A girl hanged herself. A girl was hanged here.

Women prisoners in Eloy Detention Center in Florence, Arizona, are on hunger strike to protest conditions there. This hunger strike was sparked by the internment of the Dream 9 activists, and in particular of 24-year-old Lulu Martinez and 22-year-old Maria Peniche, who have spent practically all of their time in isolation. No doubt, the conditions are `preventive’. What is the women’s crime that places them in solitary? Too much autonomy? Too much independence? Too much hope?

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday ruled that overcrowded is overcrowded, and too much overcrowded is inhumane, as in cruel and unusual punishment. It’s good news for thousands of prisoners in the California prison system, who soon will be released. And who “bears the brunt” of California’s systematic prison overcrowding? Women.

At first, women benefited from both early-release programs and from alternative sentencing programs. Those benefits were shortlived. Now the women’s prisons are once severely overcrowded and getting worse by the day. As so-called low-level women offenders are shunted off to county jails, which are not and more to the point have not prepared for the particularities of this influx, the levels of violence in the prisons intensifies. This means more and more women are being sent to solitary. And so the cycle not only continues but spins ever more rapidly, ever more violently, ever more viciously.

Given all the studies that point to the concentrated levels of mental health issues among women prisoners, what has been California’s response? Solitary isolation. It’s … preventive. It’s also typical.

The same abuse of women prisoners occurs around the world. In Australia, journalist Christine Rau laments that nothing was learned from the abuse her sister, Cornelia Rau, suffered in immigration detention. It’s a common story. Cornelia was picked up and wrongfully detained, by immigration authorities. She then vanished into the system. Literally. For a year, her family and NSW Missing Persons detectives searched for her. Finally, she was located, in an immigration detention cell.

While fellow prisoners recognized that Cornelia Rau lived with serious mental illnesses, the prison guards and system chose to ignore the symptoms, and so effectively ignored the woman.

Upon her release, Cornelia Rau received a hefty settlement for her torture, but the money is meaningless. As Christine Rau, her sister, notes: “Her life is a misery. Her neurological pathways have been so damaged after 10 months in an untreated psychosis, that she cannot settle in any permanent residence, she can’t sustain relationships beyond fleeting ones, and she is one of the unhappiest people I know. The money is meaningless: it’s handled by financial administrators employed by the NSW Government; her medical needs are rarely followed up, and we rely on a network of friends and acquaintances to try and make sure she’s safe. It’s a nightmare; but anyone with a family member without insight into a mental illness would tell you that. It’s hardly unusual.”

It is hardly unusual.

It is more than hardly unusual. It is the entire system. While immigrants are treated abysmally in “detention centers” around the world and prisoners with disabilities are abused pretty much universally, there is a special hell designated for women immigrants, for women prisoners with disabilities, for women. In Australia as in the United States, private corporations profit from the particular abuse of women, and so does the State.

It is hardly unusual. It is the systematic abuse and torture of women.

So, the women prisoners of Eloy are on hunger strike. As Thesla Zenaida, a sister prisoner and hunger striker at Eloy, explained: “Look, a girl hanged herself. A girl was hanged here. [After] she was hanged, they didn’t want to take her body down. And for the same reason—because they treat us poorly. A guard treated her poorly, and that guard is still working here.”

The torture and abuse of women is the work of the State. That’s the lesson we are meant to learn.


(Photo Credit: NACLA.org)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.