Haunts: Harm’s Way – HMP Styal

An epidemic of self-harm is said to be sweeping the women’s prisons of the United Kingdom: “The number of women deliberately harming themselves in prison has almost doubled in five years…. Officials recorded 12,560 cases of women prisoners injuring themselves – mainly by cutting and burning – last year, equivalent to almost three incidents per inmate. In 2003, 6,437 instances of self-harm were recorded in English prisons, about 1.5 per inmate. Although women make up just five per cent of the prison population in England and Wales, they account for more than half of all self-harming incidents. Many of the women in prison have been convicted of minor crimes, but suffer high levels of mental illness and drug abuse…. A total of 4,291 women are currently in prison, a slight fall on last year, but still nearly double the number held just a decade ago. Research suggests that more women are sent to prison for shoplifting than any other crime. Forty per cent of sentenced women serve just three months or less. More than half of women in prison report they have suffered violence at home, and one in three has suffered sexual abuse. Two-thirds have a neurotic disorder, such as depression, anxiety and phobias.”

Harm does not sweep prisons. Harm overcrowds and chokes prisons. Harm organizes and rules prisons. Prisons are harmful, especially for women.

On Monday, June 22, twenty female prisoners were raped in a prison riot in the central prison of Goma, in the DRC. We are told the men were trying to escape; the men are militia members, in prison for murder, rape, and other major offenses; the prison is meant to hold at most 150 and currently houses 600 prisoners. We are told that rape of women and of men in prison is common. We are told a great deal. Of the women, we are told nothing.

On Tuesday, June 23, the U.S. National Prison Rape Elimination Commission finally released its report. The Executive Summary opens with the harm: “Rape is violent, destructive, and a crime—no less so when the victim is incarcerated. Until recently, however, the public viewed sexual abuse as an inevitable feature of confinement.” The Introduction opens with the haunting: “Sexual abuse is among the most destructive of crimes, brutal and devastating in the moment and carrying the potential to haunt victims forever.” The Commission emphasizes that rape in prison is not inevitable, but it might as well be in a national “culture that jokes about prison rape.”

Rape. Torture. Violence. Guantanamo. The Obama administration considers “issuing an executive order that would authorize the president to incarcerate some terrorism suspects indefinitely.” Not convicted felons. Suspects. Bagram. Twenty-seven former prisoners detailed this week the abuse and torture they suffered and endured in Bagram: “physical abuse, the use of stress positions, excessive heat or cold, unbearably loud noise, being forced to remove clothes in front of female soldiers”. Not one of the former prisoners was ever charged or tried. Suspects. Israel has its own private Guantanamo, Facility 1391, where who knows what goes on. But more generally Israeli security forces have been accused “of deliberately shackling Palestinian prisoners in a painful and dangerous manner, amounting to a form of torture.” Suspects abounding.

Rape. Torture. Violence. These are the Big Stories of the Horror. But hold on. In Arizona, for over a decade, male prisoners have been paraded in public in women’s pink underwear. In the U.S., women prisoners in childbirth are shackled. Casandra Brawley, a former prisoner at the Washington Corrections Center for Women, is taking Washington State to court for having shackled her during childbirth: “Brawley said she was shackled by a metal chain around her stomach during transportation to the hospital, then fastened by a leg iron to a hospital bed throughout several hours of labor. The suit alleges her restraints were removed during an emergency 
cesarean section only after a physician insisted, but then were 
replaced after the procedure.” Calling a woman in labor a security risk is a joke, right? Like prison rape, or making a man undress in front of a woman, or making a man dress like a woman.

In the United Kingdom, forty per cent of sentenced women serve three months or less, and yet somehow manage to `harm themselves’ at a rate of three incidents per inmate. Women prisoners’ self harm is neither epidemic nor outbreak. It’s life. It’s part of the harm of being a woman in a neoliberal political economy. The Corston Report: a review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system, a review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the U.K. criminal justice system, said as much in March, 2007.

Behind the Corston Commission Report sits HMP Styal, “one of the largest women’s prisons” in the U.K. Between August 2002 and August 2003, six women died at Styal. Anna Claire Baker, a 29-year-old mother of two, a remand prisoner, was found hanged in her cell in November 2002. Sarah Campbell, 18, took pills, informed the staff she had taken pills, and was promptly left alone in a cell, to stew for a bit. She didn’t stew. She died. So did Julie Walsh, in August 2003. Walsh, a 39-year-old mother-of-two, also died after taking pills. The tragic deaths of these six women at Styal was the impetus of the Corston Commission. According to Nicholas Rheinberg, the Cheshire Coroner who conducted the inquests into the deaths at Styal, “I saw a group of damaged individuals, committing for the most part petty crime for whom imprisonment represented a disproportionate response. That was what particularly struck me with Julie Walsh who had spent the majority of her adult life serving at regular intervals short periods of imprisonment for crimes which represented a social nuisance rather than anything that demanded the most extreme form of punishment. I was greatly saddened by the pathetic individuals who came before me as witnesses who no doubt mirrored the pathetic individuals who had died.” That was then. 

This is now. February 27, 2009: “The chief inspector of prisons has warned of more deaths at Styal women’s prison if services for vulnerable inmates do not improve…. John Gunn, brother of Lisa Marley, who died at Styal in January last year, asked: “How many more women have to die before something is done?” What’s that you said about history repeating itself, the first time as tragedy, and thereafter as farce?

Harm is more than injury, it’s “Evil (physical or otherwise) as done to or suffered by some person or thing.” In a world in which women in labor are shackled and sick women are left alone to die, women prisoners’ self harm is simply a structural adjustment, another efficiency. The evil that men do lives after them. So does the harm.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: Women haunt the Prison Generation

Women in shackles, women in prison, haunt accounts of prison.

In the U.S., some say it’s time to “Redeem the prison generation“: “The least popular constituency in America. People we’d rather forget. Last year, a record 1 in every 100 American adults was in prison. One in every 30 men aged 20 to 34. And among black males in that age group? One in 9. Why? Because America’s crime and punishment policies reflect an incoherent mix of motives: justice, retribution, vengeance, the illusion of expedience, the cruel bigotry of nonexistent expectations. And absent decent job training, counseling, and re-entry programs, the system only incites violence and invites recidivism. It’s past time to reconsider our approach to prisons, for practical reasons – and because it seriously undermines our effectiveness as a society and our moral authority with other nations. With just 5 percent of the world’s population, we cage almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners – a trend that has accelerated wildly since the 1970s. If the 2.3 million Americans now behind bars joined the 5 million on parole or probation to form a city of their own, you’d have a population nearly twice that of Los Angeles. Feeling safer yet? You shouldn’t.”

The prison generation. Not quite the Coke or Pepsi Generation, but then again, not quite not the Coke Generation. Are there any women in this account of the Prison Generation? Of course not.

But there are women in prison, some for their own `protection’, for their own `good’. 

A woman is “jailed for her child’s own good?“: “A judge in Bangor, Maine — ignoring federal guidelines — has doubled the sentence of a Cameroonian woman charged with possession of false immigration documents. Was there something extra-heinous about the nature of her crime? No. Despite protests from the defense and the prosecution, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock sentenced Quinta Layin Tuleh, 28, to 238 days in prison — twice her time served, which would be standard sentencing practice here — because she is HIV-positive and pregnant. Her release date, in fact, is her due date. From today’s Bangor Daily News: “Woodcock said the sentence would ensure that Tuleh’s baby, due Aug. 29, has a good chance of being born free of the AIDS virus.” 

“Woodcock reportedly informed Tuleh at her May 14 sentencing that he intended the longer term not as punishment for her, but as protection for her unborn child. He said that the defendant was more likely to receive medical treatment and follow a drug regimen in federal prison than out on her own or in the custody of immigration officials,” says the News, adding that his decision, he said, was based entirely on her HIV status; if she were pregnant but HIV-negative, he’d have left it at time served. (Some drug regimens have proven effective at preventing HIV transmission from mother to fetus.)…. 

“”My obligation is to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant,” Woodcock stated, “and that public, it seems to me at this point, should likely include that child she’s carrying. I don’t think that the transfer of HIV to an unborn child is a crime technically under the law, but it is as direct and as likely as an ongoing assault. If I were to know conclusively that upon release from imprisonment a defendant was going to assault another person, I would act in a fashion to prevent that, and similar to an assault, causing grievous injury to a wholly innocent person. And so I think I have the obligation to do what I can to protect that person, when that person is born, from permanent and ongoing harm.”

“If Tuleh’s child is indeed born here, he or she would be a U.S. citizen. But an immigration expert told the News that an infant would most likely be deported along with the mother.”

Tuleh is not in shackles, and yet she is. If her fetus comes to term, if the child is born, in the United States, that person will and will not be a U.S. citizen, and it, not he and not she but it, will be deported. The Prison Generation … a new line of U.S. exports. The Prison Generation, haunted by the women, and especially the women of color, who never get a mention.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: Women prisoners haunt the modern era

President Obama decided not to release all of the torture pictures, but that’s already old news. What was the big deal, anyway? We already knew that torture happened; in fact, we signed on to that program a long time ago. It’s the story of our modern era, a story haunted by women prisoners.

The Women Behind Bars website shows a picture of a smiling, healthy young woman: “Gina Muniz, in 1998, before she was incarcerated in the LA County Jail and the California state prison system for her first arrest, related to the theft of $200 related to a rapid onset of drug addiction-in the aftermath of her father’s death. The theft was bizarrely classified as a carjacking, although no one was harmed, and no car was stolen. Muniz received life in prison; her lawyer told her she was agreeing to seven years when she pled guilty.” Her mother, Grace Ortega, took the photo. It must have been a happy occasion. Six months after Muniz was arrested, she was dead: “Gina Muniz, September 2000, handcuffed to her deathbed and under 24-hour-guard in Modesto Community Hospital. Next to her is her daughter Amanda. Gina suffered horribly for six months from diagnosed but untreated cervical cancer. When it was diagnosed in L.A. County Jail, early and aggressive treatment would more than likely have saved Gina’s life. Grace Ortega, her mother, was finally able to win compassionate release for her daughter two days before her death, so that she could die at home”. Her mother, Grace Ortega, took the photo. Compassionate release.

Today is June 3, 2009. Yesterday, “Texas carried out its 200th execution under the eight-and-a-half year governorship of Richard Perry on Tuesday. Terry Lee Hankins, 34, was executed by lethal injection shortly after 6pm Texas time. He had been sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of two of his wife’s children in 2001. Terry Hankins was the 16th person to be executed in Texas this year, out of a national total of 30. This was the 1,166th execution to be carried out in the USA since judicial killing resumed there in 1977, with Texas accounting for 439 of them. Another five men are currently scheduled to be put to death in Texas by mid-September….Texas is home to about seven per cent of the population of the USA and is where fewer than 10 per cent of the country’s murders occur. The state accounts for 37 per cent of the USA’s executions since 1977, and 41 per cent since 2001.”

In America, bad men wear pink underwear. In Texas, bad men are executed. Bad women, too, like Frances Newton. In 2005, “40-year-old Frances Newton became the third woman to be executed by the state of Texas since 1982 (and the first African American woman in the modern era) despite the strong possibility that she was innocent.” What exactly is this modern era? Francis Newton was “only the third woman executed by the state of Texas since 1982, and the first black woman executed since the Civil War. Unique in that historical sense, in other ways the Frances Newton case is painfully unexceptional.” Since the Civil War, since 1865? Francis Newton was the third woman executed in Texas since 1982, and the first Black woman since the mid 1800s. Francis Newton is the modern era, and the modern era goes way back.

On May 20, 2009, the New York State Legislature passed Bill S01290A, which “Provides for the care and custody of pregnant female inmates before, during and after delivery; prohibits the use of restraints of any kind from being used during the transport of such female prisoner to a hospital for the purpose of giving birth, unless such prisoner is a substantial flight risk whereupon handcuffs may be used; prohibits the use of any restraints during labor; requires the presence of corrections personnel during such prisoner’s transport to and from the hospital and during her stay at such hospital.” It’s called an anti-shackling measure: “the new law will make New York one of just  four states in the country that restrict the use of restraints on incarcerated women during pregnancy or childbirth. California and Illinois were the first to put any legal limits on the practice — in both cases, after a series of lawsuits forced the states to overhaul their disastrously inadequate prison healthcare systems. Before the restriction, in Illinois, it was standard practice to chain female inmates to their hospital beds before, during and after the births of their babies. As one advocate told the New York Times, “What was common was one wrist and one ankle.” (A policy that, frighteningly enough, looks positively benevolent compared to Kansas’s, North Carolina’s and Washington’s, which allow women to be locked in belly chains and leg irons while they’re in labor, according to a 2006 investigation by Amnesty International.)” Four states restrict shackles for women prisoners during childbirth. Four. That leaves 46 states to go.

Women prisoners haunt the modern era: some die of lethal neglect, others die by lethal injection, others in shackles bear children. We signed on to this program a long time ago.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com