Our Voices Within: Celebrating the Strength of Incarcerated Survivors

by Pam Fadem
“I shall survive, stay strong, live long, and finally

-From The Lost and Not Found, by Flozelle Woodmore

Harriette Davis, Rose Ann Parker and Brenda Aris at the Voices Within program.
Harriette Davis, Rose Ann Parker, and Brenda Aris at the Voices Within program. The banner for the event (shown in the background) was created by prisoners at San Quentin

On April 13, 2002, over 100 people packed into a small room at the Women’s Building in San Francisco’s Mission District to celebrate the strength of imprisoned survivors of domestic violence. All who were present got to hear the stories of three beautiful, strong sisters- Brenda Aris, Harriette Davis and Rose Ann Parker- who survived both domestic violence and the violence of the criminal justice system. This afternoon program, “Our Voices Within”, was organized by the California Coalition for Battered Women in Prison (CCBWP), and brought together survivors, family members of incarcerated women, and community supporters from both the anti-domestic violence and prisoners’ rights movements. A 61-page booklet of poetry, artwork, testimonies from many women survivors still in prison, and practical information on how to be an advocate was given to each person who attended. Each of the three speakers told their own stories of survival and other participants read testimonies from the booklet. These stories were hard to tell and they were hard to hear. But in sharing their pain and their strength, Brenda, Harriette, Rose Ann and all of the other women were affirming their rights and their places in our communities and the responsibility each of us has to help build a movement that brings more of our sisters home. Another amazing highlight of the afternoon was artwork that was done by men imprisoned at San Quentin. They made a banner and a painting to honor incarcerated women domestic violence survivors. Many of the men wrote personal notes to express their support and, in some cases, to express their apologies and remorse for having been abusers themselves. The California Coalition for Battered Women in Prison encourages individuals and organizations to join in the work to heal our communities from both domestic and state-sponsored violence (like the prisons), and to bring our imprisoned sisters home.
You can reach CCBWP at: 1540 Market Street #490, SF, CA 94102; 415-255-7936 ext. 375
For copies of the booklet, please send $10 to CCBWP/LSPC.