We must address the cruelty: Of eviction

At midnight last night, the CDC moratorium on evictions ended. Despite the Delta variant of Covid raging through the country, and the certainty that eviction increases the incidence of Covid. Despite billions of dollars in rent relief sitting idly, criminally, in state coffers, frozen because no one could figure out that for people in distress to have to go through intricate application processes would be both inhuman and futile. Despite the knowledge that the first to suffer, and the ones to suffer most deeply and for the longest period, will be children, especially children of color, children in low to moderate income households. Children. Despite the knowledge that single mothers, which means children, will be the ones to suffer. Despite months of mounting debts, of mounting certainty of imminent eviction once the moratorium ends, despite months of stasis, now, at whatever follows the eleventh hour, now the agencies are `scrambling’. Where were they, where was everyone, for the past six months? We must address the cruelty of this moment. We must address the cruelty of eviction.

Over $40 billion has been allocated for rent relief. That money has been sent to state and local governments, who were supposed to pass it on. Most haven’t. As of now, $3 billion has been distributed. State and local governments `explain’ that there was so much to do, so much money, so many applicants, so much staffing, so much so muchness. Many state and local governments didn’t open their application processes until June. They knew when the moratorium was set to end. State and local government after state and local government now `urges’ and `encourages’ tenants and landlords to apply. Even though, as in Louisiana, of 24,000 tenants who already applied, only 3,000 have been approved. That’s 24,000 households, of which 3,000 have been approved. Those 3,000 don’t necessarily have checks in hand, but they do have approval. For the others, the line has gone dead. And for the other others, the ones who waited to apply or didn’t know, the sky has fallen, as the hospitals in Louisiana fill to overflowing. 

This was all decreed decades ago, with the decision to finance everything with real estate taxes, giving corporate landlords complete and total dominion. They used eviction filings as a routine means of threatening tenants. They continued to do so during the moratorium, and with impunity. Only now, Congress is just beginning to investigate major corporate landlords who routinely  violated the moratorium as well as the rights and lives of thousands of people across the United States.

And what about the children? Children will be the first and last to suffer, and by all accounts, we just don’t care. Or worse. We take pleasure in the suffering of children, other people’s children. In July, Spain extended its eviction moratorium until the end of October. Specifically, Spain extended its eviction for vulnerable people, including children, minors, dependents, and survivors of sexual violence. Spain has also provided additional support, financial and otherwise, to those who have suffered economic distress due to and during the pandemic. Why does Spain cherish its children more than the United States?

Cruelty occurs when people commit violence because they’re indifferent to the pain of others or they take pleasure in inflicting pain on others. The cruelty of eviction addresses our system of disposable populations, whole Black and Brown neighborhoods and communities, all trying to make it through another day, all told, “Too bad. We tried. The check is in the mail, but you won’t get it. So sorry.” The eviction moratorium ended last night at midnight. The check is in the mail. 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: The New York Times / Sally Ryan)

Cuba: Another Perspective from the USA

Recently Cuba’s streets filled with compatriots protesting the government and the shortages of food and healthcare. There were others on the streets (including Cuba’s President Diaz-Canal) clamoring for the right of Cuba to be independent of U.S. domination. The situation on this tiny island of 11 million people (approximate number of undocumented immigrants currently in the USA) is very hard for us to understand.

Over the past 22 years, I have traveled 12 times to Cuba, often with faculty and students from Berea College. On each visit, I understand a little more about this unique country. For example, on my first visit to attend a women’s studies conference at the University of Havana, I learned that before the fall of the Soviet Union, there were no shortages of any kind. People had food, shelter, healthcare, transportation, music and sports. Russia filled the material void after the United States signed the embargo against Cuba. When we stopped trading with Cuba sixty years ago, their world class cigars became contraband in our country; we were not allowed to travel there unless we were journalists, artists or researchers like myself. Under the charismatic leadership of Fidel Castro, Cuba maintained its dignity as a country who begged to differ with the United States about its social and economic lifestyle.

In 1989, when the Soviet Union dissolved, Cubans had to figure out how to live without Russia’s generous subsidy, particularly to its sugar industry. Bicycles became the mode of transportation. Cubans named these years “the special period.” I remember hearing a colleague say that Cuba could survive the loss of support from the Soviet Union because people were well educated; they were smart enough to become innovative. Professionals, including university professors, returned to their rural roots and started inventing machines to improve agriculture and transportation. Cuba was reliant (like the USA) on petroleum products for its agricultural system. Immediately, Cubans began to regenerate their soils to make them ready for organic plantings that did not require imports of fertilizers and pesticides. Urban gardens sprang up all over the country. In fact, Cuba was lauded as a world leader in “greening the environment.” I will never forget the joy of eating a papaya without the contaminants of agrochemicals.

Most Americans are unaware that Cuba is a medical superpower. Citizens there enjoy free concierge health coverage because doctors live in their neighborhoods and attend to them day and night. Cuba has so many doctors it can send them to other countries that are short of medical personnel. In fact, medical service is the major export of the Cuban economy. The quality of healthcare in Cuba rivals that of the United States even though medical supplies are scarce. My own daughter arrived in Cuba a year ago with a perforated appendix. She received the same treatment (laparoscopic surgery) that she would have received in Connecticut. Most of us have no idea that Cuba has developed multiple effective vaccines for Covid. Unfortunately, Cuba lacks syringes to administer the vaccine to its population. What if we were not able to import syringes to vaccinate our own population? Would we take to the streets too?

These days life is grim once again in Cuba. For the past decade and more, Cuba has enjoyed a gradual opening of its economy to various forms of entrepreneurial activities. Cooperatives and privately owned businesses flourished during the recent golden age of tourism. But President Trump’s policies (to date not reversed by the Biden administration) changed all of that. Like the fall of the Soviet Union, the advent of Covid has further crippled the economy—made all the harder by sanctions imposed by the United States. Recently there was a large outpouring of citizens in much the same way as we Americans come out to protest when we are unhappy. Unfortunately, for Cuba, there are multiple forces, including President Biden, bearing down on this country in this difficult time.  We have little idea what this might be like for Cubans. The closest we come to this kind of feeling is 9/11 when outsiders took down the twin towers in New York.

Cuba has a different social agenda from our own. Some would say that its socialist system puts people before profits. This means that nobody is left behind. Sound familiar? We have used these words to describe our own social safety net in the United States. But there is one important difference. For sixty years, our government has refused to trade with Cuba and exacts punishment on other countries who want to do business with Cuba. It has been our explicit policy “to deny money and supplies to Cuba…to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the government” (U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, 1960). I don’t think we as Americans have a category for the kind of hardship Cuba continues to endure because the United States does not like its economic structure. We find ourselves offended when the Cuban government shuts down the internet to the U.S. voices who are undermining the country’s well-being. If we had a better understanding of Cuba’s relationship to the United States, we would be slow to criticize the government’s efforts to protect its citizens from U.S. efforts to undermine its sovereignty.

One way that we can exercise our privilege as Americans is to engage in actions that help our Cuban neighbors. Bullying Cuba into changing its economic system is not one of them. The best way to support the Cuban people is to end the unproductive embargo. Every year the United Nations votes overwhelmingly to demand an end to the embargo. This summer the USA and Israel were the only countries to vote against it. We can exercise our own human rights by supporting our elected officials to get behind legislation to end the embargo. Currently Senator Bernie Sanders and other congressional members are leading the way. Why don’t we employ our human right to free speech and get on board with the rest of the world to lift the suffering we are causing to our neighbors 90 miles south of Florida.

(By Peggy Rivage-Seul: Peggy Rivage-Seul is Professor of Women’s Studies, Coordinator for the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and Director of the Women in Public Service Project at Berea College)

(Photo credit: author)

Sierra Leone abolishes the death penalty and offers the world a new decolonizing dawn!

Wrongly convicted of capital offense, MK spent six years in a small, dirty cell, which had a capacity of 300, then housing no less than 1400 inmates.

On Friday, July 23,2021, Sierra Leone’s Parliament voted unanimously to abolish the death penalty. Unanimously. While the outcome was pretty much expected, the unanimity of Members of Parliament is worth noting and celebrating. Parliamentarians joined advocates and others in decrying the inhumanity and barbarity of executions and of the entire apparatus attached to the death penalty. Equally, Members of Parliament joined advocates and others in declaring that vote to end the death penalty was another phase of the decolonization project. As Sabrina Mahtani, co-founder of AdvocAid, a leading Sierra Leonean organization opposing the death penalty, noted, “The death penalty is a colonial imposition, and these laws were inherited from the U.K.” It’s time, it way past time, for all those who suffered colonialism, who continue to struggle with the legacy and imbedded consciousness of colonialism, to decolonize, to abolish the death penalty and much more.

Sierra Leone is very clear about at least part of the “much more”. In principle, Sierra Leone has stopped executing people since 1998, but it has continued to segregate those convicted of capital offenses to death rows, where they sit and wait … for nothing or worse. Along with eliminating executions, the new legislation eliminates mandatory life sentences. This is particularly important for survivors of sexual violence, predominantly women and girls. According to Sabrina Mahtani, “This will allow judges to have judicial discretion to take into account all the circumstances of a case, such as a history of gender-based violence or mental illness, and hopefully prevent the injustices that have happened in the past.” 

Since its founding in 2006, “AdvocAid has actively campaigned for the abolition of the death penalty and provided free legal representation for women and men on death row to challenge their convictions and death sentences. AdvocAid has secured the release of six women and three men on death row through appeals or presidential pardon applications.” Here’s the story of one of those women, call her Aminata.

In 2009, Aminata was a 17-year-old girl living in Kenema, in the eastern part of Sierra Leone. She was an orphan who had little or no formal education and could not read or write. She had been in a relationship with someone who was abusive, and so left him. Or better, she left the relationship. The young man was the son of the landlord of the compound in which Aminata lived, and so, despite her having ended their relationship, what did not end was the physical violence. He continue to beat Aminata. Finally, one day, while being beaten with a rubber pipe, Aminata picked up a knife and defended herself. She was arrested and tried … sort of. Sort of because, although Aminata was 17 years old and therefore a juvenile, she was tried in adult court because [a] she had no birth certificate and so [b], despite her protestations, the police registered her age as 18. Aminata was shipped off to the maximum security prison in Freetown. In 2010, Aminata was sentenced to death. AdvocAid appealed. The case was not heard for another four years: “Finally, 9 years after she was sentenced to death, her appeal was granted and her sentence was quashed …. Sadly Aminata’s story is not uncommon.”

While the British were not the first to conduct executions on African soil, they did bring and institutionalize the notion of “capital punishment … as not just a method of … punishment, but an integral aspect of colonial networks of power and violence.” As Aminata’s story shows, those networks of power and violence continue, in Sierra Leone as elsewhere, until they are rooted out. AdvocAid’s Legal Manager, Julia Gbloh said: “The death penalty is the act of legalizing murder and its abolishment highlights a new dawn in our nation.” It is a new dawn for Sierra Leone and hopefully for the world, including the United States. As Sabrina Mahtani explained, “Here’s a small country in West Africa that had a brutal civil war 20 years ago and they’ve managed to abolish the death penalty. They would actually be an example for you, U.S., rather than it always being the other way around.” 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: AdvocAid)

In Australia, Aboriginal women and girls disproportionately sent to prison and jail are disproportionately strip-searched. We know. What are we going to do about it?

The Alexander Maconochie Centre 

Excessive strip-searching shines light on discrimination of Aboriginal women in the criminal justice system”. An article with that headline appeared yesterday. While the research and argument of the article is unimpeachable, one wonders about the shining light. The discrimination against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women by and in the Australian so-called criminal justice program is a longstanding open secret. In 2018, Human Rights Watch issued a report, which noted, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population, and 21 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous peers.” A version of that statement, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population”, had appeared in major reports in 201020112012201320142015,2016, and 2017. Now it’s 2021, and where are we … and who are we?

Last year, the Redfern Legal Centre reported that police in New South Wales continued to strip search children, some as young as 11 years old. In one year alone, NSW police conducted 96 strip searches of children. To no one’s surprise, those strip searches disproportionately assaulted Aboriginal children. This was no surprise, because strip searches generally target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and especially women and girls. Not only was the practice continuing, it was actually rising in number for Aboriginal children. Redfern is pursuing a landmark class action suit against the New South Wales police. While that would be important, these searches have occurred, for decades, in plain sight. Where are we … and who are we?

In January of this year, former Western Australia and New South Wales police came forward to discuss their experiences as police officers. They described a routine, and cynical, process of boosting arrest numbers by targeting Aboriginal communities, and especially children. Although strip searches are supposed to be only for “exceptional and extreme circumstances”, Aboriginal children were routinely strip searched. Their crime, their exceptionality, their extreme circumstance, was their bodies, their culture, their identity. One police officer remembered that strip searching a 10-year-old Aboriginal child was “one of the worst moments” of his eight-year career as a police officer. What was that moment for that 10-year-old child, one wonders, and where is he … and who is he now?

In March, it was reported that, earlier in the year, a 37-year-old Aboriginal woman was strip searched by four guards, in riot gear, in front of male detainees. Why? Because. This occurred at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, in the Australian Capital Territory. The Australian government boasts that the Alexander Maconochie Centre is “a human rights compliant” facility. Aboriginal leaders disagree. So does the woman, who wrote, “Here I ask you to remember that I am a rape victim, so you can only imagine the horror, the screams, the degrading feeling, the absolute fear and shame I was experiencing.”

Here I ask you to remember. 

In the first week of July, the Human Rights Legal Centre reported that from October 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021, there had been 208 strip searches conducted on women detainees at the same Alexander Maconochie Centre. Of those, 121, or 58%, were performed on Aboriginal women. At that time, Aboriginal women comprised 44% of the women held at the Alexander Maconochie Centre. Just being Aboriginal women made them exceptional and extreme. Again to no one’s surprise, of the 208 searches, three resulted in the discovery of contraband. The others were the price Aboriginal women pay for being Aboriginal women in Australia.

The lack of surprise is the point. In 2003, Debbie Kilroy, Director of Sisters Inside Inc, wrote, “Prisoners are strip-searched because it is a highly effective way to control women … Routine and random strip-searching is conducted in order to punish women and to control them.” The strip searching of women in Australia’s prisons is routine, but hardly random, in that it targets Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls, who are sent in disproportionate numbers into “human rights compliant’ prison and jail hellholes. We know. We’ve known for a long time. What are we going to do about it?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Andrew Finch / City News)

Women dying in jails across the United States: This is what catastrophe looks like

Tomorrow, Sunday, July 18, the United Nations will celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day. With that in mind, on Friday, July 16, the United Nations released its first global research data on the state of prisons over the past twenty years. It’s predictably grim, especially for women. Globally, one in three incarcerated persons has not been found guilty by a court of justice. Either they are awaiting trial or they are simply being held. This means overcrowded conditions, which means spikes in covid, as we’re seeing this week in Missouri’s prisons. A surge in prison population = a spike in covid. For women, this means a global war on women and girls. From 2000 to 2019, the number of prisoners worldwide increased by more than 25 per cent. During that period, the number of women in prison increased by 33% while the increase for men was 25%. According to the UN, “the female share of the global prison population has increased, from 6.1% in 2000 to 7.2% in 2019.” What does this trend look like in the United States? Catastrophic, and especially so for women being held in jails.

According to the latest jails report from the U.S. Department of Justice, from 2008 to 2018, the female jail population increased by 15% while the male population decreased by 9%. From 2005 to 2018, the female incarceration rate rose by 10%, while the male rate of incarceration dropped by 14%. Between 2008 and 2018, the female jail population rose by 15%, the male jail population dropped by 9%. In terms of criminal justice systems and, specifically, policing and incarceration, the past twenty years have been catastrophic for women globally and nationally.

What does catastrophe look like? According to the most recent U.S. Department of Justice report on mortality in jails, “In 2018, females held in local jails had a higher rate of mortality …  than males.” Chronic diseases, especially respiratory infections, cancer, heart disease; suicide; drug and alcohol related problems are `credited’ as cause of death, but the cause of death is jail itself. While the pandemic has exacerbated the situation, the United Nations report covers two decades, 2000 to 2019, and this is only the second time since 2000, when the Department of Justice started reporting on the situation in jails across the United States, that women had a higher jail mortality rate than men, and that was in 2018, before the pandemic.

Tomorrow, July 18, is Nelson Mandela International Day. Earlier this week, July 13, marked the sixth anniversary of the death of Sandra Bland, in a jail in Texas. Since then, the situation for women in jails across the United States has only worsened. The UN report concludes: “Measures can be taken to counteract the relative increase in the female prison population, including the development and implementation of gender-specific options for diversion and non-custodial measures at every stage of the criminal justice process. Such measures should take into account the history of victimization of many women offenders and their caretaking responsibilities, as well as mitigating factors, such as lack of a criminal history and the nature and severity of the offense.” In other words, find and enforce ways of keeping women out of jail. How many more women must die before we hear and act on this common and evidence-supported sense? 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic Credit: Prison Policy Institute)

The Myth of “Market Forces”: Speculators, Not Demand, Are Raising the Rent Too Damn High

On Friday, Joe Biden signed an executive order “intended to increase competition within the nation’s economy and to limit corporate dominance, factors the White House says have led to higher prices and fewer choices for consumers while dampening pay and restricting the freedom to change jobs.” Non-compete clausesprohibit workers from “competing’ with a current employer by joining another group in the same business sector. These clauses are also known as restrictive covenants. They restrict freedom. You know what else restricts people’s freedom? Raising the rent by 30 percent in a single swoop, and that is what is happening around the country. This is not a story of “market forces”. This is a story of speculators drawing excessive profit from the veins of working people, especially women of color.

Nationally, rents have risen 7.5% since January, three times the average rate of rise. Meanwhile, according to Apartments.com, “household debt is at levels not seen since the Great Financial Crisis or wartime.” In every price category, rents for single-family homes are rising quickly. Rents on lower-middle priced single family homes have risen 4.8%, up from 2.5%, almost a 100% increase. 

For forty years of neoliberal urban development, the United States has steadily decreased the affordable housing stock. Trickle down development, irrespective of which party was in control of the municipality, and the drive to purchase global city status, meaning hordes of low-wage service sector workers servicing and serving a minority of upwardly mobile `clients’, turned urban real estate into the playground of the corporate speculators, many of whom used eviction, formal and `informal’, as a regular means of investment. Remember, during this past year’s eviction moratorium, the majority of eviction filings were done by a relatively small group of corporate landlords. Remember as well that prior to this past year’s eviction moratorium, the majority of eviction filings were done by a relatively small group of corporate landlords. Plus ça change, plus on meurt.

The current skyrocketing of rents is described as a `natural consequence’ of market forces. More people suddenly want rental units in places where there aren’t enough, but for those seeking affordable housing, or even somewhat affordable housing, this is the latest, more dire chapter of a novel they’ve been living in for decades. A woman in Phoenix wakes up one day and gets a note saying her rent is going up, effectively immediately, almost $400 a month, or 33 percent. She is informed she has four days to decide. There’s really nowhere else to go:  “It almost feels like there is nowhere to go. It’s just insane everywhere. It feels like I’m being chased out of my own home, and it’s the worst feeling in the world.” There is nowhere to go, she is being chased out of her own home, it is the worst feeling in the world. When she moves, as she will, her move will not be counted as an eviction, partly because there was no filing and more because, as a renter, she has little to no rights and less power.

Landlords … are realizing the power they suddenly have.” There’s nothing sudden about landlords’ power. Remember, in many places, the reasons rent relief hasn’t reached tenants is because landlords decided it wasn’t worth it to wait months to receive the overdue rent and chose to evict their tenants anyway. Before someone says, “Not all landlords”, the landlords who own and control the largest part of the rental market are the ones who opted out of the rent relief program. The landlords who own and control the largest part of the rental market make up a disproportionate part of those evicting and an even larger portion of those filing evictions. (There are exceptions, some, too few, such as the Winn Company, but they are exceptions and have not impacted their colleagues.)

The struggle for housing, and in particular affordable housing, has entered a new and perilous phase, made all the more dire by its being absolutely predictable and even foreseen. Adding fuel to the fire is this narrative of `market forces’. Stop talking about demand and talk, instead, about corporate landlords’ decisions and actions, their power, to restrict the freedom and impair the lives of millions of people who rent homes. Want to secure freedom in housing? Restrict the unrestricted power of corporate landlords, support tenants’ rights and power. Support rent control, support right to counsel in eviction cases, support freedom. 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic Credit: CoreLogic)

In Cornton Vale, Scotland’s one women’s prison, women with complex mental health needs are routinely thrown into solitary for days on end

Today, Scotland’s Mental Welfare Commission released the findings of their investigation into the treatment of women with complex mental health needs who have the great misfortune of ending up in Scotland’s one all-women’s prison. The Commission reports that women with mental health needs were sent into solitary confinement, euphemistically called Separation and Reintegration Units, for anywhere from a day to 82 days. The cells are described as “sparse and lacking in comfort. The narratives in women’s notes suggested there was little in the way of positive sensory stimulation in the environment of the SRU. There was limited human contact and if other women in the SRU were distressed or unwell, their vocalisations were likely to be audible, disturbing and distressing. When women’s self-care deteriorated, they may also have experienced physical and sensory discomfort in this context.”

The report goes on to note, “Part of the ethos, and indeed the name of SRUs, is that offenders are reintegrated into the mainstream environment after a period of time. Reintegration did not appear to feature in the majority of cases we reviewed …. For women who were floridly unwell with acute psychosis or manic psychosis, the severity of their symptoms and level of disturbance significantly worsened in the SRU.”

None of this is surprising or new. That solitary confinement, for anyone, is torture is not new. That solitary confinement as a response to women’s health needs is torture is not new. That solitary confinement as a response to women in need is, nevertheless, altogether ordinary also is not new. That solitary confinement worsens everything is also not new. That Cornton Vale is a toxic hot mess, with high levels of suicide and self-harm is also not new. Due to its high rates of suicide and self-harm, Cornton Vale has been called the “vale of death”. None of this is new or surprising.

In 2018, the European Commission on the Prevention of Torture visited Cornton Vale: “The CPT raises serious concerns about the treatment of women prisoners held in segregation at Cornton Vale Prison …. The CPT found women who clearly were in need of urgent care and treatment in a psychiatric facility, and should not have been in a prison environment, let alone segregated for extended periods in solitary confinement under Rules 95 and 41 (accommodation in specified conditions for health or welfare reasons). Prison staff were not trained to manage the highly disturbed women.” When they returned, in 2019, they found that the situation was somewhat improved, in some senses, but that the use of segregation, and in particular long-term isolation, persisted. None of this is new or surprising.

What is new is that this is not new. On July 10, 2017, Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, wrote, “Tomorrow sees a major milestone in the transformation of our justice system. We will begin the demolition of Cornton Vale women’s prison, a move that marks the next stage in our plans to ensure Scotland’s penal policy doesn’t just punish people who’ve committed crimes – important though that is – but helps deliver safer communities in the long term.” What happened? Why, four years later, is Cornton Vale still standing? What happened to the alternatives — an 80-bed prison, five regional 20-bed facilities, community sentencing and service, and much greater funding for mental health, drug abuse, counseling? What is the investment in Cornton Vale’s catastrophic failure, such that, four years later, the vale of death, the vale of women’s slow and painful death and deaths? Haven’t there been enough inquiries and enough `discoveries’, enough corpses and enough ruined lives?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

In Ireland, the Dóchas Centre is a dumping ground for women living with mental health issues

Dóchas Centre

In Irish, dóchas means hope.  Every year, Chaplains who serve Ireland’s prisons issue a Chaplains Report. Usually, these reports are fairly modest, tame even, describing the situation in the various prisons. These reports seldom make news. This year, however, the Chaplains reported that the situation in Irish prisons has become dire, and the direst prison is the Dóchas Centre, nestled in the larger Mountjoy Prison, in Dublin. According to Ireland’s Department of Justice, the Dóchas Centre is a “closed, medium security prison for females aged 18 years and over. It is the committal prison for females committed on remand or sentenced from all Courts outside the Munster area.” The Chaplain’s report is more succinct: Dóchas has become “a dumping ground” for women living with mental health issues.

According to the Dóchas Centre Chaplain, “Most recently a prisoner was remanded to the Dochas Centre after having spent over a year in a psychiatric facility. The prisoner was clearly unwell and confused to the extent that after a few days in custody the prisoner wanted to know what hospital she was in. From as soon as she arrived in the Dochas Centre the prisoner remained in bed all day. Prison was obviously not the place for that prisoner, yet the prisoner had been charged, arraigned in Court and remanded to prison. After considerable intervention by the Governor and Health Care Staff, the prisoner was removed back to the psychiatric facility that she had come from …. While Staff were dealing with this prisoner two other prisoners on the same landing were even more difficult to deal with: both were self-harming and both were violent. Both of the prisoners had been treated for mental illness before coming to prison. One of the prisoners had been brought to the Dochas Centre infected with Covid 19. The other prisoner was returned to the psychiatric facility where she had been a patient. That prisoner however was returned to the Dochas after she behaved in the same violent way that she had behaved in when she was being held in the Dochas previously. Obviously she had been referred to the psychiatric facility for specialist treatment. How was she expected to receive that treatment when she was returned to the Dochas? This is a clear example of the Dochas being used as a dumping ground.”

While the Chaplain states repeatedly that the staff at the Dóchas Centre are doing the best they can, the best they can was never meant to address the needs of women living with mental health issues: “The Prison Service is too well aware of how prisons are constantly being used as the dumping ground for other agencies’ problems. Offenders whose offence is rooted in mental illness invariably get sent to prison because the State cannot accommodate them elsewhere. This imposes a duty of care on the Governor and his Staff which the normal exercise of their duty was not designed for. Prison Officers are not trained to handle psychiatric cases …. Covid has preoccupied all our thinking for almost a year. Hospitals filled to capacity are part of everyday discussion. At this time of terrible fear and anxiety in the community, no one is going to be surprised to hear that the Central Mental Hospital has no bed space available either. The difference however is that the CMH had no available space before the Covid 19 pandemic. Most prisons have prisoners suffering from mental illness who have been waiting for a bed in the CMH for over a year.” According to the Chaplain’s Report, the situation is “soul destroying. No one seems to care.”

The Chaplain concludes, “Government could find the resources to rescue the collapse of the banking system. Government could find the resources to pay workers to stay at home during the pandemic. Government could find the resources to protect the vulnerable from a life of addiction, homelessness and petty crime. Government instead sends the weakest and most vulnerable in society to prison at the cost of the tax-payer and the fabric of society.”

There are currently 3866 people held in prisons in Ireland. According to the Justice Minister, over 1700 prisoners are awaiting mental health and substance abuse services. Across Ireland, close to half of all those living in prisons are waiting for treatment. In the Dóchas Centre, bedridden women, dumped and abandoned by the State, stare at the prison walls and imagine they’re being helped. In Ireland, today, dóchas means hope. 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Irish Examiner)

Nobody is above (everyone is equal)

Nobody is above (everyone is equal)

Nobody is above the law
everyone is equal before

the much-lampooned man
has done whatever he can

Nobody is above the law
everyone is equal before

there are those ones
who give you the runs
(election-time they comes)

Nobody is above 
everyone is equal

an emperor-ex will serve
that which many more do deserve

Nobody is above the law
everyone is equal before

Miscreants and dictators plunder
tearing their countries asunder
(each according to their ability)

Orwell’s Animal Farm rings true 
but will it do for you 

SAFM radio’s afternoon show ends with a Ray Charles’ rendition of “Let it be”.

(By David Kapp)

(Image Credit: Sandile Goje, Making Democracy Work / Constitutional Court Art Collection)

BTS: Caught between an entertainment rock and a military service hard place

The South Korean boy band, BTS, continues their domination of the music charts. On May 21st, they released a new all-English pop song, “Butter,” which has broken a number of records because of their devoted fan base and the fact that it’s a catchy song. (You, too, should stream “Butter”). While BTS’ musical successes continue to set them apart as leaders in the global music industry, their domination can only continue for so long. Fans know that a concern for many male groups is their time away from music and in South Korea’s mandated conscription. For 18 months, male South Korean citizens are required to enlist in the military by the time they are 28 years old. However, a recent change in the law prompted by the success of BTS, allowed individuals who elevate the country’s global reputation to postpone their mandated time in the military by two years, when they are 30 years old. The reason for this mandate is because the Korean War never ended and at any point, active combat between North Korea and South Korea can start again. As with many wars in Asia, America is involved; therefore, BTS and other male groups straddle an in-between of success determined by America. 

In a previous blog post, I noted the popularity and dominance of BTS in the American music industry that secures them the title of one of the most successful Korean male acts. Their success as global superstars is tied to their global dominance which is primarily denoted by Western accolades: they are Grammy-nominated and have topped the Billboard charts since the release of their new song, “Butter.” Interestingly, it is these accomplishments, determined by American critics, that define BTS as one of the most successful male group acts. On the other hand, the possible end of their career is military service for 18 months that is influenced by American intervention in the Korean War.

A brief overview of the Korean War: after World War II, America’s concern about communism forced them to focus their foreign policy on containing it. Asia and specifically, Korea was the site of this war on communism when the US and “the Soviet Union agreed to temporarily divide Korea and oversee the removal of Japanese forces” (National). The Soviet Union occupied the North and was organized as a communist government by Kim Il Sung; the United States occupied the South and was organized as the Republic of Korea (National). It was primarily these concerns about the growth of communism around this time and in Asia that prompted the US to intervene, and unfortunately, Korea was a puppet of some sorts for the stronger powers of the US and the Soviet Union. The outcome: a military and humanitarian disaster. Many lives were lost on both sides with many civilians caught in the crossfire and the separation of families, consequences that can’t ever really be resolved or healed. 

BTS is similarly caught in a crossfire in both their entertainment and military obligations. While they were a largely successful act before they caught the attention of the US market, it was this very attention that placed them in their own stratosphere as global artists. It capitulated them into a whole new level of fame and thousands of new loyal and dedicated fans. On the other hand, the presumed end of their careers is tied to their military service which the US has played a part in. This is an example of the damaging effects of US imperialism (if it wasn’t clear before) and how the US continues to dictate the people of the countries that it has intervened in. 

Recently, President Biden was abroad building a foreign policy agenda focused on repairing alliances and re-establishing America’s leadership on the global stage. Biden’s approach is focused on ensuring that any foreign policy decisions are made with domestic impacts in mind. While it is important that the President of the United States leads with clear commitment to protecting American citizens abroad, it might be worthwhile to also lead with consciousness of the effects for the very people and countries in which the US believes it necessary to establish its presence.

(By Michelle Nguyen)

(Photo Credit: UNICEF)