--------------blog post January 5, 2010--------------
This next issue coming up will be for Mother's Day. Every woman inside is a mom or a daughter; those relationships are hardly untouched by incarceration. They may have already put great stuff into writing in their letters home - see if there's something you think they should develop or submit as is. The absence of a woman’s mother or child can be as powerful as the presence of one – everyone’s story is valued, whatever their perspective.
Many women use pseudonyms to avoid harassment from prison officials if they have anything critical or controversial to say; they should use discretion if they have any concerns about retaliation, because no one can assure their safety. Vikki Law, who gathers the material and edits the zine, seems to exercise pretty good judgment about that stuff, too.
Some incarcerated women who started by publishing in zines and newsletters have become more widely known and published since then – never having set out to “be” writers or artists or poets in the first place: their mode of expression was formed, in part, by their incarceration as a means of resistance. Marilyn Buck, a U.S. political prisoner and poet, is one who comes to mind who has written about that. Here's the Freedom Archives' link to audio clips from Marilyn's Wild Poppies collection, a tribute CD on which her poetry is read by former political prisoners from around the world. (Browse Freedom Archives sometime - there's great liberation movement stuff there).
We need to engage more with the women at Perryville prison, and connect them with the community before they come back home. We also need to look in on the women in our county jails – not just Arpaio’s. That means creating a less shameful environment that’s inclusive of prisoners’ and their families' voices, getting community members and groups doing more outreach to incarcerated women and their children (the Girl Scouts are even on top of it, folks - no good reason everyone else isn't), and alerting our local and national media that we want to know what’s going on in there. Who are we locking up in
We need more people to be able to articulate the challenges faced by women in prison, and to recognize and support their resistance to oppression, abuse, and neglect. We try to render them invisible in society, but women in prison have both voice and power. We need to pay attention to actions like those described below by Renee, and the three women who set their mattresses on fire last June. What happened to them? Does anyone know?
That doesn’t mean we should just be looking for hunger strikes and riots among women, though – grievances and lawsuits have been very effective tools of change for women in prison, and need more visibility; some things can be expedited with more public pressure - like Marcia's Law. Charisse Schumate is an example of a woman who resisted by using the legal system and community organizing; she and her fellow prisoners made a difference. That's a story worth printing up and sending to women inside, too.
Women like Renee and those in Tenacious are resisting, too, simply by telling their stories. Even if they aren't exposing state secrets, they are countering the myths and lies out there about them. hey are resisting the dehumanization of criminalization and incarceration. They are bringing home what it means to be a woman in prison in America. The act of making things public, making them visible, takes a great deal of courage - we must read them, respond to what they're saying, and keep asking for more.
This is pretty critical material for Arizonans to grasp right now, so I’m going to do whatever I can to get it into the hands of as many people who might care as possible – from anarchists and ASU students to hospice care providers and groups representing trauma and rape survivors. Listen to these women, and if you have any kind of access help them get their stories out. They need us all to stop and pay attention.
Here's the call for submissions to Tenacious: