Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa.

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.

State of abandonment: In England, women in prison give birth without midwife. Who cares?

On Tuesday, November 13, The Guardian reported “women are giving birth in prison cells without access to proper medical care.” The report was based on extensive research conducted by Dr. Laura Abbott, specialist midwife and senior lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire. On Friday, The Guardian followed up with an anonymous report by a woman who had suffered childbirth in prison. Other news venues have since picked up on the report, as has at least one Member of Parliament. While the reports draw attention to the violence committed directly and regularly on women and children in prison, they miss a salient feature of Dr. Abbott’s research, the failure, or refusal, of the State to acknowledge that there are pregnant women prisoners and women who give birth while in prison. That second issue is integral to the State of Abandonment, a State that “accelerates the death of the unwanted” through a policy of unmapping: “Zones of abandonment … determine the life course of an increasing number of poor people who are not part of mapped populations.”

After interviewing “28 female prisoners in England who were pregnant, or had recently given birth whilst imprisoned, ten members of staff, and ten months of non-participant observation”, Laura Abbott found “institutional thoughtlessness”; “institutional ignominy”; women’s coping strategies; and the ways in which women navigate the system to negotiate entitlements and seek information about their rights”. Pregnant women prisoners are both forgotten and shamed. This is how the State practices intersectionality.

At the center of Abbott’s research is a woman called Layla. When she entered prison, Layla was 24 weeks pregnant with what would be her second child. Typical of most of the women interviewed, “Layla was incarcerated for the first time for her very first offence. Similar to most participants, she was distressed as she entered prison, was unaware of her rights and entitlements and did not know what would happen with regards to her midwifery care: `I didn’t know whether I was going to see a midwife, I didn’t know anything. I was absolutely distraught’. Layla was unaware of the process of applying for a place on an MBU (Mother Baby Unit): `None of the officers spoke to me about it (MBU), I just had to go off and do it all myself’”..

When Layla lost her `mucous plug’, she was sent to the health care nurse: “Health care were like, ‘Oh, you’re fine, you’ve got at least another seven to ten days before anything will happen …  I was trying to explain … to health care, they were just like, ‘No, don’t worry about it,’ and I was like, ‘No, really, I know my own body … They were like, ‘Yeah, yeah, we’ll sort that out when and if you go into labour”.  

At 11 pm that same night, Layla started having contractions. By midnight, the contractions were coming on strong. A nurse came to her cell. Layla said she was in labor; the nurses doubted her and, finally, “`I’m telling you I am in labour,’ ‘No, you’re not. Here’s some paracetamol and a cup of tea”.At 12:30 the nurses left. At 12:40 Layla’s waters broke. Then the nurses decided to send Layla to hospital. Layla had to explain to the nurses that it was too late: “I says, ‘I haven’t got time to get to hospital. I did say to you I was in labour …`I was laid there on my bed, in my cell with a male nurse and a female nurse, not midwifery trained at all, trying to put gas and air in my mouth and I’m like, ‘I don’t want anything, I need to feel awake and I need to concentrate,’ and then out popped (baby)at twenty past one. Still no ambulance, still no paramedics and she came out foot first”.

Layla’s story is typical of the systemic abuse pregnant women prisoners receive in the prisons of England and Wales. But there’s more. In the first paragraph of her report, Dr. Abbott notes, “A review of women’s prisons in 2006 found that most women prisoners were mothers, some were pregnant, and many came from disadvantaged backgrounds. Accurate numbers of pregnant women held in UK prisons are not recorded, though it is estimated that 6% to 7% of the female prison population are at varying stages of pregnancy and around 100 babies are born to incarcerated women each year.” As The Guardian notes, “Neither the Ministry of Justice nor the NHS collects the data.”

While in prison, Layla, and many other pregnant women, were treated abysmally. At the same time, officially, they were never there. England and Wales are famous for nationwide systems of hyper-surveillance and personal data collection. As a so-called “total institution”, prisoners are under intensive surveillance, down to the filaments of their DNA. And yet the State “forgot” to note either pregnant women prisoners or women prisoners in childbirth. Where there is no data, there are no bodies.  What do you call the institutional erasure, through omission and refusal, of an entire and growing population of women? Call it femicide.

 

(Photo Credit: BBC)

Where is the global outrage at Saudi Arabia’s execution of Tuti Tursilawati?

On Monday, October 29, Saudi Arabia executed, more like assassinated, Tuti Tursilawati, a 32—year-old domestic worker, mother of one, from Indonesia. According to Tuti Tursilawati’s testimony, she went to Saudi Arabia to work in a private home. She was sexually abused for months. Finally, in 2010, after nine months of abuse and in self-defense, Tuti Tursilawati killed her abuser when he tried, once more, to rape her. She ran away, was caught and gang raped, and then turned over to police. In 2011, Tuti Tursilawati was found guilty of murder. For seven years, she sat on death row. On October 19, Tuti Tursilawati was allowed to talk to her mother, via video. At that time, she said she was healthy and not worried about her execution. Less than two weeks later, without any notice to the Indonesian government or Tuti Tursilawati’s family or anyone else, Tuti Tursilawati was executed. Who cares?

The Indonesian government has responded with “deep concerns” and outrage. Indonesian activist ngo’s, particularly Migrant Care, have condemned the execution and called on the Indonesian government to take appropriate actions. And that’s pretty much the universe of concern and care for Tuti Tursilawati. Why is that? Where is the global outrage? Tuti Tursilawati’s story is a common story, for Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and the world. According to Migrant’s Care co-founder Anis Hidayah, 1.5 million Indonesians work in Saudi Arabia. Tuti Tursilawati’s story is typical: sexual abuse, long hours, inadequate and improper housing, physical and psychological torment, and the list goes on. Tuti Tursilawati’s story is also typical of the world at large as well. According to the International Labor Organization’s most recent account, in 2015, there were 11.5 million migrant domestic workers globally. Of 67.1 million domestic workers, globally, 17.2 per cent were migrant domestic workers. It gets worse: “Domestic work is a much higher source of employment for migrants than it is for non-migrant workers. When analyzed as a share of migrant workers, migrant domestic workers (MDWs) represent 7.7 per cent of a global estimate of 150.3 million migrant workers. Disaggregated by sex, this share is even higher, representing 12.7 per cent, or 8.45 million, of the 66.6 million female migrant workers worldwide.” Who cares? Why is the employer’s torture and the State’s murder of Tuti Tursilawati only of concern to Indonesians? Where is the global outrage?

On Wednesday, October 31, Mona Eltahawy wrote, “Who speaks out for a poor woman far away from home in one of the most patriarchal countries in the world who defends herself against a sexually abusive employer, is sentenced to death, spends 7 yrs on death row and is then beheaded? Where is the global outrage for Tuti Tursilawati?”

Where was the outrage when 25-year-old Tuti Tursilawati was unfairly sentenced to death for having protected herself? Where was the outrage as Tuti Tursilawati sat for seven years on death row? Where is the global outrage now? Nowhere to be seen. While there is much to be said of the Kafala system and the brutal conditions of labor in Saudi Arabia, and across the Middle East, for migrant domestic workers, we must also address our own brutal complicity through silence. Tuti Tursilawati’s execution, and the Indonesian outraged response, was reported, however briefly, in the major news outlets, often on the front page. Who cared? No one. Where is the global outrage? As of yet, nowhere to be seen. Why does the world not care about the young women of color who travel long distance and leave families and communities behind, precisely to keep the world, our world, functioning? Who cares about Tuti Tursilawati? Where is the global outrage? Tuti Tursilawati haunts the world. Who cares?

Tuti Tursilawati

 

(Photo Credit 1: Kompas) (Photo Credit 2: Jakarta Post)

In South Africa, Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and 37 comrades said NO! to mining hegemony … and won!

Women of the Lesetlheng village community celebrate the Constitutional Court decision

A specter haunts the Republic of South Africa, the specter of rural people’s power joined with the spirit of Frantz Fanon. Thursday, the South African Constitutional Court issued a ruling in the case of Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and 37 others vs. Itereleng Bakgatla Mineral Resources (Pty) Limited (IBMR) and Pilanesberg Platinum Mines (Pty) Limited (PPM). The decision, written by Justice AJ Petse, opens: “The statement by Frantz Fanon in his book titled `The Wretched of the Earth’ is, in the context of this case, apt. It neatly sums up what lies at the core of this application. He said that `[f]or a colonised people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity’. Thus, strip someone of their source of livelihood, and you strip them of their dignity too.” The Justice had me at “Hello”.

The story officially begins in 1916, when 13 families of the Lesetlheng Community, in what is today North-West, decided to purchase some land. They saved money, and, in 1919, the Community bought that land. In 1919, Black Africans couldn’t officially own land, and so the land was registered to the Native Commissioner, who ostensibly held the property in trust for the Chief of the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela, the traditional authority under whom the Lesetlheng Community fell. According to Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and the 37 other descendants of the original purchasing families, it was understood that only the 13 families could farm on the land. The land was divided into 13 sections, which the families controlled individually. Over the years, the families built various structures, for themselves, workers, livestock and equipment. And that’s how things stayed until 2004.

In 2004, Itereleng Bakgatla Mineral Resources, IBMR, gained the right to prospect the Lesetlheng Community’s land. In 2008, IBMR won a mining right over that land. According to Justice Petse, “On 19 May 2008, IBMR was awarded a mining right over the farm by the Department. On 20 June 2008, an environmental management programme required in terms of section 39 of the MPRDA was approved. On 28 June 2008, IBMR concluded a surface lease agreement with the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Tribal Authority and the Minister in respect of the farm. In 2014, preparations for full-scale mining operations on the farm commenced … In 2015, and in order to relieve themselves of the intolerable situation that had arisen as a consequence of the respondents’ mining operations, the applicants obtained a spoliation order against the respondents.”

The Lesetlheng Community won that case. IBMR immediately applied for, and won, an eviction order. That order was approved by various courts, and so, until Thursday’s Constitutional Court decision, it looked like Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and the 37 others had won a battle and lost the war … and everything they owned and cherished. That the lower courts based their decisions on the Lesetlheng Community not being actual owners of the land was devastating, as was the collusion of the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Traditional Authority with the mining companies.

With a unanimous decision, the Constitutional Court turned that around. They based much of their decision on Section 25(6) of the Constitution: “A person or community whose tenure of land is legally insecure as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled, to the extent provided by an Act of Parliament, either to tenure which is legally secure or to comparable redress.” In this case, that meant that Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and her 37 comrades were indeed owners of the land, that the mining corporations had not sufficiently consulted with them, and that, if mining were to occur, the process would have to start all over.

More broadly, the decision stated that “informal land holders” have rights equal to those of formal landholders. The court decided that history matters. Courts and judges matter as well. Language matters, too. By invoking Fanon’s analysis, Justice Petse identified the history of land ownership in South Africa as colonial and stated that the nation has not yet entered into the dawn of the post-colonial, rainbows notwithstanding. Justice Petse made it clear that that dawn is coming.

In 1919, thirteen families bought a farm named Wilgespruit, locally known as Modimo Mmalo. Next year, 2019, will mark the centennial of that purchase. Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and 37 other descendants of the thirteen families will celebrate in their own fashion. We should all celebrate, and honor, Grace Masele Mpane Maledu for their perseverance in the pursuit of “bread and, above all, dignity”.

 

(Photo Credit: New Frame)

 

 

England’s seclusion rooms form a landscape of atrocity and shame

In 2017, New Zealand banned schoolhouse seclusion rooms. On Friday, a report came out indicating that across England primary and secondary schools are routinely using “seclusion rooms”. The report suggested that both the scale and frequency of use is much higher than expected: “Many schools use them as part of an escalating set of disciplinary measures. Our research found over two-thirds of the country’s largest academy trusts have schools that use some form of isolation, although with varying labels from `inclusion units’ and `consequence booths’ to `time-out spaces’ and `calm rooms’.” The isolation cells are used from the first year. Primary school students can stay in for a day at a time; secondary school students can stay in for five consecutive days. The torture of solitary confinement clothed in the language of inclusion, consequence, time-out and calm is the lesson children across England – and Canada and the United States and beyond – are learning in an age of expanding and intensifying zero tolerance. While A Critique of Pure Tolerance once inspired a generation of activists to action, today we need A Critique of Zero Tolerance. We need it, and, even more, our children and grandchildren need it … now.

In August, a report noted that exclusion, or out-of-school suspension, was rampant in secondary schools across England. 45 schools suspended at least 20% of their students, with some schools topping 40%. In September, a follow up report noted the rampant use of isolation booths, variously referred to as “consequences rooms” or “internal exclusion.” The line from “internal exclusion” to alienation to abnegation to death-in-life to lifelong trauma is direct.

August, September, October, another month, another discovery … of a phenomenon taking place all over the country. Founded in 2013, the TBAP Multi-Academy Trust “supports learners who are experiencing difficulty with or have been excluded from mainstream education.” The people at TBAP Multi-Academy Trust know that seclusion rooms don’t work and, equally important, are bad for all children and all learners. Last year, TBAP Multi-Academy Trust Chairman of the Board Paul Dix wrote, “A room with isolation booths is the bleakest sign of an institution giving up. It shouts ‘we don’t know what to do’ at children who often don’t know what they’ve done wrong. Look around inside any isolation room where children are separated for long periods of time from the rest of the school, and I would lay good money that more than 80% of the children in there have additional needs. Some will have a diagnosed special educational need or disability, others will be struggling with hidden that are all too obvious to those who work with them every day: trauma, anxiety, attachment, grief, or plain old-fashioned neglect. The sins of the adult world are soaked up by a minority of children. Then we stick them in a booth and call it education. The booths are a shame on all of us, not the children who are forced to sit in them.”

How many more times must we “discover” that throwing children into seclusion rooms, no matter what they’re called, is wrong? Why do we need to discuss whether the rooms “work” or are too “costly”? What about the cost to children’s lives? What about the cost, as well, to the very concept of education? What does a child learn when exclusion is called inclusion, terror is called calm, and a war on childrenis called education? We should all be ashamed. Are we?

 

(Photo Credit: Cambridgeshire Live)

States of Abandonment: South African prisons are toxic and lethal

On Thursday, the South African Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services, JICS, issued its 2017-2018 annual report on the state, and statelessness, of prisons in South Africa. The findings are both dismal and altogether anticipated. The prisons are in disarray. Due to restricted funding, JICS inspectors only visited 81 facilities. South Africa has 243 “correctional service centers.” Overcrowding is way up, suicide is way up, remand prisoners still make up way too much of the population. Infrastructure is a disgrace. Assault and torture are everywhere. Rehabilitation is virtually nonexistent. According to JICS inspecting judge Johann Vincent van der Westhuizen, “Overcrowding is at the core of everything else that exists (within prisons) … The situation of mentally ill inmates has become urgent.” In one year, the number of prison suicides rose from 52 to 82. In the past year, suicide was the highest cause of unnatural deaths in prison. What is going on?

On one hand, mental health institutions are overcrowded, and so patients are being transferred to prisons. The State has decided to correct of the mistakes it made in Life Esidimeni by dumping those living with mental illness into already overcrowded and under resourced spaces which have the benefit of invisibility. Out of sight, out of mind, out of luck, and, soon, out of breath. This is the State of Abandonment: “Zones of abandonment … accelerate the death of the unwanted. In this bureaucratically and relationally sanctioned register of social death, the human, the mental and the chemical are complicit: their entanglement expresses a common sense that authorized the lives of some while disallowing the lives of others.”

164,129 people are being held in South African prisons. 44,158 are awaiting trial. 27% of those persons in these hellholes are officially still innocent. Further, according to the JICS report, 1200 prisoners diagnosed with mental illness were kept with the general population. Many of those 1200 are awaiting transfer to “an accredited institution.” The public policy right now is to move people living with mental illnesses who are in overcrowded state hospitals to overcrowded prisons … and then “discover” and wonder that suicide is on the rise.

Prisons are not mental health institutions. The staff is not trained, the very architecture is inappropriate. The staff is also not trained to diagnose for mental health issues. Solitary confinement, or segregation, is traumatic. Extended solitary confinement is traumatizing. Intense overcrowding produces trauma. There are individuals who enter the prison with mental illnesses, and there are those who suffer mental illness because of the conditions in prison. 1200 is a low estimate.

Who sees prison as an “interim” solution for people living with mental illness? What is the name of that policy? Call it necropolitical abandonment, a policy of who might barely live and who definitely will die, slowly and in agony. “The report found that most facilities were in a `state of decay’.”

 

(Image Credit: Judicial Inspectorate for Prison Services / Times South Africa)

No hate no fear, immigrants and citizens, guests and strangers, are welcome here!

Mathabo Mofokeng

Mathabo Mofokeng is 86 years old. She is a citizen of the Republic of South Africa. She was born in Matatiele, at the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains, in the Eastern Cape. She is a citizen of South Africa; Mathabo Mofokeng is South African. Mathabo Mofokeng currently lives in Nhlazatshe, a village in KwaZulu-Natal. Mathabo Mofokeng has lived in KwaZulu-Natal since she was 18 years old. Three months ago, Mathabo Mofokeng lost her ID card and her South African Social Security Agency, SASSA, card. Without those, she couldn’t access her pension. Penniless, she relied on food donations from women in her church. Her electricity was cut off. So, Mathabo Mofokeng did what she was supposed to do. She travelled to the nearest Home Affairs office, in Pietermaritzburg, to have her ID and SASSA cards replaced. An official told her “to go back to Lesotho”. Mathabo Mofokeng says, “I’m scared to go back to Home Affairs offices. An official told me she can’t issue me a new ID; I should go back to Lesotho. There was a time I went three days without food.” Mathabo Mofokeng is an 86-year-old, destitute South African woman who is now terrified and terrorized as well. And she is not alone.

On the one hand, xenophobia is not new to South Africa. Since 1994, the national government has periodically worked to “secure the borders”. With national elections coming up, political parties across the spectrum are ramping up the rhetorics of xenophobia. One hears repeatedly that Home Affairs is in disarray, but the situation goes much further than accidental shambles. For twenty years, Home Affairs so-called Refugee Reception Offices have been a publically acknowledged atrocity. Three years ago, the Supreme Court of Appeals told the Home Office to clean up its act. For three years, the Home Office has refused.

Of course, South Africa is not alone in its xenophobia. In India, Assam has effectively told 4 million citizens that they’re not citizens. The majority of the 4 million are, predictably, women. They’re not Indian enough. In Italy, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini is trying to find ways to strip Roma citizens of Italy of their citizenship. They’re just not Italian enough. In Australia, Huyen Tran, a Vietnamese asylum seeker, faces imminent deportation. She has been in Australia since 2011. She has a six-month-old daughter, Isabella, born in Australia. Isabella can stay, but her mother is just not Australian enough. In the United States, hundreds of migrant children, forcibly separated from their parents, have been moved “under cover of darkness” to a tent city in the Texas desert, where they have been left to rot. This comes just weeks after the United States government threatened to remove citizenship from more than a thousand Latinx U.S. citizens, all delivered by midwives in the borderlands.

This is the world in which a State official told Mathabo Mofokeng, a South African native born citizen, to go back to Lesotho. Despite its Latinate appearance, xenophobia is a fairly recently coined word, a word that emerges in the late 19thcentury with the emergence of strong nation-States engaged in global imperial adventures. And what is xenophobia? A deep antipathy, call it hatred, to guests, strangers, and foreigners. Xenophobia doesn’t `merely’ target those born in other lands. Xenophobia targets the citizenship, humanity, personhood, and dignity of anyone deemed foreign, anyone thought to be a stranger, and, most significantly, anyone who is a guest. After reporters began investigating, Home Affairs issued Mathabo Mofokeng a temporary ID. In this brave new world, all it takes to secure your citizenship is a team of investigative reporters. Everyone, say it together: No hate no fear, immigrants and citizens, guests and strangers, are welcome here!

 

(Photo Credit: GroundUp / Nompendulo Ngubane)

Seclusion rooms: Alberta, Canada’s war on children living with disabilities

A seclusion room in an Alberta school

“This was inhumane. This was treating him like an animal,” said Marcy Oakes. “This” was, and is, an exclusion room, in this instance one in the Clover Bar Junior High School, part of the Elk Island Public Schools, in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. According to Marcy Oakes and Warren Henschel, in 2015, their then-13-year-old son, Aidan, was dumped in a seclusion room. At some point later, someone looked in, and saw Aidan naked and covered in feces. The school took a photo, sent it to the parents, and told them to come fetch their son. Henschel remembers: “I could hear my son quietly whimpering. When I looked inside the room, it’s hard to describe my feelings.” Aidan is non-verbal and lives with autism and developmental disabilities. Mary Oakes explains, “My son does not take his clothes off willingly in a room unless he has been taught that. In the back of my mind, I will never know – because he can’t speak – how much they put him in that room.” Marcy Oakes and Warren Henschel are suing the Alberta government, the Elk Island Public School Board, the school’s principal, and the teacher. The School Board says it will “strongly defend the actions of our staff”. Who on the School Board strongly defends the lives of its students?

As a result of Aidan’s story, and others similar and worse, Inclusion Alberta launched an online survey to find out what exactly is going on in Alberta’s school systems. There’s no hard data on children being placed in seclusion rooms. The schools don’t keep records; the schools aren’t mandated to keep records. Additionally, there’s no set policy, other than vague “as a last resort” language, concerning the use of seclusion rooms. Just last week, Alberta Education Minister David Eggen announced that he expects the province to issue guidelines concerning the use of seclusion rooms within “a matter of weeks.” As of now, there’s only verbal night and fog. It’s not even clear if the Alberta government knows how many seclusion rooms there are, and what makes a seclusion room a seclusion room.

According to Bruce Uditsky, CEO Emeritus of Inclusion Alberta, speaking of the treatment Aidan suffered, “It’s not just about the use of seclusion in this instance; it’s about the abandonment and neglect and abuse that any of us would typically understand in any other circumstances, and how come it’s acceptable and tolerated in a school where we expect children to be safe and we’re to trust educators.”

Story after story, expert after expert, year in and year out, argue that seclusion rooms only serve to traumatize children and that there are better, evidence-proven ways of addressing `difficult behaviors.’  This year began with New Zealand outlawing the use of seclusion rooms in schools. In May 2018, Inclusion BC reported extensive and systemic use of seclusion rooms across British Columbia. This year’s report was a follow-up to a report in 2013, that led to voluntary guidelines finally being passed in 2015. According to Inclusion BC, only in three British Columbian school boards has adopted any policy concerning constraint and seclusion. And now it’s September, and Alberta “discovers” its lack of guidelines, which is it say, its policy of refusal.

Recently, a team of Canadian researchers studied “children’s moral experiences of crisis management in a child mental health setting.” The researchers asked children 12 and under living with severe disruptive disorders what they thought of the use of restraints and seclusion: “Children considered restraints and seclusion could help them feel safe in certain instances, for example if another child was being aggressive towards them or in exceptional cases to prevent self-injury. However, their own experiences of being restrained were predominantly negative, especially if not knowing the reason for their use, which they then found unfair. Some of the children emphasized the punitive nature of the use of restraints and seclusion, and most children disagreed with these practices when used as a punishment. Children’s perspectives also highlighted the limits of the use of a uniform de-escalation approach by the staff to manage crises. Children considered discussing with the staff and developing a relationship with them as more helpful in case of a crisis then the use of a de-escalation approach or coercive strategies.”

Seclusion rooms become part of the regular “arsenal” of education in response to budgets and resources. Staff are insufficiently trained to work with diverse populations, as the populations become increasingly diverse. Solitary confinement cells are built and children are thrown in. What do children learn in that process? Who cares? Who asks the children what they think? “This was inhumane. This was treating him like an animal.”

 

(Photo Credit: Sherwood Park News / Inclusion Alberta)

In Assam, India, Safiya Khatun spent two years in detention for the crime of being … a citizen?

In July, the Indian state of Assam dropped four million people from its registers, identifying them as “foreigners.” Women comprise the overwhelming majority of the four million. Call it witch hunt? Call it femicide? Yes to both. Call it as well part of an ongoing nationalist campaign against the “foreigners in our midst”, a campaign that targets poor women. One such woman, Safiya Khatun, spent the last two years in the “Kokrajhar detention camp”, a jail designed to hold women “foreigners” in the Kokrajhar district of Assam. Assam boasts six detention camps. The detention camps were established in 2010, “to shelter women declared foreigners.” If this is shelter, give us the storm, please.

What is Safiya Khatun’s crime? A “mismatch” appeared with her father’s name on different voters’ lists. That misspelling brought Safiya Khatun before a “Foreigner’s Tribunal”, or FT, where she was found to be foreign. Assam has 100 FTs, and, by all appearances, they are models of poor process. Safiya Khatun’s FT hearing occurred in October 2016. She’s been “sheltered” by the State since.

Safiya Khatun is a poor, 50-year-old woman from an area declared, by the Indian government, one of the “most backward districts” in the country. Safiya Khatun’s father is a citizen; Safiya Khatun’s mother is a citizen; Safiya Khatun’s five brothers are citizens; Safiya Khatun’s husband is a citizen. Nevertheless, the FT found Safiya Khatun to be an immigrant foreigner. So did the Guwahati High Court. The Court argued that there were omissions in Safiya Khatun’s application, and so she is a foreigner. Finally, on September 12, the Supreme Court of India demanded that Safiya Khatun be released on bail. The Supreme Court decided that the State had not conducted a full inquiry and so had imprisoned wrongfully. Safiya Khatun’s attorney said, “You claim to trace and oust every ‘infiltrator’, but we will ensure that every Indian citizen gets the right guaranteed by the Constitution.”

The real crime is revealed in the language, where prison becomes camp becomes shelter; where foreigner becomes infiltrator; where omission and misspelling become crimes. Safiya Khatun spent two years in the Kokrajhar detention camp, the same prison where, in August, more than 150 women prisoners went on indefinite hunger strike to protest the inhumane conditions. Kokrajhar detention camp houses elder women, many of whom have stories identical with that of Safiya Khatun, and young pregnant women. In most cases, the women’s extended families are all Indian citizens, but the women somehow are dangerously foreign non-citizens, and so packed off to prison … for shelter.

What is going on in Assam is a campaign, a war, against women, and Assam is a testing ground, and not only for India. Around the world, in so-called liberal democracies, citizenship is under assault, and the first line of that assault is women. Women are identified as dangerously foreign non-citizens, despite layers of evidence testifying to their citizenship. Citizenship is the criterion for the new global witch hunt, from the United States to the United Kingdom to Australia and beyond. Meanwhile, two months ago, 19-year-old Somiron Nessa, of Goroimari, in Assam, was informed, out of the blue, that she is a “foreigner”. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit: DailyO)

HM Prison Eastwood Park leading the nation in women prisoners’ self-harm barely receives attention?


In July, the Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales released their annual report, and it was predictably grim, especially for women prisoners. Much of the news media in England, especially the local media, focused on the numbers concerning HMP Leeds, where each day sees around two women prisoners engaging in self-harm. In 2017, there were 712 `incidents’ of self-harm in Leeds, a 30% increase over the previous year, which saw 548 self-harm events. At Leeds women’s prison, 65 out of every 100 women is engaging in self-harm. Leeds is a bad place … but not the worst. Way down in any article on “the prison where self-harm incidents happen almost twice daily” would be a version of this nugget: “HMP Leeds was not the worst for self-harming however; Eastwood Park women’s prison in South Gloucestershire has the worst self-harm problem in the prison system. There were only 394 women on average at the prison in 2017/18 but there were 1,770 cases recorded in 2017.” Eastwood Park leads the nation in women prisoners’ self-harm, and somehow that’s not particularly important? Why?

In recent years, Eastwood Park has hosted a number of women prisoner deaths that have garnered some attention. In 2013, Natasha Evans collapsed in her cell. At the inquest, two years later, expert testimony suggested that Natasha Evans died because of lack, or systematic refusal, of appropriate care. Since 2013, six more women prisoners have suffered non-self-inflicted deaths at Eastwood Park. Most recently, in June 2016, Michalla Sweeting choked to death on her own vomit. Michalla Sweeting arrived in Eastwood Park after three days in police custody. She was put on a methadone detox program. She started vomiting, staff noted that and did nothing, she died. This May, two years later, the inquest jury found that Michalla Sweeting died of gross negligence committed by prison and healthcare staff.

That’s the same prison and healthcare staff that supposedly is addressing the “complex needs” of Eastwood Park prison population. In 2016, seven women died inside Eastwood Park. Three of those were “self-inflicted deaths.” In 2017, no one died in Eastwood Park … but the self-harm continues.

There are no women’s prisons in Wales, and so Welch women are sent to primarily to Eastwood Park and to HMP Styal, another hellhole. Eastwood Park holds a little over 400 prisoners, of whom 40% are from Wales, which means their families and home communities are far away. Eastwood Park is supposed to have a mother-and-baby unit. In November 2016, it was reported as temporarily closed. Today, two years later, it’s still closed. Eastwood Park is hard on everyone, and particularly on Welch women and on mothers.

The rate of self-harm in Eastwood Park is 449 incidents per 100 prisoners. In 2017, there were 1,770 incidents. While that’s down from the record high of 2016, it’s the second highest number of incidents of self-harm since 2010. “On average, there were four incidents of self-harm a day at HMP Eastwood Park in 2017.”

On January 2017, the Chief Inspector of Prisons reported on Eastwood Park: “The population remained vulnerable; many women were a long way from home, which was a problem for the large number who had dependent children. Nearly half of the women had a disability, and over three quarters reported mental health or emotional well-being issues. Eighty-four per cent of women said they had various problems on arrival at the prison, and over half said this included issues with drugs, while over a third reported having alcohol problems. Levels of self-harm had increased and were overall relatively high.”

Against this backdrop, the Inspector concluded, “We still considered Eastwood Park to be a well-led, generally safe and decent prison, but it was showing signs of being under strain. Staffing levels had not kept pace with the rise in population, nor with its increasing complexity.”

Nineteen months later, the rate of self-harm is four per day, and 449 incidents per 100 women. That’s safety and decency in a State committed to locking women up. It’s not the prison that’s under strain; it’s women, and the strain is public policy. In July, the Inspector noted, “The number of women prisoners is growing for the first time since 2012, putting a strain on the system and emphasising the need for a strategy for women’s prisons …  The high rate of self-harm among women prisoners is indicative of the very complex needs of many women.”

The Inspector noted that the two women’s prisons inspected “were not doing enough to address the very complex needs of women prisoners.” Not doing enough. Very complex needs. This is the language of neoliberal State alibi that suggests, implicitly, that the reason women prisoners have rising, and astronomical, rates and incidences of self-harm is the set of “very complex needs.” This is nonsense. The State refuses to address women’s needs and, even more, women’s lives, and that is reason for the rates and numbers of women prisoners’ self-harm. Period. At HMP Eastwood Park, women self-harm four times a day, every day, and absolutely no one cares. If we did, we’d stop it.

 

(Photo Credit: Gloucestershire Live)

In Mississippi, 15 prison deaths a month is “normal”

Nicole Rathmann

On August 23, 2018, 23-year-old Nicole Rathmann died. Nichole Rathmann had served six years in Mississippi prison on a drug conviction. She was supposed to be released last week, and in a sense, a horrible sense, she was. Prison officials say Nichole Rathmann died of an aneurysm, but a doctor at the hospital where Nicole Rathmann died says the aneurysm resulted from regular ingestion of meth while a “guest” of the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl. Nicole Rathmann’s father says, “I know my daughter was no angel, but she was the responsibility of the state. She was an addict. They didn’t help her.” Unfortunately, Nicole Rathmann received precisely the kind of “help” prisons routinely offer prisoners needing help, and in particular women prisoners. What happened to Nicole Rathmann? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, the prison itself concurs with this conclusion.

In August 2018, 15 prisoners died in Mississippi prisons. They ranged in age from 24 to 75. According to the Mississippi Department of Corrections, “most of the reported deaths during the month of August are from illnesses or natural causes, such as cancer and heart disease, based on available information.” Nevertheless, the Department is asking the FBI to investigate the causes … of these “natural causes.”

When asked if there was any cause for concern at this seeming spike in deaths, Mississippi responded that 15 is not a spike. Earlier in the week, when the number was reported at 12, Mississippi’s prison commissioner responded that 12 “is not out of line with the number of deaths in previous months.” While orange may be the new black, in Mississippi’s prisons, mourning black is the new normal.

When asked for supportive data, none was provided. What we do know is that Mississippi has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the country, and this despite periodic attempts to reduce the prison population. We know that, for the past twenty years, in any given year, the rate of mortality in Mississippi prisons is among the highest. We know that, although the number of women incarcerated has been reduced, the conditions in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, Mississippi’s only women’s prison, remain toxic. We know Nicole Rathmann is dead, and that’s how the State took responsibility for her.

Families grieve their loved ones; families, friends, supporters, prison reform and abolition advocates, and strangers make demands. Prison continues to be a factory where death does have dominion, even over data. The State measures its responsibility to prisoners in the number of caskets it rolls out. What happened to Nicole Rathmann? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.

 

(Photo Credit: NBC News / Rathmann family)