Keep the civilian rescue ship, the Aquarius, at sea on the Mediterranean Sea!


As authoritarian leadership governs our world, democracies become less and less inclusive. Consider the treatment of people who have to migrate from situations of violence.  There are growing reasons to migrate, with climate change and climate change violence affecting the south enormously. Affluent people are not called migrants, but rather expatriates. Since the most affluent are also the most influential, they shape the discourse of crisis prominent in the linked domains of economics and migration. “Crisis” leads the public to believe that no human being is directly concerned. The bodies of color drowning in the Mediterranean Sea are not human, are not people. They are just a crisis!

In Italy, a close election brought to power a coalition of right wing and extreme-right wing leaders described as populist. They used the fear factor associated with “crisis” to eliminate the reality of the political situation in Italy. Italy’s parliamentary regime makes it hard to have a leader when elections are tight. After the so-called populist Giuseppe Conte became the head of the government, he nominated the leader of the extreme right-wing group “the League,” Matteo Salvini as Minister of the Interior. As good populists, they abhor the arrival on the coasts of Italy of what they call the migrants, especially those of color; their campaign was mainly based on fear of foreigners of color. Meanwhile, it is precisely people of color who are roughly exploited in Italian industries that count on these populations without rights to extract heavier profits. When Matteo Salvini stated that Italy will not receive migrants anymore, he used the word “migrants” to signify the Other, a large category of human beings mostly non-Caucasian.

Recently in Europe the odyssey of the only civilian rescue ship of the Mediterranean has epitomized this reality. They would cruise the Libyan waters. The Aquarius is a humanitarian ship chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEEwith the collaboration of Medecins sans Frontieres, Doctors without Borders. The story of this maritime rescue team is emblematic as this ONG was formed after Mare Nostrum was dismantled. The last blow for the Aquarius came from the Italian government, which pressured the Panama Maritime Authority to deflag the Aquarius.  Not having a flag makes it impossible to dock although the ship can stay at sea. That occurred while another show of force took place when the Aquarius had another 59 people who had been rescued off the coast of Libya.

One of the sailors on board of the Aquarius spoke with a journalist.

Where are you?

“We are 30 nautical miles away from the Maltese coasts, it has been five days that we have been going in circles in bad weather with sea swells over 5 meters. We have 58 people on board. We have 12 children under the age of ten. It’s very dangerous for them and very difficult to keep an eye on them at all time. The Aquarius is a working boat not a passenger boat. These people share with us exceptional moments of life.” 

What are you able to tell them?

“To tell them? They tell us thank you and I ask them to forgive us, I feel ashamed.

When we arrive at a rescue site, there are no numbers, no migrants. We see children in the arms of their parents who are drowning. We see people covered with oil. We hear screams. We see people who have been adrift for days, without food, without toilets, with oil leaking everywhere. We see gazes fixing us. We have outreached hands. We see all that. And then what to tell them? I don’t know. Sorry it’s shameful, it doesn’t reflect our values, this is not what Europe is about, sailors don’t abandon people at sea. 

“We can see Malta, and it has been 5 days. Where they come from, they have survived atrocities. They faced inevitable death until our rescue boat arrived. Now we have them on the deck, they are still thankful and trustful. Therefore, sorry, sorry for the people who make decisions, they don’t respect you. They call you migrants, who am I to call you migrants? Here onboard people are simply human beings with names, there are no migrants here. These people, these policy makers, they must come onboard. We will provide them with boots and sailor gear and they will see. 

“We have children who are running around on the deck, they are full of life and playful with us. So just our apologies that you are not welcome. 

“For political reasons, we cannot cross this imaginary line 12 miles away from Malta, because you are not allowed there, but I, because I am a good French boy, I am allowed there. Apparently, your life doesn’t have the same value than mine.”

The European Union faces its own contradictions. With the rise of the extreme right wing, the Aquarius has become that annoying ship that must remain moored in Marseille. After the end of Mare Nostrum, the goal for some in Europe has been to bring the civilian rescue intervention of SOS Mediterranée to an end. In 2017 the Aquarius rescued 15 078 people from 40 countries, 34% more than in 2016. 14 % of the survivors were women. On October 7th, across Europe, from Berlin to Madrid, thousands of people demonstrated in support of SOS Mediterranée. Petitions are circulating to demand France provide a maritime registration to the Aquarius and to allow the ship to return at sea. Nobody is questioning anymore the Libyan torture camps and yet, if the Aquarius doesn’t return to the area, the Libyan Coast Guard will be left in charge of “rescuing” the people escaping the violent grip of the system of migration. Please consider signing the petition, here.

(Photo Credit: SOSMEDITERRANEE)

Global attack on the Free Press: Two women who tried to weed out corruption

Viktoria Marinova

The attack on free press and journalists is not just relegated to the American Far Right. It is not just Trump screaming Fake News and denouncing any negative or scandalous headline or book that comes into the public’s purview. It is not only in the United States that mass shootings are now directed at major newspapers. Around the world, people are being emboldened to take their grudges out on journalists who are only interested in exposing the truth.

From the United States and beyond, cases of journalists under assault are a part of a larger attack on the Free Press that accompanies the rise of far right and authoritarian governments. From the United States, to the EU, to the Middle East and beyond, governments have attempted to crackdown on those writing about corruption and dictatorial politics with threats and violence. For example, US resident and columnist for the Washington Post, Jamal Kashoggi, a Saudi dissident, disappeared and is thought to have been assassinated in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul from orders of the highest levels of the Saudi royal family. Kashoggi’s high-profile death has created an international crisis, with Britain, France and Germany demanding a credible investigation into Kashoggi’s disappearance. Trump has only warned of “severe punishment” if the allegations are true, though that doesn’t seem to be stopping the large arm sales to the country from the United States, worth $110 billion.

In Europe, the rape and murder of Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova, alarmed many as it had been the third death of a journalist in the EU in the past year. Marinova was a broadcaster on TVN, where she was a presenter on a talk program called Detector. The last episode of her show covered alleged corruption and fraud involving EU funds and prominent businessmen and politicians. The two journalists invited on the program to speak, Attila Biro and Dimitar Stoyanov, had been arrested in September investigating corruption. The attack was downplayed as just a spontaneous sexual assault, but many are suspicious that the attack was politically motivated because of Marinova’s work as a journalist in a country that is extremely hostile to free press. Bulgaria is currently ranked 111 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index.

Viktoria Marinova’s death follows two other high-profile journalists murdered within the past year. Malta journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia died in an explosion after she left her home in Bidnija. Galizia was a harsh critic of the Malta government, effectively triggering an early election by publishing allegations linking the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to the Panama Papers scandal, in particular funneling money into offshore bank accounts to hide payments from Azerbaijan’s ruling family. In her blog. Galizia also targeted opposition politicians.

In Slovakia, journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Matina Kusnirova were found shot dead in their home. Kuciak was in the middle of investigating links between the Italian mafia and figures close to Slovakia’s Prime Minister, Robert Fico. Kuciak had alleged that Italian businessmen with ties to the Calabrian organized crime syndicate the ‘Ndrangheta had settled in eastern Slovakia, spending years embezzling EU funds for the region on the border with Ukraine. These men cultivated business links with senior officials, including people close to the prime minister, such as former glamour model Maria Troskova, the minister’s “chief state adviser”, and Viliam Jasan, secretary of Slovakia’s national security council. Police have stated that the attacks bear all the hallmarks of a contract killing.

In the past year, four journalists attempted to uncover corruption and greed to better their respective countries by exposing injustice. Two were men, two were women. The viciousness with which they were attacked speaks to the fear that those in power, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes, have when their corruption is brought to light. Their deaths also speak to the larger movement of anti-free press sentiment and the rise of authoritarian governments across the United States and around the world.

Daphne Caruana Galizia

 

(Photo Credit 1: Guardian / Filip Dvorski / AP) (Photo Credit 2: Guardian / Darrin Zammit Lupi / Reuters)

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)

Survivors Get Death Threats, Assaulters Get the Supreme Court


Two days after the controversial committee hearing, and subsequent launch of an FBI investigation, I was feeling a bit hopeful. While people can joke and laugh about rape and victims across the internet and in their inner circles, to be able to face one, hear their stories and still have the audacity to dismiss them is a notion that made my blood boil. If Flake might have a conscience, I was heartened by the humanity he saw in those women.

It soon became clear that an FBI investigation was nothing more than political theater to assuage Republican holdouts and embolden Democratic undecideds (well, only one, really). I read hopefuls on the internet claim that the FBI would do their thing, would help bring justice; at the very least theinvestigators would announce that Kavanaugh had perjured himself during the hearing and that would warrant his immediate nomination withdrawal. I knew, sadly, that many are unwilling to investigate assault cases, and that many cases that are tried rarely end positively for the survivor. I knew that if Flake had had a change of heart, he would not have voted Kavanaugh out of committee. He would have, and could have, ended it then and there. He did not.

Then Susan Collins illustrated the hypocrisy of the privileged White woman who supposedly “supports” survivors and believed Dr. Ford, while questioning and putting holes in the memories that they have (i.e. fact that she didn’t believe the perpetrator was Kavanaugh). What good is a supporter of #MeToo when you only deride a survivor as they recount one of the most traumatic details of their life?

I didn’t watch the vote. By Tuesday I knew that it was mere theater, an act (akin to Lindsey Graham’s speech as he eschews whatever values he had during the election and vies for a job with Trump’s inner circle). People in power rarely give up their power; and those in the government are only willing to give lip service to their constituents because only the elite and the wealthy hold the puppet strings. Kavanaugh’s nomination, his record and his legacy in the Supreme Court, holds a boon that could only benefit those whose interest is in maintaining and growing their vast power and resources, even at the cost of destruction.

And Dr. Ford? The brave woman who came forward to talk about her experiences? She’s unable to go home, because of the unending death threats against her and her family. She got the unending brunt of people who accused her of lying, or distorting the truth, while others sympathized with Kavanaugh, a man whose own classmates have come forward and demanded the FBI speak with them because he was lying.

When the state isn’t there to protect you, when the state only serves the privileged, are words and marches enough?

 

(Image Credit 1: Press Democrat) (Image Credit 2: RAINN)

people like you

people like you

there are mouths
quite wide open
at this statement
on early eve TV

In our country
we rape
people like you

this said somewhere
to a young woman
in a relationship
with another

not another
pointy-eared
sharp-tailed alien
from Planet Other

the same Planet
colouring people
with bigotry hatred
and intolerance

or is it brewed
right here
on Planet Earth

that self-same
where we pollute
and carry on as if
we have another

In our country
we rape
people like you

Reference is made
to our rights enshrined
in the Constitution here

perchance our Constitution
is ahead of its citizenry
and its self too

for people
like you
and I

We remember Eudy Simelane

(Photo Credit: IOL)

Now more than ever, states are on the frontlines in defending our democracy

Now more than ever, states are on the frontlines in defending our democracy and fighting for the soul of our country. With this Kavanaugh confirmation, it’s clear that our national level system of checks and balances is compromised. We’ll fight like hell the next 31 days to try to re-balance the scale in Congress, but I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. November is not the finish line. It’s never the finish line.

We need to invest in building power in states so that elected officials at all levels and everywhere can and will be held accountable. Just look at the role that the Alaskan Native community played in Murkowski’s decision to vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. And we have to stop making excuses for not investing more in states – they’re too blue, they’re too red, it’ll take too long, there’s not enough capacity…the list goes on. Let’s build that capacity.

In 2016, Virginia was the only southern state to go for Hillary Clinton. That same year, across the state, in every locality, Virginians handedly rejected a right to work amendment that was on the ballot. A year later, Democrats won all three statewide seats and flipped 15 House seats, electing the most diverse freshmen class ever. And everywhere I go, people ask me how that wave was possible. What’s the silver bullet?

Let me tell you a secret. There is no silver bullet. Virginia is where it is today, not just because of the demographic shifts or a 45 backlash, but because of the organizing, advocacy, communications and voter engagement infrastructure that was built over the last decade, through the hard work of state and local organizations and other stakeholders with deep commitments to our state.

And I’m proud to say that New Virginia Majorityplayed a role in that sea of change. It wouldn’t have been possible for us if someone didn’t believe in our grand experiment. We were founded 11 years ago because someone believed in our vision – that a new Virginia and a new South was possible. With a $50,000 grant and a guiding philosophy of “fail fast” (let’s be honest – I had no clue what I was doing when we started this thing), we have built our organization into the largest POC-led civic engagement organization in Virginia. And we’re winning.

We’re not alone. Across the country, strong state-based organizations exist and are being built -in southern states like Georgia, Florida, Texas; midwestern states like Ohio, Minnesota, Missouri; in the southwest in Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada. I could go on and on. Invest in states. Invest in these groups. We’re on the frontlines. And we’re ready to fight. Who’s with us?

 

(Photo Credit: New York Times / Chet Strange)

We recognize injustice and the power of those who recognize injustice and act

Like most of the people I know, I am extremely emotional about the Kava-no nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. It seems like just as our wounds from 2016 were starting to scab over, they were violently ripped apart and had salt poured in.

The crux of the matter is that it’s not about what degree of assault it was or how long ago it was. It was about that it happened. Our outrage about this Supreme Court nominee, is a deep throated, guttaral reaction to the injustices we recognize.

We recognize the injustice that a 17-year-old white, middle-upper class boy who commits a crime is talked about in terms of his future, but the girls he assaults are blamed. We recognize the injustice when Black and Brown boys are incarcerated at higher rates and with more severe punishments than white boys who commit similar crimes. We recognize the injustice that women cannot be emotional, but this man can. We recognize the threats that this man poses to the lives of women.

We are not hysterical women. We are a movement of people who reject that idea that women’s bodies are for men’s use. We reject the idea that unwanted advances are our fault. We are reclaiming our spaces.

We reject the idea that we must be nice and forgiving despite repeated disrespect. We demand respect for ourselves, our bodies, and our personhood.

We reject the idea that questionable behavior at 17 does not define men of a certain privilege, while, Brown, migrant TODDLERS are called upon to defend themselves in court in a language they do not know, or when black boys are tried as adults in our courts, or worse, killed, because they are perceived as threats.

We recognize that the government and institutions that should protect us from these injustices do not, and we recognize the power of people who recognize these injustices. Though we despair now, I hope we will not be deterred or become discouraged. If ever there was a time to pay attention, to take action, to vote, to run for office, and to make our voices heard. Please join this movement.

 

(Image Credit: The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice)

We really haven’t learned a thing, have we?

Every person has encountered a survivor of sexual assault, rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence. They are friends and family members, colleagues or acquaintances. More importantly, they are people with stories that illustrate pain, suffering, fear and, silence. Journalist Sheetal Dhir sums this poignantly, “I recently did a straw poll of the women in my life and realised that I know more survivors of sexual assault than I do mothers.” In some families, mine included, every woman has some experience with sexual assault and violence. It’s a reality that we cannot ignore or dismiss; the trauma is intergenerational. More importantly, it’s a fact that still makes men (especially men in power), scratch their head with confusion on what is considered acceptable behavior when interacting with women.

1 in 3 women in the US have experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. For Black women, around 2 of 3 will experience sexual abuse by the age of 18. 2 of 3 incidences will go unreported (only 310 of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police), and for every 1 Black woman that reports, at least 15 do not. When they are reported, more than likely they are not taken seriously; it is a common erroneous comparison for many survivors of sexual violence.

Victim-blaming, intimidation, threat of employment termination, literaldenial of a memory of the assault happening. The rage many women felt when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford gave her testimony, in front of a panel of mostly white men hidden behind a woman prosecutor (for what is assumed to be a way to not make an ass of themselves in front of a sexual assault survivor in the age of the #MeToo Movement), was an acknowledgement that all women, all survivors have gone through the traumatization of their assault, and then the re-traumatization of not being believed. And for the response, the questioning of her memory, Dr. Ford gave a succinct but unbreakable response that only a professional in the field of psychology could; the neurotransmitter epinephrine, she replied, “Codes memories into the hippocampus, and so the trauma-related experience is locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.”

Memory remains clear-cut when we experience trauma. It flashes through the brain when one feels at their most vulnerable. It’s why women can remember their assault even years later when they move on. It’s why girls can remember their abuse when they were young children. It’s why Anita Hill faced a panel of 14 very skeptical white men, and was able to recount what then-nominee Clarence Thomas put her through.

The utter disbelief she endured by such men who thought that engaging in overtly sexual conversations in front of and directly to female colleagues, was not such a big deal. Considering that some of those same skeptical men were presiding over Dr. Ford’s testimony, albeit skulking behind the words of a female prosecutor, makes it more apparent that men have not learned a damn thing when it comes to sexual assault.

There’s data and research to prove why women don’t report. Psychologists, like Dr. Ford, can elaborate the fascinating science behind trauma-based memory; there are rape kits to prove it happened; confessions from the accused themselves. Mountains of evidence and personal stories from the survivors who have reported and were treated like whores and attention-seekers, and the ones that feared such a response and never made a sound. Believing the survivor is imperative, because of what they’re giving up just to come forward. We can no longer accept men in places of privilege who are given slaps on the wrists or sycophantic words of encouragement. What we need is punishment for the accused and something as simple as faith in the accuser. It won’t change everything, but it will be a start. It may even break the intergenerational chain of victimization that is passed between mothers and daughters, and teach sons that respect for women, informed consent and care for a woman’s choice, is a goddamn requirement.

Men, step up. We gave you the tools for learning at your disposal, now use them.

 

(Photo Credit 1: BBC News) (Photo Credit 2: Bill Snead / The Washington Post) (Photo Credit 3: New York Magazine)

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)

In New Jersey, Edna Mahan Correctional Facility has a Rape Problem

Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women

Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, a small women’s prison with a population of 650 inmates, sits in Union Township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey. The correctional facility houses female inmates from the age of 16 and above, boasts about providing counseling for substance abuse as well as mental health treatment, and participates in the “Puppies Behind Bars Program” which allows incarcerated women to train guide dogs. Most notably, it was the prison that housed Assata Shakur, a member of the Black Liberation Army and the Black Panthers, until her escape from prison in 1979. Within the last three years, seven former employees of the prison have been arrested and charged with crimes of sexual abuse and assault while employed at Edna Mahan. Two of the former officers, Brian Ambroise and Ronald Coleman, were indicted by a grand jury, on charges of misconduct and sexual assault.

Over the last year, five other staff members pled guilty to and were sentenced to prison/parole supervision for sexual misconduct and sexual assault of inmates at the prison. Jason Mayes was sentenced to 16 years in state prison, for sexual assault, sexual contact and official misconduct. He was also subjected to Megan’s Law, and will be under parole supervision for life.

Ahnwar Dixon pled guilty to three counts of second-degree official misconduct; Thomas Seguine and Joel Herscap pled guilty and were sentenced to prison for official misconduct. Joel Mercado, another former corrections officer, has also been indicted and is awaiting trial.

Sexual abuse by corrections officers in the prison have been documented for almost 25 years, beginning in 1994, when guard Kevin Brodie admitted to having a sexual relationship with an inmate and parolee at EMCF. Between 1997 and 1999, inmates Jacqueline Heggenmiller and Tammy Davis alleged that prison guard Stewart Sella raped and assaulted them over the two-year period, while Regina Dozier (a second guard to whom Davis confided the assaults) covered them up. Both were fired in 2000, after the allegations finally made it up the chain of command to then Director Dean Campbell. Sella was charged. The scale of abuse and rape at the prison has triggered an investigation by the Department of Justice and a State Senate Law and Public Safety Committee hearing.

Ironically, the 2016 audit of Edna Mahan performed in compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, gave the facility high marks, noting there were more than 90 cameras across the facility with no blind spots. Some minimum-security housing units contain no cameras at all, and footage is stored for only 30 days before it is erased. For example, Mayes was often the lone officer assigned to A Cottage, a minimum-security housing unit containing 40 inmates with no surveillance cameras.

Officials have been no help with the investigations or what they’re doing to stop inmates being sexually assaulted by the guards. Officials declined to attend a public hearing on conditions at the prison and refused to answer specific question from the media or release unredacted emails sought under the state’s records laws. Commissioner Gary Lanigan announced his retirement rather than answer “tough” questions about the prison.

Edna Mahan consists of nearly 368 African American Women (48%) incarceration, 96 (12%) Latina, and 301 (39%) white, as per the NJDOC’s offender statistics report. Minorities and people of color are overrepresented in the prison, and remain in danger of abuses by the prison guards. However, because they are incarcerated women, their victimization goes unnoticed and often uncared for. All voices of survivors should be heard and believed; their accusers should be brought to justice.

 

(Photo Credit 1: NJ.com) (Photo Credit 2: Custom Ink)