Ava DuVernay’s 13TH is great, but where are the women prisoners?

Ava DuVernay’s 13TH is an important, must-see documentary concerning mass and hyper incarceration in the United States. It’s particularly powerful on the Constitutional sources of a national program to imprison thousands of African American men and communities of color. As film critic Manohla Dargis wrote, “Powerful, infuriating and at times overwhelming, Ava DuVernay’s documentary `13TH’ will get your blood boiling and tear ducts leaking. It shakes you up, but it also challenges your ideas about the intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States, subject matter that could not sound less cinematic.” Who’s missing at the intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration? Women. Where are the women prisoners in this account? Almost nowhere to be seen.

The most salient omission of women prisoners in the history as told by 13TH is in the section concerning the war on drugs. While the intent of that war, from Nixon to today, is brilliantly depicted, the fact that the war on drugs has made women the fastest growing prison population is never mentioned. In 2014, the National Research Council released The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences, a review of the literature on mass incarceration in the United States over the preceding four decades, which reported the following:

For four decades, women have been the fastest growing prison population. The United States has one third of the world’s female prison population. The majority of women in prison are mothers. Women’s prisons are historically `under resourced’ and that situation is only getting worse. Women prisoners face particularly high rates of sexual violence from prison staff. Women prisoners have exceptionally high rates of PTSD, mental illness, and alcohol and drug dependence. Women prisoners have astronomically, shockingly high rates of abnormal pap smears. Here are some highlights:

“More than 200,000 women are in jails or prisons in the United States, representing nearly one-third of incarcerated females worldwide. The past three to four decades have seen rapid growth in women’s incarceration rates—a rise of 646 percent since 1980 compared with a 419 percent rise for men”

“Incarceration rates have increased more rapidly for females than for males since the early 1970s. In 1972, the prison and jail incarceration rate for men was estimated to be 24 times higher than that for women. By 2010, men’s incarceration rate was about 11 times higher. Women’s incarceration rate had thus risen twice as rapidly as men’s in the period of growing incarceration rates.”

“Compared with men, women are sentenced more often to prison for nonviolent crimes: about 55 percent of women sentenced to prison have committed property or drug crimes as compared with about 35 percent of male prisoners. Women also are more likely than men to enter prison with mental health problems or to develop them while incarcerated: about three-quarters of women in state prisons in 2004 had symptoms of a current mental health problem, as opposed to 55 percent of men.

“Women’s prisons historically have been under resourced and underserved in correctional systems, so that women prisoners have had less access to programming and treatment than their male counterparts. Women prisoners also are more likely to be the targets of sexual abuse by staff.”

“A majority of women prisoners are mothers, who must grapple with the burden of being separated from their children during incarceration. In 2004, 62 percent of female state and federal inmates (compared with 51 percent of male inmates) were parents. Of those female inmates, 55 percent reported living with their minor children in the month before arrest, 42 percent in single-parent households; for male inmates who were parents, the corresponding figures were 36 and 17 percent.”

That was two years ago. In the intervening period, from the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama to the Lowell Correctional Institution in Florida to Berks Family Detention Center in Pennsylvania to the California Institution for Women to prisons and jails and detention centers from Alaska to South Dakota to Texas to Oklahoma to Virginia to New York and beyond, the situation for women at the intersection of race, class, disability, justice and mass incarceration has worsened. At the same time, women have led and are leading campaigns to do more than end mass incarceration. Ava DuVernay’s 13TH is a great, must-see documentary because it sheds light on the systemic violence committed against people of color in the name of justice and `security’ and because it opens the door to the next great documentary in which must-see women prisoners lay out the map for a justice system that includes and honors all of us.


(Infographic Credit: Prison Policy Initiative) (Photo Credit: Female Report)

#NiUnaMenos: In Argentina, women declare a general strike against all violence against women

For the past two years, women in Argentina, and elsewhere, have been organizing and mobilizing to end violence against women, gathering under the banner, Ni Una Menos. Not One Woman Less. Today, Wednesday, October 19, 2016, they are organizing a general strike to address and end violence against women, from sexual to cultural to economic violence. The torture and murder of Lucía Pérez is the most recent spark, but the flame has been ongoing and growing. In the streets, alleys, and rooms of Argentina, women dressed in black have declared today is Black Wednesday, #MiércolesNegro: “In your office, school, hospital, law court, newsroom, shop, factory, or wherever you are working, stop for an hour to demand ‘no more machista violence’.” As Ingrid Beck of Ni Una Menos explained, “We’re calling it Black Wednesday because we’re in mourning for all of the dead women, all of the women killed simply for being women.”

Florencia Minici, also of Ni Una Menos, added, “With our rage at the femicide of Lucía in Mar del Plata, at the hatred of the mother who murdered her lesbian daughter, at the stabbing of teenagers in La Boca and with our anger at the repression of the National Congress of Women in Rosario, we call on everyone to come out from our workplaces and our homes … to make visible the femicide and the precarization of women’s lives.”

A communiqué from Ni Una Menos further noted, “Behind the rise and viciousness of the femicidal violence lies an economic plot. The lack of women’s autonomy leaves us more unprotected when we say no and so leaves us as easy targets for trafficking networks or as `cheap’ bodies for both the drug and the retail markets … While the average unemployment in Argentina is 9.3 percent, for women it is 10.5.”

The women of Argentina know and are signaling that violence against women is part of the current government’s neoliberal economic structural adjustment `development’ program. Leaving women without a say is as vulnerable to economic exploitation as to physical violence. Both are part of a political economic program of spectacular death for women. That’s why today’s mobilization is called a work stoppage and is thought of as a general strike, “the first national women’s strike in the country’s history.”

Two weeks ago, on October 4, the women of Poland, dressed in Black, filled the streets. Today, October 19, the women of Argentina are doing the same. For women around the world, Black is the new Black.

#NiUnaMenos #VivasLasQueremos #MiercolesNegro


(Image Credit 1: Le Monde) (Image Credit 2: Twitter / @NiUnaMenos)

In Spain, three women win a battle for workers’ dignity everywhere

Workers in the October 12 Hospital in Madrid

Workers in the October 12 Hospital in Madrid

Florentina Martínez Andrés, María Elena Pérez López, and Ana de Diego Porras did not know each other, but are linked in a struggle for workers’ dignity. All three worked for years on temporary replacement contracts. After years of working for the same employer, each woman was dismissed and informed that, under the law, she was not entitled to any compensation at all, because she was “temporary.” Florentina Martínez Andrés had worked full time for the same employer for two years. María Elena Pérez López had worked full time for the same employer for four years. Ana de Diego Porras had worked full-time for the same employer for nine years. But each was temporary and so … And so, each woman took their employers and the State to court, and last month, they all won, and so did Spanish workers generally.

Spanish labor law creates a formal three-tier structure: permanent workers, fixed term workers, and temporary workers. At termination of contract, permanent workers receive 20 days’ salary per year of service; fixed term workers receive 12 days salary; and temporary workers receive nothing. Ana de Diego Porras worked as an administrative secretary for Spain’s Ministry of Defense; Florentina Martínez Andrés worked as an administrative secretary for Osakidetza, the public health service of the Basque Country; María Elena Pérez López worked as a nurse for SERMAS, Madrid’s public health service. All three argued that workers received compensation upon termination of contract because they earned it through their labor, and that the hierarchical categories constituted a shell game used to divide workers and thereby to steal from some. In late September, the European Court of Justice, in three separate and linked opinions, agreed with the women workers.

Close to 4,000,000 workers in Spain are formally “temporary” workers, and so these decisions will have immediately significant impact. Additionally, the decisions suggest that the different between “full time” and “fixed term” will also have to be reconsidered. For example, 40% of doctors in public health institutions currently don’t have permanent positions. The lawyers representing María Elena Pérez López already have over 400 cases ready to go.

Taken together, the three judgments deliver a direct and frontal assault on public and private employer abuses and a labor system in which some workers are protected and others are abandoned. Further, the judgments undermine the common sense of precarious labor, which says that workers must be satisfied with living contingently, with zero security and zero dignity. Florentina Martínez Andrés, María Elena Pérez López, and Ana de Diego Porras said “No to the Zero!” … and they won! Actually, we all won.


(Photo Credit: Periódico Diagonal / David Fernández)

#ShutDownBerks: 17 Senators, including Tim Kaine, say, “Shut down Berks!”

The United States built a special hell for immigrant women and children, Berks Family Detention Center. About 30 Central American women and children asylum seekers are currently held in Berks. Children aged 2 to 16 make up almost half the prisoners. The mothers have organized. They have gone on work strikes and hunger strikes. They have protested the toxic environment for their children, and they have protested the abandonment of their children. They have protested the inhumanity, cruelty and violence that is visited upon their children and upon them. Last month, 17 United States Senators, including current Vice-Presidential candidate Tim Kaine, wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson: “The lawmakers note that women and children as young as two-years-old have been in detention for nearly a year or longer at the Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania. The letter expresses concern that children at the detention facility are exhibiting serious health problems and experiencing psychological harms associated with prolonged detention.”

The letter was signed by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Senator Robert P. Menendez (D-N.J.), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)

Here’s their letter:

September 27, 2016

The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Johnson:

We write to reiterate our strong belief that the policy of family detention is wrong and should be ended immediately. Although we were encouraged to hear your announcement in August that the average length of detention for asylum-seeking mothers and children from Central America’s Northern Triangle has been reduced to 20 days or less, the ongoing use of family detention remains unacceptable.

We are particularly concerned about the children who have been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for prolonged periods at the Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania. These children range in age from two to sixteen and many have been in detention for nearly a year or longer. Recent reports from a number of media sources indicate the children are exhibiting serious health problems and experiencing psychological harms associated with prolonged detention.

Detention of families should only be used as a last resort, when there is a significant risk of flight or a serious threat to public safety or national security that cannot be addressed through other means. We urge you to review these cases individually and release these children with their mothers immediately unless there is compelling evidence that they pose a specific public safety or flight risk that cannot be otherwise ameliorated through alternatives to detention.

The mothers of these children fled three of the most dangerous countries in the world to seek refuge in the United States. The brutal physical, gender-based, and sexual violence in the Northern Triangle is well-documented. Many of these mothers have asylum claims based on rape, severe domestic violence, and murder threats, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a stay barring the deportation of some of them until those claims can be fully resolved. The decision by ICE to detain these women and children while they pursue their claims has placed these mothers in the impossible position of choosing between their legal right to seek long-term refuge in the United States and the immediate well-being of their children. It is unconscionable to keep these children locked up and goes against our most fundamental values.

There is strong evidence and broad consensus among health care professionals that detention of young children, particularly those who have experienced significant trauma as many of these children have, is detrimental to their development and physical and mental health. This evidence has been reinforced by specific examples of children in the Berks County facility who are experiencing adverse health outcomes due to detention. Reports indicate that room checks conducted by facility staff every fifteen minutes lead to habitual sleep deprivation among the children, and a pediatric assessment of a six-year-old child suffering from chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder indicates that after prolonged detention the child is now showing signs of extreme stress and anxiety.

Last week, the President hosted the Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis. During this summit, the United States asked other countries to follow our lead and provide protection and increased resources for the millions of people currently facing persecution around the world. However, this summit took place against the backdrop of a system of family detention in the United States that is inconsistent with our country’s longstanding commitment to provide safe and humane refuge to those fleeing persecution. The ongoing use of family detention is wrong. The prolonged detention of the mothers and children in Berks is taking a significant toll on their mental and physical wellbeing. We urge you to review these cases immediately and use your authority to release these children with their mothers unless there is compelling evidence that they pose a specific public safety or flight risk that cannot be mitigated through alternatives to detention.



(Image Credit: Grid Philly / Jameela Walgren) (Photo Credit: Democracy Now)

From Dumfries to Dimbaza, the mothers are outraged

Tidiani Epps Jr.'s drawing

Tidiani Epps Jr.’s drawing

Children’s mothers and grandmothers are outraged. They are organizing and refusing to let their children disappear into the night and fog of casual institutional educational violence. They are tired of being tired of the injustice. These are three recent vignettes from the institutional war on children, told in the order of the children’s age.

In Dimbaza, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, a ten-year-old child was found to have done something wrong. He was accused of dangling a child over a bridge, a charge that he denies and denied at the time. According to the child, the principal then called on older boys to grab the child, strip him naked and parade him, crying by this point, through and around the entire school. The boy ran home and refused to return for two days. The boy’s mother and grandmother are organizing to have the principal removed and to have the entire matter investigated fully. The mother explained, “I want harsh action taken against the principal. My child was abused and humiliated. He will be traumatised for the rest of his life.”

In Montgomery County, just outside of Washington, DC, 11-year-old Tidiani Epps Jr was given an assignment to draw a picture about what he would like to see stopped or banned. Tidiani drew a picture of a lynching, of a Black man hanging from a tree with two Ku Klux members in attendance. Tidiani Epps Jr is Black. He wants police violence to end: “In this picture, I was trying to describe what was going on in the world, and what happened back then. It’s what happened back then, and a piece of what happened back then is still here today in the present, like racism. I just want it to stop. I don’t want to see this any more. Young black people get killed for no reason. It’s not fair or right.”

The school responded by sending Tidiani to a counselor who called the family and recommended he go to a crisis center for a mental health evaluation. They decided that a young Black child who knows that there is violence in the world and understands he is a key target of that violence must be potentially suicidal. Tidiani’s mother, Sade Green, sees it otherwise. She was livid at the school’s treatment of her child and at what it portends for his future: “My child has to walk to school every day. He is a young black male. He will grow up to be a black man. I have to let them know what’s going on in society. Nobody is safe. What kind of parent would I be if I didn’t try to teach them the rights and wrongs of what’s going on?” What kind of parent, indeed.

On the Virginia side of the Washington, DC, suburbs, in Dumfries, a middle school teenager, Ryan Turk, forgot to pick up his milk carton and returned to correct that. A “school resource officer” saw Ryan take the milk, stopped him and told him to go to the principal’s office. When Ryan refused, the “resource officer” arrested him, put him in handcuffs and charged him with disorderly conduct and petty larceny. Ryan Turk was offered “nonjudicial punishment”, also known as “diversion”, which he and his mother turned down, and so next month, Ryan Turk will stand trial for taking a 65-cent carton of milk that he was supposed to have. Ryan’s mother, Shamise Turk, explained, “My son is not going to admit to something he did not do.”

What are these three children, and all the children around them, being taught? Violence is good; spectacular violence is great; due process is for the birds, unless they’re Black; and no one in charge gives a damn about you. Fortunately, the mothers and grandmothers are outraged and livid, and they’re organizing. They’re refusing “the deals” offered to palliate and silence them. They’re refusing the mis-education of their children and the destruction of the present as well as the future. As 11-year-old Tidiani Epps Jr explained, “It’s not just black lives that matter. Everyone matters, but for right now, in this era, so many black people have been getting killed for no reason. It matters.” It matters.


(Photo Credit: Donna St. George / The Washington Post / Fairfield Citizen)

The University Currently Known as Rhodes: Stop shooting at us! Stop shooting!

Watch this video:

What do you see? Is it a turning point, a tragedy, a farce, or just another day of escalating violence? Stop shooting at us! Stop shooting! What do you see when you watch this video? What do you hear?

For the past year and more, students across South Africa have led the national debate, and struggle, towards, and away from, justice, democracy and equality. Starting with the assault on a statue of Rhodes at the University of Cape Town to today, students have consistently pushed everyone to engage in a national movement-based inquiry into, again, justice, democracy and equality. From #RhodesMustFall to #OutsourcingMustFall to #PatriarchyMustFall to #FeesMustFall, and between and beyond, students have insisted that the time for waiting is long past due. From primary and secondary schools to universities, students have taken on racism, sexism, classism, cis-privilege, homophobia, transphobia, and violence, and intersections of violence, of every sort.

Time and time again, they have been met with State violence, from the language of members of the national government to the weapons and arms used by police and private security. While these incidents have been reported, the video of yesterday’s “event” has caught the attention of many. “President Jacob Zuma has instructed the justice, crime prevention and security cluster to `deal with the mayhem’”, but it’s not clear which mayhem is being referenced. “Rhodes University management says it’s outraged at how police manhandled and shot at students on campus”, but then who called the police in the first place?

None of this is new. Worse than not new, it’s all too familiar. As the editor of the Con Magazine lamented, “It’s like the eighties again. South Africa is an angry place, burning itself out at all ends. Beefy white men in police uniforms are hiding behind hedges and shooting at students. They are firing into the Rhodes University campus. The Black body is violated. White Lady Babylon be shoving. Babylon be shoving. All the time. Police open fire at students without warning. They shoot. They shoot without warning. At unarmed students. They grab and bully and shove and violate and traumatise and shoot.”

For some, while reminiscent of the 80s, the theater of violence is also new, in that it has been in process for quite some time: “Fees Must Fall is about how a democracy deals with a history of oppression. It’s about healing broken bones, about a generation’s phantom limbs and its children refusing amputation.” A year ago, Sisonke Msimang noted, “South Africans can no longer educate their children on the basis of luck and the goodwill of overstretched students. The students who have been protesting since April have not yet won the results they are after. Despite this, the mass action has served as a powerful reminder to South Africans that they are capable of far more than they are presently achieving. Emboldened by the courage of those who took to the streets, older South Africans have also been inspired to tell their stories. We are all beginning to understand that what has been hidden must now be made public.”

What has been hidden has been hidden in plain sight. Now, the students are making demands, in what many feel is a revolutionary moment. Their demands are impossible. Faculty commissions and others have suggested possible avenues towards more equitable fee and educational funding structures. Free education is possible. Whether the danger in student demands is the possibility of free, or even mostly free, education or the fact of students organizing and making demands no longer matters, because what now sits alongside their demands is State violence. It’s State violence that is barricading the roads, all in the name of protection. Today the arrested students were released: “It emerged in court charges against them had not been properly formulated.”

Watch the video. What do you see? What do you hear? “Do you feel our pain? Do you feel our pain!”

“Rhodes becomes the university currently brutalised by police”


(Video Credit: The Oppidan Press / YouTube) (Photo Credit: The Daily Vox)

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 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)