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.

Who will honor 5-year-old Lumka Mketwa, another State execution by pit latrine?

Lumka Mketwa

“Who will honor the city without a name
If so many are dead … “ Czeslaw Milosz, “City Without a Name

“Childhood? Which childhood?
The one that didn’t last?”  Li-Young Lee, “A Hymn to Childhood

On Monday, March 12, 2018, five-year-old Lumka Mketwa went to the toilet at her school, Luna Primary School, in Bizana‚ in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. She never returned. She wasn’t found until the next day. When authorities “reported” her death, they said her name was Viwe Jali. Lumka Mketwa went to the bathroom and drowned in a pool of human shit. No one even noticed until she didn’t show up for her after school transport. Then her parents and the community searched frantically. They found her the next day. The State never came. The parents did, and when they finally found her, the State refused her the dignity of her own name. They might as well have named her Michael Komape, the five-year-old child who, in 2014, drowned to death in a pit latrine at the Mahlodumela Primary School, in Limpopo, South Africa. In the Eastern Cape, as in Limpopo, the State never came. The State refused to acknowledge and refused to act. As with Michael Komape, Lumka Mketwa did not fall to her death in a pit latrine. She was pushed, by a State that decided it had more important issues to deal with. In 2014, five-year-old Michael Komape did not fall to his death. He was murdered. In 2018, five-year-old Lumka Mketwa did not fall to her death. She was murdered.

And then the speeches began. The South African Human Rights Commission pronounced, “Only three years after the tragic and preventable death of 5-year-old Michael Komape‚ the failure of the State to prevent a reoccurrence and to eradicate the prevalence of pit latrines in schools is unacceptable.” Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga expressed “shock”, “The death of a child in such an undignified manner is completely unacceptable and incredibly disturbing.” The provincial education spokesperson first noted that the Executive Council had donated to the child’s funeral and then went on to say that what was truly “shocking” was that Luna Primary is “a state-of-the-art school, with good toilets” and yet, somehow, pit latrine toilets. Everyone is “shocked.”

According to the most recent National Education Infrastructure Management System report, published in January 2018, 37 Eastern Cape schools have no toilets whatsoever. None. 1,945 Eastern Cape schools have plain pit latrines, and 2,585 have so-called ventilated pit latrines. The Eastern Cape has 5393 schools.

Of the nine provinces, only the Eastern Cape has schools with no toilets whatsoever. But, of the 23,471 schools under the aegis of the national Department of Basic Education, 4358 have only pit latrines. KwaZulu-Natal’s 5840 schools boast 1337 schools with only pit latrines, while of Limpopo’s 3834 schools, 916 have only pit latrines. Of the 4056 schools in Gauteng, the Northern Cape and the Western Cape, none has only a pit latrine. None. Zero. This is the state of the art.

Lumka Mketwa’s family has serious questions. We all should have serious questions, rather than hollow condolences. Let’s start with the children who have not yet fallen to their deaths into schoolhouse pit latrines. At the very least, where is the map of these latrines? Where is the actual action plan to remove all of those death traps? Where is the Day Zero for school house pit latrines? Why is this not a national emergency? How many more children have to die and how many more families have to be haunted? Michael Komape’s family is haunted, to this day. Lumka Mketwa’s family is haunted. The State is not haunted. If it were, it would act.

Her name is Lumka Mketwa and she is five years old.” She now resides in that city without a name where so many children are dead. Which children? Which childhoods? Who will honor Michael Komape? Who will honor Lumka Mketwa?


(Photo Credit: Times Live)

Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín leaves El Salvador’s hell for women, Ilopango Women’s Prison

Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín and her father embrace

Around the world this week, the news reported that Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín was finally free … or at least out of prison. Headlines read “Salvadoran woman jailed for stillbirth set free after 14 years”; “El Salvador woman freed after 15 years in jail for abortion”; “Salvadoran Woman, One of ‘Las 17,’ Freed After Spending 15 Years Behind Bars Following a Miscarriage”. Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín is 34 years old. In 2003, Marroquín became pregnant and suffered a late-term miscarriage. She was arrested and convicted of aggravated homicide and sent to Ilopango Women’s Prison. Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín has spent more than half her life in Ilopango. This week, her sentence was commuted, though not overturned, and she walked out and greeted her family, friends and supporters. Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín was greeted by Teodora Vasquez. In February, Teodora Vasquez was released, after ten years in Ilopango Women’s Prison. Teodora Vasquez is 35 years old. In El Salvador, the intersection of women’s rights, women’s autonomy, and the State is marked by el Centro de Readaptación para Mujeres de Ilopango, the Ilopango Center for Women’s Readaptation. Call it the Ilopango Women’s Prison, El Salvador’s special hell for women.

Starting in 1998, El Salvador banned all abortions. Previously, abortion had been illegal but generally not prosecuted.  El Salvador is one of six countries to ban all abortions. El Salvador opened hunting season on pregnant women; any woman who suffered a miscarriage was suspected of both having had an abortion and of having committed murder. Between 2000 and 2014, over 250 women were reported to the police. 147 women were prosecuted.  49 women were convicted – 26 for murder and 23 for abortion. Salvadoran women’s groups, such as the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic and Ethical Abortion and Abortion for Reasons of Fetal Anomaly and the Feminist Collective, have waged a mighty campaign, and the release of Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín and Teodora Vasquez owes much to their persistent organizing.

Meanwhile, the absolute and total ban of abortions is predictably only partial: “The majority of the cases were referred to the police from hospitals—specifically, from public hospitals. Indeed, not a single hospital report to police came from the country’s private practice doctors or private hospitals.” The “totality” of the ban applies only to those women dependent on the public health system.

This is Ilopango Women’s Prison three years ago: “Ilopango is squalid and cramped: Overcrowding stands at nearly 1,000 percent, according to some estimates. Women sleep some 40 to a cell; one prison guard told me that over 100 children under five live there with their mothers.” In 2015, Ilopango held 2000 women; it was designed for 225 women, maximum. Women slept five to a bed, or on the floor. Water was scarce, and medical care even scarcer. Prisoners relied on their mostly impoverished families for pretty much everything. Since then, the situation has only worsened. Everyone “operates between resignation and despair.”

This week, Teodora Vasquez and Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín embraced and celebrated freedom. They also decried the 24 women convicted of homicide abortion who remain in Ilopango and promised to “continue supporting those women trapped inside who are paying for a crime we never committed.” For the women who suffered miscarriages, the viciousness of the State is a crime. For the women, all the women, who ended up in Ilopango, the sentence of death-in-life is the crime, not abortion, not miscarriage, not this or that act, not being a woman. Ilopango is the crime.

Ilopango Women’s Prison


(Photo Credit 1: Univision / Reuters / Jose Cabezas) (Photo Credit 2: New York Times / Meridith Kohut)

Women are Tunisia’s revolutionary guards: “Equality is a right, not a favor!”

Last week, women filled the streets to demand equal rights, women’s rights, civil rights, employment rights, social rights, human rights, and power. Indigenous women in Ecuador linked arms across the Atlantic with women in Turkey who, in turn, linked arms with women in South Sudan who linked arms with women in the Philippines who linked arms with women in Australia, and all points between and beyond. In Pakistan, women organized the Aurat March, or Women’s March, “a revolutionary feat for Pakistan”. Initially planned as a single march, by March 8, women across Pakistan were on the streets, marching, resisting misogyny and patriarchy. Women in Spain called for a 24-hour feminist strike, una huelga feminista, and the State shut down. More than five million joined the feminist strike. In Spain alone, women marched and refused to work and stopped work in over 120 cities. The Spanish feminist strike was a historic first for Spain … and beyond. On Saturday, March 11, in Tunisia, women marched in another historic first, a march for women’s equality in inheritance rights, a first-ever demand not only for Tunisia but for the Arab world. In Tunisia, equality is a right, not a favor.

On Saturday, in Tunis, women chanted, “Moitié, moitié ; c’est la pleine citoyenneté!”; “Pour garantir nos droits, il faut changer la loi!”; “L’égalité est un droit, pas une faveur!”. “50-50 equals full citizenship!” “ To guarantee our rights, we have to change the law!” “Equality is a right, not a favor!” As with the feminist strike in Spain, in Tunisia, women explicitly framed their action as a feminist intervention into patriarchy. As with the marches and actions everywhere, in Tunisia, the women understood their march to be local, national, regional and global. The immediate issue was inequality in inheritance, where men inherit twice as much as women. The women insisted that their action occur in a historical context, a historical context that encompasses the future as much as the past.

In January 2018, Tunisian women mobilized, protested and ignited the anti-austerity protests, under the banner, “What are we waiting for?” “Qu’attendons-nous?” “فاش نستناو ؟” In March, women are again filling the streets; rocking the nation; demanding autonomy, equality, power; seizing the moment. Today, as ever, women are Tunisia’s revolutionary guards.


(Photo Credit 1: Hassene Dridi / AP / SIPA / Jeune Afrique) (Photo Credit 2: Reuters / Zoubeir Suissi)

Why does the English government hate Opelo Kgari and Florence Kgari?

Opelo Kgari

The hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood is now in its second week. In the past week, the Home Office first tried to claim there was no hunger strike, then tried to claim that if there was a hunger strike there was no reason for it, and finally lit upon the great idea of claiming the hunger strike was for dietary and religious reasons. None of these patent lies worked, the hunger strike continues, and the support for it deepens and grows. Meanwhile, on Saturday, Opelo Kgari, one of the spokespersons for the hunger strikers, and her mother, Florence Kgari, were, without notice, dumped into a van, hauled to Heathrow, and told that they were to be dumped onto an 8:15 pm Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa. Opelo Kgari and Florence Kgari are originally from Botswana. Thanks to last minute interventions, the two were `spared’ that ordeal … and returned to Yarl’s Wood. Why does the English government hate Opelo Kgari and her mother, Florence Kgari?

Opelo Kgari is 27 years old. She has lived in England since she was 13 years old. She excelled in secondary school, and has an unblemished record of accomplishment. Last May, on her way back from a brief holiday with friends in Belfast, Opelo Kgari was thrown into a holding cell for 12 hours … for no apparent reason. Six weeks ago, Opelo Kgari dutifully reported to the Home Office, as she does every two weeks, and was thrown into a holding cell, again for 12 hours, and then shipped to Yarl’s Wood: “This time round, I wasn’t even wearing a bra. I was going to yoga with a friend after reporting to the Home Office, so I just threw a coat on. I never got to the class. They put me and my mum in a holding cell for over 12 hours, with three officers outside. I didn’t have a bra for five days once I got here, or a change of underwear.” What justifies such inhumane treatment?

Opelo Kgari has been asking that exact question, on her own and as one of the spokespersons for the 120 women on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood. Opelo Kgari has become the spokesperson partially because her English is so good, but more because she has much to say about the conditions and their impact on the women: “There’s one woman who spends all day walking around the centre with a packed handbag, claiming she had everything she needs in there. She’s clearly not well. And there’s an Iranian woman who’s on suicide watch. Officers just sit outside her cell with the door open. She clearly shouldn’t be in here at all. It’s inhumane.”

It’s inhumane. Hatred is always inhumane. Why does the English government hate Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, Irene Clennell, Chennan Fei, Kelechi Chioba, Paulette Wilson, Patricia Simeon, Lazia Nabbanja, and this is only a partial list of prominent cases within the last twelve months. Why does the English government hate Opelo Kgari and her mother, Florence Kgari? What is the point of a policy that predictably traumatizes women, of whom the majority are women of color? The Independent has put a focus on Opelo Kgari’s situation, calling it “a terrible case” and, echoing Opelo Kgari, a facet of England’s inhumane immigration system. Today, Independent reporter Charlotte England wrote, “Saturday night was a victory. But we must keep paying attention to what is happening in Yarl’s Wood — where Opelo is still being held against her will and still faces deportation — and other similar facilities, and we must keep putting pressure on politicians to end detention and unlawful, unjust deportations entirely.”

Deportation is preceded by incarceration. For those not deported, incarceration has preceded “community release.” In either case, “incarceration” is a cover for institutional violence against women. Why does the English government hate Opelo Kgari and Florence Kgari?


(Photo Credit: Independent)

At the Hulene garbage dump collapse, most of the dead were women

The Hulene garbage dump, also known as the Bocario dump, is the only garbage dump in Maputo, Mozambique, a city of over a million people and growing. Thousands of people live in the shadow of the dump’s mountains of trash. Many live on the sides of the trash mountain itself. Those who pick through the garbage in search of food and something to sell are called catadores. Predictably, catadores are mostly women, children, the disabled, the elderly, and immigrants. Last Monday, February 19, the mountain collapsed, and sixteen or seventeen people were killed. Initial state reports say sixteen died: 12 women, 4 men. Mozambicans want answers. We all should.

Many will ask what happened? What causes garbage mountains to collapse? What caused this particular mountain of trash to collapse? Urban development? Construction? What causes garbage mountains to grow? Who builds a city in which hundreds of people spend their lives as scavengers, climbing, descending and burrowing into mountains of trash? What happened last Monday in Hulene?

What happened, as well, to women and children? How is that 16 die, and 12 are women? How is that that ratio is almost precisely the same as the ratio at the Koshe Garbage Landfill collapse, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a year ago?  How is that human stampedes and urban garbage landslides have the same toxic gender mathematics of mortality? What does it mean that women are sacrifices to forces that built and build landfills choked by ever-rising mountains of trash?

None of this is new. Scholars, activists, and residents have long decried the conditions in and around the Hulene dump. In a 2011 WIEGO report, researchers noted, “It is likely that the Hulene dump will remain in use until 2015, when development of the new land is expected to be complete.” In 2013, in response to local community pressure, the Maputo government agreed to close the Hulene rubbish dump. It’s 2018. The dump is open, and now it’s a graveyard. Call it the price of urban development.

The planet of slums has produced a global archipelago of garbage mountains on which mostly women work and live. There is no surprise allowed when the mountains collapse, as they regularly do, and the overwhelming majority of the dead are women. There was no accident in Hulene, also known as Bocario, last Monday. There was a planned massacre of women. Mozambicans demand answers. We all should, and we all should have long ago.


(Photo Credit 1: Club of Mozambique) (Photo Credit 2: The Guardian / Shaun Swingler)

At Yarl’s Wood, 120 women prisoners are on hunger strike! #ShutYarlsWood

England built a special hell for women: Yarl’s Wood. This week, 120 Yarl’s Wood women prisoners are on hunger strike. The women are protesting indefinite detention, abysmal healthcare services, abuse, and denial of personal and collective dignity and humanity. Today, after being denied entry for a year, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott was finally allowed inside the complex. Abbott was accompanied by Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general. Eight years ago, to the day, women prisoners at Yarl’s Wood engaged in a hunger strike from February 5 to March 19, 2010. That same year, in January, Bita Ghaedi entered into a weeks long individual hunger strike, out of fear of certain death if she was returned to Iran. In March 2015, women prisoners at Yarl’s Wood went on a hunger strike. Why does England, or the government of England, want to demean, abuse and traumatized so many vulnerable already traumatized women, most of women are African and Asian? Why does England hate so many women so intensely? When will this reign of terror end?

One hunger striker, an Algerian woman who has lived in England since she was 11 years old, explained, “Every day I wake up and I have to think of a reason to go on. I’ve given up thinking about the outside – I’ve given up thinking about it. I feel like I’m in someone’s dungeon and no one is letting me out. I might as well be blindfolded in a van going 100 miles an hour in a direction I don’t know. The indefinite detention causes people so much stress. People are breaking down psychologically. We have no fight left. They break you down. It’s inhumane. And there’s no psychological help. I’ve tried speaking to a psychological nurse in the centre about issues I have, and he advised me to speak to my solicitor about it.” This woman has been in Yarl’s Wood for three months. She has no idea if and when she will be released.

In 2017, `Voke’ spent eight months in Yarl’s Wood. While imprisoned there, she attempted suicide: “It was such a relief to get out of there. But I don’t understand why they had to put me through it at all. I hope I will start to feel better soon, but I will never forget being detained. I will never forget Yarl’s Wood.”

Eight years ago, Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers – including Denise McNeil, 35 year old Jamaican asylum seeker; Mojirola Daniels, Nigerian asylum seeker; Leila, Iranian asylum seeker; Victoria Odeleye, 32 year old Nigerian asylum seeker –  reported torture, rape, starvation, other forms of abuse. They described the devastating impact of Yarl’s Wood on imprisoned children, such as 10-year-old Egyptian Nardin Mansour. They mourned and protested the suicides as they explained that Yarl’s Wood was intent on killing them. As Laura A, a Sierra Leonean and former Yarl’s Wood prisoner, noted: “I am a fighter, I am used to fight to live, but to be told, ‘You faked your life,’ is a little like death.”

The Yarl’s Wood women hunger strikers took the calculus of the killing and turned it on its head, saying they were better than that. They said they were women, fighters used to fighting, peacemakers used to making peace, and no one could decide that it was right for them to be slaughtered. They called out, shouted, screamed, fasted, demanded to be heard … and here we are eight years later.

Over 80 percent of the women in Yarl’s Wood are survivors fleeing sexual or gender-based violence. The vast majority of women in Yarl’s Wood end up being released into the community. What sort of factory is designed to produce damage: damaged bodies, souls, psyches, lives? Yarl’s Wood. The time for concern and for discussion is over. The time for justice, and for reparations, is long overdue. Shut Yarl’s Wood down; do it now.


(Photo Credit: Politics.co.uk) (Image Credit: Detained Voices)

Why did Adelina Lisao have to be tortured to death before anyone sought justice?

Indonesian Consulate officials wait to claim Adelina Lisao’s body

On Saturday, February 10, 2018, 26-year-old Adelina Lisao was “rescued” from her employers’ house. She was taken to hospital, where she died on Sunday. Adelina Lisao was one of hundreds of thousands of domestic workers in Malaysia. Most of those workers are Indonesian and Filipino. For weeks, Adelina Lisao was tortured, often in plain sight and earshot of neighbors. The sort of violence visited upon Adelina Lisao is not an unusual occurrence for Indonesia and Filipina domestic workers in Malaysia, as has been documented for decades. Adelina Lisao died on Sunday. On Monday, the Indonesian government demanded “justice for Adelina.” On Tuesday, the press announced, in headlines, “Death of maid treated ‘like a dog’ casts spotlight on migrant abuse in Malaysia”. Just because there’s a glimmer in the dark doesn’t mean that a light is shining. If history is any guide, by Friday, Adelina Lisao’s named will be filed away and forgotten, and the mass abuse will continue.

In 1997, Christine B.N. Chin, a scholar of transnational migrant women’s labor, studied “the distinct ways in which public walls of silence continue to surround the absence of labor rights and benefits for foreign female domestic workers in the receiving country of Malaysia.” Chin noted that, despite the best efforts of Malaysian ngo’s, “efforts to break down public walls of silence surrounding the absence of labor rights and benefits for foreign female domestic workers have met with little success.” Twenty years ago, the situation of Indonesian domestic workers in Malaysia was recognized as an already longstanding issue. Since then, the public walls of silence have only grown thicker and higher. There is no spotlight nor loudspeaker breaking through that wall, not as yet.

In 2004, Human Rights Watch published a report on abuses against women domestic workers in Malaysia, which began: “In May 2004, graphic photographs of the bruised and burned body of Nirmala Bonat, a young Indonesian domestic worker in Malaysia, were splashed across newspapers in Southeast Asia. In a case that drew international attention and outrage as well as a prompt response by both the Malaysian and Indonesian governments, Bonat accused her employer of brutally beating and abusing her.” Who remembers Nirmala Bonat? What is the life span of “international attention”? Where is the outrage today?

According to the ILO, in 2016, Malaysia employed 300,000 to 400,000 domestic workers, almost exclusively from Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines. In 2010, approximately 230,000 Indonesian women worked, legally, as domestic workers in Malaysia. In 2015, Malaysia and Indonesia met to discuss “ways to improve protection of Indonesian domestic migrant workers in Malaysia.” Where was that “protection” while Adelina Lisao was being abused, tortured, demeaned, starved, beaten, and all in plain sight?

Indonesia should have demanded justice for Adelina Lisao long before she arrived in Malaysia. Malaysia should have demanded justice for Adelina Lisao as well. Adelina Lisao, this week’s moment of “international attention and outrage”, cannot be merely another empty sign. She is the brick and mortar of success in the now-decades-old new economy. A specter haunts the world … and her name is Adelina Lisao.


(Photo Credit: Sayuti Zainudin / The Malay Mail)

Oklahoma: Time to shut down debtors’ prisons and jails

Since 2010, sheriffs across Oklahoma have used bail collection as a means to wage war on the poor and to enrich themselves. That helps explain why Oklahoma is the Number One incarcerator of women in the United States, disproportionately Black and Native American,  and Number Two incarcerator of men. Last November, Ira Lee Wilkins, an indigent Tulsa resident, sued to stop the fine and cost collection system. At that time, Wilkins had two local attorneys. On February 1, 2018, an amended complaint was filed. Ira Lee Wilkins has been joined by Carly Graff, Randy Frazier, David Smith, Kendallia Killman, Linda Meachum, and Christopher Choate. Two national criminal justice law firms joined two attorneys. Together these women and men are saying NO! to a system that converts the most vulnerable into walking ATMs. In so doing, they join those in Texas challenging fine collection systems, and those in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia who have successfully challenged the cycle. The time to shut down debtors’ prisons and jails is long past.

While the stories of the complainants are heartrending, the real story here are the plaintiffs, in particular the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association and Aberdeen Enterprizes II, Inc. In 1991, the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association was formed as a private entity, and was almost immediately drenched in scandals involving embezzlement. Then, the Association’s world changed. In 2003, it was allowed to have a role in misdemeanor fine collections. In 2010, that role was expanded to include felonies and traffic tickets. At the end of 2009, the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association had $40,686 in the bank. At the end of 2016, that number was $2.8 million.

Aberdeen Enterprizes was founded in 2006 “by a disbarred attorney after he was released from federal prison for bankruptcy fraud.” According to the suit, “Aberdeen Enterprizes II, Inc. (“Aberdeen, Inc.”) is a for-profit Oklahoma corporation registered to do business in Oklahoma. Aberdeen, Inc. contracted with Defendant Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association to collect court debts owed in court cases arising in 54 counties throughout Oklahoma. The Agreement provides that Aberdeen, Inc. receives a percentage of the money that it collects. Aberdeen, Inc.’s cut of the money that it collects constitutes Aberdeen, Inc.’s sole revenue source.” Aberdeen’s cut of the money is the only money Aberdeen has.

The sheriff’s private association grows rich. The company doing the dirty work depends on intimidation and extortion to survive and thrive. The jails and prisons are choking with overpopulation, and everyone wonders how this happened. Oklahoma is open for business.

Kendallia Killman is 48 years old, indigent, and the caretaker of her intellectually disabled adult son. They live on monthly disability payments of $543. In 2009, Kendallia Killman was fined for two misdemeanors. She couldn’t pay the fees and fines, and tried to negotiate an arrangement. In 2015, her file was turned over to Aberdeen, who told her that she had to pay a lump sum of $1000. She called Aberdeen and offered to pay $25 a month. Aberdeen hung up on her. This happened more than once. Now there’s a failure to pay warrant, and Kendallia Killman lives in constant fear of being arrested: “When these police departments sent this to Aberdeen, they took out the humanity part of it. … They took out having to see people and seeing the hurt and seeing the pain”.

Carly Graff, 40 years old, mother of two, has a single traffic ticket. She can’t pay the fees and fines. Half the time she can’t afford to pay for food or electricity. She didn’t pay the fees and fines, and a warrant, and more fees and fines, were issued. Aberdeen now has her file: “Ms. Graff now lives in constant fear of arrest and does not leave her home unless necessary to care for her children because she is so afraid of being taken to jail for nonpayment.”

Linda Meachum, 58 years old, disabled by domestic violence, living on $244 a month, knows the same fear. Arrested for a misdemeanor, Linda Meachum spent a month in jail and was ordered to pay $200 fine and court fees. She set up a plan to pay $40 a month. Then she lost her job. Then her file went to Aberdeen, who insisted on at least $75 a month. She couldn’t pay. A warrant was issued, and Linda Meachum went back to jail. Now she owes $800, and still can’t pay: “She has no money to pay Aberdeen, Inc. and fears that she will be arrested for nonpayment of court debt.”

In Oklahoma, big money is made extracting impossible value from the poorest of the poor through an ever expanding ever intensifying system of constant fear and terror. That’s criminal justice. It’s time to shut the whole system down.

(Infographic Credit 1: The Oklahoman) (Infographic Credit 2: Scott Pham / Reveal)

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population”

A cell at Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre

Human Rights Watch released a report today, I Needed Help, Instead I Was Punished: Abuse and Neglect of Prisoners with Disabilities in Australia, that describes the horror of prison for those living with disabilities. Prisoners living with disabilities are tortured in every way possible, from extended and extensive use of solitary confinement to sexual violence to physical and psychological torture to … The list is endless. One prisoner spent 19 years in solitary confinement. Prison-carers provide care for prisoners with high support needs. In one prison, six of the eight prison-carers are convicted sex offenders. At the center of this garden of earthly evil are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. At the center of that center are Aboriginal and Torres Islander Strait women: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population”. None of this is new.

HRW researchers reached women at Bandyup Women’s Prison, in West Swan, Western Australia, and Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre, in Wacol, Brisbane, Queensland. Both are infamous for chronic overcrowding and the occasional death in custody. Today’s report largely reiterates earlier findings. The hyper-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait women is “integrally linked to the social and economic disadvantages that result from years of structural discrimination.”

Many people with disabilities that we interviewed, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with disabilities, had experienced family and sexual violence multiple times in their lives. Facing sexual, physical, and verbal violence in prison, particularly from staff, perpetuates this cycle of violence and creates distrust between staff and prisoners. One woman with a disability told Human Rights Watch: “The officers [use] intimidation tactics. Especially for us girls, that just reminds us of our domestic violence back home, it scares us. If you want to get through to us, they should be nice to us.” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have high rates of psychosocial disabilities, intellectual disability, and trauma: “About 73 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and 86 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison have a diagnosed mental health condition …. Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Queensland prisons, 73 percent of male and 86 percent of female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners had a diagnosed psychosocial disability”.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait women have more contact with police, generally, and the contact starts at a younger age. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with disabilities “experience higher rates of poverty, homelessness, domestic and sexual violence, and abuse than non-indigenous peers and peers without disabilities.”

“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.”

None of this is new. These very issues came up in major reports published in  2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and last year. It’s a new year, and so we have another study that reports that Australia, like the United States, has invested a great deal in intensifying the vulnerability of the most vulnerable, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. The more vulnerable women become, the more they are told to shoulder responsibility, individually and as a group, for all the wrongs that have been inflicted upon them, body and soul. Women suffer repeated trauma, and it’s their fault. Prisons are cruel and ineffective, especially for women, and that’s just fine. Mass incarceration is destroying indigenous women and families, and that’s just fine. Everything is fine. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population.


(Photo Credit: ABC)

Jane Doe, aka Jenny, and the hellhole that is Harris County Jail (Part Two)

Harris County, Texas, is a “special” place for criminal justice. Out of 3000 counties across the United States, Harris County boasts both the highest number of executions, by far, in the past twenty years and the highest number of life-without-parole sentences of any county in Texas, again by far. Harris County Juvenile Justice Center is dangerously overcrowded, largely with so-called low-risk African American children. Harris County Jail is dangerously overcrowded, “thanks” to a vicious cash bail system that dumps the poor into jail and then keeps them there. Harris County, Texas, built a special hell for women. Jane Doe aka Jenny, said NO! Why did she have to say anything in order to receive a modicum of respect and dignity? In Harris County, Texas, criminal justice is truly criminal.

In 2013, in Houston, Texas,  Jane Doe was raped. Jane Doe lives with bipolar disorder. In December 2015, Jane Doe testified against the man who raped her. Midway through her testimony, she broke down. Initially, Jane Doe was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward. Once “stabilized”, Jane Doe was sent to the Harris County Jail, where she stayed for 28 days. Why was Jane Doe sent to jail? The court had a holiday break coming up, and the prosecuting attorney dumped Jane Doe in jail so that she would complete her testimony. Jane Doe “was imprisoned in the hellhole of the Harris County Jail for no reason other than being a rape victim who struggles with a mental disability.”

In her month in jail, Jane Doe was assaulted, insulted, verbally abused, demeaned, and worse. She was put in with the general population, even though there is a mental health unit in the jail. She was assaulted by staff who said they were confused and thought she was the rapist. Apparently, that would have justified the violence. Jane Doe was in the same county jail as the man who raped her: “Her rapist was not denied medical care, psychologically tortured, brutalized by other inmates, or beaten by jail guards.”

After all of that abuse, Jane Doe did as she had done all along. She cooperated with officials and completed her testimony, in January 2016.

In July 2016 Jane Doe sued Harris County, Texas, for the abuse and torture she experienced in jail. In July, “Jane Doe” was renamed “Jenny”, perhaps to distinguish her from all the other Jane Doe’s in Texas, and they are legion. Jenny’s mother sued Harris County as she pushed legislators to do something about the nightmare situation. In April 2017, the Texas Senate unanimously and without debate approved “Jenny’s Law” which would require a defense attorney be appointed for witnesses and victims and that would receive a full hearing before a judge could sign a writ of attachment and send them off to jail in order to secure their testimony at trial. Jenny’s mother wrote, “Putting a victim in jail should never be an option. Today Jenny is still struggling with the entire trauma she endured by the rapist and also being re-victimized by the justice system.”

Jenny’s Law took effect September 1, 2017, four years after Jenny was raped. In December 2017, Jenny’s family sued the local hospital for colluding with the local prosecutor by discharging her when she was clearly incapacitated and effectively sending her into the Harris County Jail. That struggle continues.

Even those who support Jenny’s Law continue to argue that she was “lost in the system.” Jenny was not lost in any system. The system worked exactly according to its design. Why was Jenny in jail? Because her mother couldn’t come up with the $15,000 bail. Why did no one in authority think it wrong to jail a woman suffering a breakdown? Why does it take a law to give a woman due process, as guaranteed by the United States Constitution? Why does it take two years to pass that law? The State of Jane Doe passed Jenny’s Law. The State of Jane Doe is not yet concluded. Texas built a special hell for women inside the hellhole that is Harris County Jail.


(Photo Credit: Click2Houston)