This story is about Jessica Williams. #SayHerName

 

On Thursday, May 19, activists from various national movements – including Black Youth Project 100, Project South, Ferguson Action and Black Lives Matter – joined with local activists around the country for a day of action to protest and do something about State brutality against Black women. The banner and hashtag for the day were #SayHerName. On Thursday, May 19, Jessica Williams, 29 years old, Black, was killed by a white San Francisco police sergeant. Jessica Williams was unarmed. The reports on Jessica Williams’ death have barely said her name. Until late Friday night early Saturday, Jessica Williams was “an unarmed Black woman.” More to the point, the story line has been about the Police Chief being removed, about the new Police Chief, and about racism in the San Francisco Police Department. While all of those count, the story should be about Jessica Williams. Even in her own death, even now, Jessica Williams suffers the indignity of being removed from the center of her own life and death story. Jessica Williams. Say her name. #SayHerName

The story of Jessica Williams’ death is a common one, both for San Francisco and beyond. Williams was in a car identified as having been stolen. She refused to leave the car and allegedly tried to drive away. That’s when a police officer shot and killed her. According to all reports, Jessica Williams was not driving towards the officer. In fact, she wasn’t driving at all. According to police, “Williams drove away after officers tried to talk to her, officials said, but crashed into a parked utility truck about 100 feet away. She continued to disobey police instructions, and the sergeant then fired one shot and killed her as she sat in the car, said police, who added that no weapon was found on Williams.”

From 2000 to today, San Francisco police officers have been in 95 shootings. Forty have been fatal. Twenty-three of the shootings involved people “in moving or stopped vehicles.”

Jessica Williams was killed in the Bayview District, a hotbed of `revitalization.’ Bayview is the epicenter of San Francisco’s “shrinking African American population”. In early December last year, Mario Woods, 26 years old, Black, was shot 20 times by police officers in Bayview.

The San Francisco Police Department has already been under investigation for racist and homophobic practices, both formal and informal. Police Chiefs will come and go, as will police sergeants and other police. It’s important to address the police, as a group of people, a culture, a public agency, and a body of practices. But first and last, we must learn to move the police off center in the narratives of those killed by police. Jessica Williams is the story, not this sergeant or that chief.

Her name is Jessica Williams, and she did not deserve the fate that was dealt her by the State. No one deserves that fate, and no one deserves that treatment. Jessica Williams is the name of `urban redevelopment’ and skyrocketing real estate markets. Jessica Williams is the name of militarized and uncontrolled policing, witch-hunting, all in the name of zero tolerance and urban revitalization. Jessica Williams, 29 years old, Black, female, was sitting in a stationary car when she was killed. This story is about Jessica Williams. Say her name. #SayHerName

 

(Photo Credit: Twitter / @SisterSong_WOC) (Image Credit: Ferguson National Response Network)

For the silicosis widows of India, the struggle continues

Silicosis widows meet

On May 4, India’s Supreme Court directed the Gujarat government to compensate the families of 238 workers who died of silicosis while working in unregulated quartz crushing factories. Within the month Gujarat is supposed to pay each family 300,000 rupees, or around $4,500. The Court also directed the Madhya Pradesh government to take care of an additional 304 workers currently suffering from silicosis. As in South Africa, the story of industrial silicosis is a widows’ tale, from horrible start through brutal inner chapters to whatever the end will be.

According to a 1999 Indian Council of Medical Research report, in India about 3 million are at risk of silica exposure. Since that report, the numbers of workers in the various fields – mining and quarries, manufacture of non-metallic products, manufacture of basic metals and alloys, and construction – has only increased, and since that time pretty much nothing has improved in the conditions of labor, and so one assumes that the 3 million mark has been exceeded by quite a bit.

Across Madhya Pradesh, this “occupational trend” has produced an archipelago of widow villages, and that’s the point. The villages are not new and are not unknown. Women’s organizations have long lobbied for compensation. For ten years, the National Human Rights Commission has documented and organized to improve the situation of the workers and their families. At every step of the way, the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh governments have refused any sort of assistance.

It’s a common enough story. Small hold farmers from tribal communities were forced off their lands by market forces, weather, and the poverty of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which, in Madhya Pradesh, guarantees stay-at-home-and-die. And so populations of mostly male workers went off to work in the factories of Gujarat. When they returned home, usually earlier than expected, they were frail, coughing, bleeding versions of the men who had left. And women were left to tend to the dying, the dead, and the debts. Then the women started going to Gujarat to work crushing stones.

Madhavi comes from a village in Madhya Pradesh. She joined four family members who went to work in Gujarat. Six months later, sick, they all returned home. To pay for medical treatment, they sold off their livestock and mortgaged their land. Then Madhavi’s mother, two brothers and sister-in-law died of silicosis. Now, sick with silicosis, Madhavi cares for her father and struggles with debt: “With my brothers gone, I am not sure when I‘ll be able to pay off all the loans. I have received no support from the government. My father does not receive any pension. It is very difficult to get by as I am always tired and run out of breath while working.”

Meanwhile, across Rajasthan, mineworkers’ widows tell the same story of death, debt, and desperation. Prembai explains, “[My husband] could not work for the last six years of his life, so I would work to keep things going. Women earn just Rs100 a day in the mines, while men are paid about Rs250.” The bodies and debts pile up; the State looks away. In Rajasthan as elsewhere, entire villages are called “the land of widows”.

The story of silicosis in India is the same as that in South Africa. For those who work the mines and factories, there is no dignity in labor. For the widows, there is no dignity in death. The bodies come home, the debts and demands mount, the extraction continues.

 

(Photo Credit: The Hindu / Rohit Jain Paras)

Prison is neither a childcare nor a residential center

Dunia Romero and daughter Stefany.

The United States has built three special hells for immigrant women and children: the Berks Family Residential Center, in Leesport, Pennsylvania; the South Texas Family Residential Center, in Dilley, Texas; and the Karnes County Residential Center, in Karnes City, Texas. U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement is very proud of Karnes. When first opened, ICE boasted, “The Karnes County Residential Center (KCRC) is the first facility housing ICE detainees built from the ground up with ICE’s civil detention standards in mind. It represents a significant milestone in the agency’s long-term effort to reform the immigration detention system.” Last Friday, April 29, despite numerous `deficiencies’, Karnes was issued a temporary residential childcare license. Rather than a significant milestone in any attempt to reform anything, this is just another scene in the theater of cruelty that is immigration policy. Prison is neither a childcare nor a residential facility. Ask Dunia Romero and her fifteen-year-old daughter Stefany; ask Josie and her ten-year old son Manuel; ask Susana Arévalo Hernández and her two children; ask the mothers of Berks, Dilley, Karnes, and to a person they will tell you the same thing: “This is a prison. We fled violence and you have treated us as criminals. Why?” End the torture of women and children, and while you’re at it, stop the abuse of language and common sense. Prison is not childcare.

Yesterday, Dunia Romero and her daughter joined dozens of other undocumented mothers and children in a demonstration outside the White House. They are part of the Esperanza que Florece – Blooming Hope campaign, urging people to send Mother’s Day postcards to four prominent and influential mothers: Michelle Obama, Jill Biden, Celia Muñoz, Valerie Jarrett. The postcards call for an end to “family detention.”

Yesterday, as well, a judge in Austin granted a temporary restraining order to stop the Dilley prison from being licensed until a full court hearing on May 13. While it’s only a temporary stay, it’s an important step, and it was initiated by a lawsuit filed by two women prisoners of Dilley and Grassroots Leadership. The Karnes prison retains its license.

Today, the Center for American Progress released A Short-Term Plan to Address the Central American Refugee Situation, which noted, “The administration should close the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, and the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas, and release those detained mothers and children who do not pose a security or flight risk that cannot otherwise be mitigated … The administration should create short-term processing centers for families upon arrival that function like shelters rather than prisons. These centers would give families the ability to get their bearings in the United States; attend legal orientations and connect with pro bono counsel; and receive medical, mental health, and other needed care.”

This Mother’s Day, various groups – including currently and formerly imprisoned women and children refugees, legal teams, advocacy groups, and just plain folks – again attempt to move the State to turn its prisons into shelters and its swords into welcoming arms. Please consider joining others by sending a postcard, the link is here. Honor Mothers’ Day this year by joining the fight to release imprisoned immigrant mothers and children and by ending family detention now.

 

(Photo credit: Armando Trull / WAMU) (Image Credit: We Belong Together)

It’s way past time to recognize AND support women prison journalists

We live in an age of news desertification. Today, May 3, is World Press Freedom Day, and much of the discussion of press freedom centers, rightly, on censorship, and on the intimidation, brutalization and imprisonment of reporters. At the same time, and especially in the United States, “news deserts” are popping up in fairly predictable communities: rural areas and urban minority neighborhoods: “Minority communities in big cities tend to be the most arid news deserts of all.” News deserts are places in which people can no longer get the local news, and it’s the no longer that matters here. News deserts are places that had local community newspapers, usually for generations that either failed or, as with the vast majority, were bought out by corporate interests and then dumped or `re-tooled’ out of their community base. While the news air is indeed very dry in urban minority communities, the epicenter of news desertification across the United States is the prison, and the dead center of that map is the women’s prison.

Prison journalism has a long and storied record in the United States. In 1887, a group of prisoners in the Stillwater Prison, in Minnesota, pooled money and energies and founded The Prison Mirror. Today, The Prison Mirror is the longest running jailhouse newspaper in the United States. Today, The Prison Mirror, The Angolite, started in 1976, and the San Quentin News, revived in 2008 after 26 years of silence, are the only three prisoner-run publications that do serious and investigative reporting on criminal justice and injustice. But the real story is the rise and fall of prison newspapers.

The Prison Mirror was wildly successful from the beginning, so much so that prison newspapers, newsletters and news magazines started popping all over the country. By the early 1960s, there were prison reporters in almost every state. From 1965 to 1990, there was an active Penal Press Awards, with real competition among real prison house journalists. Then the 1990s happened. A predictable component of mass incarceration’s austerity budgets was the elimination of educational and cultural programs, included in which was the programmatic disappearance of jailhouse news venues. More prisoners, more isolation, more self harm and suicide, and more silence. Mass incarceration = news desertification.

Today, there are very few prisoner-run news outlets, and that’s a shame. These projects did more than “help” prisoners, although prisoners certainly benefited from them. Check out The Prison Mirror, The Angolite, or the San Quentin News and you’ll see hard hitting and urgently useful news reporting.

Where are the women? Here, there and everywhere. Short-lived newspapers emerge from a journalism course, and women prisoners produce newsletters, like Through the Looking Glass, published by women prisoners at the Purdy Correctional Treatment Center, outside Seattle, Washington, between 1976 and 1987. From 2002 to 2006, women prisoners at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey published a monthly magazine, Perceptions. In 2003, women prisoners in Oregon approached Vikki Law to help them publish their voices and visions, and so was launched Tenacious, a zine of art and writings by women incarcerated across the United States. The most recent issue, Tenacious 35, was published in December 2015.

None of these has received the kind of support, institutional and cultural, given to similar projects in men’s prisons. The Prison Mirror, The Angolite, and the San Quentin News are great examples of prisoner run news media, and they are great examples of the resources needed to sustain such projects, from the warden and staff to time and space to training to encouragement, from within and without. It’s way past time to recognize AND support women prison journalists. Prison doesn’t have to be a news desert, and women’s prisons don’t have to be shrouded in silence.

 

(Image Credit: California Coalition for Women Prisoners) (Photo Credit: POC Zine Project)

Suicides in prisons in England and Wales hit 25-year high, and who cares?

From a demonstration outside Styal prison, August 2008, to remember all the women who had died there. Styal is still open, and women are still dying therein.

Today, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice released Safety in Custody Statistics England and Wales / Deaths in prison custody to March 2016. To absolutely no one’s surprise, the numbers are bad, the worst in 25 years. One hundred people committed suicide in prisons across England and Wales, in the twelve months between March 2015 and March 2016. Last year, according to the Howard League for Penal Reform, the Prison and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales, and the House of Commons Justice Committee, prison suicides in England and Wales reached a seven-year high. Last year, the Ombudsman found a 64% increase in self-inflicted deaths in custody over the previous year. Additionally, “there were self-inflicted deaths at 53 different prisons, 56% more than the previous year. This included prisons where there had not been self-inflicted deaths for many years, sometimes ever.” In February 2016, the Ombudsman published a “Learning Lessons Bulletin” on prisoner suicide within the first month of custody: “It is a sadness to me that this bulletin repeats learning that I have frequently published elsewhere, about staff not spotting or using essential information about risk of suicide. This suggests that lessons still need to be learned.” The sadness goes deeper and broader than repetition and not learning. The sadness is that the bodies pile up and nobody cares.

Today’s report notes that prison suicides have soared from 79 last year to 100 this year, a 27% increase, and that prison suicide make up a little over one-third of prison deaths. Further, “the rate of self-inflicted deaths had reached its peak in the time series in the 12 months to March 2003 of 1.5 per 1,000 prisoners. After a period of fluctuations from 2004 to 2008, the self-inflicted death rate had stabilised until 2013. Subsequently the rate began to rise again to the highest point, since the prior peak, in the most recent 12 months ending March 2016 of 1.2 per 1,000 prisoners.”

While today’s report does not distinguish between men and women prisoners who have `successfully’ committed suicide, its profile of self-harm in the same period is telling: “When considering females, despite the falls seen between 2009 and 2012, rates of individuals self-harming among females remain disproportionately high in comparison to the overall rates of individuals self-harming … Females accounted for nearly a quarter of self-harm incidents in this reporting period, but only make up less than 5% of the prison population.”

None of this is surprising, and that’s the point. Critics say the system is in meltdown; it’s not. The system is working perfectly. Every year, a report comes out and some ask why the numbers continue to spike. Every year, the staff is blamed or the community or the individual prisoners. Every year, “safety in custody” is measured in suicide and self harm, and no one asks about well being and absolutely no one asks if those who die and hurt themselves in the pursuit of their own deaths belong behind bars in the first place. Every year, the public budgets for mental health are cut more deeply, and the butchers mutter in surprise at the “decrepit state” of the prisons and those who live and die therein.

Here there are no lessons to learn. These deaths are a station on a global assembly line at which employees dutifully stand and wait for the next body to ignore. The prisons of England and Wales are one tiny part of the global labor of necropower: “I have put forward the notion of necropolitics and necropower to account for the various ways in which, in our contemporary world, … new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead … Under conditions of necropower, the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom are blurred.”

It is a sadness frequently published elsewhere.

 

(Photo Credit: Indymedia UK)

Mabel Gawanus demands FREEDOM! #SetHerFree

08/01/16 Pixelated 04/01/16 Yarlswood.A Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre detainee is taken to a hospital appointment in hand cuffs. Pic by Keiron Hillhouse

Mabel Gawanas is taken to hospital in handcuffs

Why does the English government hate Mabel Gawanas? What horrible crime has she committed that the State has chosen to persecute and cage her for close on to two years? Mabel Gawanas has been in Yarl’s Wood for 22 months for the crime of having sought freedom and safety. Last week, the State moved to deport Mabel Gawanas. Thanks to her organizing and that of supporters in Movement for Justice, Black Sox, and Sisters Uncut, her ticket was cancelled. While that is great news, the idea that being sent back to prison is great news is an apt description of the current moment of State-sponsored violence against and torture of women. This week, Mabel’s daughter, Alexandra, born in England and a citizen of the European Union, turned seven years old. Who will restore those years to Mabel and Alexandra?

Mabel Gawanas is 42 years old and comes from Namibia. Orphaned as a young child, Mabel Gawanas was forced to work as a child minder when she was herself only a child. She says she was beaten, raped and abused by members of her extended family. Finally, she fled the violence. In 2006, she went to the United Kingdom, where, again, she was trapped in a family home. Mabel Gawanas has lived with mental illness for years. According to many, her mental health conditions arise largely from the violence she has endured.

Subjected to the trials of Job, Mabel Gawanas has survived with dignity, and has been rewarded with prison and worse: “I came here as a victim of torture, I was sexually abused by my own family and I am a victim of trafficking … I’ve been offered a place to stay – but I’ve been refused bail three times. Why would I run away from the people who are giving me somewhere to live? I would rather die than be deported. I am so frustrated, I should be bringing up my daughter.”

Mabel Gawanas has been one of the lead organizers of women held in Yarl’s Wood. Last year, when she discovered that she would be taken to medical appointments in handcuffs, she organized the press to come photograph and interview women prisoners in transit. In another instance, she stopped a Kenyan woman from being deported: “We protested when a woman who was tortured in Kenya, and all her family tortured or dead, was due to be deported. Ten of us filled her room with furniture so she missed her flight. She was later freed; we saved her that day.”

According to Movement for Justice, “Mabel is the foremost freedom fighter, leader and organiser of women imprisoned in the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre, a role model for every woman struggling for justice against Britain’s inhuman and racist immigration. She is one of the leaders who have made Yarl’s Wood the central battleground in the fight for women’s rights and the right of asylum in Britain … She has been a leader in every struggle in Yarl’s Wood from the protests that followed the Channel 4 exposures in March last year, and she has always been an active part of the Yarl’s Wood Movement for Justice group. She is a leader for women of every nationality in Yarl’s Wood – from every part of Africa, from India, Bangladesh, China, Eastern Europe etc. She has been organising the protests and placards at the windows on every one of the Surround Harmondsworth demonstrations since April 2015; people at the 12 th March demonstration heard Mabel speak over the phone and saw the large placard she held at the window, denouncing the sexual abuse of women by male guards. Mabel has been central to making the fight inside the centre more organised. She was part of the 3-day courtyard protest by over 100 women in the run-up to September’s parliamentary debate on detention, and organised successful collective action to support get a Chinese detainee taken to hospital. In November and March she organised women of different nationalities to defend Nigerian & Ghanaian women who were collectively resisting deportation. Both charter flights had to leave without any of those women on board.”

The English government hates Mabel Gawanas because she is a freedom fighter. She brings to light the brutality of Yarl’s Wood, immigrant detention and prison more generally. She calls out the State’s violence against women, which begins with a policy of disbelief in women and ends with the torture of indefinite detention. She demonstrates the special hell the State has constructed for African women, and for all women inside. Mabel Gawanas demands FREEDOM. Free Mabel Gawanas! #SetHerFree #ShutItDown

 

(Photo Credit 1: Bedfordshire on Sunday) (Photo Credit 2: Bedfordshire News)

In Virginia, Raja Johnson, Kimberly Carter and 206,000 more people just won back the right to vote!

Raja Johnson and Terry McAuliffe

Sometimes, as in Virginia this past week, democracy happens, and when it does, it’s largely thanks to the work of women of color organizing. Last Friday, Governor Terry McAuliffe restored voting and civil rights to 206,000 people who had been disenfranchised permanently, thanks to Virginia’s lifelong voting ban on former prisoners. As the Governor explained, “I believe our commonwealth can not achieve its full potential until all men and women act on this fundamental right and participate in the decisions about their own children’s education, about their taxes and every aspect of their lives. Unfortunately, Virginia has had a long and sad history of effectively suppressing the voices of many thousands of men and women at the ballot box … I believe it is time to cast off Virginia’s troubled history of injustice and embrace an honest clean process of restoring the right of these men and women. And so today, I will sign an order restoring the civil and voting rights of every single individual who has completed his or her sentence as of this day.” On that day, Raja Johnson stood with Governor McAuliffe as he spoke, and Kimberly Carter watched on television. These women, and thousands of others overwhelmingly women of color, will finally be able to vote, and so a chapter in Virginia’s decades long war on women of color may be drawing to a close.

In 1999, Raja Johnson, an 18-year-old Black woman, made a mistake. She was convicted of grand larceny. In 2014, Governor McAuliffe restored her right to vote. According to Johnson, “It sort of did something on the inside…and it gave me that motivation to go on. I’m about to graduate. I’ll have an associate degree in two months. In June I’ll be going for a bachelor’s degree. So, it’s sort of made me feel more like a citizen, just having my right to go back.” About ten years earlier, Kimberly Carter, a woman in her late teens, was arrested on a drug charge. Today, Kimberly Carter is 45 years old. Last Friday, Kimberly Carter watched Governor McAuliffe’s speech and then went and filled out a voter registration card: “You make a mistake, 20 years later you’re still paying for it.”

According to Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of New Virginia Majority, “It is a historic day for democracy in Virginia and across our nation. The disenfranchisement of people who have served their sentences was an outdated, discriminatory vestige of our nation’s Jim Crow past.”

Virginia’s current code of lifelong disenfranchisement began, in 1902, as a racist attempt to keep newly enfranchised Black populations from voting. For over a century, the Commonwealth actively sustained and intensified that racism. According to Governor McAuliffe’s office, “It is estimated that 1 in 5 of the African American voting-age population is disenfranchised in Virginia because of this provision.” While the lifelong voting ban in Virginia has always been an assault on African Americans, and then on communities of color more generally, in recent years, it has also been the preferred weapon of State in a war against women of color. The so-called war on drugs targeted women of color, in particular through conspiracy laws, which have caught women for the crime of intimate relationships with someone involved in the drug trade. That’s the reason Virginia’s rate of incarceration of women has soared to 146 per 100,000. With the war on drugs, Jim Crow became Jim and Jane Crow.

It’s time Virginia returned the right to vote to those who paid their debt, a debt was largely the result of racist legerdemain. It’s past time to stop the war on communities of color, and in particular on women of color. It’s time for Virginia, and all the States, to pay back their debts to the unfinished project of democracy. Raja Johnson, Kimberly Carter and hundreds of thousands in Virginia and millions across the United States are saying that the time for democracy-to-come has passed. It’s spring, and it’s time for democracy here and now.

The crowd responds to Governor Terry McAuliffe’s restoration of voting and civil rights to 206,000 neighbors.

(Photo Credit 1: New York Times / Chet Strange) (Photo Credit 2: Richmond Times-Dispatch / Mark Gormus)

El Salvador built a special hell for women, Ilopango Women’s Prison

Ilopango Women’s Prison

El Salvador built as special hell for women, formally called el Centro de Readaptación para Mujeres de Ilopango, the Ilopango Center for Women’s Readaptation. Call it the Ilopango Women’s Prison. For the last few months, this prison has, and has not, received some notoriety because of El Salvador’s draconian anti-abortion laws, which have landed Las 17 in Ilopango. The story of the 17 women sent into the hell of Ilopango for having suffered miscarriages is important, as is the story of all the women in Ilopango. The abuse of the 17 is a crime, as is the abuse of all the women prisoners in Ilopango.

Starting in 1998, El Salvador banned all abortions, period. Today, El Salvador is one of six countries to ban all abortions. Additionally, El Salvador opened hunting season on pregnant women, so that any woman who suffered a miscarriage was suspected of both having had an abortion and of having committed murder. Between 2000 and 2014, over 250 women were reported to the police. 147 women were prosecuted. 49 women were convicted – 26 for murder and 23 for abortion. A People’s Tribunal is going on right now to investigate the cases of three of those women: Carmen Guadalupe Vasquez Aldana, sentenced to 30 years and released after seven years; Maria Teresa Rivera, in for 40 years for aggravated homicide; Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, sentenced to 30 years.

Salvadoran women’s groups, such as the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic and Ethical Abortion and Abortion for Reasons of Fetal Anomaly and the Feminist Collective, have waged a mighty campaign. Periodically, the case of Las 17 is picked up globally, and so the struggle continues.

The assault on pregnant women, the absolute and total ban, is predictably partial: “The majority of the cases were referred to the police from hospitals—specifically, from public hospitals. Indeed, not a single hospital report to police came from the country’s private practice doctors or private hospitals.” So, the “totality” of the ban applies only to those women dependent on the public health system.

Of equal importance is the prison itself: “Ilopango is squalid and cramped: Overcrowding stands at nearly 1,000 percent, according to some estimates. Women sleep some 40 to a cell; one prison guard told me that over 100 children under five live there with their mothers.” Ilopango was designed for 225 women, maximum. Last year it held 2000. Women sleep five to a bed, or on the floor. Water is scarce, and medical care even scarcer. Prisoners rely on their mostly impoverished families for pretty much everything.

These are the numbers of violence against women: Las 17 and 2000 in a space for 225. For the women who suffered miscarriages, the viciousness of the State is a crime. For the women, all the women, who ended up in Ilopango, the sentence of death-in-life is the crime, not abortion, not miscarriage, not this or that act, not being a woman. Ilopango is the crime.

Meanwhile, last month, Flor Sánchez was dumped in jail for the `crime’ of having endured a miscarriage.

 

(Photo Credit: New York Times / Meridith Kohut)

Madaline Christine Pitkin died in agony, screaming and begging for care

Madaline Christine Pitkin

On April 24, 2014, Madaline Christine Pitkin was found on the floor of her solitary confinement cell in the Washington County Jail, in Oregon: “Her body lay on the cell floor. Her eyes were open. Her mouth moved slightly as if she had to cough, while one of her arms twitched. A brown fluid pooled beneath her.” Women’s bodies keep being “found” in jails across the United States: Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Joyce Curnell, Kellsie Green, Natasha McKenna, Christina Tahhahwah. This is only a partial list of women who were “found” dead in jails across the United States in the past year. From sea to shining sea, women’s corpses pile up in jails, as they have been. Madaline Christine Pitkin is just another piece of the rising tide of collateral damage flotsam. #SayHerName … and then move on.

Two years after her death, Madaline Christine Pitkin’s story finally has come to something like light. Like so many, she ended up in jail on a drug charge. In jail, she entered into a detox “program,” which is to say no program whatsoever. She began to suffer from withdrawal symptoms. For seven days, her situation deteriorated visibly and rapidly. On four separate occasions, she sought and filled out forms asking for help to control withdrawal symptoms. The fourth form, filled out the day before she died, read, “This is a 3rd or 4th call for help. I haven’t been able to keep food, liquids, meds down in 6 days … I feel like I am very close to death. Can’t hear, seeing lights, hearing voices. Please help me.” No one ever came to help.

From beginning to end, everything about the treatment of Madaline Christine Pitkin is shrouded in fog. Details were left out of the official story; stories of jail staff and medical staff differ; everything that was done, after Pitkins’ death, was done at a snail’s pace. But this much, from the beginning to now, is clear. There were no “serious breakdowns in the way Pitkin received medical treatment inside the jail.” The State set up a system in which there was “scant accountability” for those assigned to care for women in the jail. Madaline Christine Pitkin said, more than once, that she felt she was dying, and the so-called medical staff shrugged their shoulders and never came to help. That’s not an omission. That’s the plan, and it worked.

Madaline Pitkin was 26 years old when she “passed away unexpectedly.”

 

(Photo Credit: Krystina Wentz-Graff / The Oregonian)

Weapons in the war on women: Death and disappearance

To absolutely no one’s surprise, in the United States, the rich live longer, healthier lives than the poor. To the surprise of some, in the disparity between rich lives and poor deaths, geography matters. Rural white women are suffering an unprecedented spike in mortality rates. For many, that single piece of data is the takeaway of two major studies that appeared over the past two days. But there’s more. Women are the fastest growing prison population, and have been for some time. The numbers of women – overwhelming urban women of color – in prisons and jails is also unprecedented. The numbers of women dying in jails and prisons is also unprecedented, as are the mortality rates. Young adult American Indian and Alaska Native women commit suicide at the highest rates, among women, in the country. Women are being systematically removed from the United States landscape.

While the rich can live anywhere, poor individuals and communities live shorter lives, depending on locale. For example, the range of expected age at death between wealthy women in Spokane, Washington, and poor women in Las Vegas is between 89.2 years and 80 years. Poor women in cities like New York, Miami and Santa Barbara, are living longer than poor women in Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa. From 2001 to 2014, the life expectancy of women and men in Tampa, Florida, decreased by 2.2 years. The rate of decline for women exceeded that for men.

Meanwhile, since 2000, “white women have been dying prematurely at higher rates … passing away in their 30s, 40s and 50s in a slow-motion crisis driven by decaying health in small-town America … In one of the hardest-hit groups — rural white women in their late 40s — the death rate has risen by 30 percent.” Since 2000, white women’s health has “decayed”. This is especially so for white women in rural areas. This “rural area” particularity is further intensified in 21 counties across the South and Midwest. From 2000 to today, Victoria County, Texas has lead the pack on women’s mortality and morbidity. The death rate among women 45 to 43 years old skyrocketed from 216 per 100,000 people to 583, or an increase of 169 percent.

White women in rural areas are dying of drug and alcohol abuse and suicide. Women in prisons and jails, overwhelmingly women of color, are dying of drug and alcohol abuse and suicide. American Indian and Alaska Native women are dying of drug and alcohol abuse and suicide. That’s today’s rainbow profile of the United States, and it’s neither new nor surprising. Create the world’s largest state of abandonment; build more and more prisons and jails whose beds need to be used; militarize police forces; remove public health and all forms of assistance; and then effectively deny women of full citizenship, and the outcomes are as desired. Women dying and disappearing, through waves of socially engineered self-harm and through active State violence. Together, they constitute today’s war on women.

(Image Credit: Journal of the American Medical Association)