End the epidemic of mass incarceration of women!

Once again, the celebration of Thanksgiving, in the United States, coincides with the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women. One way to acknowledge that intersection could be to address the place of mass incarceration of women. The New York Times lead editorial today, “Mass Imprisonment and Public Health”, argues that incarceration has reached epidemic proportions, and, they insist, when they say “epidemic”, they mean that as literal, not figurative. Nebraska legislators this week heard that, in their state, prisons and jails have become the leading institutions for health care provision for those living with mental illness: “In Nebraska, the Douglas County Jail holds the most mentally ill people.” The legislators heard of the mental illness of people as they enter prison and jail, and they heard of the mental health crises engendered by rampant use of solitary confinement. In Boston, on Tuesday, when over a thousand people marched in solidarity with Ferguson residents and protesters, they marched to the South Bay House of Corrections, chanting, “Black lives matter!” and “We see you!”

We see you. Where are the women in this vision?

On Tuesday, inmates at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women reached a settlement with the Virginia women’s prison. In 2012, five prisoners, represented by the Legal Aid Justice Center, sued the prison, claiming that the medical care was so bad that it violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Last week, a Federal judge extended the suit to a class action suit, covering all 1200 prisoners. The judge also ruled that hiring a contractor doesn’t absolve state prison officials of their responsibility to provide adequate health care. He further ruled that the women had serious medical needs. When the State heard that, they caved, and the settlement ensued.

What’s going on here? A Vera Institute report issued last week gives one version, under the title GREATER HEALTH DISPARITIES FOR WOMEN: “The number of women imprisoned in the U.S. increased nearly 6.5-fold from 1980 to 2010. Today, women comprise about 7 percent of all prisoners and 13 percent of all local jail populations, and face a greater burden of disease than incarcerated men, which is partly explained by disturbingly high rates of sexual victimization, substance use, and trauma. An estimated 6 percent are preg­nant, with the majority having conceived within 3 months of release from a prior incarceration. A significant percentage of these women have not seen an obstetrician on a regular basis prior to incarceration and are in unhealthy states due to substance use and malnutrition prior to entering custody. While a structured environment, regular meals, and access to care can improve birth outcomes, according to a recent survey, state prisons often fail to use best prac­tices and established standards when caring for pregnant women.”

Additionally, “Today, about 14.5 percent of men and 31 percent of women in jails have a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder, compared to 3.2 and 4.9 percent respectively in the general population … Women experience higher rates of sexual victimization than men. A 2008 survey found three times as many females (13.7 percent) reported being sexually victimized by another prisoner than males (4.2 percent); and that twice as many women reported being sexually victimized by staff.”

All of this happens under the title of “correction.” What exactly is the State “correcting” when it violates women’s rights, bodies, lives, hopes and dreams, and does so without compunction? What is the public policy here that condemns women on the basis of their gender? Want to end violence against women? End the epidemic of mass incarceration of women. Do it now.

 

(Image Credit: Vera Institute of Justice)

Women cleaners and domestic workers confront violence against women

From Hong Kong to Qatar to Greece to the United States, domestic workers and women cleaners are under attack. They are under attack because they are women. In South Africa this year, domestic workers and women cleaners have confronted the attack head on.

Delia Adonis works as a cleaner in a mall in Cape Town. Last month, Adonis saw five men attack a sixth. She called the police, who intervened. She then went to the parking lot, where the five men encircled her, knocked her to the ground, and beat her. Throughout the assault, the men used racist and sexist epithets.

Adonis called the police and laid charges on the five men. It turns out they’re UCT students. Adonis claims that the police came to her and offered her money to drop the case. The officer allegedly said that the men were afraid of being kicked out of school. Adonis rejected the offer, and all it represented: “I’m really angry about this. I’m traumatised and still in pain. These youngsters verbally abuse us every weekend, and now this? I’m a mother of six – how would they feel if someone beat up their mothers like that? There was so much blood pouring from my face I couldn’t see. When I washed my face. I just thought to myself: ‘Boys, you can run but I leave you in the hands of the Lord’.”

Cynthia Joni works as a domestic worker in Cape Town. One morning, Joni was walking to work, when a white man leapt out of his car, slapped and threw her to the ground. She screamed, and he drove away. He was later identified and charged. His `explanation’ was that he mistook Cynthia Joni for a sex worker and `snapped.’ To no one’s surprise, it turns out that Cynthia Joni is not the first woman he’s assaulted. Now others are coming forth.

While the toxic mix in both the physical violence and then the subsequent violence that passes for explanation are important, the women’s response is more important. Domestic workers, sex workers, women workers reject the violence and call on the State to address it … forcefully and immediately.

Gloria Kente is a live-in domestic worker in Cape Town. Last year, her employer’s then-boyfriend got angry with her, allegedly grabbed her, spat in her face, and screamed a racist epithet at her. Kente called the police and had him charged with both assault and a violation of her human and civil rights. She called him out for hate speech and harassment. When the man tried to extend `an apology’, Kente said, “NO!” If an apology meant not going to court, not having the State fully involved, then Gloria Kente wanted no part of it.

Today’s stories echo the past. Over six years ago, four white students at the University of the Free State videotaped their assault on five cleaners, Mothibedi Molete, Mankoe Phororo, Emmah Koko, Nkgapeng Adams and Sebuasengwe Ntlatseng. The video went viral, as did disgust, and the cleaners, four women and one man, fought back. This June, the five cleaners launched their own company.

Today, however, domestic workers and women cleaners are making demands on the State. Domestic workers and women cleaners reject the protectionism that would see them as a separate class in need of help. They are workers with rights, women with rights, and humans with rights. As women workers increasingly demand their civil, labor, and human rights be respected, they consolidate power. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit: Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust)

Youth has constitutional significance: Ending life without parole

Sharon Wiggins died last year. Wiggins was a 62-year-old Black woman living with serious health problems. But it wasn’t her health that did her in. What killed Sharon Wiggins was the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania. Sharon Wiggins died behind bars at SCI-Muncy, the maximum security and intake `facility’ for all women prisoners in Pennsylvania, as well as the site of its death row for women.

Wiggins entered Muncy at the age of 17, convicted initially to death and then to life without parole. She spent 45 years behind bars. When she died she was the oldest and the longest serving woman prisoner in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has more prisoners who began as juvenile lifers than any other state in the Union. This means Pennsylvania has more juvenile lifers than any place else in the world. It’s the Pennsylvania way.

South Carolina has a better way.

A couple weeks ago, the South Carolina Supreme Court took the United States another step towards ending life without parole, LWOP, for those convicted of having committed crimes while juveniles. The Court’s decision in Aiken et al v Byar has been described as “notable for its breadth” and “groundbreaking.” It could be.

Fifteen South Carolina prisoners, including Jennifer L. McSharry, petitioned the Court to reconsider the constitutionality of their having been sentenced to life without parole, to death-in-life, when they were children. The Court largely agreed with the fifteen, arguing, “Youth has constitutional significance. As such it must be afforded adequate weight in sentencing.”

The Court’s judgment is based on a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Miller v Alabama, which decided that mandatory sentences of life without parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders. That decision built on, and expanded, a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Graham v Florida, which found that life without parole for juveniles who had not committed murder was unconstitutional. Each decision has expanded the space for decency, common sense, and humanity, and these from a Court not renowned for any of those qualities.

The South Carolina Supreme Court had to decide on whether Miller v Alabama was retroactive. That is, if it’s wrong today, does that mean it was wrong before we came to our senses? The Court answered decidedly Yes: “We conclude Miller creates a new, substantive rule and should therefore apply retroactively. The rule plainly excludes a certain class of defendants— juveniles—from specific punishment—life without parole absent individualized considerations of youth. Failing to apply the Miller rule retroactively risks subjecting defendants to a legally invalid punishment.”

Sentences have consequences, and they too must be subjected to at least a constitutional review. There’s more to the South Carolina decision, and it all expands the application of Miller v Alabama. Would that earlier courts had decided that perhaps the impact of punishment should be thrown into the equation, rather than rely on mandatory sentences. Would that earlier courts had decided, and long ago, against a system that cared more waging a war on this and a war on that than it cared about the actual individuals and whole populations thrown into increasingly overcrowded, underfunded, toxic environments. Would that all of this had never had to come to courts at all.

Would that this had all happened long before Sharon Wiggins ever entered prison. Since 2008, the number of women sentenced to life without parole has risen precipitously, and who are they? “Among the females serving LWOP for offenses committed in their teenage years, the vast majority experienced sexual abuse in their childhood.” They are the abandoned, the sacrificed. But the end may be near. For Jennifer L. McSharry in South Carolina and thousands of women across the land, a change could be coming. They stand a chance, a bare chance, of not becoming another such sacrifice.

 

(Photo Credit: TakePart.com)

My name is Erwiana Sulistyaningsih

Over the weekend, hundreds of feminist and women’s rights organizations and networks gathered in Bangkok, Thailand, for the Asia Pacific Civil Society Forum on Beijing+20. Participants strategized, organized, talked and listened. They listened to former domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih. Here’s what Erwiana said:

“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 did my high school and then wanted to go to the University, but because my family had no money for this I started working as a restaurant service worker in Jakarta. The pay was very low. I still dreamt of going to the University because with a graduation degree it would be easier for me to find a good job. As I really wanted to bring a change in my life, and the pay in Jakarta was not enough I decided to be a migrant worker abroad.

“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. So I applied through a private recruitment agency and I stayed in a training centre for 8 months and finally I flew to Hong Kong in 2013. When I arrived in Hong Kong all my papers, such as my passport and employment contract, were taken by my agency and I began working as a domestic help. My employer was very rude, beat me up, would only let me sleep only for 4 hours a day and did not give me sufficient food to eat. I was not allowed to go out or speak with other people or use the telephone. So I decided to run away from her. I called up the agency in Hong Kong for help. But they told me to go back to the employer’s house. 8 months of abuse and torture left my body badly bruised and in pain. So one day she decided to send me back to Indonesia. She brought me to the airport, helped me check-in, and then left. She threatened to kill my family if I ever spoke of my plight to any other person. Abandoned at the airport and unable to walk, I luckily met an Indonesian lady who not only helped me reach home but also took a photograph of my injuries and posted it on her Facebook.

“Finally my case was taken up by the Indonesian Network of Migrant Workers and Asian Migrant Workers’ Coordinating Body to fight for justice for me. Around 5000 people marched on the streets of Hong Kong demanding justice, and finally the Hong Kong government took up my case. My case is under investigation and the trial will be held in December next month (December 2014) in Hong Kong.

“The system enforced by my own government and Hong Kong government has made me suffer this way. In my orientation done at the training centre I was not given any information about my rights and about the justice system in Hong Kong. There is no direct hiring and we are given only 14 days to stay after visa termination and have to leave to re-apply if we want to find another job. These unjust government policies damage our lives as migrant workers. It is not only me who has suffered exploitation, but there are thousands of migrant workers who get into similar situations and are forced to stay in silence”.

“My case was finally exposed because of the unity of the migrant workers’ movement in Hong Kong. I am happy that through my case more such cases of exploitation are being exposed and given more attention. I hope that both—the sending as well as receiving governments– will give more attention to the protection of migrant workers. I hope there is no more exploitation against migrant workers, against women and no more cases like me”.

When Erwiana left Hong Kong, she weighed around 55 pounds. She was covered with burns and scars. She was so weak and injured she couldn’t walk. How could an injured, incapacitated woman pass through immigration without any officer wondering about her condition? The Immigration Department’s Director explained: “It is difficult to judge whether there were injuries because of her complexion. We cannot blame the officer.”

We cannot blame the officer … because of her complexion. This is the complexion of violence against women workers that empowers employers to torture and inspires the State to pretend to look the other way while academics and pundits go on about the `invisible workforce.’ There is no invisible workforce. Women workers are part of an altogether visible and public regime of violence that airbrushes the scars, bruises and burns, and then declares itself blame free. The women know better, and that’s why they flooded the streets of Hong Kong and will do so again.

 

(Photo Credit: Nora Tam/South China Morning Post)

Chhattisgarh is everywhere: The global state of forced sterilization of women

The news this week from Chhattisgarh, India, is tragic. At latest count, 15 women have died in a `sterilization camp’. Fifty others are in hospital, with at least 20 in critical condition. At first the operations were widely described as `botched.’ After only preliminary investigations, the response moved from `botched’ to `criminal’ and `corrupt’. Finally, the reporting has landed on how Indian this all is. It’s not. Forced sterilization of women is a global phenomenon, actually a global campaign, and it needs to be addressed, immediately. The women, all poor, of Chhattisgarh are part of a global public policy in which women’s bodies are, at best, disposable and, more often, detritus.

Consider the last two months from the perspective of forced sterilization of women.

In November, the Namibian Supreme Court upheld a 2012 High Court decision that health workers sterilized HIV-positive women without their consent. Switzerland was called upon to consider compensation for survivors of its “contract children” program, which included forced sterilization of girls.

In October, Belgium faced UN scrutiny, under the CEDAW procedures, concerning forced sterilization of women living with disabilities. Women in Peru complained that, eighteen years after the formal cessation of forced sterilization programs, they have seen no justice. Promises, yes. Justice, no. North Carolina began paying compensation to survivors, poor and minority women, of its forced sterilization program. After much debate, the California legislature passed a bill formally banning the forced sterilization of women prisoners.

And this doesn’t take into account ongoing inquiries and discussions of forced sterilization of Aboriginal and Indigenous women across the Americas as well as Australia. This list is not even the tip of the global iceberg.

And so the charge of coercion, as raised by Kerry McBroom, director of the Reproductive Rights Initiative at the Human Rights Law Network in New Delhi, comes as no surprise. That the coercion flows through cash incentives to desperately poor women rather than cudgels and batons is merely a facet of the current world order. There is no informed consent in so-called sterilisation camps. There are quotas, cash incentives, and the occasional pile up of women’s corpses. Monetizing and incentivizing the assault on women’s bodies is key to the modern democratic nation-state, thanks to the Washington Consensus.

Along with local investigation into the individual cases, as in Chhattisgarh, what is called for is immediate global action to change the global public policy that trashes women’s bodies and lives. The global state of forced sterilization of women is dire, and it’s expanding. It’s past time to address the global crisis of forced sterilization of women: impose an immediate moratorium on all programs of mass sterilization, everywhere; codify just compensation for survivors of such programs; pay just compensation to survivors of such programs; and establish serious global structures to enforce informed consent. Remember, Chhattisgarh is everywhere.

 

(Photo Credit: Indian Express)

In Namibia, a victory for HIV-positive women, for all women, everywhere

Pushed by women’s organizations, by women organizing, courts and legislatures around the world are forcing the end to coerced sterilization of women. A little over a month ago, the California legislature finally outlawed the forced sterilization of women prisoners. This month, Namibia’s Supreme Court upheld a 2012 High Court ruling that health workers sterilized HIV-positive women without their consent. As Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director, noted, “This is a great victory for all women in Namibia and the world. This decision reinforces the right to sexual and reproductive health for all women, irrespective of their HIV status.”

This latest chapter began, formally, in 2009, when three Namibian women sued the State. They claimed they had been forcibly sterilized and that they had been sterilized because they were HIV positive, and so were victims of discrimination. Three separate women, ranging in age from 20s to 40s, at the height of labor, were presented with the sterilization `option’. In one case, the woman had been in labor for over four days and was in severe pain. She was led to believe that her caesarean could only take place if she signed the form. In such circumstances, what is the gender of informed consent?

In 2012, Judge Elton Hoff took two hours to read the decision. He argued there was clearly no informed consent. He noted that the women were Oshiwambo-speaking and that none of the health staff spoke Oshiwambo. He further noted that the forms the women signed were filled with acronyms no one, other than a specialist, could be expected to understand. In all three cases, the women only discovered the meaning of “BTL”, bilateral tubal ligation, long after they had undergone the surgery. Judge Hoff concluded, “There could not have been counselling in those circumstances.” When, after two hours, Judge Hoff looked up from his papers, he faced a courtroom packed with women in black t-shirts that read, “Non negotiable: my body, my womb, my rights”.

The three women are members of the Namibian Women’s Health Network. During a routine inspection of post-treatment papers, Network members started noticing BTL on members’ treatment cards. No one knew what BTL was, and absolutely no woman knew that this had happened to her. The women then hooked up with the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, and in particular with Priti Patel, then deputy director and HIV program manager, who managed the case.

According to Jennifer Gatsi-Mallet, Director of the Namibian Women’s Health Network, “The three women at the heart of this case are just the tip of the iceberg. We have documented dozens of similar cases of women living with HIV being sterilised without their informed consent. This judgment presents the strongest possibility that the Government of Namibia will be held to account for subjecting HIV-positive women to coerced sterilisation,” said Mallet.

Priti Patel added, “Monday’s decision will have far-reaching consequences not only for the three women at the heart of this case, but for the dozens of other HIV-positive women who have been subjected to coerced sterilisation in Namibia and throughout southern Africa.”

This victory in the Namibian Supreme Court extends beyond hospitals and prison and before human rights to women everywhere organizing to sustain their dignity as women, and in so doing, pushing the State to do more than pay lip service to women’s rights and equality. This is a victory for women’s autonomy and power, everywhere. The State, and not just Namibia, did more than fail to stop forced sterilization. The State engaged for decades, and centuries, in medical pogroms against women. It’s way past time for the State to be held to account for violence committed against women across the African continent and around the world.

 

(Photo Credit: Classic105.com)

The Burkinabé women’s spatula uprising

Burkinabé civil society, opposition forces, students, youth, workers, and women have been taking to the streets to protest a parliamentary move to extend the president’s 27-year rule. These demonstrations are as much about one-party rule as they are about one man. Since August, youth have been organizing, under the banner of Le Balai citoyen, the Citizen Broom. Many have spent their entire lives under the leadership of one man and they have had enough.

This week, the broom hooked up with the spatula.

On Monday, hundreds of women took to the streets of Ouagadougou. In their raised fists, they carried broomsticks, spatulas, and some carried pestles. Why spatulas?

As one demonstrator explained, “The spatula is the most important cooking utensil for women. It has a symbolic weight in our traditions. When it is used to hit a man, it’s a sacrilege; the consequences are disastrous and irreversible. Hitting a man with a spatula automatically undercuts his power, his virility, which he cherishes above all. This is the reason the women came out with spatulas. Because of the President’s monarchic tendencies, his refusal to hear anyone but himself, the women came with spatulas to warn him, to bring him back to reason.”

According to Juliette Congo, of the Movement of People for Progress, “We came out with our spatulas to give a warning to a man hell-bent on destroying our country … If Blaise Compaoré does not change his tune, the women of Burkina Faso will rise in civil disobedience!”

Cendrine Nama, 28, agreed, “Burkinabé women came out, armed with our spatulas, October 27, to say NO to a constitutional coup d’etat planned by those in power, with the complicity of the Deputies elected to represent the people. I am proud of my people who rise today. It’s time we took an active role in the decisions that affect us, for the people are sovereign.”

Germaine agreed and added, “The time for discussion is over. We want him to leave and leave us in peace. We, the women, we weep for our children, we weep for our nation, we weep for the fate and future of the Burkinabé people. We came out with our spatulas to show him that when a woman comes with a spatula, that says it all. We came into the streets with our spatulas because we are burning inside. The next time we will strip and come naked and cry on the head of Blaise Compaoré.”

On Monday, hundreds of women marched, chanted, carried spatulas, and sparked an uprising, a spatula uprising. On Tuesday, tens of thousands marched in the streets. On Wednesday, a general strike was called. And tomorrow … ?

 

(Photo credit: Fasozine.com)

Soni Sori continues to haunt more than India

Soni Sori, an Adivasi woman, was once a primary school teacher in Chhattisgarh. In 2011, she was arrested, in Delhi, on trumped up charges, shipped back to Chhattisgarh where she was subjected to torture and sexual violence in police custody. Two women officers present were threatened to remain silent. After some protest, Soni Sori was finally sent to hospital and then back to prison. In November 2013, she was released on bail. Earlier this year, Soni Sori ran, unsuccessfully, for Parliament, on the Aam Admi Party slate.

On October 10, 2014, a film crew from a German television channel went from Delhi to Chhattisgarh to interview Soni Sori about her experiences of custodial torture. She took them to her village, Palnar, where they met the police. After the interview, Soni Sori returned to her home in Geedam. That night, plainclothes agents barged into her home and interrogated her concerning the identities of the film crew. As noted in a recent press release by Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression, or WSS: “Soni’s household is an all woman household along with three of her children the eldest of whom is only 13 and the youngest is just 8. While Soni did not recognize all of them she did recognize a few of them as members of the local police of Geedam. Some of the members kept questioning Soni, few of the others barged into the other rooms including the bathroom and started searching and looking around. Despite Soni’s demands asking them to leave her house they continued with the questioning. Furthermore, these persons refused to answer all questions of Soni regarding their identity, but continued their questions regarding the crew. The team then went on to state that Soni should have immediately informed the police regarding the coming of the team and in future she should inform them about any people visiting her and provide details regarding the purpose of the visit. By the time the team left, Soni’s family was quite shaken up, especially her children, as they had thought that the team had come to once again arrest Soni and put her in jail.”

Why can’t Chhattisgarh leave Soni Sori alone? What’s so important about this one woman, surrounded by women, that she’s worth all the investment of broken doors, bones and promises?

Chhattisgarh is rich in resources, forest, tribal people, and women. It’s one of the few places in India where the population is more or less equally divided between women and men. Women have participated in every aspect of agricultural production, of labor, and of public life. With the arrival of the global market, the areas women dominated, in particular that of food security and food sovereignty, don’t carry the same value in a global economy, and now men receive positions of authority, from both multinationals and the national government, in the new local world order where women are meant to become ghosts, reminders of a bygone era that is bought, sold, and gone.

Soni Sori has refused that narrative. When released from prison, she immediately thanked the women’s movements, formal and informal, and prodded them to do more, especially for rural women. She returned, in full force, to the struggle, despite State-run “security campaigns” that wreak havoc on the lives and well being of women.

The State can’t afford autonomous rural, indigenous women, nor can it afford fierce women schoolteachers. India wants ghost women, and is willing to pay heavily to get them. Stop the harassment of Soni Sori, and support the women who refuse to be ghosts.

 

(Photo credit: WSS)

Another Aboriginal woman dies of `natural causes’ in custody

In August, a 22-year-old Aboriginal woman, called Ms. Dhu, died in custody in Western Australia. She was being held for unpaid parking fines. Ms. Dhu complained, some say screamed and begged, of intense pains. She was sent to hospital twice and returned, untreated, to the jail. On her third trip to the hospital, she died, in the emergency room, within 20 minutes. It is reported that she never saw a doctor. Her grandmother says she “had broken ribs, bleeding on the lungs and was in excruciating pain.” That wasn’t enough.

Ms. Dhu joins a long line, actually a mob, of Aboriginal women who have died in custoday in Australia. In 1982, 40-year-old Nita Blankett was in custody for driving under the influence, a six-month stay. She complained of pain, became distressed, was ignored. Finally, and too late, she was dumped into an ambulance, where she died en route to the hospital.

In 1989, 38-year-old Muriel Gwenda Cathryn Binks died in custody. She was in for non-payment of a $30 fine. She complained of severe pains. No one listened. For 22 hours, she received no medical treatment. Muriel Binks died of multiple organ failure … for thirty dollars. That was the going price for an Aboriginal woman’s life in 1989. It hasn’t gone up.

The stories pile up; the women’s bodies pile up. People gather in protests and demonstrations, as they did today across Australia. The family calls for an inquiry. The State at first refuses, then relents. Elected officials promise action. Everyone is shocked.

Two years ago, Maureen Mandijarra died in custody. As of yet, there’s been no inquest date set. The police report, two years later, was only recently turned over to the coroner.

Meanwhile, Aboriginal women are increasingly destined for incarceration. In the last year alone, incarceration rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have skyrocketed 18%. The government “response” is to cut funding Indigenous legal and family violence prevention services. Aboriginal? Woman? Need help of some sort? Have we got a place for you … prison.

Twenty-five years ago, commissioners looking into Muriel Binks’ death concluded, “the time for tolerance of such official neglect and complacency has passed.” Not.

Australia, like the United States, Canada, others, has invested heavily in the devaluation of Aboriginal women’s bodies and lives. The rising rates of incarceration married to the plummeting budgets for assistance say as much. So do the women’s corpses, decade after decade, year after year. For Aboriginal women, the histories and lived experiences of colonial occupation and violence not only continue to this day. They are intensifying.

A contemporary postcolonial, anti-colonial politics begins and ends with the State murder of Aboriginal women’s bodies, which runs from lack of services and assistance, from cradle to grave, to mass incarceration to dumping into the mass graves of historical amnesia. Another world is possible … and it requires more than an endless cycle of “discoveries” followed by commissions.

 

(Photo credit: Jade Macmillan/ABC News)

Florida built a special hell for women, the Lowell Correctional Institution

On October 9, Michelle Tierney, 48, died. On October 1, Latandra Ellington, 48, died. On August 22, Regina A. Cooper, 50, died. On April 30, Affricka G. Jean, 30, died. All four women were inmates at Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution, and they are not the tip of an iceberg. They are just another part of the special hell Florida runs for women, the Lowell Correctional Institution. And they did not “die”. They were killed.

Both Affricka Jean and Regina Cooper died under suspicious circumstances, and both of their deaths are under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of Inspector General. They are classified as “active death investigations.” Despite that, neither death raised much of a fuss in Florida or elsewhere, except among the usual suspects. Otherwise, it was just another season in hell, and women’s bodies continued to pile up.

Then Latandra Ellington died … or was killed. Ellington had written her aunt a letter in which she said a sergeant, known as Sergeant Q, had threatened to “beat me to death and mess me like a dog”. A few days later, Ellington was `discovered’ dead in a confinement cell.

Other inmates have written letters, anonymously, in which they describe, in detail, guards’ sexual exploitation, violence, and torture of inmates. They describe a culture of pure sadism, in which women are beaten for sport, and then intimidated into silence. At some level, none of this is surprising. It’s the story of Alabama’s special hell for women, Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, translated to Florida.

The twist at Lowell is that recent evidence suggests that Latandra Ellington’s death, or murder, was part of a power struggle … between two factions of corrections officers. Lowell Correctional Institution is being ripped apart by a gang war between gangs of guards.

Ellington’s autopsy shows blunt force trauma to her abdomen, consistent with having been beaten.

Michelle Tierney, who died last week, was killed slowly. Tierney was scheduled to be transferred to another prison on October 30, in preparation for her release from prison in January. She was so close to getting out. By all accounts, Tierney was a model inmate, a friend to all, a mentor, and a teacher of basic to advanced reading and writing. So, what happened?

For most of her fourteen years in prison, Tierney had been in good health. Recently she started complaining about leg pains. According to a friend of Tierney’s, she said she was suffering from so much pain in her legs that she couldn’t walk and was always crying. She went to the infirmary day and night, and, day and night, was turned away with a “diagnosis” of arthritis, get used to it.

When Michelle Tierney was finally taken to the hospital, her feet were blue, she had cysts all over her body, she was in septic shock, she had a fever and suffered from pneumonia.

That’s how it is in hell. Your choices are a quick tortured death or a slow tortured death, both accompanied by terror, horror and indignity. None of this is new. None of the violence, terror, horror or indignity against these women is new. Maybe, just maybe now, at last, someone, like the Department of Justice, will do something. What they won’t do is bring back the women who have been systematically murdered in the Lowell Correctional Institution in Florida.

 

(Photo credit: Florida Department of Corrections)