?forcing them to miss their entire child-rearing years. Finally, discrimination on the outside means that women getting out of prison are finding it more and more difficult to find housing, jobs, educational opportunities and (if needed) mental health treatment necessary to hold families together. It is no wonder that we hear over and over again from women inside that their number one concern is their relationship to their families on the outside!
?I was always the sister, daughter, and mother not to mention aunt, that everyone relied upon during hard times. Right now there?s a death in the family along with my father who is dying of cancer. Trying to keep in contact is so hard to do when?you?re only allowed one phone call per month.?
?SH, woman in California prison
Throughout history, the US has repeatedly used the forced separation of families?particularly families of color?as a tool of punishment and control. Under slavery, Black women had no legal right to their children or control over reproduction. Children, women and men could be moved around at will. As the white power structure moved west, Native American family structures were disrupted and displaced. By the time the westward expansion hit California, Chinese men were being imported for labor without their wives or children, and the border with Mexico was closed, allowing people in only when their labor was needed and deporting them when they were no longer necessary. So-called family values were abandoned whenever they interfered with the profits and control of the white ruling class. The current mass incarceration of women is a continuation of these policies.
?My father says that he?s doing his time right along with me. Every day that I?m away from him, he?s hurting. I?m his baby, and I?ve been away from him for so long. My mother can?t understand why I?m still in here. It wears and tears on everybody. They are still living their lives, but ? My family bought Christmas presents for the first few years, because they thought I would be home soon. The presents are still waiting for me.?
?YA, woman in California prison
Having a family is a basic human right. And, with awesome strength, incarcerated women fight to resist isolation by redefining and empowering their families on both sides of the prison walls.
?A lot of people are motherly, and they do things for me that are motherly, and I appreciate that. How can I not honor them for that? Over time, and getting close to people, you do end up creating your own family in one way or another.?
?YA, woman in California prison
Following the recent re-election of George W. Bush, the mainstream news commentary has credited Bush?s victory to his opposition to gay marriage and support of traditional family values. How dare the Bush Administration say that it is protecting family values while continuing to destroy families and communities of color in the U.S. and all over the world? How can the ?War on Terror? honor families when it destroys lives, livelihoods, and communities? How does the state?s mass incarceration of our mothers, fathers, sisters, children and community members support family values?
In this issue of The Fire Inside, we honor those women inside who defy the anti-family obstacles of the prison industry by maintaining ties with family members on the outside and struggling to define healthy and nurturing relationships on both sides of the walls.