Impact of the Drug War

by Laura Whitehorn, political prisoner, FCI Dublin
The federal prisons are full of young women locked away, on their first offense, for 15, 24, 35 years and more on a drug charge. Most of them were wives or girlfriends, often of older men. Some had no involvement with drugs at all, just failed to turn their man in. Others may have made a phone call, or passed on a message as instructed by their man. Many are victims of domestic abuse, others are merely from naive. A lot of these women are African-American – in numbers way out of proportion to the population, as well as to the profile of actual drug users and dealers in this country. Most of the women have young children at home.
One of my cherished friends here at FCI Dublin has a multiple life sentence plus 20 years. Like many others, not a single piece of hard evidence of drugs was turned up in her case – no actual cocaine, just tales of drug transactions. And like many other cases, the men who got on the stand to tell the tales received extravagant reductions in the sentences they had received for repeated offenses. My friend’s case was her first, she’d never even heard of conspiracy laws before. Another friend, serving upwards of 15 years on her first offense, blew her chances of acquittal by agreeing to take the weight for her previously-twice-convicted boyfriend.
The fact that federal law allows the admission into evidence of uncorroborated testimony, and uses such testimony to convict bit players or suspected bit players in a “conspiracy” and then gives them the same sentence as a “kingpin” – all of this has been exposed, and hopefully is being protested and fought more and more these days. What is less known, less visible, is the particular impact all of this has on women, and therefore on families and communities across the country.
The families and communities bear much of the brunt of the punishment. The removal of the mothers to federal prison exacerbates the problem: many women are hundreds and thousands of miles from their families, since there are only four federal prisons for women. The cost of visiting prohibits many women from ever seeing their children once the prison gates close behind them. African-Amercan, Latino and Native communities are then forced to withstand yet another blow, as disproportionate numbers of their young women are stolen from them and locked away.
I believe it is time for feminists to take up the issue of women locked away for – when you get right down to it – the “crime” of falling in love with the wrong man.
(Excerpted from a column in Prison Legal News)