by Urszula Wislanka
San Francisco, Ca. – To celebrate International Women’s Day, California Coalition for Women Prisoners showed a new video, Blind Eye to Justice. It documents the struggle of HIV positive women in prison. It features interviews with women still in prison, ex-prisoners and activists at various demonstrations.
What comes through the many individual stories of women demanding more reasonable care is a demand to be recognized as human. Yvonne Knuckles, for example, told of her experience of being hand-cuffed and humiliated in front of her co-workers in prison when her test came back positive. She had no idea what she did wrong by allowing the test. As soon as the prison found out she was positive, they treated her like a grave security risk. No one explained anything about what it means to be HIV+, no one offered any treatment whatsoever. But she could no longer earn good time by working in prison. The guards’ attitudes generated hysteria around the issue, panicking many.
The women inside responded by demanding and then ordering peer counseling: HIV+ women who would explain what HIV is to women who had just found out they have it and would offer an opportunity to talk about their fears. The video was also an appeal to the outside to not only inform the population about the conditions inside, but to condemn the whole society, which allows this to go on. The women in the video spoke of the need to transform this society.
Some of the women featured in the video were present, and spoke of their dedication to continue organizing around this issue. This organizing takes many forms: some continue to support the efforts inside by sending information and materials to prisoners and publicizing their issues on the outside. Some participate in organizations that help women who are just being released to cope “outside,” like W.O.R.L.D., Women Organized to Respond to Life-threating Diseases. Thais Mazur Dance Company staged their Women in Black piece. Paulette Jones from Medea Project-Theatre for incarcerated women also performed.
Many of the audience of over a hundred were long time activists and many were from a new generation of women who concretize the meaning of International Women’s Day for today by expressing solidarity with women fighting in prison.
by Urszula Wislanka