The power of the broken hearted

Since I started making my own way in the world, I’ve generally considered myself to be a strong woman. I am by and large tough, resourceful, and not afraid to feel things deeply: to be vulnerable … especially in my work with people who have suffered trauma. I have thought of myself as a successful survivor of a violent childhood, a litany of losses and what is termed “ordinary human suffering”. And it was probably this self assurance and my often foolhardy courage that enabled me to begin counselling asylum seekers and refugees from the African Diaspora.

I began in earnest in early 2009, shortly after the xenophobic attacks of 2008. I started one-on-one sessions with refugees who came into Rape Crisis Trust for free counselling. I then moved on to any referral that was given me, from other organisations and from former clients. I felt compelled to try to atone for the shame of how my country treats these people.

However, counselling people who have witnessed and survived a genocide, who have come from the ongoing horror that is happening in Congo DRC and who again suffered rape and murder in the land they had fled to for safety, became much more than simply about rape. It is about rape culture: ways of thinking that allow people to be brutalised; that leave people with the deep underlying belief that they are no longer a person… no longer human.

I have worked with people who thought that happiness is impossible and that hope is fatal. And they found the courage to keep on going. Every day they would get up to a strange world, where few could speak their language, none or very little of the favourite foods of home are available, there is no family to turn to. And in this world, they have been denied work, left to wait for days in queues watching people die of hunger beside them, only to receive another postponement, another insult, another dismissal. People who often can’t find work without a South African ID, can’t open a bank account and who are now being told that they have to travel from their shacks in Cape Town townships all the way to Mesina every three months, just to be denied refugee status or face another extension, which means more travelling.

I have witnessed a mother give up her children (after carrying them for weeks through dark forests, bleeding from multiple rapes and with hardly any food or water to get here) because she could not feed them or care for them in South Africa. I have witnessed a woman fall to her knees in gratitude for simply being spoken to as a person who has feelings and has needs. How can we let this happen to people? This too seems to be more of rape culture: the ability to see others as less deserving of human rights.

And truth be told after these few years of working with refugees, I am tired. I have worked with a constantly breaking heart, knowing terrible things. Here as I sit in my comfortable, quiet, rented cottage, with its pretty garden and three meals a day, I feel ready to give up. With my good education, the inherent power and privilege of being white and English speaking, I want to stop. To rest ….and I am going to for some time.

And while I rest in comfort, many of my former clients will continue to grow, to love, to hope and to get up again and again. These women and men use the power of their constantly breaking hearts to believe that there can again be good in the world, that there can be safety somewhere, that they can create another and better life. And I know now that I am not nearly as strong as them, as courageous as them. Their resilience leaves me in awe. As does the resilience and love of the counsellors at Rape Crisis and other organisations who continue to do this work. I hope to find my powerful broken heart again and I know you all will help me.


(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town and Women In and Beyond the Global. Thanks to Rape Crisis for their work. The original version can be found here.

Invisible and Isolated No More? Global Domestic Workers and the Age of ICT

CNN Money recently dubbed the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Studio REV domestic worker app one of “5 apps to help change the world” – calling apps “the newest tactic for tech-savvy activists.” The domestic worker app is part of an education project that began after New York passed the first domestic worker bill of rights in the United States in 2010, and it’s an exciting development to be sure. From providing information to answering common questions and collecting important data, it is certainly a useful tool for workers, organizers and researchers.

But where does the app and information and communications technology (ICT) like it fit within the broader – and global – effort to empower domestic workers and ensure the legal and cultural changes necessary to ensure this essential work is valued? Do tech-savvy tactics really have the potential to “change the world,” particularly when it comes to domestic work?

Numerous historical accounts, ethnographies and analyses of domestic workers worldwide have well documented that domestic workers are often made invisible through laws and state policies, through economic pressures that reduce them to exports, through the denial of their identities – both cultural or ethnic and human – and through employer control of their bodies. They are similarly isolated through legal barriers and the denial of full citizenship, but also through physical separation within communities, countries, and on a global scale. They often experience extreme social exclusion due to race, class, and employer-based control of information, mobility, and nearly every aspect of their lives.

On both of these fronts – invisibility and isolation – ICT seems to have great potential to expose the private sphere of domestic work, helping workers to identify each other and be made visible to governments, NGOs, the public and more. Imagine something as seemingly simple yet powerful as a crowdsourced map that tracks the presence of domestic workers and serves as a way for them to say “Here I am!” to other workers and/or their embassies. ICT could help to identify and track human rights and labor violations. Here again, a map of good and bad employers would be a powerful resource that could lead to legal action and increased accountability.

ICT also has the potential to reduce the isolation of domestic workers by breaking down barriers between them, their fellow workers, their families and their host countries through the creation of virtual networks. Collectives are often seen as a way to improve labor conditions, but why must spaces where people can meet and exchange views exist physically? Through ICT, people can connect and share experiences, find commonality and coordinate no matter where they are.

There is also inherent value and power in the sharing of information. For domestic workers, this could include news, knowledge of the world outside the home in which they work, relevant labor laws, wage rates, information on support groups, and other resources. The National Domestic Workers Alliance and Studio REV app seems to do this well for workers in the United States, as new state-based protections have created the need for educational materials.

The app also gets at one of the more exciting aspects of ICT: the potential for new forms of organizing and resistance. Many scholars who have spent time with domestic workers emphasize that they already have the will to engage and mobilize to make changes in their lives. To the extent that mobile phones and ICT can make collective action, demonstrations or protests easier to coordinate, they would be – and already have been – transformative. The potential power of turning the virtual into the physical cannot be overstated.

Of course, there are significant barriers to the use of ICT for domestic workers. And that’s where advocates and researchers cannot fall into the trap of some ICT-based campaigns. With the rapid rise of mobile telephony and ICT, many scholars and development practitioners have sought ways of leveraging the technology to generate behavior and social change. “Mobile 4 development” (M4D) and “Information and Communication Technologies for Development” (ICT4D) campaigns range in focus from health to the environment, disaster relief, electoral participation, sanitation and financial services.

But as enthusiasm for these campaigns has grown, so has awareness of the fact that data on their effectiveness is sparse. Possible reasons for the mismatch between reality and high expectations include limited access to a technology among a specific population, a lack of knowledge about how a community uses it and/or problems with connectivity. It seems there is much work to do to better evaluate these efforts, bring them to scale and make them sustainable.

And this is why it’s worth emphasizing that the rush to conclude that ICT can change the world is worthy of careful consideration, especially when it comes to domestic work. The ability of ICT to transform the lives, laws and practices surrounding this exploited workforce rests almost entirely on workers’ access to mobile phones and other technology. And, in some countries and homes, that is no small hurdle. Domestic workers are routinely subject to strict employer control of nearly every aspect of their lives, including their mobility and the information and technology they can access.

So, ICT may not be the end-all-be-all when it comes to addressing the global mistreatment of domestic workers. But when used carefully and with an awareness of the community or country involved, it does have the potential to challenge the invisibility and isolation of an essential workforce. In the case of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Studio REV app, if the technology helps spread important information and creates a sense of community among domestic workers in the United States, it may not “change the world,” but it is a win for some – and an important learning opportunity for others.

Spotlight on Global Erasure of Women Prisoners in Iran

According to a recent report, on April 27th, 2014, female prisoners at Shahr-Ray were attacked from the inside. The all women’s prison located in Iran was completely disconnected from the outside world and the trapped 240 women located in Wards 1 and 2 were at the mercy of their attackers. With the phone lines cut and the doors sealed shut, four Iranian soldiers and a night guard descended upon the women, beating “them with belts, batons, and electric cables”. The attack could have been prevented had the prison been more closely monitored and security more diligent in their duties.

Though one of the attackers, Mr. Asghar Kolivand, was a night guard for the prison he was not responsible for the wards that were attacked. Responsibility for the wards’ security, as well as the women’s safety, fell upon Sima Boormand. After the attack ended, the doors leading to the prison remained in lock down.

This recent brutality offers a brilliant spotlight to reveal and dissect the erasure that occurs globally to women in prison. Despite their particular needs and differences to the male population, women are often seen as prisoners first and women second. Not having more security within the institution was a major oversight. Iran is known to treat women harshly and cruelly in regards to punishment, but to leave a group of women isolated with no protection other than a few assigned, random men and no higher overseer is a poor oversight for the female inmates’ well being. The guard for Wards 1 and 2 was not at his station, otherwise the attackers would not have been able to carry out the beatings, and, as the beatings continued, he did not return to interrupt them. Where was he? Were the women simply not worth his time or did he condone the actions of his co-worker?

Despite the vicious nature of the event, the report made no mention of penalty or trial for any of the attackers involved in the assault. Likewise, there were no comments on improving the functionality of the prison to improve safety. Though clearly unsafe for the women within its walls, the institution appears to be leaving security as is. Furthermore, the report made no mention of medical attention or of follow up care. This moment is the point of erasure. These women were brutally beaten, and who cares? The answer is silence. Neither Iranian nor international news agencies covered the event. Rather, the information came from an international human rights think tank. For the rest of the world, these women do not exist and their plight is not worthy of public attention. They are prisoners to be forgotten.

But aren’t prisons supposedly sites of rehabilitation during time served? In order to leave prison and smoothly transition back to society, Iranian women prisoners would need to maintain their facilities and health, but these 240 women have been physically and emotionally compromised within the system, and that is the point. Many women who enter the prison system are convicted of behavior that is caused by a cognitive or mental illness. Their actions stem from a need for medical attention, not punishment. The point of erasure is to slowly ease such individuals out of the world in the hope that they will die within the system. Within the Iranian system this might actually make sense. After all, the rate of execution for the current regime “has literally doubled”. If prisoners died within the system, execution numbers could fall while deaths rise.

This attack may be one of many such incidents. Organized with input from a guard, the participation of prison security raises the question of every day behavior within the institution. What daily care is provided to and received by the women of Shahr-Ray Prison? At present, only the women and their guards know.

Getting A Conversation Started About Women Serving LWOP in Bucks County, Pennsylvania

I set up twelve wooden fold-up chairs around four long, wooden, primitively made tables that I arranged in an open square. One chair was for me. In the middle of the education building at the Solebury Meetinghouse, in a quasi-rural -suburban place an hour outside of Philadelphia I was prepping the room for a free public meeting or rather a conversation that I had been wanting to have for over a year; ever since Peachie died.

The squared stage I set up surrounded by an even dozen chairs appeared warm and balanced-conducive for a conversation about the struggles that women and girls experience while serving life without parole in Pennsylvania. If by chance fewer people showed up for the meeting, the arrangement wouldn’t look empty and feel cold. If by chance more people showed up, there was room to sit behind those seated at the table. I placed my agenda and handouts in a well made basket; a gift from a friend many years a go.

This room, I am comfortable in. In this room, once or twice a month for three and a half years I held Cub Scout den meetings. Two years a go, I welcomed the Fight For Lifers to present their educational initiatives at a meeting I had organized. Scouting and life sentences. There has got to be a connection: the responsibility that we have to be informed citizens.? That might be it. By the way I am not a Quaker.

My plan was to share the devotion I have for Naomi, Marie, Sheena, Juvenile Girl, Avis, Joyce, Jessie, Tequilla and others. And to convince the citizens of Bucks County that these are just a handful of the women I have become acquainted over the last three years as an Official Visitor with the Pennsylvania Prison Society and who have earned and deserve to be given the opportunity to be reintegrated into the the free world. But because I have been thinking about this problem of no parole in Pennsylvania for lifers for three years, I have come to realize that the average person in my part of the state, knows nothing about this injustice. Not only for adults, but definitely not about juveniles serving this capital equivalent sentence.

So, because of that I needed to give some historical information about mandatory sentencing, the shut down of commutation and comparisons to other states and countries in order to illustrate with as much punch as possible how Pennsylvania is in a time warp and in terms of penological practices, about as progressive as a closed, oppressed Asian nation. And I realized that before I could concentrate on women’s issues, I was half way through the meeting discussing general prison issues that affect both men, women and their families: the cost of making phone calls, lousy food and medical care, staff turnover, lack of educational opportunities, isolation in remote parts of the state affecting visitation, commutation futility, well trained staff, leadership turnover and that for lifers, doesn’t get any easier or cheaper.

I tried to illustrate all of these struggles with the views and experiences of a woman or grown up juvenile girl serving life. I shared the accomplishments that the women are proud of, the sentence of life that they received that clearly does not reflect their degree of guilt, decades of isolation and the absurdity of being deemed unworthy and too dangerous to live in the free world. Ever. The small and nearly empty visitor’s room at Muncy and Cambridge Springs speaks loudly: where are the male relatives? How can women become better and more effective leaders while incarcerated? How can their voices be heard?

The excessive power that the victim’s rights groups have over our criminal justice system and their success in hijacking any sense of compassion and mercy to our most marginalized members of our society has retarded our spiritual growth. The ignorant and lazy elected officials who do nothing to not only educate themselves about this tragedy, can’t even take the time to meet a women serving life for decades has trumped any chance of Pennsylvania to be an evolving and decent place to empathize with those who have served many decades in prison and who have served their time so well, that many have more to be proud of then those who have never served a single day in prison.

The meeting was attended by nine engaged and thoughtful people. Four of us were already in this struggle and the remaining five came with some knowledge of the absurdity of our overly punitive incarcerated state and have the desire to learn more. The woman from her book club will undoubtedly be more effective in her upcoming group discussion on the book “Doing Life.” I guess this is a step in the right and just direction.

The violence visited on homeless and unstably housed women

Released last week, “Recent Violence in a Community-Based Sample of Homeless and Unstably Housed Women With High Levels of Psychiatric Comorbidity” confirms common sense and lived experience as it adds some new twists … and leaves some out. The study looked at 300 homeless and unstably housed women in San Francisco.

Common sense and lived experience confirmed: “Violence against homeless women (i.e., women who sleep in a shelter or public place) and women who are unstably housed (i.e., those who are displaced or move often and women who sleep at homes of friends, family, associates, or strangers because they have no other shelter) is disproportionately common.”

Not terribly surprising: Almost all the women “met criteria” for at least one psychiatric condition, one mental health disorder, and one substance-related disorder. “Most study participants experienced comorbidity”, meaning they live with two or more chronic disorders.

60% of the women had experienced some type of violence prior to being interviewed. And here’s where some twists begin: “Violence was disproportionately perpetrated by non-primary partners.” Half of the women experienced emotional violence from a non-primary partner. Almost twice as many experienced physical violence from a non-primary partner as from a primary; and more than three times as many experienced sexual violence from a non-primary partner as from a primary partner.

According to the researchers, the odds of non-primary partner violence increased with a greater number of psychiatric diagnoses; a higher level of social connection; being White; having unmet subsistence needs. Being HIV positive decreased the odds of non-primary partner violence.

Violence from primary partners increased with age, being White, multiple psychiatric diagnoses, and a higher level of social connection.

While some of the social markers surprised the researchers, what really got their attention was the social connection link. It suggests that, for homeless and unstably housed women, social isolation makes sense. The less socially connected a woman is, the less likely she is to be hurt.

While the authors of the study don’t invoke “intersectionality”, they rely on it, to the extent that they insist that violence against homeless and unstably housed women must include emotional, physical and sexual violence.

The study misses economic violence, which is structural, and so misses prison. Given the privatization of streets and the criminalization of those who live on the streets, women with multiple disorders struggle with violence on the streets and are shunted off to jail and prison, where they receive less than no help, and then are dumped back onto the streets, where the cycle accelerates and intensifies.

The report concludes: “The high level of violence in this population exceeds reports from many previous studies because of its inclusion of emotional violence, perpetrators who were not primary or domestic partners, and a sensitive screening instrument. Comprehensive screening for violence against impoverished women in health care settings is needed, and these data suggest that this is especially true for mental health and drug treatment providers caring for impoverished women with high levels of psychiatric comorbidity. Referrals for care, counseling, and safety plans should prioritize basic subsistence needs (housing, food, clothing, and hygiene needs), psychiatric assessment, and care. Finally, providers must understand that rather than a negative predictor of health and safety, social isolation may be an effective means for some impoverished women to extricate themselves from a potentially dangerous environment in the absence of other options.”

The absence of other options is prison. High and excessive levels of violence against women and high levels of incarceration of women are part of the global story of severely reduced to eliminated mental health and all public services, of severely reduced to eliminated affordable housing, of severely reduced to eliminated jobs, of severely reduced to eliminated safe public spaces for women, and of astronomically expanded police forces and prisons.

France’s twisted road to restorative justice

Christiane Taubira, France’s Minister of Justice, epitomizes the tensions and dilemmas that the neoliberal world order produces. The moment Taubira was nominated, she suffered countless personal attacks. Originally from the former French colony Guiana, she early on took strong positions for social and racial justice. Her career is marked by her independence from the establishment, and she has ruffled feathers on the right and the left.

Two years ago Christiane Taubira promised a profound transformation of the penal system. She posed the question of punishment from an angle that departed from the neoliberal mass incarceration common sense. She questioned the role of prisons in connection with citizenship, affirming that prison cannot be the only response in a penal system. In fact, although the public has been bombarded with populist rhetoric and images about punishment, a recent poll showed that 77% of the French said that prison is not a deterrent. She worked with a Consensus Conference that produced recommendations to diminish repeat offenses.

Her bill encountered a multitude of trials and negotiations. She faced constant opposition from the right, as was to be expected. However the President and his Prime Minister Manuel Vals, who has developed a “tough on crime” political persona, had open conflicts with many aspects of her bill.

Her commitment was rehabilitation and reinsertion in society, or simply de-insertion from the lock-up logic. Despite the many roadblocks encountered in the parliamentary process, the bill passed last week. One deputy from the right wing UMP voted in favor of the bill. Immediately after the last vote the opposition filed a complaint to the Constitutional Council to repeal it. Many feel that case will go nowhere

The bill includes a new system of probation for those sentenced to less than five years. This frees judges from the mandatory minimum sentences introduced by Sarkozy that has sent many to hopeless overcrowded prison. Taubira’s initial proposal did not link probation to eventual jail-time. A compromise was adopted giving the penal system the leeway to change probation to jail-time.

Minimum sentencing is now completely eliminated.

The correctional court for minors, established during the previous administration bringing the treatment of underage offenders closer to the one in the United States, has not been terminated yet as promised. However, Christiane Taubira gave assurances that these exceptional courts will disappear in the next series of bills concerning minors.

The bill guarantees more actual aid to victims, including financial aid.

In the midst of this important process, Anne-Sophie Leclere, a candidate for local election for the far-right Front National, posted on Facebook a photomontage comparing Christiane Taubira to a chimpanzee and then confirmed her racist views about Taubira on French television. A complaint was filed by an association and received. Neither the offender nor her lawyer deigned to appear in court for the trial. A French court in Cayenne in Guiana sentenced her to nine months in jail, and 50 000 Euros fine with a ban from running for office for five years. Her party, that excluded her later, was also fined.

Some have criticized the sentence as overly harsh. If so, let’s ask if probation should be an option here and if a rehabilitation is possible for Anne Sophie Leclere? Racism is a very serious offence that has been continuously trivialized while other petty offences have condemned thousands to years in jail.

Of course, the Sarkozy administration was not tough on financial crimes as it cut the power of the financial courts, which resulted in a decrease of sentencing for financial crimes from 101 cases in 2007 to 37 in 2010.

The debate over the reworking of the penal system in France is a reflection of the struggle against the controlling neoliberal world-order that uses insignificant figures to operate racist mechanisms in order to humiliate and discredit serious reformers. Incarceration has been normalized as a business to deal with the superfluous bodies of this market/debt economy. The latter relies on violence for a constant destabilization of a civil society. It is crucial to bring to light every fight that has a chance to change this irrational penal violence.

Edom Kasaye, Mahlet Fantahun, Zone 9, and the writer’s freedom

On April 25 and 26th, the Ethiopian government arrested nine writers, six of whom are members of Zone 9. In Addis Ababa’s notorious Kaliti prison, Zone 9 is where political prisoners end up. Reeyot Alemu has been there for over 1000 days, for the crime of having written essays and articles critical of the government.

Now, members of Zone 9 sit in Zone 9.

For over 80 days, the nine writers were held without any charges, or better, under “informal accusations”. This past week, they were hastily charged with various forms of terrorism, under the anti-terrorism law passed in 2009.

Freelance journalist Edom Kasaye and blogger Mahlet Fantahun will join Reeyot Alemu in the women’s section of Kaliti. A third woman, Soliana Shimeles, was also charged with terrorism, but she’s outside of the country.

Almost forty years ago, in the throes of the anti-apartheid struggle, Nadine Gordimer asked, “What is a writer’s freedom?” Her answer, in part, was: “A writer needs all … kinds of freedom, built on the basic one of freedom from censorship. He does not ask for shelter from living, but for exposure to it without possibility of evasion. He is fiercely engaged with life on his own terms, and ought to be left to it, if anything is to come of the struggle. Any government, any society – any vision of a future society – that has respect for its writers must set them as free as possible to write in their own various ways, in their own choices of form and language, and according to their own discovery of truth.”

The Zone 9 writers’ slogan, and rallying cry, is “We blog because we care!” What do the writers care about? The truth. The end of censorship, lies, and suppression. The right to write. This week, Ethiopia charged ten writers with the terrorist act of writing, just writing. The rest is fog and mirrors.

In a tribute this week to Nadine Gordimer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o – who knows something about the combination of writing, truth, censorship, lies, imprisonment and exile – wrote:

Dear Nadine Your Name is Hope

You found broken hearts
You put them back together with words
From a pen that flowed ink instead of blood.”

The imprisonment of the nine writers, and charges against ten, is part of an Ethiopian story, as the name “Zone 9” suggests. At the same time, it’s part of a global assault against writing, all writing, under the guise of anti-terrorism. What was once particular to Gordimer’s South Africa or Ngugi’s Kenya or Paolo Freire’s Brazil or Angela Davis’ United States is now a coherent global regime. In that context, thinking of the ten writers charged with terrorism, thinking of Reeyot Alemu and so many other imprisoned writers, it’s time to ask, “Can pens still flow ink instead of blood?” Whose name today is hope?

Lacey Weld, Mallory Loyola and the real witch trials of Tennessee

In the last week, Tennessee became the site of the latest witch trials. On Tuesday, July 15, 27-year-old Lacey Weld was sentenced to 151 months in prison and five years of “supervised release” for manufacturing and using methamphetamine in her ninth month of pregnancy. The sentence exceeds the `traditional’ sentencing limits, because Weld was pregnant. The supplement, the gift, to Weld’s sentence is called `enhancement.’

At more or less the same time, Mallory Loyola was arrested, also in Tennessee, for narcotic use while pregnant. Under a new state law, Loyola was charged with assault, for having tested positive for methamphetamine. The fact that methamphetamine is not included in the Tennessee law didn’t matter. Mallory Loyola is under arrest.

The laws and practices that imprison pregnant women for drug abuse or other substance abuse are anti-mother, anti-poor, anti-family, anti-doctor, anti-women-of-color, anti-poor-women, and more. These laws and practices have devastating consequences, and not only on the women and their children. Everyone knows this …

And yet the laws continue to proliferate and women continue to be threatened, intimidated, harassed, and persecuted. Why? There are many reasons, one of which is that prisons need bodies, the machine needs to be fed. The war against women sleeps with the war for prison. In Europe, in the Middle Ages, tens of thousands of women were caged and killed for their knowledge and science, and in particular for their knowledge of reproductive health methods, including methods of abortion. They were called witches, and they were tortured and killed. In the intervening millennia, much has changed, but not the basic elements of the witch trial. Find pregnant women and women who care for pregnant women, demonize and criminalize them by any means necessary, invoke the community and the nation and protection, and then torture the women until they die in a grand public spectacle.

Lacey Weld and Mallory Loyola, by their own testimony, need help, but that doesn’t matter. Prison beds are hungry, and there are many ways of throwing women behind bars.

Support SCI Coal Township prisoners’ demands for decent food, humane treatment!

Austerity loves prisons but hates people, in particular prisoners. That’s the lesson from SCI Coal Township, a prison in Pennsylvania, where prisoners are peacefully protesting their mistreatment by the State and demanding they be treated as human beings with needs and rights.

In May, prisoners were told that `budget’ woes forced the prison to cut back on food rations’ size and quality. Prisoners’ morning meals were severely reduced, while the Staff Dining Room’s full, extensive, and, considering, lavish menu was untouched. Austerity loves prisons but hates prisoners.

SCI Coal Township prisoners have written and circulated a petition with 22 demands. Many involve the abrogation of their civil and human rights. The food demands are basically three:

First, rescind the cuts and restore the former menu, which wasn’t great to begin with.

Second, eliminate the special food privileges of the staff and have everyone eat from the same pot, as it were. Prisoners argue that the Staff Dining Room is a money pit that should be addressed.

Third, if none of the above is met, at least authorize prisoners to receive monthly 60-pound food packages from family and friends. Neighboring states New Jersey, New York, and Ohio already do so for their prisoners. As the SCI Coal Township prisoners say, “If the DOC places the budget over our nutritional needs we request a means to provide for our own nutritional needs.”

SCI Coal Township is also facing a court case in which its censorship of political and human rights literature is being challenged. Austerity loves prisons. Cut off food, cut off access to information and knowledge and education, cut off access to literature and culture. Call it a good day’s work.

Support the SCI Coal Township prisoners, if you can, by reading, signing, and circulating their petition, here.

One can ask the question

One can ask the question

One can ask the question
empowering young minds
as a 77-year-old is doing
at Lavender Hill High School
(outside of our ritual Days)

One can ask the question
why the white woman label
20-odd years in to a democracy
the media reports as such
(are they still group-thinking)

All the white I know
is the hoary-old ditty
A whiter shade of pale
a little-known collective noun
a whiteness of swans
(and the Beatles’ White Album)

I ask the question
from a non-racial rearing
enfolded by humanists
political educators teachers
civic-minded campaigners
(African) Marxists and Socialists
feminists and womynists too

(with Achebe and Ngugi
and Neruda and Brecht
they made their mark though
not with corporal punishment)

One can ask the question
with all the progressive battles
(no normal sport in an abnormal)
where has all the non-racialism gone
was it just a passing charade

One can ask the question
what seeds do we plant
as June Orsmond is doing
(the power of one person)
in Lavender Hill and elsewhere
in the ghetto of young minds

Marina da Gama grandmother June Orsmond’s work, in “The power of one” (Argus, July 2 2014), brings forth the question.