What happened to Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley? Just two more deaths in America’s jails

Michelle Bewley

Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley never met each other, and yet they are mirror-image sisters in the wasteland that is the criminal justice system in the United States. Both died, or were killed, in a Clay County Jail. Abby Rudolph died November 3, 2016, in the Clay County Jail, in northwest Minnesota. Michelle Bewley died March 5, 2019 in the Clay County Jail, in northeast Florida. Abby Rudolph was 19 when she died; Michelle Bewley was 35. Both were arrested for shoplifting. Both were addicted; went into withdrawal while in jail; asked, begged, for help. None came, or, better, help was refused. In both cases, the local agency decided the staff was professional and did what they could. In both instances, family, friends and sister inmates disagree. Both Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley died in excruciating agony, begging and pleading for help. Both, in their deaths, became `newsworthy’ in the past couple weeks. This is who we are.

The details for Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley are the same as those for  Chuneice Patterson, Onondaga County Justice Center, New York, 2010; Amy Lynn Cowling, Gregg County Jail, Texas, 2010; Christina Tahhahwah, Lawton, Oklahoma, 2014; Madaline Christine Pitkin, Washington County Jail, Oregon, 2014;  Natasha McKenna, Fairfax County Jail, Virginia, 2015; Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Brown County Jail, South Dakota, 2015; Joyce Curnell, Charleston County Jail, South Carolina, 2015; Kellsie Green, Anchorage Correctional Complex, Alaska, 2016; Madison Jensen, Duchesne County Jail, Utah, 2016; Brianna Beland, Charleston County Jail, South Caroline, 2017, Kelly Coltrain, Nevada, 2017. Every one of these women died in agony, screaming and begging for care.

On March 4, 2019, Michelle Bewley was picked up for having violated her bond on a shoplifting charge and was dumped in the Clay County Jail. There she went into withdrawal. According to Brittany Wink, who was in a nearby cell, “She was just screaming in pain. You could tell they were pain screams.” This is not a case of “no one came”; it never is. This is a case of they all refused to come. You could tell they were pains screams. Within 24 hours of entering the Clay County Jail, Michelle Bewley was dead … for the crime of having violated her bond. Her cousin, Amanda Snyder, reflected, “She was a very loving, kind person. And she didn’t deserve this. Nobody deserves this … I love her regardless of the mistakes she has made because that doesn’t define her as a person. Because she was a caring person. She loved her family. And I hope this never happens to anybody else’s family member.” Michelle Bewley leaves behind a husband and a young daughter

In her junior year in high school, Abby Rudolph  suffered a broken hip, which led to using pain medication which led to pain medication addiction. On October 30, 2016, Abby Rudolph, then 19 years old, was arrested for shoplifting and was dumped in the Clay County Jail. Soon after, she begin showing symptoms of withdrawal. Her fellow inmates wrote a note, delivered October 31, 2016, saying that Abby Rudolph was not eating or drinking, was in a bad way, and needed assistance. The inmates said they were worried; the staff refused to respond. On November 1, at 5 am, Abby Rudolph told the staff she could not eat breakfast. The staff did nothing. At that point she began vomiting. She continued to vomit for two days, until November 3. At 2 pm, November 3, the staff “noticed” something. Abby Rudolph was cold to the touch, and the staff took her to the showers. She couldn’t stand on her own, slumped to the floor, became spasmodic, and died within the hour. 

The family has filed a civil lawsuit. Their attorneys argue that the abuse showered on Abby Rudolph exceeds “mere negligence” and shocks “the conscience.” Does it? I ask you, directly, are you shocked? Jill Rudolph, Abby Rudolph’s mother, filled the lawsuit in the early part of 2018. In December 2018, Jill Rudolph, 52 years old, died. Her brother explained, “She died of grief. She could not go on.”

Is your conscience shocked yet? Have we suffered enough grief yet, enough to tell us that, if we want to go on, we have to stop caging and executing women? What happened to Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley, in their own private Clay County Jail hellholes? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.

Abby Rudolph

(Photo Credit 1: Action News Jax) (Photo Credit 2: City Pages)

What happened to Kelly Coltrain? Just another death in Nevada’s jail system

Kelly Coltrain

On July 23, 2017, 27-year-old Kelly Coltrain was “found” dead on the floor of her cell in the Mineral County Jail, in Hawthorne, Nevada. This week, two years later, her family won a $2 million settlement and an agreement that a Federal judge would monitor the jail for the next four years. The family’s attorney noted that the federal monitoring was more important to the family than the money: “If we accepted just money, there was no guaranteeing that future situations for other prisoners would not occur and future tragedies would be around the corner.” What happened to Kelly Coltrain in the Mineral County Jail? The routine torture of women in jails across the country. Here’s a very partial list of women who have died in jails in the past few years, women whose death we have attempted to memorialize: Chuneice Patterson, Onondaga County Justice Center, New York, 2010; Amy Lynn Cowling, Gregg County Jail, Texas, 2010; Christina Tahhahwah, Lawton, Oklahoma, 2014; Madaline Christine Pitkin, Washington County Jail, Oregon, 2014;  Natasha McKenna, Fairfax County Jail, Virginia, 2015; Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Brown County Jail, South Dakota, 2015; Joyce Curnell, Charleston County Jail, South Carolina, 2015; Kellsie Green, Anchorage Correctional Complex, Alaska, 2016; Madison Jensen, Duchesne County Jail, Utah, 2016; Brianna Beland, Charleston County Jail, South Caroline, 2017. Add Kelly Coltrain to this list. Every one of these women died in agony, screaming and begging for care.

Kelly Coltrain, from Austin, Texas, was on her way to her grandmother’s 75th birthday celebration, in Reno, Nevada. Kelly Coltrain was stopped, in Hawthorne, Nevada, for speeding, and police found she had unpaid traffic or parking tickets. Kelly Coltrain had no criminal record. Bail was set at $1750, and so Kelly Coltrain sat in the Mineral County Jail. She told the staff she was drug-dependent, suffered from seizures, and would need medical assistance. The staff refused. Mineral County Jail is across the street from a hospital. The staff refused. Kelly Coltrain vomited repeatedly, refused to eat, trembled or lay perfectly still. The staff watched on video and refused to help. At some point, a staff member brought Kelly Coltrain a mop and told her to clean up the mess. Less than an hour later, Kelly Coltrain died, in a seizure. Kelly Coltrain lay, dead, on the floor for six hours. Finally, a staff member walked in, found Kelly Coltrain cold and inert on the floor, nudged her with his boot, went out, called his sergeant. Kelly Coltrain lay on the floor for another four hours. The staff did not call a paramedic. Kelly Coltrain lay cold, inert, in a fetal position on the floor and “nobody called for medical assistance.” 

Kelly Coltrain did not die nor was she “found” dead. She was murdered. The staff did not “fail” to pay attention or to care for Kelly Coltrain. The staff refused to pay attention, refused to care for Kelly Coltrain. Kelly Coltrain’s death was preventable, avoidable and foretold. Staff refused to listen, see, monitor, engage, respond, care. Staff refused to follow directives and procedures, as they had so many times before, without consequence, and so many jail staffs across the country do every day, especially if the incarcerated person is a woman, a woman of color, a working poor woman; a women living with mental health illness, addiction, or pretty much anything, and the list goes on.

How did the local authorities initially respond to Kelly Coltrain’s death: “It’s just really difficult for a small rural county like this to handle what is just a massive problem. There are so many people addicted to substances who end up going through withdrawal in the jail.” It was Kelly Coltrain’s fault. She shouldn’t have ended up in a small rural county jail. It was Kelly Coltrain’s fault. She should have known better. What if Kelly Coltrain’s family hadn’t persisted? Who would have known? Our Great Refusal is built of an infinite number of grimy little refusals, and meanwhile, in jails across the country, women in agony beg and scream for help, then lie in fetal positions on cold cell floors. When they are finally found, they receive the toe of a boot, and nobody calls for medical assistance.

Kelly Coltrain

(Photo Credit 1: CNN) (Photo Credit 2: Reno Gazette Journal)

India votes and `suffers’ women prisoners and their children. And we call it democracy.

Elections matter. Australia voted, catastrophically, and immediately after suicide attempts and other forms of self-harm spiked among refugee and asylum seeker prisoners on Manus Island and Nauru. Elections matter. India voted, catastrophically, and the news for women inmates in prisons and jails across India is grim. The last five years of the Modi regime have meant ongoing and increasing violation of women prisoners’ rights, autonomy and well-being, on one hand, and a policy of increased opacity, on the other. In both instance, Australia and India, the State blames the women and children for the violence and torture the State visits upon their bodies and souls … and they call it democracy.

India went to the polls from April 11 to May 23. While it had little or no impact, the same week the elections began, the National Crimes Record Bureau, NCRB, finally released its Prison Statistics India 2016 Report. That report came in after an unexplained years’ long delay. The Prison Statistics India 2015 Report was issued in a timely manner in September 2016. The 2015 Report opens: “I am privileged to release the 21stedition of `Prison Statistics India’ for the year 2015, an annual publication of National Crime Records Bureau since the year 1995.” In 1996, the National Crime Records Bureau was tasked with publishing an annual report on the conditions in India’s prisons and jails. For 21 years, it did so, dutifully and faithfully. And then … it stopped. This silence concerning the conditions of prisons, jails and, most importantly, prisoners was matched by an equivalent “failure” by the NCRB to publish its annual Crime In India report for 2017. This was the first “failure” of this annual report since 1953. Taken together, the lack of reporting begins to look more like refusal than failure: “All this has happened on the watch of a government that is known for being less than forthright about official data.”

This refusal to provide detailed data continues throughout the Prison Statistics India 2016 Report. Most glaringly, the new report says nothing about caste or religion. Whereas earlier reports described, in detail, the situation and conditions in prisons and jails for Dalits, members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, members of religious minorities, especially Muslim, this last `report’, the methodology of which is ostensibly the same as previous reports, says nothing. According to the most recent census, 16.6% of India is Dalit, while Dalits made up 21.4% of India’s prison and jail population. Likewise, Scheduled Tribes make up 8.6% of the Indian population and 12.8% of the prison and jail population. Many noted these discrepancies and strove to address them. The Modi regime has addressed them by erasing not only categories but whole sectors of the population. This is not failure to represent, this is refusal to represent, and it’s part and parcel of the caste and religion-based politics of the Modi regime and of his political party.

Where are the women in this picture? Everywhere and nowhere. Before the latest report came out, it was already known that prisons and jails in India are particularly damaging to women. First, they’re designed for men. Second, they have less access to facilities and resources within prisons and jails. Third, they have less access to resources outside of prisons and jails. For example, “a woman, nearly 70 years old, has been in jail for the past 18 months on kidnapping and rape charges … While five others, including two male co-accused, have been released on bail, she continues to be behind bars. Having lost her husband during her incarceration, she has no one to reach out to. What purpose is being served by keeping her inside?”

Further, over the preceding fifteen years, the rate of men’s incarceration has increased by 33%, while that of women has grown by 61%. Despite this growth of women’s incarceration, neither budgets nor infrastructure has increased. Thus, the women’s prisons are severely overcrowded and filthy; the food and hygiene are deplorable; and there is virtually no physical and mental health care. For Dalit and Adivasi women, the conditions are predictably worse. According to a recent study, “76% (279 prisoners) of prisoners sentenced to death in India belong to backward classes and religious minorities, with all 12 female prisoners belonging to backward classes and religious minorities.” None of this is in the most recent NCRB report.

The NCRB report does provide some data, and the most salient fact is that 67% of India’s prisoners are “undertrial”, meaning awaiting trial … meaning officially innocent. From 2014 to 2016, the number of undertrial, or remand, prisoners rose 3.6%, from 282,879 to 293,058 in 2016. Close to 71% of undertrial prisoners are deemed illiterate or low literate. While among convicted prisoners, prisoners 30 – 50 years old predominate, among undertrials the majority are 18 to 30 years old. 72% of women prisoners are awaiting trial. Much more than with male prisoners, women prisoners are overwhelming young, minimally educated, poor … and formally innocent. Additionally, there are 1,809 children in prisons and jails across India, and they all are cared for by their mothers, women prisoners. Of the 1809 children living behind bars, 78% of their mothers are awaiting trial, minimally educated, poor … and formally innocent. 

Elections matter. Information matters. Transparency matters. Democracy matters. The United States “discovered” this week that a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador died in custody, last September, and that the State lied and hid that girl-child’s death. We are dismayed but not shocked or surprised. Refugee and asylum prisoners in Australia engage in increased self-harm and suicide attempts following the Australian national elections. Some are finally, in some cases after five-year delays, sent to the mainland for `care’. India cages more and more Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim young women and children, all formally innocent, and covers it in the civil equivalent of the fog of war. And we call it democracy.

(Photo Credit: The Tribune India)

Australia is not shocked by the torture of refugee children; Australia is shocked by their survival.

Sajeenthana

Tomorrow, Thursday, May 16, 2019, in Sydney, Australia, for one night only: “COMMUNE presents LIMBOLAND, an exhibition by Sydney artist Lachie Hinton and photojournalist Mridula Amin exposing the stories of refugees and asylum seekers who were detained indefinitely on Nauru.” At the heart of this exhibition, and project, is a Tamil girl from Sri Lanka, named Sajeenthana. At the age of three years old, Sajeenthana “arrived”, was dumped, on the island of Nauru, thanks to Australia. When anyone tried to engage with Sajeenthana, she had a simple, straightforward response: “I want to kill myself”. That’s what Sajeenthana said, and that’s what the other child refugees on Nauru said. Australis is not shocked by the pain, suffering, torture it has inflicted on these children. Australia is only shocked that they survived. Sajeenthana is now eight years old.

In February 2019, Australia emptied Nauru of its child refugee population. Many were sent to the United States. Sajeenthana and her father were rejected. In October 2018, Sajeenthana stopped eating. She spent 10 days in hospital on Nauru. Then she and her father were moved to a Brisbane hospital. From there they were moved to “community detention” in Brisbane. No one knows what will happen next.

What is known is this: Australia forced Sajeenthana to endure a childhood composed of suicide and self-harm. Leaving Nauru is a first step, but Nauru has not left Sajeenthana, nor all the other children who lived there, the ones who witnessed “successful” suicides as well as suicide attempts, who watched so many others cut themselves that it became a “natural” part of life. 

Australia has engaged in a decade and more of unrestrained, indefinite detention of migrant, immigrant, refugee, asylum seeker children. Why do the adjectives matter? Australia’s national policy has been to torture children. The torture of children has become ordinaryroutine, and while some may claim to be shocked, in fact the State has been proud of its routine torture of children and proud of its people, the true Australians, who are NOT shockedNOT SHOCKED, by the routine torture of children. That’s why, even if it looks like the camp on Nauru is closed, there are no plans to close the camps.

So, here is a poem for the children, the ones who were never meant to survive:

Detention Deficit Disorder
by Jane Downing

How do you write a poem about Manus and Nauru
We’ve seen the razor wire footage/ listened to the reports succumbed to Attention Deficit Disorder – look a celebrity died Will a well chosen image connect
Move someone to action (not me)
like poetry in the old days recited in the heat of revolution Does this need a personal anecdote
to give it a punch above lecture/harangue
a poignant quote*
A crisis point to bring into focus the human face
that reveals the inhumanity of our country of the Fair Go turning a willfully blind eye
and blaming the hypocrisy of smiling politicians
Will a reference to Hitler help any (no) 

How could the Germans not have known? It’s not as if we don’t 

History will not be kind
An Apology will be too late
Having written a poem will not have been enough 

* ‘Poetry is about the grief. Politics is about the grievance’. Robert Frost 

(Photo Credit: SBS News / Lachie Hinton)

Restraint and seclusion in Maine schools is an atrocity

Yesterday, May 13, 2019, Disability Rights Maine, DRM, released a report on the use of restraints and seclusion rooms in schools in Maine, an update on its 2017 report. Conditions in Maine have worsened: “DRM found: 1) the use of restraint and seclusion has increased every year since 2014 – from 12,000 to more than 20,000 in 2018; 2) data remains incomplete because multiple covered entities fail to report every year; and 3) students with disabilities continue to be disproportionately subjected to restraint and seclusion, as a majority of the restraints and seclusions in Maine take place in special purpose private schools for children with disabilities.” The report concludes, “Restraint and seclusion are dangerous and ineffective practices. They are supposed to be reserved for emergency situations, but as the data shows, they are being used at alarming rates and it continues to rise every year. Just last school year, there were an estimated 20,000 restraints and seclusions in Maine schools and likely more. This translates to a restraint or seclusion every 5 minutes that school is in session. Something has to change … Maine students are restrained and secluded at rates over four to eleven times the national average, and students with disabilities are subjected to these practices at significantly disproportionate rates.” Every 5 minutes, a child in Maine is tortured and they call it education.

In 2017, New Zealand banned seclusion rooms, calling them unreasonable and oppressive. Last year, Alberta, Canada, was forced acknowledge and begin to address its use of seclusion and restraint as a form of torture of children living with disabilities. Last year, England was forced to begin to acknowledge its use of seclusion and restraint of schoolchildren as a form of torture. In the United States, Georgia has `struggled’ with its seclusion rooms for the last decade. In 2004, Jonathan King, 13, hanged himself in a Georgia seclusion room, an 8-foot-by-8-foot cell called a “timeout room.” In 2009, the National Disability Rights Network published School is not supposed to hurt: Investigative Report on Abusive Restraint and Seclusion in Schools. It’s 2019, and schools across the United States today hurt more children more intensely.

Why have we declared war on children living with disabilities? Why have we chosen to do something worse than criminalizing children living with disabilities? In the name of education, we have chosen to torture children until they seek their own death. What terrible sinhave these children committed? Why do we continue to send children into solitary confinement? Why do we continue to torture those who are most vulnerable? When will we stop this practice? What are we teaching children, all children in all schools, when we torture their classmates and then call it “seclusion” and “restraint”? Why does it take so much time and energy to stop torturing children? Solitary confinement in prisons is torture. Seclusion rooms in schools is torture. This is us: children dying in seclusion rooms across the country

Now it’s Maine’s turn to suffer the children. Maine legislators will sit through heartrending testimony of parents of children who have been `secluded’: “She was a different kid when she came back. It was months before she genuinely smiled or laughed again. And this happened in Maine, to my daughter, to my girl. And it’s not OK.” It’s not OK. It never was.

(Infographic Credit: Kennebec Journal)

Why does the English government hate Black Jamaican woman, Pauline Taylor-French?

Graham French and Pauline Taylor-French

Why does the English government hate Pauline Taylor-French? Pauline Taylor-French is now 45 years old. At the age of 28, Pauline Taylor-French found herself in an abusive relationship, took her two daughters and fled Jamaica. She went to England, where she has lived, and thrived, for 17 years. For 17 years, Pauline Taylor-French lived `legally’ in England on a series of student visas. A few years ago, she met Graham French. Soon after, they established a home together. They became engaged. In 2017, Pauline Taylor and Graham French were engaged and making their wedding plans. Then, in September 2017, Pauline Taylor was taken to Yarl’s Wood, where she was detained for 24 days. Pauline Taylor and Graham French have since married. Pauline Taylor-French is married to a citizen of the United Kingdom. Both of Pauline Taylor-French’s grandmothers were British citizens. Pauline Taylor’s grandfather fought with the Royal Navy in World War II. None of that seems to matter. Why does none of that matter? Why does the English government go out of its way to demonstrate its hatred for Pauline Taylor-French?

While in Yarl’s Wood for 24 days, Pauline Taylor-French lost 14 pounds. She engaged in self harm. She was put on suicide watch. Reflecting on their situation, Graham French says, “Why are they treating us like this? All her family are here, they have settled status, she has British grandparents, she’s married to me I’m a British citizen, we meet all the criteria for a spouse visa. She almost died when she was detained, being sent to Jamaica could kill her.”

Being sent to Jamaica could kill her. As far as the English government is concerned, that’s fine. Pauline Taylor-French was never meant to survive: “Where an application has been refused and a person has no legal basis to remain in the UK, they should make arrangements to leave.” If being in Jamaica kills her, that’s Pauline Taylor-French’s fault. The Home Office is only following orders.

Why does the English government hate Pauline Taylor-French? A year ago, we asked why the English government hates 59-year-old Yvonne Williams and 64-year-old Yvonne Smith, both originally Jamaican and both with no ties left in Jamaica? Two years ago, we asked why the English government hates 61-year old Paulette Wilson, born in Jamaica and with no ties left in Jamaica? Nine years ago, we asked why the English government hates Jamaican born asylum seekers Denise McNeill, 35 years old, and Shellyann Stupart, at that time both involved in a hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood.

In 2014, we asked why the English government hates 40-year-old Jamaican born Christine Case. Officially Christine Case died of a massive pulmonary thromboembolism, but fellow prisoners said Christine Case was denied medical assistance. Christine Case called for help, as she was feeling severe chest pains, and the `care’ she received was paracetamol, a mild analgesic for minor aches and pains.  Serco runs Yarl’s Wood. Serco claimed they have “24-hour, seven-day urgent medical cover on site at Yarl’s Wood.” Ask Christine Case.

That was 2014. In 1993, immigration officers killed 40-year-old Jamaican Joy Gardner, 40, as her five-year-old son and her mother watched. Joy Gardner had applied for compassionate leave to remain in England. She had no idea that her appeal had been denied. The police showed up and opened fire. Twenty years later, Joy Gardner’s mother, Myrna Simpson, says, simply, “We need justice for our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren.” Who remembers Joy Gardner? Who remembers Christine Case?

These Jamaican born women are surrounded and embraced by Black and Brown sisters from across the Global South and East: Evenia Mawongera, from Zimbabwe; Opelo Kgari and Florence Kgari, from Botswana; Lazia NabbanjaErioth MwesigwaBetty Tibikawa, from Uganda; Kelechi ChiobaAderonke Apata, from Nigeria; Lydia Besong, from Cameroon; Dianne Ngoza, from the DRC; Mabel Gawanas, from Namibia; Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf, from Somalia; Chennan Fei, from China; Shiromini Satkunarajah, from Sri Lanka; Irene Clennell, from Singapore; Bita Ghaedi, from Iran; Azbaa Dar, from Pakistan. So many named, so many unnamed. This is but a sliver of the empire of hatred being constructed by immigration regimes, in England, the United States, Australia, and beyond. Why does England hate Pauline Taylor-French?

This week the Home Office gave Pauline Taylor-French a 30-month stay… and then what? Two years of intense struggle, fear, anxiety, terror do not just go away, nor are they meant to. Too often have we asked why this State or that State hates this Black woman or that Brown woman. The time for questions is over. It’s time, way past time, to turn down the walls, to end the terror, to reckon with the hatred of women of color, to confront the policies that are today’s iteration of empire as genocide. “They should make arrangements to leave.”

Christine Case

(Photo Credit 1: Shropshire Star) (Photo Credit 2: BBC)

Utah, Georgia and Arkansas stop shackling women (prisoners) in childbirth!

In 2014, Maryland and Massachusettsstopped shackling women prisoners in childbirth. Last year, at this time, North Carolina ended shackling women prisoners in childbirth. Sometimes, a state legislature decides; sometimes a prisons director. or a governor decides. Advocates for banning the shackling of pregnant women insist that legislation is preferable to executive orders. This year, Utah, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas and South Carolina legislatures considered banning shackling pregnant women prisoners and, in some instances, the use of solitary for pregnant and post-partum women prisoners. Utah, Georgia. and Arkansas passed legislation ending shackling. Tennessee failed to pass. Missouri, which already bans the use of shackles on women in childbirth, extended limitations on the practice to jails in Missouri … with “extraordinary circumstances” exceptions. 

In Utah, both houses of the legislature unanimously passed a bill banning the use of shackles in childbirth. Jake Anderegg, a Senate sponsor of the legislation, called the bill “one of the most no-brainer bills I’ve ever run.” In Georgia, both houses passed, although the Senate vote was 52 – 1. The one opponent was “a former law enforcement officer”. In both Utah and Georgia, legislators were moved to action by testimony of formerly incarcerated women who had suffered childbirth while in shackles, Michelle Aldana; in Utah; Pamela Winn, in Georgia.

In 2001, Michelle Aldana was in Utah State Prison for seven months. She was also pregnant. When Michelle Aldana gave birth, she was shackled to her hospital bed for somewhere between 30 and 40 hours. Throughout, her legs and one arm were chained to the bed. Throughout, her ankles bled. As Michelle Aldana remembers, “I felt like a farm animal … I just don’t think any woman, when they’re that vulnerable, should ever be treated that way. It’s just wrong.” Michelle Aldana’s child was born with meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) and emerged from the womb unconscious: “They hurt my baby….and he didn’t do anything to anybody. I felt like it was my fault because I had a drug charge…but he didn’t do anything – ever – to anybody. He’s just a tiny little baby and they hurt him really bad…and I still feel really bad.” According to Michelle Aldana, because of her body type, she was told a vaginal birth would be dangerous. Utah refused a Caesarean section, and so she had to endure a vaginal birth, during which her pelvis was broken: “I felt like an animal in a cage. I felt like I wasn’t human … Nobody in this world deserves to be treated like an animal.”

In 2008, Pamela Winn. entered Robert A Deyton Detention Facility, a facility in Clayton County, Georgia, that was designed for men. At intake, she discovered she was six weeks pregnant. At that point, Pamela Winn was a healthy single mother of two children, a college graduate, a registered nurse, and a home owner. Whenever Pamela Winn was transported anywhere, she was shackled, wrists to belly chain. At one point, entering a van, she fell and, being shackled, couldn’t catch herself. According to Pamela Winn, “From that point is when I started bleeding.” She asked for medical attention. No one came for days. It took twelve weeks to actually get any medical attention. Then, one night, Pamela Winn started bleeding and cramping. Shackled to her bed, Pamela Winn suffered a miscarriage. Then, she was taken to the hospital, where she was informed that she had already miscarried. When she asked where her baby was, the guards told her they had thrown out the sheets, and with them the baby. Soon after, Pamela Winn was transferred to another facility, where she was immediately placed in solitary. Pamela Winn is now Executive Director of RestoreHer, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of incarcerated pregnant women and ending the mass incarceration directly impacted women of color: “I think that’s what’s really driven me to do this work and to fight for these laws to be passed. The fact that they tell you there’s nothing you can do. That just didn’t sit well with my soul to know that someone can treat a person like this.”

We keep reading this sentence: “Women are America’s fast-growing segment of prisoners.” So what? Last week a first of a kind study considering pregnancy outcomes in US prisons was published. That studynotes, “Being in prison or jail during pregnancy can be a difficult time for many women, fraught with uncertainty about the kind of health care they might receive, about whether they will be shackled in labor, and about what will happen to their infants when they are born. Some pregnant women in custody may experience isolation and degradation from staff and insufficient pre-natal care.” The study ends with a call to recognize “the need to address the numerous complexities of birth in custody, such as the medically unsafe practices of placing pregnant women in solitary confinement and shackling women in labor, ensuring proper pregnancy and postpartum care, and determining who will care for the infants born to mothers in custody.” Who doesn’t know that?

Michelle Aldana and Pamela Winn refused to be treated like animals, refused to give up or give in. They have gone on to become inspiring advocates for common moral decency. Who are we when we have to struggle to prohibit forcing women to give birth in shackles? It’s time to stop `discovering’ that women are the fastest growing prison population; that women in prison are pregnant and are giving birth; that prison is bad for pregnant women. Stop shackling pregnant women and stop sending pregnant women and post-partum women into solitary. Stop sending pregnant women to prison. Tear down the prison walls and build a better world. 

(Image Credit 1: Radical Doula) (Image Credit 2: Colorlines / Stokely Baksh)

Where are the women? In jail. In prison. On probation. There is nothing to celebrate here.

Yesterday, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics released two reports, Prisoners in 2017 and Jail Inmates in 2017. Headlines would suggest that the United States is beginning its exit from decades of mass incarceration: “Prison populations decline again, Justice Department report shows”; “Crime Is Down, Yet U.S. Incarceration Rates Are Still Among the Highest in the World”. The picture is not that simple. First, six states account for much of the decline: Alaska, Connecticut, California, New Jersey, New York, Vermont. Even there, the picture is muddy. In California, for example, much of the prison population decline has resulted from moving people from prisons to jails. Predictably, that move has resulted in rising death rates in jails across California. Meanwhile, according to the Vera Institute, 19 states saw increases of prison population: Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Where are the women in all of this mixed picturing? Everywhere, and for women, the picture continues to be clear and grim.

At the end of 2017, women comprised 7% of the total prison population. From 2016 to 2017, the number of women in prison fell by 0.4%, while the number of men in prison fell by 1.3%. From 2007 to 2017, the number of women in prison fell by 2.6%, while the number of men in prison fell by 7.1%. From 2009 to 2017, the number of men in prison has fallen every single year from the year before. For women, that is not at all the case. The numbers have fluctuated up and down from year to year, and for the last three years have remained more or less constant. States with the highest prison rates for women are, in descending order: Oklahoma, Kentucky, South Dakota, Idaho. The prison rates for Black women is almost double that for White women; 18- and 19-year old Black women are 4.4 times more likely than White women of the same age to be in prison. Finally, 25% of women in state prisons had been convicted of a drug offense. 14% of men in state prisons were in for drug offenses. 

The picture in jails is worse.  From 2005 to 2017, the incarceration rate of women in jails grew by 10%; for men it dropped by 12%. The male population in jails went from 649,300 in 2010 to 628,2000 in 2017. The female population in jails went from 91,900 in 2010 to 113,4000 in 2017: “From 2005 to 2017, the female jail population grew by 20%, while the male population experienced a small decline (3%). As a result, the percentage of the jail population that was female increased from 12.6% to 15.2%.” 

As the Prison Policy Initiative, PPI, noted last year, women are disproportionately dumped into local jails. 60% of women “under local control” are remand prisoners. They have not been convicted of anything and are awaiting trial. State and federal agencies contract with local jails, and so around 13,000 state and federal women prisoners are housed in jails. Finally, again according to the Prison Policy Initiative, taking into account the impact of disproportionate use of jails for women leaves the picture largely undone, because 74% of women “under control of any U.S. correctional system” are actually on probation, which is another way of saying are ever more precariously positioned to return to jail or prison.

There is nothing to celebrate in this week’s reports from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Until the same attention and resources are directed towards decarcerating women, until reports of “prison populations” actually report on women prisoners, the struggle continues. Last year, it was reported that of 714,000 women and girls held in penal institutions across the world, close to 212,000 were women and girls held in institutions in the United States. Close to 30% of all imprisoned women and girls anywhere in the world are located in the United States. The United States has the highest rate of female imprisonment of any country in the world. There is nothing to celebrate here. 

(Infographic Credit: Prison Policy Initiative)

What happened to Cherdeena Wynne? Nothing. An Aboriginal woman died in police custody

Cherdeena Wynne

In Western Australia, yet another Aboriginal woman died in police custody. Cherdeena Wynne was 26 years old, mother of three children, living with mental illness. According to Shirley Wynne, Cherdeena Wynne’s mother, at 3:30 on April 4, eight police officers entered Shirley Wynne’s home and, in the dark, wrestled Cherdeena Wynne to the floor, where they handcuffed her. According to Shirley Wynn, the officers kept calling Cherdeena Wynne by another name. Finally, after 20 minutes, the officers left the house and Cherdeena Wynne understandably terribly upset. Cherdeena Wynne ran from the house. Police encountered her blocks away from her mother’s house. Police handcuffed Cherdeena Wynne, for her “protection.” Cherdeena Wynne passed out. Officers uncuffed her, administered CPR. She revived and was taken to hospital, where she was placed in an induced coma and died, on Tuesday, April 9. Police are not investigating her death because, basically, nothing happened. It gets worse.

Cherdeena Wynne was the daughter of Shirley Wynne and Warren Cooper. Cherdeena Wynne was Noongar and Yamatji. In 1999, Warren Cooper was arrested. Warren Cooper died in police custody. Both Cherdeena Wynne and her father Warren Cooper were 26 years old when they died in police custody. Jennifer Clayton, Cherdeena Wynne’s grandmother and Warren Cooper’s mother, said, “It’s time for this to stop. I have lost my son and now I have lost a granddaughter.” Carol Roe, Jennifer Clayton’s cousin, agreed: “If kids die from natural causes you can go on, but the way our kids die we can’t go on. We are lost in the system and they don’t care two stuffs.” Carol Roe is Ms. Dhu’s grandmother, the same 22-year-old Ms. Dhu who died in custody in 2014, also in Western Australia. Ms. Dhu was arrested for unpaid parking fines. Ms. Dhu and Cherdeena Wynne were executed for the crime of being-Aborigina-women.

Monday, April 8, marked the 28thanniversary of the publication of the findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. That Commission studied 99 Aboriginal deaths in custody between 1980 and 1989. Of 99 deaths, 33 occurred in Western Australia, one of six states. The Commission issued 399 recommendations. At this point, a third of the commission’s recommendations lay untouched and without implementation. In 2016, at a commemoration of the 25thanniversary of the Commission, Carol Roe said, “They do the talk, but they need to do the walk and take action and help us and support us. Set the people free for petty crimes, instead of locking them up. Eighteen years ago my nephew died in custody. Two years ago it was my granddaughter. When is it going to stop, our heart still bleeds … I think Australia and the world need to see how my granddaughter was treated. Dragged around like a kangaroo. They need to look at it, let the world see. Shame, shame on Australia.”

We have described the deaths of the following Aboriginal men and women in Western Australia before: Mr. Ward, 2008Maureen Mandijarra, 2012;  Ms. Dhu, 2014. Two years ago, we described, after three years, there was still no justice for Ms. Dhu, her family, or Aboriginal women generally. Repeatedly we have seen Western Australia as the epicenter for the rising incarceration of Aboriginal women and the expanding and intensifying abuse of Aboriginal women in the various forms of detention in Western Australia. None of this is new.

Currently, there is no accountability and no justice for the deaths of Aboriginal and Indigenous women and men in Australia’s prison. Cherdeena Wynne was handcuffed in police custody when she fell unconscious. The police decided not to investigate. Nothing happened, less than nothing. It’s time for this to stop. Stop sending Aboriginal women and men to jail for drunken behavior, sleeping rough, unpaid fines, mental illness, being Aboriginal. It’s time, it’s way past time, for this to stop. 

Ms, Dhu

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian) (Photo Credit 2: ABC)

Baby Jane Allas, Moe Moe Than, Milagros Tecson Comilang, Desiree Rante Luis: Today’s faces of abuse of domestic workers

Mary Ann Allas and Baby Jane Allas

In 2014, former domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih stood before a gathering of women and gave witness to the horrors she had endured: “My name is Erwiana Sulistyaningsih. I am 23 years old, and come from a poor peasant family of Indonesia and am a former domestic worker from Hong Kong … I chose Hong Kong because it is said to be a safe country and I had heard no news about migrant workers being abused there.” Hong Kong was not, is not, safe. Over the last month a number of women domestic workers’ stories have emerged that demonstrate both the spectacular brutality of households and the structural brutality of nation-State. These are the stories of Baby Jane Allas, Moe Moe Than, Milagros Tecson Comilang, Desiree Rante Luis.

Baby Jane Allas arrived in Hong Kong in late 2017. She left behind five children. In early 2019, Baby Jane Allas was diagnosed with third-stage cervical cancer. She took medical leave, as is her right under Hong Kong law. On February 17, while on leave, she received a letter from her employers terminating her contract. Along with the loss of job, this also meant loss of access to public medical care. That letter was a slow death sentence. Baby Jane Allas, and her sister Mary Ann Allas, also a domestic worker in Hong Kong, organized. They raised money for medical care. They sued, under both labor law and disability laws. The case is still ongoing, but supporters already note that there were many `irregularities’ in the hearing. Baby Jane Allas reported that her stay of employment was one abuse and violation of law and rights after another, but she needed the job. She’s a single mother of five children. 

Moe Moe Than’s story is one of spectacular cruelty, the “worst of its kind”, according to a judge. 32-year-old Moe Moe Than arrived in Singapore from Myanmar in 2012. She worked for a couple that refused her food, access to the toilet, time off and worse. At one point, when complained about the quality and quantity of food, the couple forced fed Moe Moe Than, and when she vomited, the forced her to eat her vomit. Her employers beat her regularly and forced her to clean in her underwear. All of that occurred in 2012. In March, seven years later, the couple was sentenced to time in prison and to compensation. This same couple was convicted of abusing an Indonesian maid, in 2017, and never served any time in prison.

Finally, there are the cases of Milagros Tecson Comilang and Desiree Rante Luis, both former domestic workers from the Philippines. Milagros Tecson Comilang arrived in Hong Kong in 1997. In 2005, she married a permanent Hong Kong resident. In 2007, she gave birth to a daughter. Comilang and her husband have since divorced, and he refused to support her application to stay. Desiree Rante Luis arrived in Hong Kong in 1991. She has three sons, all permanent Hong Kong residents, but Desiree Rante Luis had to leave, and has only seen her family while on a tourist visa. She also applied for permanent residence status. In the case of Milagros Tecson Comilang the child’s father doesn’t want to care for his child. In the case of Desiree Rante Luis, the father is a live-in domestic worker, and so can’t care for his children. This week, the court decided that both women have to leave Hong Kong and leave their children behind. Desiree Rante Luis said, “We have been waiting for a long time. I don’t know why the Hong Kong government has no heart.”

Why do the Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and so many other, governments have no heart for transnational women? It’s a good question. Here’s another good question: “Each page a victory/At whose expense the victory ball?” Bertolt Brecht asked that in 1936. It’s now 2019, 83 years later. Baby Jane Allas, Moe Moe Than, Milagros Tecson Comilang, and Desiree Rante Luis join Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, Adelina LisaoTuti Tursilawati, and so many others whose names we wait to learn. We need more than an archaeology of contemporary household atrocities. We need justice. We need justice which begins at home.  We have been waiting for a long time. 

Desiree Rante Luis and her sons

(Photo Credit 1: South China Morning Post / Xiaomei Chen) (Photo Credit 2: South China Morning Post / Edmond So)