For the women of Atenco, today is one more day of women’s fight for justice and freedom

In 2001, Mexico’s federal government joined with the local government of the State of Mexico and “expropriated” the land wherein lay the village of San Salvador Atenco. In order to build a new airport, the State, with little to no consultation, decided to forcibly remove thousands of people, mostly indigenous, from the lands they had inhabited for generations. The people of San Salvador Atenco organized a massive resistance to this plan. In May 2006, the Governor of the State of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto, sent in the police “to clean up the mess.” Two people were killed and 217 detained, of whom more than 50 women were tortured and sexually violated. Though haunted by the experience, the women refused to become specters. For a decade they have refused every government attempt to silence them, from intimidation to bribes. They have said, every day, we want justice and freedom, and that means we want the truth to be known. This week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decided to pursue the case of “Mariana Selvas Gómez y others”. These are the women of Atenco: Mariana Selvas Gómez, Georgina Edith Rosales Gutiérrez, María Patricia Romero Hernández, Norma Aidé Jiménez Osorio, Claudia Hernández Martínez, Bárbara Italia Méndez Moreno, Ana María Velasco Rodríguez, Yolanda Muñoz Diosdada, Cristina Sánchez Hernández, Patricia Torres Linares and Suhelen Gabriela Cuevas Jaramillo.

Working with the Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, better known as the Centro Prodh, the women fought, day in and day out, for one thing, “a public reckoning of what happened to them and who ordered it.” During the last decade, they say they have met many other Mexican women, and in particular indigenous Mexican women, who have suffered State-administered sexual torture. For that reason, they joined the campaign, “Breaking the silence. All against sexual torture.”

For ten years, the women of Atenco lived with trauma and memory, watching the men who tortured them walk free and empowered, watching the State do worse and less than nothing, and they refused to accept any of that. When the State tried to threaten and intimidate them, they pushed back. When the State offered them free homes and scholarships, they refused. They said, like the land, like the Earth itself, they were not merchandise, and they were not for sale.

In 2011, Martha Pérez Pineda, of the Peoples Front in Defense of the Land, an organization begun in 2002 in San Salvador Atenco, explained, “Today is one more day of women’s fight for justice and freedom … It was the women who led the fight against the government’s imposition of constructing a new airport on our land. It was we, women, who decided that nothing was going to be constructed there. It was us who decided that those lands were going to keep on being farmlands. We stood firm even when the government tried to subjugate us and to break up the social movement, we, the women said you are not going to subjugate us. We are going out to the streets, in spite of the risk to our lives and our integrity, we are not going to be quiet, we are going to keep on demanding freedom and justice … in Atenco we women say no, we will keep on raising our machete, we will keep on raising our bush of maize that symbolizes life. Those symbols give us a lot of strength … Everything comes from the land, she is so generous. When we walked in our territory during these ten years of fight we see how ourselves in our personal territory as women, have also taken a long journey. In Atenco we are no longer the same women who began the fight. This fight has changed our behavior in front of the male comrades, it has transformed our decisions and our life plans. This fight has helped us to understand that we are not the only women who are living or who lived this violence in 2006, even if violence against women continues.”

That was 2011. Five years later, for the women of Atenco and for the women they stand for, the struggle and the transformation continue.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Somos el medio) (Photo Credit 2: Proceso / Miguel Dimayuga)

What happened to Sophia Rhianne Dulluog? Just another domestic worker falling from the sky

On the first Sunday of September, domestic workers and their allies marched in the streets of the city center of Hong Kong, chanting, “We are workers, not slaves!” 35-year-old Sophia Rhianne Dulluog, a Filipina domestic “helper”, was nowhere to be seen and yet everywhere. On August 9, Sophia Rhianne Dulluog was cleaning the outside of the windows of her employer’s apartment in a high rise building. She fell to her death: “No suicide note was reportedly found, and there were no suspicious circumstances. The police has classified her death as caused by `falling from a height’. Dulluog, who hailed from Santiago, Isabela, was a single mother to a 10-year-old boy. She arrived in Hong Kong three years ago.” The report language is flat because the incident is absolutely ordinary. In March 18, a 47-year-old fell Filipina worker working in the same neighborhood as Sophia Rhianne Dulluog fell to her death. In the past year, at least four other domestic workers have died, in Hong Kong, from “work accidents or suicide”. Those deaths were neither accident nor suicide. They were murder, and given the victims, femicide.

None of this is new. Domestic workers, such as Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, struggle daily and organize to end the spectacular as well as casual violence employers heap on domestic workers. Domestic workers, such as Evangeline Banao Vallejos, struggle daily and organize to end the structural, exclusionary violence the State piles on transnational domestic workers. In public and in private, domestic workers have organized for decent work, dignity, and democracy. They have done so for decades, and they are doing so today.

And yet women like Sophia Rhianne Dulluog are falling from the sky to their deaths, and for what? For the windows to be cleaned? As a spokesperson for the Asian Migrants Co-ordinating Body noted, “Cleaning windows from the outside is not a domestic worker’s duty. It’s a responsibility of the building management.” And there it is. It’s cheaper to have domestic workers clean the outside of windows than the building management, and if a few die in the process, that’s the collateral damage of global urban development. After all, Sophia Rhianne Dulluog didn’t have to come to Hong Kong, she chose to. Right?

The domestic worker protesters called for an increase in the minimum wage for foreign domestic workers. Meanwhile, almost 72 percent are paid less than the minimum wage. The law says employers have to provide “suitable accommodation.” Close to 40 percent do not have their own room. Many live in “boxes”, “dog houses.” Employers are supposed to provide either free food or a food allowance. For many, that’s not happening.

None of this is new. The global political economy has been built on the acceptability and necessity of expendable slaves, and dogs, among us. They are meant to be the walking embodiment of social death and death-in-life. Other than their capacity as super-exploited labor, they are less than nothing. That’s why domestic workers’ struggles for decent work, dignity and democracy are crucial, because, while they are not the wooden shoes in the global machinery, they are the ones who wear and throw those shoes.

What happened to Sophia Rhianne Dulluog? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, just another domestic worker falling from the sky. “No suicide note was reportedly found, and there were no suspicious circumstances.”

 

 

(Photo Credit: Coconuts Hong Kong / Loryjean Yungco)

What’s the matter with Oklahoma? Women prisoners.

Since 1991 Oklahoma has consistently had the highest female incarceration rate in the United States. For 25 years, Oklahoma has consistently led the nation in its race to the bottom and beneath. This year is no different. According to Oklahoma Watch, “Despite years of concern over Oklahoma’s high rate of female incarceration, the number of women sent to prison jumped again in the latest fiscal year. In fiscal 2016, which ended June 30, the number of women sent to Oklahoma prisons rose by 9.5 percent, from 1,593 to 1,744, data from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows.” There is one somewhat bright spot: “Tulsa County … sent 24 percent fewer women … The drop over the past two years there was 49 percent for women … Tulsa County inmate advocates and criminal justice officials attribute the decline to a widely coordinated effort to provide diversion and treatment programs.” Last year, Oklahoma County sent 33 percent more women to prison than the year before. All the other counties combined sent 10 percent more women to prison. At the end of August, Oklahoma prisons were at 107 percent capacity. Except for Tulsa County, none of this is new.

Year in, year out, the same over all report emerges from Oklahoma, and the only exceptions, such as they are, have been an intensification of atrocity and torture. In Oklahoma, most women sent to prison are mothers. For years, Oklahoma has studied the impact of so many mothers being imprisoned, especially on their children, and for years Oklahoma has done nothingor worse. For years, Oklahoma has known that the majority of women prisoners are [a] dealing with drug and alcohol addiction and [b] are in for drug related offenses, usually minor ones at that, and for years, Oklahoma has increased the punishment for those offenses. For years, Oklahoma has known that, in any given year, it has the highest rate of sexual abuse and rape in women’s prisons, and done nothing. Much of that abuse comes from guards. For years, Oklahoma has known that its prisons put women in debt bondage to prison banks, and Oklahoma looked the other way. For years, Oklahoma has known that an extraordinarily high proportion of women prisoners are living with mental illnesses, and that much of that derives from traumatic experiences. Again, Oklahoma did nothing … or worse.

As Susan Sharp showed, in Mean Lives, Mean Laws: Oklahoma’s Women Prisoners, Oklahoma did more, and less, than nothing. Oklahoma chose its path. It chose to lead the nation in the incarceration of women, and it chose turn women’s well being into trash: “Oklahoma ranks 48 in the United States in the number of women with health insurance and first in poor mental health among women.” Oklahoma is not only mean to women. It’s the meanest. That’s why the news from Tulsa County is so important. How has Tulsa County begun to reduce the rates of women’s incarceration? Nothing spectacular, but rather common sense and evidence-based programs: treatment, education, counseling, “specialty courts”, diversion and a commitment to caring about the well-being of women. More importantly, why did Tulsa County embark on a new path? There was no great political pressure, either in the county or the State, to do so. Instead, people decided that sending women to prison for next to nothing and then keeping them in the system for life was destructive: to the women, their children, their communities, and everyone.

Tulsa County is showing that in Oklahoma, the worst of the worst, it’s possible to change the present, to not condemn anyone to recall a future already condemned. Another Oklahoma is possible, and it begins with valuing the well-being of women.

 

(Photo Credit: Newson6)

In the California Institution for Women, women are STILL dropping like flies!

What happened to Shaylene Graves? She was “found” hanging in her cell at California Institution for Women, or CIW. Given the situation at CIW, what happened to Shaylene Graves is nothing out of the ordinary. Last July, California Department of Corrections officials “discovered” a crisis. In the previous eighteen months, four women prisoners at the California Institution for Women, or CIW, in Chino killed themselves … or were killed by willful neglect: 31-year-old Alicia Thompson, 23-year-old Margarita Murguia, 73-year-old Gui Fei Zhang, and 34-year-old Stephanie Feliz. After Feliz’s death, fellow CIW resident April Harris wrote, “We have women dropping like flies, and not one person has been questioned as to why … I have been down almost 20 years and I have never seen anything like this. Ever.” The suicide rate at CIW is only exceeded by the rates of attempted suicide and self harm. What happened to Shaylene Graves? Just another death in the hellhole California Institution for Women.

According to Victoria Law, “Graves’ death is the latest to rock CIW, which is currently at 135 percent capacity: 1,886 women in a prison designed for 1,398.” Shaylene Graves’ mother, Sheri Graves, wrote an open letter to the public concerning her daughter. The letter ends: “I got a call, `your daughter has died in custody.’ They said she was found hanging. My son said, `Shaylene would not hang herself. The officer said, `I know.’ The prison system failed my daughter. The prison system failed her son, Artistlee. The prison system failed our family, her friends and everyone she would have blessed with her vision for her organization. Most of all, the prison system had failed to protect her life. She lost her right to freedom in order to pay her debt to society. But, she wasn’t supposed to lose her right to life and protection while incarcerated.”

Shaylene Graves was a month from being released from CIW. According to all reports, she was a vivacious, engaged, sociable, charming, funny young woman. She was preparing to leave CIW, and to start an organization to help other women in their transition out of prison. She cared about her son, her family, her community. She cared about her sister prisoners, at CIW and elsewhere. Those who knew her are shocked by her death and deeply doubtful of the initial report of suicide.

Many are shocked, but the death of Shaylene Graves did not rock the Institution, no more than the prison system failed. The prison system did far worse than fail. It refused, and in so doing killed Shaylene Graves. Whatever “facts” or “details” emerge concerning the specifics of Shaylene Graves’ last hours on earth, the facts are that if it hadn’t been her, it would have been some other woman at CIW. The numbers bear that out. There is no surprise when an institution fails to address a suicide rate eight times that of the national rate for people in women’s prisons, when “suicide prevention” in the institution is consistently rated as “problematic”, when the answer to an overcrowded suicide watch unit is to shunt the “overflow” into solitary confinement.

The California Institution for Women is overcrowded, but so are the Central California Women’s Facility and the women’s section of Folsom State Prison. The overcrowding is worse at Central California, but the women there are not dropping like flies. Shaylene Graves requested to be moved from Central California to CIW, so as to be closer to her family. And now … she’s closer to her god, and her family grieves and rages and demands answers and, even more, demands justice. So should we all. We have had enough reports asking why are so many women attempting suicide at the California Institution for Women. We have had too many “discoveries” to claim any sort of innocence. Women are dropping like flies in the California Institution for Women because pushing women to drop like flies is more convenient than treating women as full human beings, more convenient than treating prisoners as full human beings, and a whole lot more convenient than treating women prisoners at all.

Women prisoners and supporters, such as the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, long ago identified the crisis. They have continually, loudly denounced the conditions and called for a thorough overhaul, beginning with releasing most of the prisoners. Three years ago, when women in the California Institution for Women participated in California’s statewide hunger strike, they called attention to the State assault on their bodies, minds and souls. They identified a crisis, and the State looked away, and instructed all good citizens to do the same. That was three years ago. It is September 2016, and the assembly line of women prisoner deaths is not slowing down. It’s time to smash the machinery once and for all. Do it in the memory of Shaylene Graves.

 

(Image Credit: San Francisco Bay View / California Coalition for Women Prisoners)

The Quechua women of Accomarca demand justice!

Survivors and relatives of those killed in the Accomarca massacre

Survivors and relatives of those killed in the Accomarca massacre

Thirty-one years ago, almost to the day, a terrible thing happened to the residents of Accomarca, a largely Quechua village in the Andean province of Ayacucho. On August 14, 1985, the Peruvian army entered the village, looking for Shining Path fighters. Finding none, they took the villagers, around 70 of them, separated the men from the women and children, killed and burned the men; rape and then killed and burned the women; killed and burned the children. For thirty-one years, the women of Accomarca have demanded justice for the violence that was wreaked upon their village, families, community, and upon themselves. This week, a court gave them something that begins to approximate justice.

From the day of the Accomarca massacre until today, women have led the movement for real justice: “For groups that are not allowed a voice in the administration of justice, how does one quell a desire for retribution? For whom does reconciliation sit like a lump in their stomach and a constant irritant of their heart? For women, especially the widows. The work of grief is `women’s work,’ and women literally embody the suffering of their communities in this gendered division of emotional labor. Thus it is phenomenological that they would carry the memories of unaddressed wrongs in their nerves, the lower back, in the nape of their necks. A thwarted desire for justice becomes a felt grievance. It was long conversations with women that demonstrated the need for a political economy of forgiveness and reconciliation. Without economic redistribution, asking people to feel `forgiving’ is itself an immoral act. For the women (and the orphans) their poverty serves as a constant reminder of all they lost. Consensus-making mechanisms may stifle their voices but not their rage.”

While the bestiality of the Peruvian army in Accomarca is beyond horror, the real story is the women who refused to sit down and shut up, who refused to melt into the Andean landscape as just another unfortunate, but unavoidable, consequence of a dirty war. The women of Accomarca told their stories, repeatedly, and insisted that the stories were theirs. They consistently rejected the bartering system in which survivors share their pain and trauma and, in exchange, receive compassion from a “grateful nation.” From 1985 until today, the women have insisted they don’t want compassion. The women of Accomarca want indignation. First, they organized indignation in their families and communities, and then they moved to Lima with their structures of indignation. They want indignation to move the nation to transform the violence. They want people to understand that the material and economic poverty of their lives are built of the ashes of their loved ones, and that must end. They want the nation to address the racist sexist violence that surrounds and attacks Quechua, and all, indigenous women in Peru.

The women of Accomarca – including Salomé Baldeón, Cirila Pulido Baldeón, Teófila Ochoa Lizarbe, Justa Chuchón – demanded a justice that would replace the smell of burning flesh from their noses, the taste of soured milk from their breasts, and the pounding rage from their hearts and minds. This week, Peru’s National Criminal Court convicted ten officers and soldiers for their roles in the massacre. Meanwhile, the women of Accomarca continue to organize. To this day, those who were killed in the massacre thirty-years ago have yet to be properly buried.

 

(Photo Credit: Proceso / Rodrigo Abd / AP)

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)

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)