Free Jacqueline Sauvage, domestic violence survivor, patriarchal (in)justice prisoner!

In France, the case of Jacqueline Sauvage captures the inability of the justice system to do away with patriarchal rules and with prison as the essential means to assert punitive power. Jacqueline Sauvage’s story is the archetype of the effects of repetitive domestic violence. In September 2012, Sauvage, the daughter of a victim of domestic violence, shot her husband in the back, thinking that this time he would carry out his brutal threats, after 47 years of constant and ferocious abuses. She feared for her life one time too many.

The couple had four children, one boy and three girls, all raised in a climate of violence orchestrated by the father. The family is a middle-class family that runs a small business; all these years of abuse, nobody dared say anything. The daughters were sexually abused and the son verbally abused. The son reproduced the climate of violence in his own life. He committed suicide the night before his mother killed her husband, but she did not know that when she killed her abusive husband.

Jacqueline Sauvage was accused by the prosecutor of faking or lying, arguing that she and her daughters never pressed charges against the husband/father oppressor. She lived in fear of retaliations; moreover she was under his control.

In France only 14 % of the women who declare having been a victim of violence file a complaint. Every year, 134 women are killed by their respective partner. In addition, 90% of rapists are known by their victims; 37% are their husbands.

Jacqueline Sauvage’s defense attorneys relied on a self-defense argument to save their client from more punishment. The court dismissed the argument and sentenced her to 10 years for aggravated murder. Another court dismissed the argument a second time in appeal. Meanwhile, the case became emblematic of the lack of support for women victims of domestic violence.

Then, Jacqueline Sauvage’s lawyers sought presidential pardon. They obtained a partial pardon, which means that it allows the justice system to grant remission but does not change the charges. She was still convicted of aggravated murder. The pardon skillfully did not challenge the status quo.

Finally, two weeks ago, a court decided that Jacqueline Sauvage would remain in prison despite the presidential pardon. The judge declared that self-defense cannot be applied, and she should have responded to the violence of her husband with proportionate action. With mass support, Jacqueline Sauvage is now appealing this last decision.

In the patriarchal code of justice women are still held responsible of their situation, particularly cases of abuse. In refusing to free Jacqueline Sauvage, the judge has normalized violence against women, making clear that revolt for abused women is unacceptable, even unfathomable. This long and painful story demonstrates one more time that women’s well being and rights are still a burden that lies on women’s shoulders, no matter what outfit they are wearing!

 

(Photo Credit 1: Grazia) (Photo Credit 2: 20 minutes)

The shaming of Black Women’s bodies cannot continue to be a casual matter

Pretoria Girls High. A disgraceful bastion of White privilege and ongoing violence against the Black psyche. It joins University of Free State, Rhodes University, Stellenbosch, Wits and so many other historically White institutions that remind us and now our children that we are visitors to our own country and extras in the imperial imagination. As a mother of two dreadlocked/braided teen girls, I salute these girls aged 12 to 18 who are rejecting the body shaming that insists that afros, dreadlocks and braids are ”dirty and messy” and the cultural genocide that does not want African pupils to speak African languages to each other at school, the criminalising of their movements that surveys Black girls when they are in groups of more than 2.

I recall being body shamed all through High School because of my baby fat and beautiful African bum. It was brutal. The shaming of Black Women’s bodies cannot continue to be a casual matter. It is violent. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Racist South Africa where White minority imagination is resisting the liberation project and where the revolution IS being televised. Just like 1976, language and Black being are sites of contestation. This Women’s Month is far more meaningful and has done far more to honour the spirit of the 1956 Women’s March than the pointless, vacuous , de-radicalised , ”soft and fluffy” celebrations of the past 15 years. Thank you Khwezi 4, thank you Marikana widows, thank you Caster Semenya and thank you Pretoria Girls High.

Black Girl – you MATTER. Your HAIR matters, your LANGUAGE matters, your CHOICES matter and your VOICE matters. In case I haven’t told you today – you are valuable, loved, precious and powerful. Speak even if your voice shakes and fight even while you are scared. I LOVE you Black Child, Black Girl, and I stand with you. You give me such hope and courage. #Racism and imperialism ARE falling #Afros and Dreadlocks are Rising.

Our Lives Do Matter! Women Fight for Water in Somkhele and Fuleni!

“We have been reduced to animals now. Our lives do not matter, that is why no one cares about our suffering over water,” says Mrs Nkhosi from Somkhele. “The water taps are mere decorations now, nothing ever comes out.” On August 12, women representing the communities of Somkhele and Fuleni gathered at a Women’s Water Assembly in Embonambi Kwa Zulu Natal. The Water Assembly was a critical moment for women to reflect on a participatory action research process on women’s experiences of water scarcity in both communities. Women activists also shared findings from the research with key stakeholders, including representatives from the local municipality and WoMin allies – Centre for Environmental Rights (CER)Earthlore, and the Global Environmental Trust (GET), and developed a set of clear demands to inform their strategies going forward.

“I would like to ask the Municipality, councillors and officials how they feel that they bath every day and have safe water and my family and I do not.” – Medical, from Somkhele

The absence of water…

Water is a critical issue in drought-stricken communities impacted by heavy coal mining and other extractives industries—it’s an even bigger issue for women. “Water is big issue for women because water is for them life itself as it touches on the everyday facets in their lives. Women are socially responsible for ensuring that the family has water,” says activist, Nyonde Ntswana. “Without water women cannot have livelihoods, no farming, no livestock, without water they cannot work as they have to walk long distances for look for water and have to time to engage in productive work. Without water they cannot prepare food and keep themselves and the household clean. The absence of water is the absence of a productive life for a woman.”

The communities of Somkhele and Fuleni are especially vulnerable to the challenges of water scarcity due to drought and coal mining activities in the area. Somkhele is situated where the Somkhele (Tendele) Coal Mine, a subsidiary of the Petmin group, has been operating for over 10 years. Nearby Fuleni is the proposed site for a highly contested coal mining project under Ibutho Coal. Some of the core issues surfaced in the research include:

  • The long distances women walk to fetch water on a daily basis, sometimes spending up to six hours – which impacts women’s livelihoods and leaves them extremely vulnerable to sexual harassment and rape as they travel long distances to isolated areas in search of water.
  • How unsafe the water collected is, despite efforts to purify it such as adding a bleach (JIK), cement and keeping it standing overnight, many often fall ill after drinking the water and women are further burdened with caring for the sick because of a highly unequal existing division of labour which assigns them primary responsibility for the care of the sick.
  • The scarcity and pollution of water has led to inadequate nutrition and rising hunger as most families can no longer engage in farming to grow variety of food as they previously used to and most of the livestock has since died.
  • Inadequate delivery of public water supplies by the local municipality, meaning families have to spend ZAR600 for just 5000 litres of water provided by private companies. This is a clear violation of the government’s Free Water Policy to these communities who are then forced to rely on contaminated water to survive.
  • Kwa Zulu Natal is currently experiencing a severe drought and most parts including where Somkhele and Fuleni fall have been declared Disaster Zones by the government.
  • Women in the communities have tried to engage with community leaders such as councillors and indunas over access to water but have met many challenges along the way. Some of the indunas do not take women’s demands seriously and see the women’s organising as a ‘challenge’ to authority.

At the assembly, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) conducted an information session to give women a framework for understanding what rights citizens within these communities have when it comes to water access.

Building a collective voice for concrete change

The assembly, supported by WoMin, was a powerful moment for women from the Somkhele and Fuleni communities to share their experiences and build solidarity so they can mobilise and co-strategise going forward. Given the political moment in South Africa, women are poised to raise their voices and use their collective power to push the government, local leadership and corporate interests to listen. “How do the politicians expect us to vote for them yet they have neglected us in this manner,” declares Sthoko from Fuleni. “Come election time we will show them our anger over this water issue.”

 

(This first appeared, in slightly different form, here. Thanks to Maggie Mapondera and to WoMin for this collaboration.)

(Photo Credit: WoMin)

Standing Rock: Women began Sacred Stones Camp as a prayer that the waters remain pure

This spring, in April, to protest an oil mega-pipeline running through their waters and a general politics of disrespect for both the Earth and for Indigenous peoples, a group of Lakota Sioux women from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe established the Sacred Stones Camp as a prayer that the waters remain pure. That began as a small group, which now numbers in the thousands, with solidarity actions across the country, from other Native Tribes as well as other supporters. When it looked like the construction of the pipeline might not be stopped, Lakota women jumped over the barriers and put their bodies in the way and on the line. This summer, Lakota Sioux women are making sure Spring doesn’t end early this year.

In January, with no consultation with the residents of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, North Dakota approved the Dakota Access Pipeline. Residents of the Reservation immediately petitioned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny a final permit. In April, the women set up the camp, as a monitor, because, despite lack of formal approval, construction on the pipeline had begun. In July, a group of Lakota youth ran from North Dakota to Washington to deliver a petition to stop the pipeline … to no avail. The Corps approved the permit … or so everyone thought. This week, it turns out that the pipeline developer actually does not have a written easement to build on corps property.

Nevertheless, construction began in earnest in August, and Native protector protesters launched the next phase of their campaign, which included peaceful road blockades. Then, on Monday, August 15, Native women stormed the pipeline and stopped construction. Since then, the numbers of water protectors on site and of solidarity actions around the world have grown.

From the beginning, the Lakota women, men and children have said they are not so much protesters and water protectors. As Iyuskin American Horse explained, “ From all across the country, tribes are bringing us shelter, food and most importantly, prayers. To have all this unity of tribes standing together in solidarity before my eyes is a beautiful sight. Our tribes now live together, eat together, and pray together on the front lines. We are not protesters. We are protectors. We are peacefully defending our land and our ways of life. We are standing together in prayer, and fighting for what is right. We are making history here. We invite you to stand with us in defiance of the black snake.”

Sarah Sunshine Manning added, “When I close my eyes, I can still see the mist in the camp in the morning and feel the power in the shaking voices of the women who stormed in front of moving machinery to stop the pipeline construction as they told their stories late into the night. Standing Rock has changed us forever. Our hearts are with the water, the land, and with each other. Today, we stand armed with the medicine of unity and prayer, and the strength of our ancestors. Still standing for water. Still standing for life. In so many ways, we have already won.”

Joye Braun has been in the Sacred Stones Camp since April 1 “when there was still snow on the ground. Now we’re getting ready for winter again. We’re not going anywhere.” While the women of Sacred Stones Camp, and the women who are coming from Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and those coming in support, prepare for winter, they are also preparing us for Spring. Still standing for water. Still standing for life. In so many ways, we have already won.

If interested, you can donate to the Sacred Stone Camp fund at https://www.gofundme.com/sacredstonecamp. There’s a petition to stop the pipeline here www.change.org/RezpectOurWater

#RezpectOurWater #StandWithStandingRock #NODAPL

 

(Photo Credit 1: Unicorn Riot) (Photo Credit 2: John Heminger / Indian Country Today Media Network)

The federal ban on using private prisons is a question that’s still very much up in the air

August 18, 10:36 am CST— my hand absentmindedly twitches towards my pocket at the staccato hum of my email app notification. A quick glance at the screen reveals a Washington Post news update forwarded by my mother. By this point in the day, she’s sent me at least half a dozen such emails, so I’m ready to delete this one once I’ve skimmed the headline–

“Fwd: National News Alert: Justice Department says it’s ending the use of private prisons”

Wait… what?

I read it again, and again, just to prove to myself that I got it right the first time.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who encountered the news with more than a little disbelief. It seemed almost too good to be true after decades of accelerating full throttle down the rabbit hole of “law and order” with little regard to changes in white house residency.

In moments like these, I think it’s important to play the broken record and ask ourselves again—wait…. what?

As in, what exactly is happening here? What change, if any, will this new policy bring?

In short, what happens to the inmates now?

Will they stay in the same private prison buildings, but this time under “new management”? Will prison administration and CO’s carry over? If so, what will be the new training procedures that ensure quality of life improves for their charges? Or is that being too optimistic?

Or, on the flip side, will inmates be moved to existing public federal prisons or state and local facilities that could still be privately owned? Will the facilities be further away from the inmates’ families, and are we really okay with it if that is in fact the case? What does this mean for overcrowding? And to what extent will private corporations continue to play a role as contractors for food, building materials and other day to day necessities of public detention facilities?

I have to believe that any major government condemnation of the prison industrial complex (even if just one sector of it) is a good step forward. It suggests that the public discourse is starting to change, that there is some growing political incentive to questioning the status quo.

And yet, there’s enough doubt that it’s worth unpacking whether this is truly a victory in the material sense. Will it lead to a shrinking of the prison industrial complex, or even improve the day to day existence of those ensnared by it?

But really, I think there’s only one larger question that truly matters here: is the public vs. private prisons debate even relevant?

And that, in my book, is a question that’s still very much up in the air.

 

(Image Credit: Washington Post)

Will France choose to follow the U.S. and build and overcrowd more prisons?

Adeline Hazan explains the rise in number of detainees in France

Adeline Hazan explains the rise in number of detainees in France

Last week, with media in tow, Manuel Valls accompanied Minister of Justice Jean Jacques Urvoas, who replaced Christiane Taubira, to Nimes prison, one of many overcrowded French prisons. Located in southeast France, Nimes prison is designed to receive 192 prisoners but currently holds 406 prisoners. Nationally, the number of detainees has reached record levels. Since 2010 the number of convicted prisoners went from 45 583 to 49 340 in 2016, but more significantly the number of remand detainees has moved from 15 395 in 2010 to 20 035 in 2016.

The previous president Nicolas Sarkozy instituted a martial discourse of intimidating governance based on penal populism and social ostracizing of social and racial minorities. He envisioned building new prisons to “accommodate” 80 000 more inmates.

Urvoa’s predecessor, Christiane Taubira tried to reverse this trend with her reform, passed in August 2014, to make incarceration the last result. Focusing on restorative rather than punitive justice, Taubira’s reform created penal counselors for reintegration as well as alternative sentences. The reform passed, but implementation has been to slow to none, thanks to a justice system that has followed the global trend of imprisonment as a social and governing instrument in a time of global violence. Recruitment of the counselors has been slow and underfunded while alternative sentencing has been ignored by a hardened justice system that has responded positively to the populist call for a repressive justice. The number of liberations under the control of the counselors has been reduced by 20% in one year. A Union representative declared that, instead of emptying prisons, the reform has filled them because the magistrates don’t play fair.

At the end of their visit to the Nimes prison, the head of government and his minister of justice declared that they would come up with a “specific, concrete and financed plan” to remedy the problem. They announced the building of more prisons to add 6000 beds, still largely inferior to what the right and extreme right political elite is demanding. Despite the few good moves such as the opening of “observatoire de la récidive et de la désistance” (Observatory of repeating offense and crime exit), as well as Jean Jacques Urvoas’ stated commitment to enforce the sentencing reduction bill, the funds have not been allocated.

In a climate of fear in which the “radicalization” of Muslim youth in France is offered as a source of violence that has to be fought in the most brutal manner, the political elite has given a radical and superficial picture of the situation in order to impose prison as the immediate and natural solution to all problems.

Meanwhile, a regime of urban marginality is reinforced with increased incarceration, making prisons and jails the instruments of violent isolation and ostracism. The over representation of populations of Muslim descent in prison mirrors the over representation of minorities in US prisons, with some differences of course. Will French elite choose to follow the American model of building and overcrowding more prisons?

In response, Adeline Hazan, the “contrôleure général des lieux de privation de liberté” (an independent body that monitors all places where people are deprived of liberty, and checks that fundamental rights of people in these places are respected) insisted “the more prisons we build, p the more we will fill them.” She added that carceral inflation year after year is not the solution and lamented that the law of 2014 has not been applied properly, and case-by-case sentencing, which was the heart of the Taubira’s bill, has not been implemented.

In a public radio program Hazan explained that according to French law, prison should remain the last result. The quantum leap in the number of short sentences demonstrates the opposite. The prison suicide rate is also rising with 90 attempts a month. Most of the attempts occur during the first days in prison. The suicide rate in French prisons has increased from 4 to 19 between 1945 and 2010, seven times more than outside of prison. The number of pretrial detainees is also on the rise. The state of emergency and its violent policing of demonstrations has sent many to pretrial detention.

Adeline Hazan remarked that women, who are only 3.8% of the detainees, have seen the degradation of their conditions of detention as a consequence of the over populated male prisons. She added that it is like a double sentence for women. The institution that she presides has produced numerous reports to alert the authorities about these situations. She noted that it is hard to be heard in this context of hard line security propaganda. Nonetheless, she acknowledged one of their recent victories in the elimination of incarceration of pregnant women.

In 2017, France will hold presidential elections. In France’s pre election climate of fear of terrorist attacks, the tough on crime approach seems to be the main message used by the political elite while neoliberal budget restrictions of public services increase and aggravate the inequality and abuse of those left behind in French society. In his most recent book Achille Mbembe has called this the “politics of enmity”. Prisons are places of enmity and gender racial discrimination: we don’t need more of them.

 

(Photo Credit: Ouest France)

Michell Joyce Raduva said NO to the trauma of child detention … and won!

June 1st 1987. International Children's Day

June 1st 1987. International Children’s Day

On April 6, 2008, two police officers arrested 15-year-old Michell Joyce Raduva and her mother and held them in custody overnight. Michell’s father came to the police station to secure their release, to no avail. Both were released the next day, without imposition of bail, and ultimately no charges were filed. But Michell and her mother knew the arrest was wrong, and so they immediately sued for wrongful arrest. They lost, repeatedly and at various levels, until last week, when the highest court in South Africa unanimously ruled that Michell’s rights, as a child, had been violated in the arrest and detention. The Court decided South Africa’s Constitution “seeks to insulate them [children] from the trauma of an arrest by demanding in peremptory terms that, even when a child has to be arrested, his or her best interests must be accorded paramount importance.” Amen to that.

The case is fairly straightforward. Two police officers came to the Raduva house to arrest Michell Joyce Raduva’s mother. Michell tried to intervene. The two were then arrested. The daughter was arrested for obstruction of justice. They were taken to the police station, booked, and held overnight. Whether the police knew Michell’s age at the time of arrest, by the time they arrived at the police station, they knew she was a minor. Not that that matters, since the police said, in court, that they would have arrested and detained her anyway, minor or not. To this, the Court responded, “What is more disconcerting is … a lack of knowledge and appreciation by the police officers of their constitutional obligation when arresting a child to consider her best interests as demanded by section 28(2). They demonstrate that the police officers did not care whether the applicant was a minor or not. Sergeant du Plessis said it expressly, that even if he knew that the applicant was a minor, he would still have arrested her. This is because he considers it to be his job to arrest. The fact that the arrestee is a minor would make no difference.”

According to Judge Lebotsang Bosielo, who handed down the Court’s decision, while the situation may be messy, the Constitution is clear: the best interest of the child is paramount. Period. In the balance of rights, the best interest of the child is paramount. In the actual existential moment, the best interest of the child is paramount. In this, the South African Constitution agrees with human decency and common sense, but, too often, not with State practice, not in South Africa nor the United States nor Australia nor England, where the State “considers it to be his job to arrest” and detain.

Judge Bosielo notes, “Under any circumstances an arrest is a traumatising event. Its impact and consequences on children might be long-lasting if not permanent … Detention has traumatic, brutalising, dehumanising and degrading effects on people … The applicant was seriously traumatised by this experience. Her detention has left her with serious psycho-emotional problems. Wounds that are still festering. These are the deleterious effects of incarceration against which the Constitution seeks to protect children.”

Being arrested is traumatic; being detained is traumatic … for anyone. For children, each can be catastrophic, and combined they can be life altering in the extreme. Michell Joyce Raduva and her mother sued so that we might all know that, so that we might all remember that children are children are children. Children are children are children. Each child is a child and must be treated, and respected, as a child. That’s the law.

 

(Image Credit: South African History Online)

What happened to Mariam Abdullah and Rebecca Maher? Just another death in custody

Mariam Abdullah, on Facebook and in custody

Mariam Abdullah, on Facebook and in custody

Barely eighteen years old, Mariam Abdullah died, July 19th, while in solitary confinement at the Perryville Prison in Arizona. Rebecca Maher, 36 years old, died, July 19th, while in police custody in the Maitland police station, in New South Wales, in Australia. Though the two never met, the circumstances and date of their deaths joins them in a tragic tale of State negligence and refusal. Both women deserved better, and in both instances, we all share the shame of their deaths and the manner of their deaths, for both of them needed help, and the State refused. Both of them were meant to be protected by State law and policy, and yet, on July 19th, both Mariam Abdullah and Rebecca Maher died … or were killed.

In June 2014, Mariam Abdullah, 16 years old, was arrested. After a year in the Estrella Jail, where juveniles charged with adult crimes are `kept’, she agreed to a plea deal that would result in three years imprisonment. From the moment she entered Estrella, Abdullah was in and out of trouble, which meant in and out of solitary confinement. According to her attorneys and to advocates who met with her, her mental health deteriorated perceptibly. Then she turned eighteen, and was moved to Perryville, and again to isolation. Six weeks later, she wrapped a bed sheet around her neck and strangled herself to death.

On numerous occasions, Mariam Abdullah asked, both in writing and in conversation, to meet with mental health staff. She knew she was [a] having problems and [b] deteriorating. She said so. Other than her lawyers and supporters, no one listened. Prison Law Office attorney Corene Kendrick wrote to Arizona’s Attorney General with concerns about Mariam Abdullah’s situation, noting that the State’s abuse of Abdullah was in violation of earlier court orders, the law, and human decency. Kendrick never received never received a response. Kendrick noted, “She [Mariam Abdullah] just seemed very sad and very isolated [and] was clearly traumatized when I talked to her. She’s a child, and she was being held in isolation conditions worse than what the adults were being held in — not that it’s okay for anyone to be held in isolation, but all of the best practices say to stop using isolation on children.”

Peggy Plews, of Arizona Prison Watch, added, “She was no angel — she’s the first to admit that. [But] she was a sweet kid, wanted to be a firefighter and save other people someday. Instead, we just threw her away. We all broke that kid long before she killed herself.”

Rebecca Maher, Aboriginal, mother of four, was walking home drunk when the police picked her up, ostensibly for her own good, and threw her into a cell, a little after midnight. At 6 am, she was “found dead.” Her death and the last hours of her life are shrouded in confusion and controversy. In New South Wales, if an Aboriginal person is arrested, the police are supposed to use the Custody Notification Service, which immediately contacts the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS). This system is a model. No Aboriginal person has died in police custody since 2000 … until Rebecca Maher. But Rebecca Maher, though in police custody, was never arrested. She was thrown into the cell because she was drunk. The police were “protecting” her from herself, and that is the problem. Many, such as Gary Oliver of the ALS, believe that if the police had contacted them, “there may have been a different outcome. Fundamentally this is a process that has failed because a police officer has not followed a procedure.”

Family friend Kathy Malera-Bandjalan asks, “How do you take someone into custody who’s legally done nothing wrong, then detain them in a cell then they’re dead in four hours. Rebecca’s death is not going to be in vain.” According to Kathy Malera-Bandjalan, the family was never notified of Rebecca Maher’s detention and was notified of her death many hours later.

What happened to Mariam Abdullah and Rebecca Maher? Absolutely nothing, and that’s what killed them. Arizona has specific policies, forced upon it by court decisions that should have ensured Mariam Abdullah’s survival and well being while in custody. Arizona refused to follow its own policies. New South Wales has specific policies that should have ensured Rebecca Maher’s survival and well being while in custody. New South Wales refused to follow its own policies. It wasn’t one staff member here or one there. It was the State that decreed, and decrees that what happens in custody stays in custody, and whatever vulnerable woman happens to fall into custody can expect to suffer and die in custody. That’s the rule of law when the custodians are told they have no custodial responsibilities to care for their residents. So, rest in peace Mariam Abdullah; rest in peace Rebecca Maher. You deserved better. We all do. Instead, we all broke you and just threw you away.

Rebecca Maher

Rebecca Maher

#ShutDownBerks: The Mothers of Berks launch a hunger strike

This week, twenty-two women held in the Berks County Family Detention Center launched an indefinite hunger strike. After so many violations of their dignity and of the humanity of their children, the Mothers of Berks, las Madres Berks as they call themselves, still believe in humanity, not only their own but that of their captors, and so, after the violence and lies and campaigns designed to teach them despair, they continue to write open letters and to launch new campaigns. They continue to wage hope. This week, hope is a hunger strike, to the death if necessary.

The women continue to say that peace, love and justice will prevail over violence. The violence comes in many ways. The State forces the women into prison. The State forces the women’s children into prison. It forces the women to watch the children suffer. Then, the State lies. More than lies, it covers the women and children in ever intensifying blankets of lies, as it attempts to poison the very concepts of asylum, refuge, and humanity with lies.

The Madres Berks’ letter reads, in part:

“The Immigration Department has made a public announcement stating that in family detention center parents and children are detained no longer than 20 days.

WE WANT TO DISPROVE THIS INFORMATION!!

We are 22 mothers who are detained at Berks Family Residential Center being mothers who have been from 270 days to 365 days in detention with children ages 2 to 16 years old, depriving them of having a normal life, knowing that we have prior traumas from our countries, risking our own lives and that of our children on the way until we arrived here, having family and friends who would be responsible for us and who are waiting for us with open arms and that immigration refuses to let us out. Seeing these injustices, we have decided to go on an indefinite hunger strike until we obtain our immediate freedom because all of us left our countries of origin fleeing violence, threats and corruption that not even the government of each of our countries in Central America can control.

On many occasions our children have thought about SUICIDE because of the confinement and desperation that is caused by being here. The teenagers say BEING HERE, LIFE MAKES NO SENSE, THAT THEY WOULD LIKE TO BREAK THE WINDOW TO JUMP OUT AND END THIS NIGHTMARE, and on many occasions they ask us if we have the courage to escape. Other kids grab their IDs and tighten them around their necks and say that they are going to KILL themselves if they don’t get out of here. The youngest kids (2 years old) cry at night for not being able to express what they feel. For a long time, the children have not been eating well, but they have never paid attention to our complaints about the food until now.

We are desperate and we have decided that: WE WILL GET OUT ALIVE OR DEAD.If it is necessary to sacrifice our lives so that our children can have freedom: WE WILL DO IT!”

The women signed the letter as “Mother with … “; for example, “Mother with 6-year-old-daughter with 365 days in detention.” 22 women; 25 children, ranging in age from 2 to 16; six children are four and under. 47 women and children share 5923 days behind bars, almost 16 years. This is the bitter math of democracy today. This is, and cannot be, our truth. The women of Berks say they deserve freedom today, and they say their captors deserve to set them free.

Someone once wrote,

“The ministers lie, the professors lie, the television lies, the priests lie.
What are these lies?
They mean that the country wants to die …
These lies mean that something in the nation wants to die.”

The Mothers of Berks refuse to die, though they are ready to do so for their children … and for ours. They are the part of the nation that wants to live, that wants to move from the violence and trauma to the better math of democracy and justice, which is that of love. #ShutDownBerks #EndFamilyDetention #Not1More

 

(Photo Credit: Telesurtv)

Canada built a special hell for women: the Nova Institution for Women

Camille Strickland-Murphy, left, and Veronica Park, right

On April 24, 2015, Veronica Park died in the Nova Institution for Women. On July 28, 2015, Camille Strickland-Murphy killed herself in the Nova Institution for Women, committed suicide. On October 31, 2006, Ashley Smith, a “troubled teenager,” was shifted from youth custodial services to a federal women’s prison, the Nova Institution for Women, in Truro, Nova Scotia. From there, over the next year, Smith was transferred 17 times, and subjected throughout to full body constraint, shackles, and extended solitary confinement. On October 19, 2007, Ashley Smith hanged herself while seven guards watched and did nothing. The State was “shocked”. Some said, “Ms. Smith’s death should haunt Canada.” It didn’t and, as the corpses of Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy demonstrate, it hasn’t. The death of women prisoners haunts absolutely nothing. Last week, the families of Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy sued Canada’s federal correctional service for “negligence.” Rather call it torture. This play unfolds in three acts: the deaths, the after-death, and the darkness gathering.

Act One: Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy die.

Veronica Park entered Nova Institution for Women on August 14, 2014. Her family says she suffered from mental health issues, which they attribute to having been sexually and physically abused as an adult. She took to self-medicating and became addicted. In prison, she continued to self-medicate. Prison staff responded to her “situation” by throwing her, three times, into “segregation”, where she spent a total of 22 days. In the weeks before her death, Veronica Park went to the clinic seven times. She was clearly sick. On April 23, 2015, Veronica Park went twice to the clinic, where the nurse recorded a sore throat, cough, body aches and shortness of breath, and sent her on her way. The next day, Veronica Park was found incapacitated, gasping for air. She was taken to hospital, where she was diagnosed with a serious case of pneumonia. By 4:30 pm, Veronica Park was dead.

Camille Strickland-Murphy entered Nova Institution for Women on November 10, 2014. Strickland-Murphy had been in Nova before, at the age of 19. At that time, she had been beaten twice, by other inmates. Her family says that Strickland-Murphy’s mental illness began then, with untreated concussions. She began having seizures, fainting spells, and periods of loss of consciousness. The State responded with “segregation”, seven times totaling 23 days. When Camille Strickland-Murphy returned to Nova, her condition was worse. She was engaging in self-harm, which, again, resulted in segregation In February, she cut her face, and was found in a pool of blood. In March, she set her leg and room on fire. On July 20, she attempted suicide, and was sent to hospital. She was then returned to the Nova Institution for Women. On July 28, Camille Strickland-Murphy killed herself.

Who really killed Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy?

Act Two: The State abuses the families of Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy.

When Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy asked, directly and indirectly, for help, they were sent into segregation. Segregation means no family contact and that one’s security changes from medium to maximum. The families say they were never told about their loved ones’ deteriorating conditions. No one in either family knew how bad the situation was. How could they, when Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy were in and out of “segregation”? After the deaths, the State met the families’ various requests for information, both on what happened and what follow-ups were going on, with stone dead silence. According to Kim Pate, of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, when the Park family asked for more information, “they were told it was protected. It is outrageous.” There’s no outrage here, and Ashley Smith does not haunt the Canadian justice or prison system. The State kills women in prison, and then “protects” information. According to the family, the investigation into Veronica Park’s death didn’t even begin for a full four months.

Act Three: The darkness gathers.

Howard Sapers, the federal prisons ombudsman, released a report last week on how Canadian prisons deal with families after prisoners have died “in custody.” Investigative reports are consistently blacked out. Sometimes whole pages are missing. This repeats the treatment prior to the death, when the prisons don’t inform families. Prisons treat the families callously and worse. One man told the prison he would be coming to view his family member’s body on a certain day. When he arrived, he was told, for the first time, that his family member had been cremated. Later, without any notice, the ashes were couriered to him: “They cremated him and they sent him by Purolator…sending someone in the mail…it’s just not right.” It’s just not right. Sapers’ report is titled In the Dark.

Ashley Smith died, or was killed, nine years ago. In the interim, the darkness has gathered and thickened. In the name of Veronica Park, Camille Strickland-Murphy, and Ashley Smith, no more red flags, reports, inquiries or commissions. It’s time, it’s way past time, for action. Close the Nova Institution for Women. Close all places where segregation and isolation are the protocols for healing. Build spaces that are actually for women. Anything else is just not right.

A report to a family on their loved one’s death

 

(Photo Credit 1: CBC News) (Photo Credit 2: News 1130 / Office of the Correctional Investigator)