Study Session Responses

From Our Incarcerated Comrades

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Are Prisons Obsolete?

By Angela Davis

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Angaza Iman Bahar

Listsen to Angaza’s Response Below:


Anastazia Schmid

Note: This is an edited compilation of several letters written to IDOC Watch by Anastazia Schmid in response to Are Prisons Obsolete?, published with her permission.

Thank you so much for sending these amazing books! I have just finished reading Angela Davis' Are Prisons Obsolete? It will take me several letters to respond to all the thoughts this book invoked in me. You are welcome to share my commentary for open dialogue on these very crucial topics and conversations.

My pervading response to this book is unfortunately one of despair. The reason being is prompted by the grim reality of its publication date, and subsequently, the publication dates of all the references that preceded this work. It weighs upon me to KNOW HOW long we have been aware of these interconnected hegemonic power structures that have so grossly, and vastly oppressed so many (now globally as well as nationally) and yet all of these issues and problems have only GROWN to epic proportions rather than being ameliorated or abolished in some way.

It is in this space of awareness that I ask myself, and challenge others to also ask: How and where have these hegemonic ideologies (racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc) been created? What sources solidify the perpetuation of these fallacious human hierarchal beliefs? And therefore, how can we come together to dismantle the things that reinforce those beliefs which then solidify the power structions that grossly harm and oppress their targeted populations?

I have now been imprisoned for 17 years, years that proceed the research and writing of this important book. Herein lies part of what is so distressing, Why is it that more people are NOT aware of the contents/ context of this book FIFTEEN YEARS later?!? To the extent that NOTHING has changed within these systems, only progressively worsened, and only to grow to astronomical proportions? How do we collectively come together to bring mass AWARENESS? To open this dialog to others who would never bother to so much as pick up a book of this type? This is where I open my discussion and commentary.

I ask all the aforementioned questions to engage an even deeper thought process as to the ways and means incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people (I/FIP) have been vilified and dehumanized... in other words, turned into "criminals, convicts, inmates, offenders, felons, prisoners," etc etc etc. These tropes create what I refer to as a "convict race" (a term I reappropriate and expand from Dr. Micol Siegel's, to encompass ALL people, male and female of all races, creeds, etc) who are encompassed in the carceral state, and how this trope instills and solidifies the power structures that oppress and harm those ensnared within it, indefinitely.

Simply being released from prison does not magically restore these people's humanity. If anything, the formerly incarcerated are even further demonized by a non-welcoming external society. Even those who claim they wish to help and "believe in second chances," expect that help or second chance to come through in ways that do not directly involve the people (or the communities) that claim they believe in such things. For example, the number of incarcerated people that gain a higher education while in prison (that is, those of us who have been fortunate enough to do so in states that still provided such programs, during a time they were available), who are then effectively barred from graduate education once we are released from prison, sometimes by the very same institutions that provide our undergraduate educations while were we inside!!! Or the "liberal" communities that fight for housing opportunities for low socioeconomic status people, but will not equally fight for or allow formerly incarcerated people to obtain housing and housing assistance in those very same communities or through the assistance of those said agencies. That attitude of "yeah, we believe they should have a second chance....but not in OUR neighborhood, schools, company, etc."

I say all of this to pose the question of, how do we overcome such deep seeded discriminatory beliefs about people who have become ensnared within a system that has effectively made us less than human, or non-human? Not worthy of the same rights, benefits, or treatment as others, inherently "different," "flawed," ""inferior," etc. How do we make I/FIP just that, PEOPLE? We have to become people worthy of all the accoutrements of life, liberty and the proverbial pursuit of happiness before we can hope to dismantle these deeply ingrained systems of power and control. In these arguments we must understand that such things as "democracy, " justice," and "equality" never existed to begin with for anyone outside of white affluent males (we could certainly add conservative, right wing, Christian, heterosexual on top of that demographic to gain an even clearer perception of exactly WHO and WHAT the "law" applies to. More on that later).

We must examine how we view people: worthy vs. unworthy, deserving vs. undeserving, and how we define, label and categorize people, and how by doing so we effectively remove and exclude specific people or groups from actually being seen as or treated as people. Anytime I/FIP are referred to or viewed as anything other than people, or in a context that tags their crime (or details of their crime) to their words, image, work, testimony, etc. a conscious or subconscious trope is solidified that can and does, harm, oppress, or creates fertile ground for discrimination against that person, often permanently.

We need to look at how and why a life sentence IS the death penalty, really, how ANY prison sentence or felony conviction is a death sentence in that it is a civil and or social death. A person is no longer a person, no longer a viable human being. They are no longer treated as human, but then again, most of those people were never seen as human or equal to begin with. Especially people of color and women. When we speak of "lawbreakers," such discussions are clearly ONLY referring to those who have "been caught" or those who were "convicted." I have yet to encounter a human being who hasn't broken the law in some fashion or regard, yet how easy it has become for any person who hasn't been arrested or convicted in a court of law to assume a righteous position that they themselves are somehow not criminals, not lawbreakers.

The are multiple ways humanity creates dichotomies of "us vs. them." Paradigms and paradoxes that exclude or include certain people or groups thereby creating these hierarchies of existence. These are the things we must address individually and collectively. When, where, why and how do we create these divisions and separations of humanity. Who is excluded? Who is included? Who counts as human, citizen, deserving, worthy? One person cannot have "freedom" or "rights" under any of the current systems without creating "unfreedom" and "no rights" to another, or for one group over another. We have to address these things first.

So where are the tropes of the "convict race" created? Most noticeably, the media. Pay attention to the news in particular. Newspapers, tv and online source news broadcasts, mainstream magazines, etc. Look at the words and images that are used whenever I/FIP are featured or referred to in basically any context. I have been at the forefront, along with several of my colleagues, in bringing awareness to and opposing the epistemic injustice/ violence that occurs when media sources tag crime/ convictions and/or sensationalize the aforementioned to I/FIP within media sources. Damning a human being eternally by reiterating crimes and conviction ANY time that person is featured or referred to, particularly AFTER a person's sentence is complete, perpetuates social and civil death, stereotyping and discrimination, sets up person up for attack on every level, effectively continues to lock them out of opportunities, particularly those of basic need: i.e. housing, employment, govt. assistance, education, etc. The most recent devastation and striking examples of this can be seen in recent articles produced by the New York Times and Indianapolis Star in regard to one of my best friends, and colleagues, Michelle Jones, who was released from prison this past August and is now attending NYU's American Studies PhD program. I purposely chose not to provide extensive commentary on this particular example as A) I feel through pointing out the exact details of what they have done further solidifies exactly what that type of commentary and depiction aims to do, and B) I encourage readers to CRITICALLY examine articles about I/FIP for themselves to see if they are able to distinguish how and where language and imagery is used to distort and taint people's perception about I/FIP in ways that vilify and undermine them as human beings. Beyond the news, look to television programming, films, advertising, books, magazines and basically any other common everyday source of information or entertainment. I argue beyond Angela Davis' argument that such things do not just "normalize" the prison, making it omnipresent, but also it SOLIDIFIES our perceived NEED for the prison as well as defines WHO is supposed to be in prisons, and furthermore, solidifies the power structures that insist the purpose (on one hand) is "safety and security," deserving vs undeserving.

When crime/ conviction is tagged, that becomes the defining identity of said person. It effectively obliterates who the person was prior to the crime/conviction, who they are post, and any other normally defining characteristic of their personhood. If not complete obliteration, certainly a pervasive foreshadowing that cannot be removed. That person spends a lifetime being judged, persecuted and condemned for that action (or, in some cases, the failure to act), regardless of time, change, transformation, other defining characteristics or attributes. He or she must perpetually explain what happened and why ,even to complete strangers, they must continuously defend and attempt to affirm (or reaffirm) who they are as people, they must try to defend their past actions, or certainly continuously "display remorse and/ or guilt" for what has happened. It makes no difference who they were prior to the offense, or the circumstances and conditions under which it occurred, nor does it matter who they are and what they have done with their lives since, the crime/conviction becomes an indelible stain on their personhood. What Michelle Jones refers to as the "taint of criminality."

So therein lies the conundrum. How do we overcome the taint of criminality and the creation of the convict race to allow the average everyday citizen, those who are NOT members of the more liberal branches of the ivory tower or already a part of alternative and radical groups of thinkers and activists, to become interested and invested in the lives of I/FIP? On the remote chance people do become aware of so many of the issues Angela Davis and others bring to the forefront with books such as these, how do you get those people to care or to see a need and harbor a desire for change when their perceptions are clouded and infiltrated to such core depths by these indefinitely vilifying portrayals and identity markers? How do you even begin to spark interest in these scholarly works or activist movements when the subjects at hand are not seen as subject but mere undeserving objects by the vast majority of dominant society? Some of the work we engage in seeks to challenge and change that dominant narrative, and the pervasive questions of who is a criminal? what is a crime? And furthermore, WHEN does a charge and sentence fully end for those who have been given such labels?

Anytime I encounter these stories or depictions in some form of "news" coverage, I am left feeling outraged and depleted. Yesterday the local news covered a story of a woman's recent release, Lori Tackett. With all the theatrics of a Hollywood horror story, the commentary recapped the grizzly details of the nearly 25 year old crime, including the mention of two co-defendants who were released over a decade, and nearly two decades ago respectively. What I noticed beyond the aforementioned was the failure to discuss the fact that the 2 previously released women in this conviction have lived perfectly law abiding lives ever since, or any mention of details from the past 24 years of Lori's life while incarcerated (save for her appearance on the Dr. Phil show and a letter and poem she had once written, the latter may or may not have pertained to anything related to the crime or conviction). How is this woman, or any other in similar circumstance, ever to be expected to successfully reintegrate into society where there has clearly been an effort to thwart their return by re-criminalizing and vilifying them AFTER their sentence has been served? This is precisely what I mean when I say that ALL prison sentences ARE death sentences.

From that note, I move on to discuss the innumerable incarcerated people who (possibly NOT sentenced to such) do indeed die, unnecessarily, while incarcerated. Be it due to deliberate indifference, internal acts of violence, or medical negligence (the first and last even more so prevalent in this day and age of privatized healthcare in prisons). Over the years I have held an eyewitness account of these occurrences more than once, with little to no recourse for the victims and survivors of those incidents. It is as though several of those incidents, nor the women themselves, ever happened, or existed. The outside world more often than not remains oblivious, and when these happenings are made public, there is a deliberate social indifference, or the incident is briefly spoken of, then disappears before anything comes of it or any real change is made. Who cares what happens to a prisoner?

Such media portrayals are infused with fear and loathing tactics, further publicly shaming people post incarceration. Nothing positive or productive is achieved through this type of media representation. The saddest reality is that these news sources can and will run these articles with or without the person's consent (or even against their expressed consent NOT to have their image, words, work, etc. used). It is as if once a person has a conviction it is fair game for anyone to print, say, project or portray anything about them however they see fit with complete disregard to the person themselves or how this may negatively affect their life and potentially create infinite forms of harm to them on multiple levels. I/FIP are nearly always depicted in very specific stereotyped ways (as are prisons and jails), that solidify the power structures that oppress, harm and marginalize. It is further imperative to bring awareness to the fact that those power structures are intimately interconnected in order to prevent anything that defies those dominant narratives and fallaciously created tropes. Politicians, legislators, capitalist corporations with a vested interest in profits from punishment, lobbyist, major mainstream media sources, universities, government agencies, the  medical professions, etc., even spiritual leaders, are interconnected to maintain the entire infrastructure of the prison-industrial complex and the carceral state. Such has been the case throughout American history, only perhaps more insidiously in modern times.


You can read more of Anastazia Schmid’s work on gender, incarceration and epistemic violence on the Abolition Journal and Where the River Frowns blogs, or listen to podcasts and radio interviews with her at the Prindle Institute and Kiteline Radio.

The Struggle Within

by Dan Berger

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Anastazia Schmid

I really feel that most women incarcerated ARE political prisoners, [because]; (in the context of violent offenses most women incarcerated) A) were protecting themselves and/or a third party, namely children; or B) the actual offense was committed by a man but the woman does equal or more time for the actions of her male counterpart. In a society that remains hegemonically patriarchal and sexist, locking up women for decades or a lifetime for the aforementioned reasons is certainly political and punitively motivated and NOT based on any real sense of "safety and security" for society or "rehabilitation" of the said women. The latter especially in context of the lack of treatment for abuse/ trauma survivors, lack of counseling and family programming, lack of family reunification and opportunities for communication and bonding with children while incarcerated or mediation and assistance with incarcerated women and their children's caregivers. When we consider the vast number of women behind bars and the collective reasons why coupled with the realities of those women versus the rhetoric being told, there is no viable basis to keep over 100,000 women in cages across this country other than political motivations for capitalist profit, power and control, and the continued oppression and marginalization of women.

Khalfani Kaldun

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Cold Storage

Human Rights Report

Khalfani Kaldun

myron walker

Eli naim


Anastazia Schmid

 

In regards to solitary confinement, no such thing exists in this prison (level 1 minimum), but of course it did at both of the women's max prisons. I have experience with that at one, IWP, when we were in the old facility on Randolph St. There is such a thing as targeting that is alive and well within the system. What that means, is that, for whatever reason, or reason at all, certain staff members select certain incarcerated people to harass mericilessly. Often resulting in anything from petty offense sanctions to major violations (it is important to note that no such offense, in either regard, many have ever occurred. Write-ups almost always stick, even when proven false, the officer's word will prevail in the majority of cases, especially if it is a high ranking official). So for the person who is targeted for say, being homosexual, of a minority race, too intelligent, gender non-conforming, being of a non-Christian faith, etc. they may fall under the wrath of the targeter. I was once one of those people, for several of the aforementioned reasons, and I'm certain, of others I may never know.


I believe it was 2007. I had just returned to the unit from a day long spiritual seminar. A close friend met me by the bathroom and asked me to come in and talk to her, she was crying, visibly upset about something. I went into the bathroom with her and stood next to her, leaning against the sink listening to her talk. Apparently her request to transfer facilities was denied and she was very upset about it. As we talked she noticed a braclet I was wearing. Commenting that she liked it, she reached over and touched it to feel the material. At that exact moment a new male officer walked by, freaked out saying "Oh hell NO!" and then asked for our badges. We had no idea what we had done or what he was talking about and began questioning what the problem was. He told us to shut up, do as he said and go up to center hall. We complied, confused. We were separated on opposite ends of the center and told to be quiet and sit there and wait. Still confused we waited for at least 15 minutes, at which time several higher ranking officers came in, pulling cuffs on their way, a few moving towards each of us. We were both forcefully pulled up from our chairs, turned around into the wall, cuffed and dragged out the door. The whole time asking what we had done, to no reply other than to shut up.


Solitary is known as "lock." At that time it was located above the building that then housed the intakes (now intake is at RCF and has grown exponentially. When I arrived at IWP in 2002 there were roughly 40 women at any given time in intake. Today RCF houses well over 300 female intakes with numerous jails across the state overflowing DOC holding facilities where women wait to come to prison for lack of bed space). Protesting and questioning what we had done was futile. We were each stripped out and locked in cells on opposites sides of AS (administrative segregation). We would spend 8 days on that side of the unit without being told what we were being charged with. It turned out that being sent to lock without knowing why would prove to be the least of my problems at that time.


As was made up of non-self contained cells, meaning, there are not sinks or toilets in those cells, only a metal slab for the bed mat and a table/stool attached to the wall. In those days you were not allowed to have any of your belongings while housed there and wore state-issued orange scrubs, often without socks, and sometimes, without undergarments depending upon the mood of the staff overseeing the unit at the time. Hygiene products were minimal or non-existent as well. These cells are still kept locked down no less than 23 hours a day. A person inside one would have to yell through the barred door to hopefully get the C.O.s attention in order to be let out to use the restroom. This was problematic for several reasons. 1) there was a solid glass windowed door at the end of the hallway that closed off center hall from that wing of the unit, meaning, if the door was shut, the officers couldn't hear you calling. There was no alert buttons in that unit as the prison itself was over a hundred years old, meaning the cells were old fashioned lock and key steel barred doors, with secondary metal doors in front of those. A prisoner in those cells could be closed in by just the barred door, or the outer door could also be closed completely sealing someone inside (this not only creates problems in regard to silencing and isolation, but also became an issue during extreme temperatures. The heat was poor in the winter and there was no air conditioning in the summer). If an officer had a vendetta against someone, they could additionally close the outer door to literally shut you up and shut you in completely. Often the center hall door would be closed to spite the entire hallway, sometimes for hours on end. Certain officers and certain shifts would only allow bathroom breaks on the bare minimum, often illegal, time increments. As one might imagine, this creates grave problems for the people locked inside such cells, especially those of us who happen to have health problems.


In modern days, the new IWP no longer has such non-self contained cells in solitary confinement, instead they have developed a whole new disciplinary unit known as "Grace." This unit is scarcely different than solitary except that it holds 2 person cells and one large 10 person room. However, neither cell type is self-contained. This unit is chronic for "disciplining" those housed there by purposely withholding bathroom "privileges."


During the days I spent on AS awaiting screening for my charge, I became the target of yet another officer, notoriously cruel and hateful. It was about my 4th day on the unit. We had not been let out for a bathroom break since early morning, right after the 6 am breakfast. It was now lunch, still no break. We were told by said officer that we wouldn't be let out again until after lunch was cleared (this could sometimes take well over an hour before someone would come back around to collect those trays). I had already spent the last hour desperately requesting a restroom break, to no avail. On that day the door was shut off to center hall after they delivered those trays and it was kept closed for the next hour despite the increasing loud demands from the women on the hall to use the restroom. The worst of which was coming from me. I have had bladder issues since I was a child. Being in those circumstances proved far more torturous for me than it might for the average person. Eventually they opened the center door and sent someone down to collect the trays, but still did not come to let us out for the restroom. The officer stayed at the desk screaming obscenities down at us to "shut the fuck up," followed by a string of explicites to categorize us. I am more familiar with policy and procedure than the average incarcerated women, well aware of the rules and my rights, so I began vocalizing as much along with my desperate pleas for relief. Even before this incident I was public enemy #1 to that C.O. so she began personally verbally abusing me telling me she didn't give a fuck what I knew or said, I could just "piss on the floor like the dog I {was}." Needless to say after being left in there for an extensive amount of time, by then nearly 7 hours, I became physically ill and had an accident, followed by justifiable upset and anger.


After she knew what had happened, she slowly sautered down the hall towards my cell, laughing at the sounds of my cries calling me every name in the book. Her behavior was so deplorable that every other woman on the hall began protesting what she was purposely doing to me. Knowing it was too late at that point, she unlocked the cell with a sadistic smile painted on her face and said in a sing-songy voice, "You can go to the bathroom now." Followed by "oops, my bad, looks like you already did, sick ass fucking DOG! Come on BITCH, get the mop and clean up your mess, you sick ass bitch..." Other women continued to yell at her that she wasn't right for what she was doing and to leave me alone, but the torment persisted.


She followed behind me, directly on my back to the point I could feel her body pressing into my back as she shove-walked me down the hall, the entire time spitting obscenities in my ear. This would be an awful experience for anyone, but for a woman with chronic PTSD it was nearly too much to bear. She continued in this fashion pushing me all the way into the mop closet in the corner laundry room. By now her fellow officer who had been in the center the entire time begame aware of what she was doing. She rushed into the laundry room and literally pulled her off my back chanting, "Leave it alone Clay, leave her alone, come on, that's enough, leave her alone, leave it alone, before something happens..." She placed herself between me and the offending officer gesturing her out as she quietly told me it was alright, just go clean my room. Thank Goddess for that intervention! Though by that time I was hysterical. I loudly expressed that I would be putting that on paper, and this would be a double incident since I had a medical for my bladder condition (a few years earlier I had went through similar harassments by an officer in the education building that was denying me restroom use. At that time my vocational instructor helped me file the report and sent me to medical so I would have a medical report on my packet stating that I was allowed to use the restroom as needed). For those who are unaware, any grievance an incarcerated person has must go through several steps and the chain of command, and there is a time limit for reporting/filing. If you are not given the forms in a timely manner, or do not have access to that chain of command, the grievance is moot. Likewise, if the incarcerated person ends up receiving a disciplinary report over the time of the said incident, the conduct report trumps the greivance. In this particular incident I could hear the other officer telling her she had "gone too far this time." We could hear their conversation since the door was opened. The offending officer told her she "didn't have anything to worry up...[she ] has friends, and [she] was writing [me] up anyway."The next conversation I heard was her calling medical to speak with one of her "friends," the male nurse on staff. She chatted for a bit then proceeded to tell a tale about me involving all sorts of explicits, followed by "you know these lyin' ass offenders..." she then instructed him to go into my file to "get rid of the medical she knew [I] didn't have about my bladder." The next days were filled with torment, little did I know that was the least of what was yet to come.


It turns out they were charging my friend and I for a sex act! Pretty much any type of contact was considered that, no matter what actually happened and that type of charge is nearly impossible to beat. My friend and I were finally sent to see the conduct board on the 8th day, she went in before me and looked hopeful as I walked past her on my way in. In those days the board was made up of three officers, supposedly so that a person had a fair and impartial panal to plead their case to. If one or two didn't think you were guilty of the charge, they could dismiss the charge or lower it for a lesser sanction. (Today those "boards" are a solitary officer. Woe be it for the person that is targeted by THAT person, their time in prison is almost assured to be filled with conduct reports and hefty sanctions, usually more time in prison. This was the case with a friend of mine at IWP. The Conduct adjustment board (CAB) officer despised her. She spent the better part of three years cycling in and out of lock and Grace, ending up with 57 conduct reports!!!) Apparently my friend and I told identical accounts of what happened, that she was crying to me about her transfer being denied and just touched my braclet. We were granted a "verbal warning and time served." Nonetheless 8 days in solitary plus all the abuse was a pretty severe punishment for someone touching your bracelet.


Beyond that, I would later learn that that "sex act" stayed on my packet. We were both happy because we would be sent back down to open pop after shift change that night. About an hour or so later, the officer came to my cell telling me the screening officer was ready to see me..."What? for What?!?" I hadn't done anything, why was I receiving another write up? That was only the beginning of my nightmare. My friend would return to open pop, I would stay in lock...Shortly thereafter our joy over soon-be-released ended when the CO came to my cell to taking me to the screening officer. "Screening? For what? I haven't done anything!" She looked at me snidely retorting, "Of course you have. Now cuff up!" She didn't say another word despite my inquiries. I was met with the evil eye as I entered the room and the cold command, "Sit Down!" She had a whole stack of paper in front of her. Shuffling through muttering under her breath about what a "problem" I am. She stopped at one set of papers and said, "Well let's get started with the first one, you want me to read it to you, or maybe I'm too 'ignorant' to read it." I look at her incredulously and said "First one?! What you mean? What are you talking about? You can read it." She began reading reading me a small selet passage out of a journal. and then tossed the papers across the table at me, and I had to lean in to try to catch them before they fell to the floor, no simple task when you are hand cuffed. I was flabbergasted as I read the report. Apparently upon going through my property when there was no contraband to be found, they decided to read one of my journals. Actually the journal the then psychologist told me to keep to write out all my thoughts and feelings, especially when someone or something had upset me. Basically as a catharsis, so I could vent on paper. The charge was a class B "possession of offensive material." (A class B sanction is like the internal equivalent of a Class B felony in the outside world).


As I re-read over the small select section they chose to write me up on I became infuriated at the ways this was being twisted and used against me. Turns out she skipped over several words as she read the passage, large words and a few that were in a foreign language. She coldly told me to sign it. I retorted that no, I wouldn't sign a lie of a charge, and perhaps I should have read it myself because she missed several words, would SHE like Me to read them to HER? This certainly didn't help my situation but I was already on a sinking ship. The next write up was for "Lying to staff." Over my request to have my medical records to use for a greivance against the earlier offending CO. I refused to sign that as well.


When my hearing finally came for the new charges, I would be found guilty of both, denied evidence, and denied contact with staff members who could have supported my claims. I would spend the next 75 days in the hole.

 

Aaron isby

 "Horrors of Womanhood” by Anastazia

"Horrors of Womanhood” by Anastazia

Anastazia Schmid

the following are several letters from Anastazia engaging with the topic:

So good to hear from you again. I am working on multiple projects with multiple people, so it may take me some time and multiple letters to get it all out to all of you (should you receive a letter entailing these important discussions addressed to someone other than you, I have purposely done that to avoid redundancy in my writing when time and stamps are so limited to me). I will first address your questions in regard to the article you sent on rising rates of female incarceration.

First, rule violations that extend prison terms for women. This is particularly prevelant in the state of IN. I have now served 17 consecutive years experiencing time in: one county jail, a state run psychiatric hospital, and 4 priosn institutions, both maximum and minimum security within that time. This has provided me great insight on changes, trends, and on-going issues within the system as well as indivdual facilities; some of those issue overlap, some are unique to the institution. I only have direct experience with institutions of this sort in the state of IN, so my observations will mostly pretain to here. From what I have learned, we are afforded more programs than most states, and on a whole, the institutions I have spent time within here have very little internal violence. These are important notes as that is not necessarily the case in other women's prisons in other states. One thing that remains consistant here, and I believe is partially because there is so little violence within these facilities, is the high charges and sanctions for petty internal offences. Minor infractions, particularly those things that would NOT be illegal outside of prison, can and often are, highly criiminalized inside. One of the main targeted areas for sanctioning (especially within iwp) is ANY offense that is deemed "sexual." Keep in mind, this often includes acts that have nothing to do with sex and are not sexual, ANY human contact can, and often does, incur these charges. ie hugs, hand holding, causal contact, in some cases, even a physical gesture or words (written or verbal) with no contact at all, also importantnt to note whatever the case may be, in women's prison these "offenses" are 99% of the time consentual. This not only provides a fertile ground for targeting homosexuality, trans, or other gender non-conforming women, they consititute "high" offense charges which means a persons good time can be taken, meaning they will serve longer prison sentences. Beyond that, there are several other non-outside illegal things that are equally criminalized and result in longer prison sentence. I have recently encountered a woman who has served an additional 2 months in prison for tobacco. At nearly $63. a day to incacerate her, you do the math on that, then multiple it for the hundreds who will similarly do additional time for nonillegal acts. More soon

Anastazia


(cont from the last letter. Please also keep in mind that I have no way to edit or save drafts of these letters, so please edit as need be, or if necessary piece segments togther from previously letters for fluid comprehension).

If we were to attempt to do analysis on internal charges, a very inaccurate and false picture would be painted by solely looking at offense charges and number of those offense charges. A total list of all class B offenses for "sex acts" may make it appear as though half the women in the prison are having open explicit sexual relations. In reality, the majority of those charges would not have entailed anything even remotely sexual, but n such distinctions are made. This is particularly crucial when you consider that anyone attempting to file for a sentence reduction/modification within the court system is required to send a progress report to their judge and prosecutor. What that report will, in part, consist of, is a segment that lists any and all internal offenses, yet that list will not include any details as to what actually happened. In other words, all the court sees is "Class B violation: sex act." or in other instances involving non-outside illegal things "possession of unauthorized contraband," (the latter could have been a confiscated burrito a friend made them, of course no one would ever know that was what we are actually talking about, or what really happened). So whether or not these internal offenses result in a loss of good time, having one or more of them on your packet could, and often does, result in a woman NOT gaining a sentence reduction or the ability to have her sentence commuted to some type of alternative sentencing: ie house arrest, community correstions, drug court, halfway house, etc. she will instead be forced to serve the entire sentence inside prison. This is exponentional more expensive than alternatives as I have previously mentioned. I think in all regards the crucial questions we need to be asking is not how much of a detriment or threat these incarcerated women are to society, but how much of an ASSEST these women are (and to whom/what) they are to the system that holds them captive in the fullest extent of the word. If women in prison are not in fact behaving in ways that would result in criminal confinement, then how do you insure they remain criminally confined? This is particularly tru when we consider the women who have been labeled as "violent offenders." (more on that next time).

In solidarity,

Anastazia


(cont. )

So if we take a deeper look at female "violent offeders." It is not only the aformentioned issues that pertain, but also the fact that a higher percentage of those women are first time offences, the case involved personal or third party (namely, their child(ren), or the offense itself was committed by a man they were associated with. None of those circumstances are given substancial weight in either the charge and sentencing phase, or after the fact in consideration of sentence reduction, parole, and/or clemency. The number of women that I personally know who fall into this category, with one or more of the aforementioned circumstances is substancial. What I notice is the fact that almost no one among this group has been granted any of aforementioned sentence reductions or an early release, despite the fact that there has NOT been any further violent action (or any other act that would be considered illegal outside the prison). Most of those woman have exhausted "rehabilitative" program and have little or no internal conduct issues (or if they have had conduct reports, they are of the aforementioned issues). More often than not, they are the very women who live in "honorary" housing units and hold "honaray" jobs inside the prison. Their chances of recidivism are virtually non-existant. And yet these are the women who will serve their sentences more often than not, in its entirity. There are a few women who come to mind I find this the most distrubing when considering. One woman is over 80 years old, she has served nearly 30 years consecutively, with zero internal offenses. Within the last year she was denied clemency for the THIRD time! Another is in her 60's, she has served nearly 25 years with minimal conduct issues. The parole board unanaymously voted for her release last year and yet the Governor vetoed that clemency granting on the grounds that "society would be best served" by her not being released. Who is this "society" he speaks of? And what htreat does this woman actually pose? to who? or in what way? Another is in her nearing her 60s, she has served nearly 40 years, on multiple life sentences. She was a teenager at the time of the crime, has an extensive history of abuse and trauma, has completed basically all internal programming available to her and also has minimal conduct issues (the majority of which occured while she was still in her youth and early adulthood) she too has been denied clemancy multiple times. The question we need to ask is that even if a woman does commit an act of violence that results in a criminal charge and conviction, first of all, what are ALL the circumstances that occured before and during the commission of that crime, secondly, is this her first offense? and most importantly, what she she done with her while in prison? Particularly if NO violence has occurred since that (often solitary) act of the crime itself, especially if a decade, or multiple decades have passed since. What is the point of keeping those women behind bars? To answer another question you asked, no, there are no alternative sentencing options for the female "violent offender." There weren't any nearly 20 years ago, there aren't any today. As a matter of fact, with those type of charges we can't go to places other women could More soon

Anastazia


(cont.)

So no diversionary or alternative placements for female "violent offenders," and also, next to no work release or post-incarceration placements either. This is but one of the current problems for incarcerated women in IN. At present the ONLY DOC workrelease that allows a woman with a violent charge is the one here at Madison, which the max capacity that I have seen quoted is approximately 60 beds (though scarsely more than 30 [and I'm being generous with that number] are ever filled at any one time. Keep in mind what this means geographically. ANY woman in IN DOC with a violent charge has NO option for workrelease other than at this location. The percentage of women incarcerated from this area is extremely small, but beyond that, a few of the women that I know who had violent charges and were from this county, who were workrelease eligable, were NOT allowed to come here, BECAUSE those crimes happened in this county. At least 2 of those women served over 20 year sentences, both were teenagers at the time of the crime, one of which was released last week (I believe from RCF), without being given the time of transition within there sentence to more adequently prepare them for life on the outside. I was told that the latter actually spent longer inside than she was supposed to because there was difficulty finding her housing outside of prison! On that note and in regard to some of the aforementioned cases. Some of the argument for refusing to release those long term female prisoners is that there isn't anywhere for them to go! Tis is problematic in and of itself. Why isn't there anywhere for them to go? Who is responsible for ensuring there will be outside placement, and WHEN do we start to figure out where that might be? Theoretically, the state knows exactly when someone is scheduled to be released, short of the immediate release (which next to never happens, or if it does, is usually because of earned good time credit, in IN that is a max of 4 years under the old law, and 2 years under the new (post 2015) law, meaning, you could still calculate the approximate time frame for a "best case scenerio" of earned time that may give an immediate release).

Let's go back to the charges and sentences themselves for a moment. We must also consider the number of these women who never went to trial. More often than not, a woman signs a plea bargin (often coersively). In at least 2 cases that I personally know of, one woman was a teenager, she did commit the violent act but was considered an accessory to the crime. She was coerced into signing a HUNDRED YEAR plea bargin! The other is a mentally challenged woman, who was also coercised into signing a plea bargin of over 100 years!!! In their cases, there is no legal recourse they can hope to appeal to in order to reduce that sentence. At best, both women will have to serve no less than 20 flat years before appealling to the clemenancy board/ and the Governor, and we have already seen how that works for women in the state of IN. The other area people fail to address, is how many of these woman once they are released ever commit another violent offense? I know of only one in this state and she was NOT released to the free world but into another state run institution, she has since passed away while serving time in prison. More soon

Anastazia


(cont discussion)

Beyond the aforementioned issues of the denials of early release, espeicailly for female with violent offense charges, we must look at mandatory minimums. This is especially pernicious in a state like In whose constitution proclaims that the "purpose of incarceration" is that of "rehabilitation" and NOT of "vendictive justice." How is continuing to incarcerate a person who has exhausted "rehabilative" programming and NOt displayed violence for over a decade or more NOT vindictive? Under mandatory minimums a person could NOT be released from prison in less ime than that mandatory minimum regardless of what they do (or in the case of violent behaviors what they ARE NOT doing). Inother words, if the mandatory minimum for a murder charge is no less than 45 years (this is actually higher under the current sentncing laws in this state), than a person could not be released from prison any earlier than what must be served within the guidelines of that sentence (old law, a minimum of 50 % of that sentence, under the new law, no less than 75% of that sentence). For a person like myself, I would be forced to serve no less than 22 and a half years at bare minimum regardless of what I do or don't do while in prison. In my specific case, the prosecutor (who under IN jursidiction apparently has has more power to determine a sentence than a judge) refuses to even consider reducing my sentence to that mandatory minimum (in my case this still would NOT give me an immediate release, but still leave me roughly another 2 years to serve inside priosn). Despite exhausting internal rehabilitative programs, and even creating additional programs and furthering my own education (my current cv is over 7 pages long and I have stopped adding to it in the last year and a half, not to mention the fact that I am a PhD candidate, on top of completing all current programs and groups available to me), my prosectuor recently wrote to my attorney:

" While I am pleased that Ms Schmid is doing so well, I am not in a position to agree to her request for a hearing on Modification of Sentence. You may ask, what would it take? Frankly, I can't think of anything, but I will let you know if/when I see it. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me. Thanks Kirk. Sincerely, Jerry Bean, Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney."

If I am not eligible for an early release, who is?

Awareness of these issues regarding incarcerated women is not enough. It is easy to become aware of a problem and still not do a damn thing to change it. The real work comes through affirmative ACTION. We have to actually DO something about these problems, not just talk and write about them. Scholars and other elites (sometimes even lay persons) have been aware of many of these issues for decades now, and still nothing has changed except for a RISE in incarcerated women. We continue to be lumped into categories that don't apply to us, or to be completely silenced, or are not included in these conversations or programs of reform. WHY?

More soon'

Anastazia


What we have at the heart of these issues involving incarcerated women is institutional sexism (to expand Stokley Carmichael and Charles Hamilton's idea of institutional racism). When we oppress women to this degree (and in vastly rising porportions) we directly negatively affect the next and future generations due to the myriad ways incarceration, particularly longterm incarcertion, will negatively affect these women's children (or lack there of. Long prison sentences during a woman's reproductive years effectly commits a eugenicesque genocide by effectively preventing reproduction. Just as mass/hyper incarceration has been argued to be a backlash (or frontlash) to both the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement, it has also quickly become the same against a women's liberation front. On a side note, I am particularly disgrutled by the current feminist "Me Too" movement, in that the recent public outcry of a few prominant, often famous, women's sexual abuse/ harassment, etc. highlights these atrocities with those women as if such things are new and should be addressed and ameloriated for them (not saying they shouldn't) but it disregards the countless women who are NOT of that level of affluence or position who endured just as much or worse, then, and now; or the hundreds of thousands of invisable women behind bars that continue to endure these levels of violence everyday as a matter of routinue, normalized business (for one, the repeated and countous "strip search.") We cannot pretend that sexual violence against women is some rare occurance. Why now host the "Not Me" campaigne? It would house a far smaller number of women. It is time that ALL woman are allowed to come to the table and the forefront of the violence we have endured for centuries, and not just the handful that have acquired the level and "right" to publicly speak out. We need to address WHICH women we see as vitcims/survivors and WHY we more often will BLAME a victim for her own victimization, as if the majority of those women are somehow deserving of, or brought on their own abuse. Unfortunately the latter is the predominant belief in these discussions. I have been asked no less than a million times why I didn't do something differently to stop the abuse I endured, yet never once have I been asked why he was abusing me. More soon

Anastazia


Atrocites against women in this country are not the exceptional pertain to a select few, it's the rule. This can hardly be considered surprising when we consider the fact that we currently have a self proclaimed "pussy" grabbing president, or the fact that we continue to live in a country that will uphold a woman's right to have her vagina photographed and then sold for the purpose of viewing consumption but will not uphold a woman's right to speak on her own behalf on any level of legal litigation (as the latter has been the case for myself and far more women than I can count to whom I personally have known over the years). Further more, when we silence the abuse women endure, particularly in criminal and civil proceedings, we inadvertantly UPHOLD a man's right to victimize women and girls. When we prosecute a woman to the fullest extent of law and allow her no further reprieve or mercy, even after decades of punishment, we not only further victimize that woman , we victimize her children and her community, society as a whole, while sending the message (perhaps inadventantly) that women who step out of the bounds of male subserviancy will suffer draconian consequences and be further silenced, plus lose what little rights they have and possibly also be permanantly disenfranchised as well. We are well aware of the innumerable ways patriarchal rule and male entitlement has oppressed women, but what we still fail to address are the way other WOMEN add to that oppression. Vikki, you ask what needs to be done, well, in part, a call to action from WOMEN in positions of power. Just as Michelle Alexander called out President Obama in The New Jim Crow, we as women, inside and out, need to call out the Michelle Obama, Loretta Lynch, and Hillary Clinton's (and every other woman who sits on a bench or among a legislative commitee) of the world. We cannot stop female oppression while women in positions of power idlly sit by (or worse, condone) the oppression, violence against, and silencing of other women, free as well as incarcerated. We can no longer afford to believe the lies that create seperatism and elitism, as though women behind bars are somehow inherently flawed or less deserving of protection. At the rate women are currently be incarcerated, for the length of time and for anything and everything, NO woman can afford to think this can't or won't happen to her or someone she loves. How many women do we need to lock up before we do something to change it? Do we have to surpass the million mark like men had to in order to have large numbers of women released from captivity or before powerful political leaders take notice and redeem the error of the systems ways? more soon

Anastazia


We need to look at TIME, the amount that has been served by an indivdual and what they have done during that time. We need to look at restorative and reparative modes of justice. How do we collectively work to heal BOTH sides of the equation when a crime is committed, and also heal the communities affected. On that note, we need to address and repair the systemic problems that foster crime: poverty, abuse, addictive, mental illness, un/underemployment, lack of/inadequate: housing/employment/food/education/skills/training. We need to impliment preventative and proactive programs for the aforementioned issues. If many of those problems ceased to exist the majority of crimes would never have happened.We need to seriously look at WHo and WHAT is profitting off mass/hyper incarceration and how power structures remain interconnected to insure this industry continues to EXPAND. We need to INCLUDE the voices, experiences, and knowledge of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people into both the dialogs and decision process with any issue involving incarceration. We need transparency inside prisons, jails and other institutions of confinement, and we need to maintain open communication with those inside. The average person in America has no idea the realities of this system or the long nefarious history it is founded upon, likewise they have systematically been conditioned to believe rhetoric rather than reality by the mainstream media that has done nothing but solidify false perceptions and negative stereotypes about prison and the people there within. Women in prison are the poorest people in the country and least seen or heard, we need to reach out and stay connected to our mothers, sisters, daughters, cousins, aunts, neighbors, coworkers, fellow church and community organization members, colleagues and fellow students, wives, mothers, lovers, friends, ANY woman who finds herself behind bars, in every way, including tangible ways of support. We can't just talk about, write about it, argue about it, report it, we have to do something to change it. That change must happen on both an indivdual level and a collective level, public and private, in law and life.

Please write with any questions or need of clarification on any of these points. I will write more about the current artle you mentioned (Vikki) and more on the books (Lamont). Hope to hear from you both soon.

In solidarity always

Anastazia


So yesterday I sent you no less than 7 emails to respond to the questions you asked about the previously sent articles (I also sent those responses to another friend who sent me some books and asked for my commentary to be shared with a discussion group on the carceral state, many of the topics overlapped so it just made sense to send my commentary to both of you simeltaneously). Moving on to this other letter and the questions you asked. I instruct the cosmetology students here (I will soon have my official instructor's license as I am over half way in the required hours). Several factors that differ here:

1) this is a low security level facility and hence a short term facility. You must have less than 6 years to be here. The majority of this population is actually at around the 2 year or less mark, so yes you are correct in your assumption that for most, they simply do not have enough time to engage in anything meaningful

2) this facility has the intensive drug treatment program which takes no less than 9 months to a year to complete. By the time the majority of the people here make it through that, there isn't enough time left for anything else. One of the DOC stipulations to drug treatment programs is that a person HAS to be down to 2 years or less to even go into one of those programs (which of course is insane in and of itself, waiting until the END of one's sentence to provide treatment is counterproductive. For one, a person generally maintains active addiction in mind, and often in action as well, throughout the entire incarceration. If they stop while in that treatment program (and let's be real about it, many do not, they use the entire time in some fashion or another, or simply switch one addition for another), there still is not enough time inside a theoretically controlled environment to practice the skilled taught and to actively work on relapse prevention).

3. In this day and age, judge's in IN are sentencing to people to what they are referring to as "purposeful" incarceration (which means they are expected to do the intentive treatment program and upon successful completion with modify the person's sentence in some way, often granting an early release. I find this concept somewhat appaulling, in that if there now exists such a things as "purposeful" incarceration for the "low level drug offender" what the hell does that make the rest of us who are locked up, purposeless? warehoused? NO treatment for any other issue/problem/or offense? Again, this is already proving minimally effective at best. which moves on to the next point

4. In the short just under a year ttime that I've been here, I have watched the same people return (not to mention plenty I have seen over the years come in and out to the other facilities) and many of those people "successfully completed" the "treatment" program. Some are back in it yet again, and some of those, yet again, comtinue the same addictive patterns the entire time, doing solely because they are made to or with the incentive of yet another early release.

I do agree to a point with the study you shared. The opportunity of a postive nature a person has to choose from, the more likely they are to do so. However as time progress the state continues to DECREASE programming and eliminate groups and classes, so do the math on that one too.

As for mail, yes, decreased mail across the board. People without families with tech are SOL. More soon

Anastazia



Response to Resistance Behind Bars, by Victoria Law

Anastazia Schmid #122585, currently incarcerated in Madison Correctional Facility

Hello. As always, it is good to hear from you. Stamps are always needed and appreciated to keep communication open. My life is extremely busy. More so than most people I know in the free world, but I have come to realize the importance of my work inside in regard to the current dialog, as extension/ addition to Vikki's book. I wear many hats, but those hats have a common denominator. I am a teacher, and through that, a healer. To understand what I am about to explain, I need to share some of my story.

When my incarceration began in early 2001 I was a mess to say the least. Years of horrific abuse and trauma led to the crime for which I was committed. I lost everything. All my assets, much of which was stolen within hours after the crime (I was a sole proprietor business owner. I also worked in a local hospital). All my personal belongings were taken. I was left penniless. The financial devastation didn't hold a candle to the larger losses: friends, some family, but mostly, myself. I was completely bankrupt in mind, body and spirit. The county jail's (as I may have previously mentioned) answer to dealing with a human being completely lost and devastated is to ship them off to some clinic/doctor/psych hospital, etc and have them pumped full of dope. There is a name for this: chemical restraint. It equates human zombification, a chemical lobotomy, and it leaves you nothing more than an empty shell, void of thought and emotion. This was the new state I would enter and remain in for the next 2 + years of my life.

I remained in that drug induced state all through my trial, sentencing and into my prison transfer. I arrived to the intake unit with a stack of no less than 15 med cards, the strongest psychotropic drugs available, in dosage levels higher than the recommended dose, and in dangerous combinations. Needless to say the admit nurse threw over half those cards straight in the trash, informing me that I would not receive, under ANY circumstances, those types of narcotics within the facility. I didn't realize it at that moment, but that discarding of most of those meds saved my life. Within the first few weeks of prison, things became much worse for me before they got better. Detoxing off all that dope and coming out of chemical restraint was nearly unbearable. Up until that point I had been oblivious to what had actually happened and the reality of the amount of time I had been sentenced to (55 years). I freaked out and was stripped naked and sent to close observation, eventually seen by the shrink and moved to the "special needs" unit, the prison psych ward. I could not fathom spending what would equate my lifetime sitting in rocking chairs doped up and drooling, coloring children's coloring books with the other "crazies." Within weeks I would go through all manor of testing. Upon seeing the physician and receiving results of my admissions tests, he informed me that had I stayed on the regiment of drugs for another 30 days I would have been dead. My labs showed toxic drug poisoning levels, and near complete shut down of vital organ function. This should have been good news that the drugs were stopped in time to spare my life, but with reality setting in, I wanted nothing more than to die. I would spend the next few weeks planning to do just that. I had been I have no doubt that I would have succeeded. On the day I planned to carry out my decision (shortly before Christmas in 2002, less than a month after arriving to prison). As I set in to carry out the task I experienced what can only be called a spiritual awakening, a supreme moment of enlightenment. That moment changed everything.

What I experienced that day is difficult to explain or describe in terms most people would understand. I was stopped cold by a force greater than myself (and yet a force that was always within) in the action I set out to commit 3 times. After the third time it was as if I held a supreme knowledge to everything that was, is and ever will be simultaneously. Followed by a deep sense of knowing that I AM the captain of this ship (so to speak) I could CHOOSE my life to be whatever I wished for it to be. That I alone held the answers to everything I was seeking. I returned to my cell oddly feeling deflated and defeated. I curled up in the corner and sobbed, clueless as to what I was to do next or HOW anything was going to be different than it had been, different than it was (clearly seeming to be one of the worst positions a person could find themself in). I suppose that was one of my first moments of true surrender. I asked to be showed the way, and then cried myself to sleep. The next day was decidedly the first day of the rest of my (new) life. I went to seek out the unit counselor to find out what opportunities and options the prison had for classes (beyond the nonsensical "groups" and "classes" held on the special needs dorm, consisting of coloring pictures and sitting in rocking chairs while listening to music). At first I was completely dismissed in my inquiries. Apparently the people on that unit NEVER took classes or did anything outside that unit besides maybe attend church services. I was persistent, returning day after day insisting they enroll me in the cosmetology program and back into college (I had recently completed my certification in phlebotomy prior to coming to prison). The counselor originally thought I was delusional when I told I WAS in college and held a high GPA. I wouldn't stop pestering her until she finally agreed to call the last college I attended to try to receive my transcripts. She honestly didn't believe they were going to know who I was or actually have transcripts to send. She was shocked when they confirmed my enrollment, certification and GPA. That was one of the first apologies I would receive. It was not uncommon for any authority figure in the prison to assume that any person labelled with any sort of mental illness must also be mentally disabled. I proved them wrong time and time again. That counselor then became my advocate. She pushed to get me enrolled in both cosmetology and college. I began the vocational program in July, and then started college (Ball State University) again in Aug of 2003. Thus began my journey into healing and self exploration/ actualization.

I would spend the next 3 years voraciously reading any and everything I could get my hands on, both for school as well as independently. Anything I had ever had an interest in, I'd get every book I could find on the subject, read them all, then check the reference pages for all the pieces and parts than inspired that work, and read all of those too. I had gained an astronomically amount of weight from the meds. I went from 138 lbs (at 5 foot 9 1/2 inches) to 267 lbs! In addition to feeding my mind, I began the slow process of reclaiming my body. I returned to my once loved practice of yoga and meditation (which remains at the top of my list for a suggestion to any human being that wants to heal, recover, lose weight, strengthen their body, control their thoughts/ emotions, reach spiritual awareness, etc etc etc),. At first I could only walk and breathe. I would tire after only a few steps, but I would rest a moment, then get back up and keep going, no matter how long it took me to make it around the track in the rec yard. Eventually I lost enough weight and regained my senses enough to start working out again. I did weight lifting and various forms of cardio in addition to more advanced yoga practice. I began incorporating spirituality and practices back into my daily routine as well, additionally studying world religions. I realized that the problems most of us have are due to living unbalanced lives, so every day was a dose of something productive for all levels of my being: mind, body, and spirit. I charted myself for months: my thoughts, emotions, experiences, memories, hopes, dreams, goals, what I ate and when, how much I slept, body functions and rhythms, everything. I explored every aspect of myself inside and out and every aspect of my life fearlessly and honestly. I took every class, group or extra curricular activity available, particularly the ones that spoke to the person I have always been, art, crafts, theater, music. I weened myself off the last few meds that remained, lost all the weight, graduated both cosmetology and college within 3 years. By 2006 I earned 2 college degrees, an associates and a bachelor's degree graduating summa cum laude, and received my cosmetology license with a 100%. By the following year I would be completely medication free (for that last year I was only on Prozac). I have remained that way ever since. My codes reveal a complete clean bill of mental health. Somewhere within those years others began coming to me for help, the staff as well as other incarcerated women, and people on the outside. People could see what I had done, what I was doing and they wanted to know how I had done it. Hence began my journey assisting others in their own healing and recovery.

I tell this story of my journey to come to the point of the current discussion on resistance. Despite what rhetoric the system and politicians may spew to the general public about incarceration and the "need" for prisons, nothing about these places was ever actually designed to help or make anyone better, or safer for that matter. In actuality, it is designed for the polar opposite. This is about power and control period. The more a person studies and comes to understand the histories, origins and operations of this system, the more they become aware of this fact. In reality, "crime" has very little to do with who ends up here and who doesn't. Not every person who commits a crime is in or will ever be in a jail or prison. By this day and age that should be common knowledge, and yet it is not. Still the fallacies remain about "safety and security." To people, society, neighborhoods, the prisons/ institutions themselves. Yet no matter how many prisons have been built people are not any safer than they are without them, and those within them, more often than not, will leave worse than they came in. When a human being is completely stripped of everything, the chance for redemption, evolution, self actualization, betterment, etc are nearly non-existent. To be inside and experience first hand, to witness long term the effects of this system, devastating is the first word that comes to mind. Completely ineffective is the next. If a person does not possess a tenacity of spirit and an ungodly amount of support and assistance, inside as well as outside once they finally reach the other side, they will NOT be any better off because of this, and neither will families, communities, societies at large. Whatever "programs" exist are grossly insufficient, more often than not sounding far better on paper than they work in reality. Anything I came to achieve in these years I obtained through an uphill battle, mostly alone, begging and fighting for whatever tools and assistance I could get. Had I not had the spiritual awakening that I did, I too would have become lost in the system, swallowed alive within these places, realistically, with all things considered in my personal story, dead. If not a physical death, then certainly the mental, emotional and spiritual one I experienced for years after multiple traumas and the abuses of the system itself. All this said to come to the point that the truest form of resistance comes not through more violence and oppression and separation and hate, but through WELLNESS, healing, health, love, and unity. This is why I have spent everyday of this existence bettering myself and helping others do the same. I spend my time connecting others, both inside and outside of prison, so that people will have the actual support they need to heal from whatever ails them and to live better lives. If we are not well and do not love ourselves and life, we cannot love others and we cannot make the world a better place, no matter who we are or where we are. For every woman I have truly helped and who became empowered and now lives a better life and has NOT returned to prison, we are all victorious


 

Reflections on Understanding the Root of Mass Incarceration

'A War Within Our Own Boundaries': Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and the Rise of the Carceral State

 

by Elizabeth Hinton

32692543_2065585213679402_4181783659231051776_n.jpg

Angaza Iman Bahar

 

Parallels in Repression: Palestine + the U.S.

Responses to “Freedom is a Constant Struggle” by Angela Davis

 Khalfani with books by Angela Davis and Victoria Law

Khalfani with books by Angela Davis and Victoria Law

Khalfani Kaldun

Hear Khalfani’s response below: