Dan Moshenberg

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

In Maryland’s women’s prison last year, Emily Butler didn’t die. She was executed.

Maryland has one women’s prison, the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women, MCIW. On November 12, 2017, 28-year-old Emily Butler was “found dead in her cell from an apparent suicide.” Emily Butler wasn’t “in her cell”; she was in solitary confinement, which Maryland claims does not exist in its prisons. On Friday, Disability Rights Maryland and a community fellow from the Open Society Institute of Baltimore released their findings concerning Emily Butler’s death. The report’s findings are both grim and all too familiar. Emily Butler was not “found dead”. She was executed, by the State of Maryland.

Starting in 2008, Emily Butler had been receiving community-based mental health services for depressive, bipolar, and post-traumatic stress disorders. MCIW knew of her conditions. Remember that the staff knew all about Emily Butler’s psychiatric history. On Friday, November 10, 2017, Emily Butler and a friend argued. Butler threw coffee at her friend. Her friend was not injured, but Emily Butler was thrown into solitary confinement. There she stayed until her death. She was only allowed outside of her cell to bathe. According to the Disability Rights Maryland report, “Ms. Butler was not a danger to herself or others in MCIW because she acted impulsively and threw coffee on her friend during a dispute. Her friend was not injured and did not want to see Ms. Butler placed in segregation. Her segregation sentence was about punishment, not safety. Ms. Butler only became a danger to herself after she was placed in segregation.”

Emily Butler took the isolation hard. First, solitary confinement is torture. Second, Emily Butler had reason to expect that she was going to be paroled in April 2018, and a stay in segregation would delay that. She was distraught and said so. She knew she needed help and asked for it. None came.

The report finds that a mere six weeks prior to Emily Butler’s death, another woman, “Elaine”, had attempted suicide under similar circumstances. While Elaine was in the inpatient mental health treatment unit, IMHTU, she threw urine at a staff member. Elaine lives with “with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and borderline personality disorder -traumatic stress disorder.” The staff knew that. The staff also knew that Elaine has a long record of self-injury and aggression and can’t stand stress. Despite all that, Elaine was thrown into solitary: “After Elaine was transferred …  to disciplinary segregation, she was observed in her cell standing on the sink and tying a sheet to the vent in the ceiling and around her neck. An officer intervened and stopped Elaine’s actions … She wanted to harm herself because she was scared about pending criminal assault charges for throwing the urine and that she had other stresses related to her family … She was upset that staff on the segregation unit did not take her seriously when she said that she was suicidal and wanted to speak with mental health staff … She said she attempted to hang herself after getting no response to her request for help. Elaine spent a few days on the IMHTU after this incident, and was then returned to the disciplinary segregation unit despite her evidenced need for mental health services …. Less than six weeks after Elaine was discovered with a sheet tied to the vent and around her neck, Emily Butler was discovered, also in the segregation unit, hanging from a sheet tied to a vent in her cell.

Three days after Emily Butler “was found dead,” The Baltimore Sun editorial board wrote, “It’s tempting to dismiss Emily Butler’s death as an unfortunate accident in an otherwise well-run corrections system where such mistakes are rare. But the reality is this is the fourth reported case of an inmate committing suicide this year, and it appears to be part of a pattern linking such deaths to the kinds of physical confinement inmates experience behind prison walls. There’s a difference between firm disciplinary measures that help ensure the safety of inmates and staff and cruel or unusual punishments that in effect amount to human rights abuses. Maryland needs to constantly rethink where that line should be drawn — and then make sure it stays on the right side of it. Emily Butler and others like her shouldn’t have to die by their own hands in order to teach the state that lesson.”

The State of Maryland executed Emily Butler for the crime of needing and asking for help. How many more such women must suffer such torture? Do more than say Emily Butler’s name. In her name, shut down all forms of solitary confinement, in prison and beyond. 

(Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun)

In New York, Jane Doe was shackled in childbirth, despite New York’s anti-shackling laws

In March 2018, North Carolina officially ended the shackling of women (prisoners) in childbirth. At that time, Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, a medical anthropologist and OB-GYN said, “Passing laws and changing policy is only one step – there needs to be training and accountability and oversight to make sure that it doesn’t actually happen.” In 2009, New York outlawed the use of physical restraints on pregnant women during labor and delivery. In 2015, New York outlawed the use of physical restraints on pregnant women during in-custody transportation and the eight-week postpartum recovery period. For nine years, “physical restraints” on pregnant women during labor and delivery has been banned. Tell that to Jane Doe, who was forced in February of this year to undergo labor and delivery while her ankles were shackled and her wrists were handcuffed to the bed. Who did this? The New York Police Department. Why? Because they could. Because she was already a Jane Doe, as far as they were concerned.

The attending doctors asked the police to remove the restraints. The police said no. The doctors said New York state law bans the use of restraints. The police replied that the NYPD’s Patrol Guide required restraints and, importantly, the Patrol Guide supersedes state law. According to Dr. Sufrin, 26 states ban the shackling of women in labor. The Federal Government does not ban the shackling of women in labor and delivery, although the so-called First Step Act, currently awaiting discussion in the U.S. Congress, would address the issue. It seems unlikely, though, that the Congress will act on this.

The problem with the so-called banning laws is that they are rife with so-called “extraordinary circumstances” loopholes, which leave a great deal to the discretion of prison staff and police: “While [a number of] states and the District of Columbia have laws governing shackling of pregnant individuals, none have an outright ban on the practice.” 

The history of shackling pregnant women (prisoners) in the United States is the ongoing history of slavery. While we remove statues and rename schools and other institutions, we should pay closer attention to and abolish the shackling of prisoners, all prisoners, beginning at the very least with pregnant women (prisoners). In 2014, the Correctional Association of New York interviewed 27 women who had given birth in New York prisons after the 2009 law was passed. 23 of them had been shackled during childbirth. How many more times must we hear or read similar accounts before we take real action? It’s time to bring slavery to an end. End the shackling of pregnant women (prisoners) and all people. Do it now!

#SOSNicaragua: Where is the global outrage at Nicaragua’s abuse of Irlanda Jerez?

Irlanda Jerez

On July 17, the government of Nicaragua celebrated el Día de la Alegría, the national Day of Joy which honors the day in 1979 when the dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle fled the country. This year, on July 17, the State sent soldiers and paramilitaries into Masaya, the protest or rebel city, and “regained control.”That control cost more than 300 dead and untold injured, wounded, scarred, violated, tortured, and traumatized. On July 18, woman human rights defender Irlanda Jerez was abducted by hooded, armed State agents and dumped in jail. Irlanda Jerez’s “crime” was having lead merchants in the Mercado Oriental, Nicaragua’s largest marketplace, in a campaign in which merchants refused to pay taxes in protest of Nicaragua’s violation of human, women’s, and civil rights. Irlanda Jerez was abducted, dumped in jail, processed through a fake court hearing the next day, July 19, and condemned to five years in prison. Irlanda Jerez was sent to La Esperanza prison, near Managua, where she sits with other women political prisoners and where she and others have been beaten. Irlanda Jerez continues to speak out, continues to not accept the current repression as inevitable. The United Nations, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and others have condemned the violence committed against Irlanda Jerez and her sister comrade prisoners. Where is the global media on Nicaragua’s abuse of Irlanda Jerez? Where is the global outrage at the abuse of Irlanda Jerez?

On July 19, Irlanda Jerez entered La Esperanza prison. On October 26, around 4 pm, four masked, armed men dressed in black came into Irlanda Jerez’s cell and demanded that she come with them for interrogation. She refused. Irlanda Jerez and her cellmates resisted any attempt to seize Irlanda Jerez. At around 6 pm, a larger group of unidentified, disguised armed men swarmed the cell and beat Irlanda Jerez and her cellmates. Finally, after three hours, Irlanda Jerez agreed to leave the cell. Behind her, one cellmate lay unconscious and the others were battered and bruised. No medical attention was ever provided.

The men told Irlanda Jerez they intended to transfer her to solitary confinement at La Modelo men’s prisons. When Irlanda Jerez did not return quickly to her cell, prisoners across La Esperanza raised a hue and cry, and Irlanda Jerez was finally returned to her cell.

On October 30, Daniel Esquivel, Irlanda Jerez’s husband, was allowed to visit. On the same day, prison authorities refused admission to members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Permanent Human Rights Commission.

According to Ana Maria Tello, coordinator of the Special Follow-Up Mechanism for Nicaragua, MESINI, there are currently more than 400 political prisoners in Nicaragua. MESINI is particularly concerned about the health and safety of Irlanda Jerez and her cellmates, including Amaya Eva Coppens Zamora, Olesia Auxiliadora Muñoz Pavón, Tania Verónica Muñoz Pavón, Solange Centeno Peña, María Dilia Peralta Serrato, and Nelly Marilí Roque Ordoñez. Meanwhile, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, in the first ten days of November, 32 people were illegally detained. The war and the struggle continue.

On July 19, Irlanda Jerez’s sister, Dolma Jerez went to the gates of the prison to demand the release of her sister and much more: “We are demanding justice and freedom for my sister and not only for my sister but for the thousands of detainees who have been accused and have been deprived of their freedom only for speaking out.”

Why is the global media not speaking up as well? Where are the reports concerning Irlanda Jerez and her sister comrades; the conditions of women in Nicaragua’s prisons and jails; the constant threat to free speech and expression and to the right to association; Nicaragua’s State violence against women; and the levels of State repression in Nicaragua more generally? When the world acquiesces to the reign of terror and silence currently exercised in Nicaragua, what happens to Irlanda Jerez happens to all of us. Why is the world news media silent on Nicaragua’s abuse of Irlanda Jerez and her sister comrades? Where is the global outrage at Nicaragua’s abuse of Irlanda Jerez?

 

(Photo Credit: Havana Times)

In Scotland, what happened to Katie Allan? Death by omission of care

Katie Allan

In Scotland, in early March, Katie Allan, 20 years old, was arrested for drunk driving and convicted to 16 months in Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution. Less than three months later, in early June, Katie Allan was “found dead” in her cell. On, October 4, William Lindsay, also called William Brown, was brought before a magistrate for possession of a knife, assault, and breach of peace. Although he was “flagged” as a suicide risk, William Lindsay was sent to the same Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution. Within 48 hours of arrival, on Sunday, William Lindsay was “found dead”. Now Katie Allen and William Lindsay lay in the same narrative ground, buried in expressions of “sympathy” and “tragedy”. William Lindsay was the fourth youth to commit suicide in Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution in two years. After Katie Allan’s death, absolutely nothing was done to ameliorate the situation. There was no tragedy. There is no tragedy in multiply redundant public policy. Katie Allan’s and William Lindsay’s families demand justice. We all should. We all should ask, “How many deaths will it take til we know that too many people have died?” How many deaths will it take til we know that too many children have been sacrificed … and for what?

Katie Allan studied geography at Glasgow University. One night, she drank way too much, got in her car, and went to drive home. On her way, she hit a 15-year-old-boy who was out for a run. She knocked him unconscious and left him in the middle of the road. When she appeared in court, she expressed great concern for the boy, great remorse for what she had done, and said she was ready for her punishment. She kept putting her hands before her, as if to accept handcuffs. Katie Allan was ready for justice. Katie Allan was also a young woman who self-harmed, often. Her parents told the authorities that Katie needed help. She got no help. Her parents say she was bullied and regularly subjected to strip searches. She never received any medical or psychiatric treatment. By the time Katie Allan was “found dead”, she had pulled out much of her hair.

This is not a tale of tragedy but one of horror. Why did no one in the system help this young woman, who obviously needed assistance? Why must the parents be the ones to advocate, during life and, even more, after death, for justice for their loved ones … and for the loved ones of others? How many suicides in custody does it take for an agency to recognize the peril?

On Friday of this past week, Scotland’s Justice Secretary announced that a “review would examine arrangements for young people with mental health issues entering custody, including the information available about their backgrounds, reception arrangements and on-going support and supervision while in custody.” Almost a full six months after Katie Allen was put into a suicidal situation. What would have happened if William Lindsay had not suffered the same death by omission sentence? How many deaths does it take?

On November 25, 2018, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, think of Katie Allan and all the women who have been sentenced to death by omission of care, all the women who have been knowingly sent to their deaths by throwing them into cells like so much trash and then waiting for the moment to “find them dead.” How many deaths does it take til we know?

William Lindsay

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Falkirk Herald) (Photo Credit 2: John Devlin / The Scotsman)

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 children is 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)