Originally posted on HumansinShadow.wordpress.com:
For These Incarcerated Women, Print Sure As Hell Ain’t Dead
In the early 2000s, a group of women at Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Oregon were reading over prison zines created by men. They identified with some topics—racist treatment, guard brutality, human rights violations—but began to realize that the zines failed to address specific issues that women faced on the inside, things like sexual harassment and assault by prison employees, being pregnant in prison, and losing custody of their children on the outside. Thus, Tenacious: A Zine of Art & Writing by Women in Prison was born.
“Being inside prison, there’s no way to produce your own zines. There’s no access to, say, a copying machine, or the ability to write mail freely to [people] in other prisons to solicit work, or the ability to mail off lots of copies of zines,” says Tenacious editor Victoria Law, a freelance journalist and editor who writes about prison culture for publications like The Nation and Truthout. “So these women approached me and said, ‘We can’t do this because we’re in prison, so would you be willing to be that outside person who collects submissions, prints them up, puts them together, and then sends them back out into the world?’”
Law has been doing just that since the inaugural issue in 2002—and the zine just sent off the 32nd issue. While in the early days, Tenacious was almost entirely written by Oregon State inmates, the zine has expanded its scope significantly since. “This issue has pieces by women incarcerated in California, Oklahoma, Ohio, Mississippi, Illinois,” says Law. “One woman recounts her experience being pregnant in Mississippi and the challenges to having any sort of healthy pregnancy while incarcerated. [Problems] range from inadequate nutrition to not being able to see the doctor regularly—her last pre-natal visit before she was due to give birth was cancelled. When her water started leaking, the prison medical staff decided she wasn’t ready to go to the hospital, and they kept her a lot longer than they should have. These are the challenges people who are pregnant inside face.”
Other articles in the current issue cover “dispelling myths about murderers,” living with Celiac disease in prison, and even a piece written by a woman on death row.
The wider distribution of Tenacious has allowed it to become a useful forum for women in prison. Law recalls publishing an article by a woman from New Jersey about crackdowns on personal property and ramped-up searches in her prison around election time, all so that prison staff could boast high confiscation numbers to politicians. “And a woman in Colorado read that and wrote a piece in response to that saying, ‘It’s not just New Jersey,’” says Law. “So in a way Tenacious connects women with each other, even if they can’t meet face-to-face, to show each other that the experiences aren’t unique, that the problems are more systemic.”
Tenacious has been an important tool for inmates in more tangible ways, too. In one particular issue, a woman wrote about a pattern of assault at Oregon State. That issue then made it into the hands of an outside group who began a letter writing campaign, which eventually led to an investigation. But because of the sensitive nature of complaints and accusations against prison administration, Law admits that Tenacious has also had a run-in or two with officials—one article claimed that a prison officer had been continuously assaulting a prisoner, which led to the banning of that specific issue by that prison. In fact, the recent cover of issue 31 contained imagery that might have gotten some prisoners in trouble. “The image that might cause a problem for people in California is of a dragon,” says Law. “California has a whole bunch of images that they consider gang-related. Until recently, having anything with an image of a dragon could be used as proof that you are part of a prison gang and could land you in indefinite solitary confinement. That was something that I thankfully thought of before sending out copies of the publication.”
Tenacious is free to women in prison and jails, while incarcerated men seeking the zine are asked to send two stamps to cover postage costs, and $3 is requested of those on the outside.
Pennsylvania nurse sentenced to prison for giving teen daughter abortion pills she bought online
Jennifer Whalen was imprisoned for up to 18 months for giving her 16-year-old daughter abortion pills she bought online, which resulted in a trip to the hospital for cramps and bleeding from the girl’s miscarriage.
For decades, Michael Pescetta has sought to help dozens of defendants facing Nevada’s often imposed yet seldom used death penalty. And in a state with a per capita death penalty rate that ranks fourth in the country …
Death by Incarceration: Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP)
In the past twenty plus years, a new criminal sanction has found its way into statutes in at least forty plus states: a life sentence without the possibility of parole (LWOP). Although life sentences have been common in all states, there had always been a mechanism for releasing prisoners when it was determined that they had served long enough.
Some have argued that LWOP serves as an “alternative” to the death penalty, and that the LWOP option has the effect of reducing the number of death sentences. Yet we have seen the populations on death row continue to skyrocket at the same time that more and more people are sentenced to LWOP. In other words, the death penalty often serves as a lightening rod for criminal justice reformers, who tend to see anything less than death as humane. However, life without the possibility of parole is used as a sanction not only for capital cases, but as a sanction for a wide variety of offenses. No Western European Country has such a penalty except Britain, which has twenty or so people serving life without parole, whereas California has five thousand plus prisoners with LWOP and nationwide we have fifty thousand plus prisoners with LWOP. The United States has 40 plus states with LWOP laws. LWOP is costing the country hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Life without the possibility of parole makes no allowances for changed behavior, or for reconsideration of the gravity of an offense. It throws away the key without mercy. Like the death penalty, it is a clear signal that “our” criminal justice system has given up any goal or possibility of rehabilitation. Although prisoners have continued to appeal to courts for redress, the limitations that have been placed on habeas corpus drastically limit legal appeals for wrongful imprisonment. In my many years of work with other prisoners, I have seen people change, and I have seen first hand the extent to which peoples lives are wasted in prison – through enforced idleness, abuse, neglect, and societal attitudes of revenge. As a society, we need to find a more productive way to deal with our outrage at violent crimes. By giving in to the appetite for revenge, our death – penalty and life without the possibility of parole system encourages media, politicians, prosecutors, police, prison guards, victims right groups, and others to appeal to what is arguably the most primitive strain in humanity.
l have worked closely with many prisoners families, whose lives are deeply and often irrevocably affected. Many human and civil rights organizations have documented the many ways the court and law enforcement systems are highly discriminatory and disproportionately punish poor people and people of color. What would Jesus do?
Present criminal justice policy demonstrates that we as a society do not believe that offenders can repent, show remorse, and work toward healing themselves and their relationships. When the weakest or most impoverished among us does not experience the support or sustaining balance of a healthy society, we are not a just society. Just as when survivors of serious crime are unheard, marginalized, or exploited, when offenders suffer the unending isolation of our prisons We can hardly lay claim to justice. In fact, any ideology that demands the intentional increase in suffering rather than its diminution can hardly lay claim to justice.
We as a society have imprisoned more than two million of our brothers and sisters and put in place structures and institutions that continue to punish and torture them for the entirety of their lives. Our comfort with punishment, revenge and torture should alarm us and make us ask ourselves profound questions about who we are as a people. We have legalized our desire for revenge in our criminal code. If this makes us uncomfortable, it should. How far should the state go to satisfy some peoples craving for revenge? ls legal murder through the death penalty and the other death penalty- Life without the possibility of parole the end point? Do we still really believe that revenge brings balance to our communities? What would Jesus do?
In conclusion, I recognize that there are people who are so dangerous that they need to be separated from society, but they do not number in the millions. They may not even number in the thousands. Secure, humane institutions should be established where these relatively few individuals can live their lives safely separated from society, but always with the potential for repentance and possible reintegration. They should have every opportunity to develop themselves and contribute to society; they should be separated, but not punished or tortured. Whatever you think about the death penalty, which also includes life without the possibility of parole (LWOP); a system that will take life must first give justice. In other words, you cannot do a wrong thing in a right way.
Our vengeance-soaked culture is in desperate need of being called to higher moral and spiritual ground. Survivors of murder victims need to be free to do their grieving in natural, human ways not skewed and distorted by sensationalist media, opportunistic politicians, and cynical prosecutors. They do not need decades of being subjected to the sifting tides of the judicial systems appellate process in the futile search for closure via another premeditated killing, this time by the state. What would ]esus do?
And finally, I acknowledge the difficulty in moving beyond revenge, punishment and torture, as we currently live in a violence – and revenge ridden culture. But just as the first step toward healing comes with truth telling, the first step advocates of social change must take is to articulate a different reality.
In order for a true discussion of forgiveness/ restorative justice to take place, all of us – not just survivors of crime – must learn to see those who commit crime as human beings. It is easy not to forgive or restore when applying the assumption that the person who has caused harm is less than human, incapable of doing otherwise or of changing for the better. Only by re-humanizing those who commit crime is forgiveness / restorative justice (healing) possible. Life without the possibility (LWOP) is a living death, and is cruel and most unusual to say the least.
What better prisoner to have in these slave factories than prisoners with life without the possibility of parole as there is no turnover rates to worry about! You can literally work prisoners to death.
I believe that every person has the potential to respond to Gods initiative. As a society, which claims to be largely “Christian and/ or religious – we must create conditions that foster and nurture such an understanding. Life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) is incompatible with this vision. It removes hope from the lives of prisoners and their families and assumes that peoples lives are irredeemable. It also precludes the possibility of the society as a whole changing in its punitive, revengeful stance toward offenders. What would Jesus do?
Life without the possibility of parole (LWOP – The Other Death Penalty) is the ultimate form of injustice carried out in the name of justice and is an offense to human decency and is in fact a blatant human rights violation.
A test of morality is what a society does to its prisoners…
Nature of the Prison System
The prison system in California has become a larger and larger economic force; guard unions have also become a larger political force.
The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) is the second largest contributor to California political campaigns and a powerful lobbyist for prison expansion. CCPOA and guards organization in most other states now fund a number of retributive crime-victims groups that join the guards in lobbying for longer sentences, harsher prison conditions i.e., super-max housing units – SHU an expansion of the death penalty i.e., Life Without the Possibility of Parole also known as The Other Death Penalty – (LWOP).
The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution states:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
In other words, the United States has not abolished slavery; it simply transferred it into the prisons.
Prison slavery in the form of Involuntary Labor is real, every day inside California and America in general (public and private). Are we okay with this as a so-called democratic society?
Correspondence: Troy T. Thomas, I-Lo1001, FAB2-209U
CSP-LAC PO. Box 4430
Lancaster, California 93539
The Horrors Endured by Transgender Women in Prison
It was Gay Pride weekend in New York City, but the event’s celebratory spirit was absent from Michelle Scott’s tidy second-floor apartment on a leafy street near Brooklyn College. Her child, Carey Smith, is a transgender woman currently locked up in solitary confinement in Upstate Correctional Facility, a men’s supermax prison located in the Adirondacks.
“Sometimes I’m on my bed, I’m crying,” she told Solitary Watch. “I wake up at five o’clock in the morning thinking about it, and I say, ‘God my son is stuck in a cell for 23 hours a day,” said Scott, who seems to accept Smith’s transition but still uses male pronouns. “And I pray and ask God, ‘Please give him the grace to do it.’” Smith is in disciplinary segregation, known as the Special Housing Unit, or SHU.
In an era of unprecedented victories for LGBT rights, especially in liberal New York, people like Carey Smith are still paying a high price simply for being who they are.
Over the past several months, Solitary Watch has been in contact with seven transgender women currently or formerly incarcerated in New York’s men’s correctional facilities. They each described enduring long-term solitary confinement as a result of identifying or being perceived as female/feminine instead of male, the sex they were assigned at birth. And about half of the transwomen interviewed by Solitary Watch specifically disclosed being sexually assaulted by guards in isolation, and described the psychological distress of enduring such brutality while locked up alone.
Here are the stories of three of those women, and the continuing efforts of their families, lawyers, and activists to obtain justice for transwomen behind bars.
Solitary as “protection,” solitary as punishment
Carey Smith, 32, was born in Jamaica and followed her mom to Brooklyn at the age of twelve. After many years struggling with addiction, in 2010 she landed in prison on a seven-year sentence for two robbery charges. Although she had come out as transgender in high school, it was not until she arrived at Coxsackie Correctional Facility–a prison just south of Albany where Smith was incarcerated before Upstate–that she requested and received regular access to hormone therapy. As Smith’s body changed, she began experiencing numerous sexual threats and violence from both inmates and staff.
One night last winter, Smith became overwhelmed with the constant harassment and told the Correctional Officers (COs) she felt unsafe, according to a letter sent to Solitary Watch. But when a sergeant and lieutenant arrived they dismissed her concerns, informing her that she needed to pursue transfer requests through the available bureaucratic channels. “I then told the Lt., ‘What if I flood my toilet,” and he said, ‘You would be doing a lot of SHU time.’” Then she explained, “Right then and there I took the bait I’ve been locked up since.”
On any given day, about 3,800 people in New York’s prisons are in the SHU. That means spending 23 of 24 hours in a cell the size of a parking space, with no telephone privileges, few personal possessions, and no access to activities, programs, or classes. Meals are served through a slot in cell door. Even the one-hour of recreation permitted each day is spent alone.
Solitary confinement can be a harrowing experience for anyone. But as Smith’s journey story underlines, for many transwomen there are multiple and contradictory meanings attached to isolation: Although it is sometimes perceived as a place of safety, it is also frequently experienced as a form of punishment.
Her story also illustrates the very limited options available to transwomen to push back against the cruelty and indifference exhibited by staff. Mik Kinkead is an attorney for Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, which provides representation to indigent prisoners on issues associated with their conditions of confinement. “I’ve had several clients who have tried to stand up for themselves when DOCCS staff refer to them as “it” or “thing” or use the wrong pronoun even after my clients have explained what pronoun to use and why not doing so is hurtful and emotionally cruel,” he said in a recent phone interview. “However standing up for yourself in prison often results in a Misbehavior Report and being placed in solitary.”
“Trans and gender nonconforming people are disproportionately punished in prison and isolation is a common form of punishment,” explained Alisha Williams in an email to Solitary Watch. She is the Director of the Prisoner Justice Project at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), a NYC-based non-profit that provides advocacy for poor people and people of color who are gender non-conforming. As Williams pointed out, transwomen can even be punished for possessing panties if they have not been given the appropriate clearance by DOCCS staff. The SRLP extensively documented the experiences of transgender and intersex people in New York State’s men prisons in their 2007 report, It’s War in Here .
Sometimes, the “crime” that lands transwomen in isolation is simply appearing feminine, and therefore more vulnerable to physical or sexual violence in the general prison population. In New York and across the country, transgender people are often sent into involuntary protective custody (IPC) – another form of isolation–against their will, along with other prisoners perceived to be at risk. Other trans people elect to sign into voluntary protective custody (often referred to as ‘PC’) in order to escape a dangerous environment in general population.
According to New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NY-DOCCS) Directive 4948, prisoners in PC and IPC are supposed to spend a minimum of three hours per day outside of their cells, participate daily in at least two group meals, and have regular access to library and counseling services, telephone calls, visits and their personal property–in other words, conditions are not supposed to mirror the SHU.
But according to women on the inside and advocates on the outside, few facilities make such distinctions. And because the vulnerable populations that end up in PC/IPC necessarily come under increased institutional surveillance, what begins as a protective measure may end as a punitive one.
Geri, 48, a German-born transwoman who asked that her last name be withheld, is twenty years into a twenty-five year sentence for second-degree manslaughter. In series of letters to Solitary Watch, she described how she spent the first 17 years of her sentence in the closet–until one day, when three gang members assaulted her. She wrote:
“[W]hile I fought, I was quickly beaten to shower floor. Cold, hard, wet–slippery. Kicked and incapacitated. So fast, with kaleidoscope of images and thought swirl in my overwhelmed mind.” She goes on to describe the rape in detail.
Geri explained that after her assailants left, she cleaned herself up and scrubbed the floor, all the while hoping she could get back to her cell without COs noting the incident. But as she crossed the recreation yard, a guard noticed she was bleeding; she taken to the facility hospital, where she was swabbed and her boxers confiscated. After being given minimal treatment, she was escorted to IPC wearing only a small towel tied around her waist.
But Geri’s difficulties did not end there. Instead of receiving additional medical care, she was issued two disciplinary tickets: one for not reporting an injury, and the second for a positive marijuana test. After a hearing on the charges before other prison staff, she was sentenced to six months in the SHU, which she served primarily at Upstate prison. Like many, once in “the box” Geri received additional tickets, and she ended up spending four years there.
Sexual assaults by prison staff
As Geri’s story suggests, the most significant factor that lands transwomen in protective custody is actual or perceived risk of sexual violence. However, isolation is oftentimes an equally or even more dangerous place. In fact, it was during Geri’s transfer to the SHU at Upstate that she experienced her most recent episode of prison sexual violence.
“At layover stop [to Upstate],” she wrote, “I am escorted by staff member, and cuffed behind my back. I was directed into small room and to sit on bench. Staff member closed door, made some reference to rape incident, exposed semi-erect penis and standing in front of me told me to: ‘polish his knob.’”
She continued: “I was absolutely shocked, but recovered enough to bluff. I told him he’d better just ‘pull the pin’ (personal alarm). He backed off, rezipping pants, tried to play off as he was just ‘joking’ with me. No sane, rational person would believe these actions as mere ‘joke’.”
Although no data exists tracking transgender experiences of assault New York prisons, accounts like Geri’s, as well as data from other studies, suggests that it is an commonplace ordeal for transwomen locked up. In a 2007 study  of California prisons, for example, 59% of transwomen polled reported experiencing sexual assault while on the inside–a rate nearly 13 times higher than average amongst the state’s prison population.
According to recent Bureau of Justice Statistics data , nearly half of the alleged instances of sexual violence in prisons and jails across America are actually committed by facility staff. In short, placing transwomen in “protective” custody may actually increase their vulnerability to predatory staff members, while simultaneously closing down potential avenues to report assaults.
For Yvette Gonzales, 37, who spent three years of her seven-year sentence in solitary confinement, the notion of isolation as “protection” could not be farther from the truth. Gonzales was first arrested in 1998 and eventually pled guilty to criminal possession of a weapon. She narrated her experiences to Solitary Watch from the Midtown offices of Housing Works, the HIV/AIDS advocacy organization where she now works as a testing coordinator.
“Things were going good for a while,” at Franklin Correctional Facility, where Gonzales was first transferred after sentencing, “until my whole femininity thing just started becoming an issue for a lot of correctional officers.” Guards starting harassing her, and when fights started breaking out in the dorms, she said, they were blamed on her. “I went to the box, supposedly to keep me safe.”
At first Gonzales was placed at the front of the tier. Then, one night, a CO moved her to a cell at the very end of the corridor, out of sight from the bubble where other guards would stand watch. A few nights later, the same guard returned and informed her he would be searching her cell, ordering her to stand in front of her bed and strip. Then, the CO came towards her.
“I remember, he punched me so hard in my ribs, that I could barely breathe… he hit me so hard that I grabbed myself on the bed and that’s when he came behind me and he was grabbing me, choking me and hitting me, pinning me down… there was a point I couldn’t even move.”
“He made me give him oral sex and he turned me around and that’s when he attacked me sexually – he raped me and this went on for a few weeks.”
Gonzales also told Solitary Watch that she never received medical attention. “When I tried to complain to the captain he told me that I was lying. So I had to endure that for a long period of time when I was in the box.”
Both advocates and many of the transwomen in touch with Solitary Watch stressed that when prisoner’s account of a staff assault is disputed, unless videotape evidence is available, the CO’s word will almost always be accepted as truth.
In an e-mail, Assistant Public Information Officer Linda Foglia told Solitary Watch, “DOCCS has not identified a systemic problem of transgender women being sexually victimized by either other inmates or staff.” She added that DOCCS is in the process of launching a new sexual victimization-screening tool, which will include information about individuals’ sexual orientation and gender identity, and sensitivity training for reception and guidance staff.
The trauma and toll of isolation
There is a growing understanding both across the country and the world that prolonged solitary confinement causes severe emotional distress, and often amounts to torture. After communicating with over 100 individuals who had served significant time in the state’s SHUs, the New York Civil Liberties Union concluded that “extreme isolation causes emotional and psychological harm, including apathy, lethargy, anxiety, depression, despair, rage and uncontrollable impulses, even among the health and mentally stable.”
Chris Daley is the deputy executive director of Just Detention International (JDI), a human rights organization that is committed to ending sexual violence in detention. “[Solitary] is an incredibly harmful way to protect someone,” he told Solitary Watch in a recent phone interview from the organization’s Washington DC office.
“The emotional and psychological damages that comes from being placed in solitary… can oftentimes be just as bad as the physical violence, it just manifests differently, and it is not something you can as clearly point to in an individual case.”
Gonzales told Solitary Watch that being in IPC had undoubtedly affected her well-being. “There’s nothing for you to do [in the box]. You sleep, you lose track of time. You start talking to yourself, you start hearing, you start imagining, you start inventing, you start making up stuff.”
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), passed in 2003, recognizes the psychological toll of isolation by requiring facilities to assess all alternative remedies before placing a vulnerable person individual in IPC–like relocating perpetrators, increasing staffing, or housing those at risk in single-cells within general population. The legislation also states that involuntary segregation for those at risk should not last longer than 30 days.
NYDOCCS told Solitary Watch that its facilities are PREA-compliant in these specific areas. These assurances were disputed, however, by every advocate interviewed for this article.
Being placed in solitary confinement–whether for protection or punishment–is often particularly psychologically distressing for transwomen: not only because of the violence they face in isolation, but also because they are cut off from transgender-affirming avenues of support, like family or friends on the outside or LGBT peers in general population.
In a note to Solitary Watch, Smith described the level of distress she has encountered in the SHU. “Last year before this I was in another facility… I was being treated badly by the staff as a whole in Woodbourne [Correctional Facility] while in an extremely intense solitary confinement especially because the space was so small. I asked the officer for mental health and he told me he would not get mental health for me.”
Smith felt trapped. The day before, a prisoner who had twice assaulted her had been let out of the box; she believed she was kept in “because of all the attention [she] was getting.”
“I took them off [my reading glasses], broke them up and started to slice and cut up my wrist and arm. After all the blood and cuts mental health was called and I was out of solitary for 5 days. It’s sad I have to mutilate my own body just to get something done.”
Transwomen do not only pay a price psychologically – they also pay in time. “I have multiple clients who have been denied parole because they spent their entire time in protective custody,” Kinkead told Solitary Watch. Almost without exception, prisoners outside of general population are unable to access programs mandated by the courts – like anger management – that might otherwise enable them to be seen favorably at parole hearings.
Proposed solutions for staying safe(r)
As Chris Daley of Just Detention noted, it is the environment within men’s prisons that puts transwomen at such a high risk of sexual violence – in that their bodies become a means for both prisoners and staff to assert their masculinity. In letter to Solitary Watch, Geri explained, “Being in a men’s prison lets you know how (many) men really feel about women – and makes me feel more vulnerable to sexual violence/abuse than ever before.”
As a result, some advocates have suggested that the answer to keeping transwomen safe is creating policies for them to be more easily housed in women’s facilities, as has been done in a number of cities and states, including Denver, Washington, DC, and elsewhere. And certainly being transferred to a women’s facility is a priority for many transwomen locked up in New York and across the country. Under PREA, correctional facilities are supposed to determine housing for trans people on a case-by-case basis, taking into account where the individual feels they would be safest.
When asked, however, most of the transwomen in touch with Solitary Watch named a different solution–creating specific pods, floors or even entire facilities dedicated to housing LGBT prisoners.
According to Daley, LGBT-segregated units can sometimes heighten vulnerability to violence, for example, if staff predators gain access. He thinks the idea is more a reflection of the dire nature of current realities than a solution in itself. “[The request for LGBT-units is] shorthand for ‘I want to be someplace where they’re going to call me by the right name, use the right pronouns, and not threaten or intimidate me. That’s about conditions of confinement. And everyone should be in a facility where those things happen.”
Last February, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) reached a tentative agreement with the state that will remove a number of vulnerable populations from isolation, including juveniles, pregnant women, and those with developmental disabilities—but makes no reference to transgender people.
The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, introduced into the New York state legislature this past winter, aims to establish strict limits on the amount of time any prisoner could spend in isolation.
“HALT also recognizes that certain people should never be placed in isolation for any length of time because either isolation itself can have more devastating effects on them or they are more vulnerable to abuse while in isolation,” explained Scott Paltrowitz, Associate Director of the Prison Visiting Project at the Correctional Association, a non-profit advocating for a more humane criminal justice system in New York. ”Transgender people and other members of the LGBTI community are given additional protections under HALT primarily for the latter reason.”
Within the broader movement against solitary confinement in New York and across the country, advocates face a difficult dilemma: namely, how to provide immediate and much-needed relief to the most vulnerable of populations without leaving everyone else to languish in the box.
Jason Lydon, 31, is the founder of Black & Pink, an organization that aims to build support between LGBTQ people across prison walls, primarily through a pen-pal scheme.
“When we fight for the reduction of solitary confinement for certain individuals,” he told Solitary Watch, “we are saying that solitary confinement is okay – that there is a certain amount of torture that is okay for certain kinds of people – for [non-trans] black men, for example.”
He added, “We’re not looking to create a pink door in a prison wall for LGBTQ people to walk out of. While centering [LGBTQ] experiences, our efforts are tied to this larger call for abolition for everybody.”
For its part, NYDOCCS has also stated that it is taking steps to better accommodate the needs of trans prisoners. In an email, Linda Foglia told Solitary Watch:
“In July 2012, DOCCS convened an internal multi-disciplinary ‘GID Task Force’ (now the GD Task Force) to study the needs of transgender individuals, and to review policies to ensure an appropriate balance between individual needs and the agency’s mission. The work of this Task Force continues and keeps DOCCS at the forefront as corrections agencies across the nation work to identify best practices for working with LGBTI inmates.”
An unconditional love
While popular mobilization and policy change may seek to improve conditions on the inside, when it comes down to it, most transgender women locked up in New York and across the county rely on friends and family to survive.
In a June letter to Solitary Watch, Smith wrote, “the biggest thing that bothers me [about conditions in the SHU] the most not hearing my mom’s voice to ease her worries and mine.”
From her home in Flatbush, Smith’s mother, Michelle Scott, explained why her emotional support is so central is to her child’s survival on the inside. “Carey sees [my] unconditional love when everyone else turns their back… He sees the unconditional love when he goes out there and I’m walking with him on Flatbush. I see guys looking at him and say, ‘Oh, you batty man’…. They cut him down and I hold his hand and we cried, and I said, ‘This is my child.’”
Michelle Scott hopes that love will help keep Carey strong even as he endures isolation and abuse in prison. “I never in my life fathomed he would go through this,” she said.
For a firsthand account of one transgender woman’s experience in solitary confinement in New York, see the accompanying piece Voices from Solitary: Cruel and Unusual Punishment for Transgender Women .
Solitary Watch is interested in hearing from other transgender individuals and their families about their experiences in New York’s prisons and jails. Please write to Aviva Stahl, c/o Solitary Watch, Box 165, 123 7th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215 or email aviva.stahl (at) gmail.com.
Originally posted on HumansinShadow.wordpress.com:
Seven Days in Solitary [7/27/14]
The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts.
• Footage obtained by the Colorado Independentshows excessive force being used against a man who was placed in solitary after exhibiting suicidal behavior. The man was being monitored in his cell before a team of officers entered and proceeded to tase him. The Colorado Independent notes that this episode is representative of many examples of excessive force in Denver’s jails.
• A ruling on July 24th by U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley granted class-action status on behalf of 125,000 people held in California’s prisons in a lawsuit accusing prison officials of racial discrimination. As Reuters reports, during lockdowns men of similar ethnicities are often contained to their cells for days, months or years often…
View original 278 more words
What Happens to Babies Born in Jail?
They don’t all grow up to star on ‘Gossip Girl.’
Gossip Girl actress Leighton Meester’s success must have been completely unimaginable to her parents when she was born. The Gossip Girl’s mother, Connie Meester, probably had lesser outcomes in mind when she gave birth to Leighton while beginning a 10-year sentence at a federal prison in Texas for drug smuggling.
Despite the fact that nearly two-thirds of women in U.S. prisons are mothers, there is still no national policy that dictates what should happen to the more than 2,000 children that are born behind bars each year.
Where do these babies go? Up until the 1950s, prison nurseries were the norm in most states; so most were raised behind bars by their mothers. Then came an explosion in the prison population—between 1977 and 2007, the number of women in prison increased by 832 percent—leaving states unable to afford the prohibitive $24,000 cost of raising a baby in jail. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of incarcerated mothers are now forced to either give up their child to foster care or place the kids with relatives.
Recently, a handful of states have begun experimenting with nursery programs and community-based residential parenting programs. Competition for spots is fierce, and only mothers who are serving short sentences for non-violent crimes are eligible. While the length of stay varies from state to state (at the South Dakota Women’s Prison babies are only allowed to stay for 30 days, while at the Washington Correctional Center it’s three years), the results have been unanimously positive: one survey showed that 95 percent of mothers felt they had a stronger bond after the program, and all agreed that other states should adopt similar programs.
The evidence supporting mothers raising their children in jail is extensive. Increasingly, studies are showing that the first two years of a baby’s life are critical for the mother-child bond, and babies bereft of that bond are more likely to display troubled behavior later on. In addition, women who are allowed to raise their children in jail are much less likely to return to crime. One study of the Nebraska Correctional Center found that 33 percent of women who had been separated from their children ended up back in jail, versus just 9 percent of women who were allowed to raise their children.
Across the world, many countries seem to agree that a baby’s place is with its mother. In Sweden, babies can be accommodated for up to a year (the average stay is three months). In most European countries, mothers are allowed to keep their infants through weaning. Prisons in India are required to offer nurseries and day care for mothers and their children. In Chile, jail-born children begin taking state-run educational programs at six months of age. In Mexico, children are required to stay with their mothers until they’re 6 years old, and have the freedom to leave on weekends and holidays.
For those who balk at the thought of infants being raised behind bars, Germany represents a common sense compromise. There, qualified mothers are allowed to leave prison every morning to see their children off to school, spending the day doing housework and preparing meals for their children. At the end of the day, the women return to the jail to sleep. Their waking hours are spent fostering a stable, nurturing environment for the next generation, one that won’t have to remember a childhood spent behind bars.