Why does the English government hate Opelo Kgari and Florence Kgari?

Opelo Kgari

The hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood is now in its second week. In the past week, the Home Office first tried to claim there was no hunger strike, then tried to claim that if there was a hunger strike there was no reason for it, and finally lit upon the great idea of claiming the hunger strike was for dietary and religious reasons. None of these patent lies worked, the hunger strike continues, and the support for it deepens and grows. Meanwhile, on Saturday, Opelo Kgari, one of the spokespersons for the hunger strikers, and her mother, Florence Kgari, were, without notice, dumped into a van, hauled to Heathrow, and told that they were to be dumped onto an 8:15 pm Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa. Opelo Kgari and Florence Kgari are originally from Botswana. Thanks to last minute interventions, the two were `spared’ that ordeal … and returned to Yarl’s Wood. Why does the English government hate Opelo Kgari and her mother, Florence Kgari?

Opelo Kgari is 27 years old. She has lived in England since she was 13 years old. She excelled in secondary school, and has an unblemished record of accomplishment. Last May, on her way back from a brief holiday with friends in Belfast, Opelo Kgari was thrown into a holding cell for 12 hours … for no apparent reason. Six weeks ago, Opelo Kgari dutifully reported to the Home Office, as she does every two weeks, and was thrown into a holding cell, again for 12 hours, and then shipped to Yarl’s Wood: “This time round, I wasn’t even wearing a bra. I was going to yoga with a friend after reporting to the Home Office, so I just threw a coat on. I never got to the class. They put me and my mum in a holding cell for over 12 hours, with three officers outside. I didn’t have a bra for five days once I got here, or a change of underwear.” What justifies such inhumane treatment?

Opelo Kgari has been asking that exact question, on her own and as one of the spokespersons for the 120 women on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood. Opelo Kgari has become the spokesperson partially because her English is so good, but more because she has much to say about the conditions and their impact on the women: “There’s one woman who spends all day walking around the centre with a packed handbag, claiming she had everything she needs in there. She’s clearly not well. And there’s an Iranian woman who’s on suicide watch. Officers just sit outside her cell with the door open. She clearly shouldn’t be in here at all. It’s inhumane.”

It’s inhumane. Hatred is always inhumane. Why does the English government hate Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, Irene Clennell, Chennan Fei, Kelechi Chioba, Paulette Wilson, Patricia Simeon, Lazia Nabbanja, and this is only a partial list of prominent cases within the last twelve months. Why does the English government hate Opelo Kgari and her mother, Florence Kgari? What is the point of a policy that predictably traumatizes women, of whom the majority are women of color? The Independent has put a focus on Opelo Kgari’s situation, calling it “a terrible case” and, echoing Opelo Kgari, a facet of England’s inhumane immigration system. Today, Independent reporter Charlotte England wrote, “Saturday night was a victory. But we must keep paying attention to what is happening in Yarl’s Wood — where Opelo is still being held against her will and still faces deportation — and other similar facilities, and we must keep putting pressure on politicians to end detention and unlawful, unjust deportations entirely.”

Deportation is preceded by incarceration. For those not deported, incarceration has preceded “community release.” In either case, “incarceration” is a cover for institutional violence against women. Why does the English government hate Opelo Kgari and Florence Kgari?

 

(Photo Credit: Independent)

At Yarl’s Wood, 120 women prisoners are on hunger strike! #ShutYarlsWood


England built a special hell for women: Yarl’s Wood. This week, 120 Yarl’s Wood women prisoners are on hunger strike. The women are protesting indefinite detention, abysmal healthcare services, abuse, and denial of personal and collective dignity and humanity. Today, after being denied entry for a year, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott was finally allowed inside the complex. Abbott was accompanied by Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general. Eight years ago, to the day, women prisoners at Yarl’s Wood engaged in a hunger strike from February 5 to March 19, 2010. That same year, in January, Bita Ghaedi entered into a weeks long individual hunger strike, out of fear of certain death if she was returned to Iran. In March 2015, women prisoners at Yarl’s Wood went on a hunger strike. Why does England, or the government of England, want to demean, abuse and traumatized so many vulnerable already traumatized women, most of women are African and Asian? Why does England hate so many women so intensely? When will this reign of terror end?

One hunger striker, an Algerian woman who has lived in England since she was 11 years old, explained, “Every day I wake up and I have to think of a reason to go on. I’ve given up thinking about the outside – I’ve given up thinking about it. I feel like I’m in someone’s dungeon and no one is letting me out. I might as well be blindfolded in a van going 100 miles an hour in a direction I don’t know. The indefinite detention causes people so much stress. People are breaking down psychologically. We have no fight left. They break you down. It’s inhumane. And there’s no psychological help. I’ve tried speaking to a psychological nurse in the centre about issues I have, and he advised me to speak to my solicitor about it.” This woman has been in Yarl’s Wood for three months. She has no idea if and when she will be released.

In 2017, `Voke’ spent eight months in Yarl’s Wood. While imprisoned there, she attempted suicide: “It was such a relief to get out of there. But I don’t understand why they had to put me through it at all. I hope I will start to feel better soon, but I will never forget being detained. I will never forget Yarl’s Wood.”

Eight years ago, Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers – including Denise McNeil, 35 year old Jamaican asylum seeker; Mojirola Daniels, Nigerian asylum seeker; Leila, Iranian asylum seeker; Victoria Odeleye, 32 year old Nigerian asylum seeker –  reported torture, rape, starvation, other forms of abuse. They described the devastating impact of Yarl’s Wood on imprisoned children, such as 10-year-old Egyptian Nardin Mansour. They mourned and protested the suicides as they explained that Yarl’s Wood was intent on killing them. As Laura A, a Sierra Leonean and former Yarl’s Wood prisoner, noted: “I am a fighter, I am used to fight to live, but to be told, ‘You faked your life,’ is a little like death.”

The Yarl’s Wood women hunger strikers took the calculus of the killing and turned it on its head, saying they were better than that. They said they were women, fighters used to fighting, peacemakers used to making peace, and no one could decide that it was right for them to be slaughtered. They called out, shouted, screamed, fasted, demanded to be heard … and here we are eight years later.

Over 80 percent of the women in Yarl’s Wood are survivors fleeing sexual or gender-based violence. The vast majority of women in Yarl’s Wood end up being released into the community. What sort of factory is designed to produce damage: damaged bodies, souls, psyches, lives? Yarl’s Wood. The time for concern and for discussion is over. The time for justice, and for reparations, is long overdue. Shut Yarl’s Wood down; do it now.

 

(Photo Credit: Politics.co.uk) (Image Credit: Detained Voices)

Hunger strike: Transgender woman prisoner Marie Dean, Tunisian migrants, and Davos

Marie Dean

While, in Davos, billionaires and millionaires gorged themselves, in England, transgender woman prisoner Marie Dean led a solitary hunger strike for her dignity and life, and, on the island of Lampedusa in Italy, over 40 Tunisian migrants sewed their lips shut and entered a hunger strike, demanding to be transferred off the island onto the mainland and demanding not to be deported. All this occurred while the munching billionaires told the gulping millionaires “how the middle class feels.” For Marie Dean and for the Tunisian migrants, the whole world was not watching.

Marie Dean, 50 years old, currently sits in HMP Preston, a men’s prison in Lancashire. Dean has petitioned to have her chosen gender recognized. The Ministry of Justice refused. The Ministry of Justice assures the public that Marie Dean is perfectly safe in an all-male prison: “There are stringent procedures in place to ensure transgender prisoners are managed safely and in accordance with the law. We have robust safeguards in place to ensure that the system is not abused.” Those “stringent procedures” did nothing for Vicky Thompson, Joanne Latham, or Jenny Swift, transgender women prisoners placed in men’s prisons. Each protested, begged, pleaded. Each was “found dead”. Now, Marie Dean says she is willing to fast unto death, rather than suffer ongoing dehumanization. What happened to Vicky Thompson, Joanne Latham, and Jenny Swift? The routine torture of transgender women prisoners. What is happening to Marie Dean? The routine torture of transgender women prisoners. While Marie Dean fasts unto death, the world watches the super wealthy gorge themselves in Davos.

On Lampedusa, forty some Tunisians migrants have been held for several weeks. Recently they were informed they were to be deported. In response, they went on hunger strike, some sewing their mouths shut. In 2013, Tunisian and Moroccan migrants sewed their lips together in protest of the abysmal conditions of detention. As one detainee explained, “People … are treated like animals.”

Marie Dean is on hunger strike because the State is trying to kill her soul. Forty some Tunisians are on hunger strike because the State is trying to kill their souls. Marie Dean and the Tunisian migrants encapsulated the horror that lies at the core of the so-called global economy. For the billionaires and the millionaires to dine at the Davos feast organized by the International Organization of Thieves and Robbers, some must lose their lives. Some lose their lives because they are transgender women; others lose their lives because they are African migrants. They will not be found dead; they will be sacrificed. Marie Dean says NO! The Tunisian migrants say NO! Look away from grinding jaws of Davos, look at the closed and sewn lips of HMP Preston and Lampedusa. The time is now … before more are killed.

Lampedusa

 

(Photo Credit 1: Change.org) (Photo Credit 2: Giornale di Sicilia)

Amalia Leal: We came to seek refuge, and instead we found punishment.

Women prisoners, almost exclusively Central American and Mexican, at T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, recognized Thanksgiving by engaging in a hunger strike, both in their own name and in solidarity with largely Bangladeshi hunger strikers in Alabama and California. It’s a small world after all, in the global gulag of asylum seeker and refugee detention.

The stories of the women intersect with the story of T. Don Hutto and of the current U.S. regime. T. Don Hutto opened, as T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility, in 2006. From the outset, it was a nightmare. Finally, after three years of prisoner protests, supporter protests and law suits, the government decided to shut it down … sort of. In 2009, T. Don Hutto was into a women’s immigration prison, and it’s been a special hell for immigrant women. The Correction Corporation of America runs T. Don Hutto, and they must be very proud of it, since they named the facility after T. Don Hutto, one of the company’s three founders.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, is equally proud of T. Don Hutto: “The T. Don Hutto Residential Center (TDHRC) represents a unique and pioneering setting, offering the least restrictive environment permissible to manage persons in administrative U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. In keeping with the director’s call for civil detention reform, TDHRC represents a clear departure from historical detention settings. Residents experience expanded services that include free and open movement, recreational and educational participation, food services and medical and mental health care. TDHRC’s person-centered philosophy guides every interaction with the residents by understanding the often complex circumstances surrounding their detention. TDHRC continues to fulfill the mission of ICE while at the same time recognizing and valuing the dignity of the individual.”

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, over 100 mostly Bangladeshi prisoners Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama, Theo Lacey Facility in Orange County, California, and Otay Detention Facility in San Diego went on hunger strike. Behind them was another Bangladeshi women’s hunger strike.

In October 54 South Asian women started a hunger strike at ICE’s El Paso Processing Center. Five days later, 14 Indian and Bangladeshi women began a hunger strike at ICE’s La Salle Detention Facility in La Salle, Louisiana. La Salle and El Paso hold women and children.

At the time Francisca Morales Macis, a Mexican domestic abuse survivor, was being held at T. Don Hutto. She heard of the hunger strike, and started her own. Within days, over 100 women were on hunger strike. The women described horrendous conditions, including extraordinarily long waits for adjudication. The average wait in the Houston immigration court is 703 days. Francisca Morales Macis and Amalia Arteaga Leal, a Honduran refugee, were identified as the chief organizers of the hunger strike. Both were peremptorily transferred to the South Texas Detention Center, in Pearsall, Texas. South Texas Detention Center is an overwhelmingly male detention center. ICE says this was not retaliation because there was no hunger strike. How could there by a hunger strike in a person-centered institution?

According to Amalia Arteago Leal, “They brought us here from the T. Don Hutto detention center because there was a hunger strike there. Many people were protesting because we want our freedom. We have spent a lot of time appealing our cases, and we are not receiving answers, and when they call us, they always tell us that they are postponing us or giving us other dates, and the truth is, we’ve spent a lot of time in detention and we can’t tolerate this much time … I think that it’s unjust that they have detained us for so much time, because I think we have the right to bond. We came to seek refuge, and instead we found punishment. What I want people to understand is that they should support us, because it’s true that we have entered the United States for a second time, but I want to apply for bond. I’m on strike because I want my freedom. I can’t tolerate imprisonment anymore, because I am between four walls and I think this has a psychological impact. We come from our own country with our problems, and many times, we can’t get out of these problems — we’re trapped, imprisoned — and now, we’ve come to another form of imprisonment. For me, I think it’s an injustice.”

The women in T. Don Hutto know the truth. It’s a prison, where `person-centered’ treatment ranges from abuse to torture. Shut it down, today. Set the women free now. It’s way past time.

 

(Photo Credit: Grassroots Leadership / Twitter / Colorlines)

The Parable of Karnes Immigration Detention Center

 

In the spirit of Holy Week, the mothers of Karnes Immigration Detention Center, in south Texas, are on work and hunger strike. With their bodies, they are asserting their humanity, sisterhood, dignity, and, as so often, with their bodies they are protecting their children. This is the highway to hell we have constructed over the last few decades. Women and children fleeing violence, pleading for help and haven, are criminalized, vilified, and thrown into prisons. The site-specific irony, and tragedy, is that when Karnes was opened in 2012 the Obama administration hailed it as a model for more humane and less penal treatment of immigrants. All hail the new model.

Karnes is so great that when Victoria Rossi, a paralegal, recently described the conditions therein, she was rewarded by being barred from the establishment. The conditions at Karnes are neither new nor unknown. Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and others wrote letters, filed complaints, and sued the Federal government because of the conditions at Karnes. MALDEF documented numerous cases of sexual abuse, extortion and harassment of women. The ACLU cited numerous women, who fled domestic violence at home, only to be locked behind bars in Texas.

People heard. Individuals and communities heard. The State shrugged.

And so now the women of Karnes are on hunger and work strike, and that is the story, the miracle of humanity. The mothers of Karnes have written a letter, which reads, in part: “In the name of the mothers, residents of the Center for Detentions in Karnes City, we are writing this petition whereby we ask to be set free with our children. There are mothers here who have been locked in this place for as long as 10 months … We have come to this country, with our children, seeking refugee status and we are being treated like delinquents. We are not delinquents nor do we pose any threat to this country. You should know that this is only the beginning and we will not stop until we achieve our objectives. This strike will continue until every one of us is freed. The conditions, in which our children find themselves, are not good. Our children are not eating well and every day they are losing weight. Their health is deteriorating. We know that any mother would do what we are doing for their children. We deserve to be treated with some dignity and that our rights, to the immigration process, be respected.”

You can support the women by signing their petition to ICE director Sarah Saldaña and ICE San Antonio Office Director Norma Lacy. The demand is pretty straightforward: Grant discretion & RELEASE the children and mothers detained at Karnes!

Once, providing asylum to those who needed it was considered a sacred act. In the Book of Numbers, God ordered Moses to create “cities of refuge” or “cities of asylum,” for those fleeing unjust punishment. Women, like Ruth and Naomi, strangers in a strange land, could hope to take refuge in the shadow of the wings of a divinity embodied in human acts of mutual recognition. Today, the descendants of Ruth and Naomi live in Karnes, and they demand their freedom to be human beings: “We will keep refusing food until our demands for release are recognized. We will fight until we are granted our liberty. We’re tired of the treatment we’re receiving here. Our children are all losing weight because they’ve lost their appetites. It’s like we’re living in a jail.” Today, Ruth is named Kenia, and she’s 26 and from Honduras.

(Lead image credit: The Rag Blog) (Letter image: Colorlines)

Irom Sharmila’s struggle against militarization and for peace

 


After fourteen years in “protective detention”, fasting, and being force-fed (in the name of protection), Irom Sharmila, anti-militarization and just peace activist walked away from the shackles of State protection yesterday.

On November 1, 2000, in the state of Manipur, in India, insurgents exploded a bomb as a battalion was passing by. No one was hurt, nothing was damaged. Nevertheless, the battalion retaliated, on November 2, by mowing down ten innocents standing at a bus stop in Malom. Included in what has come to be known as the Malom Massacre were “a 62-year old woman, Leisangbam Ibetomi, and 18-year old Sinam Chandramani, a 1988 National Child Bravery Award winner.” A pregnant woman was also reported as being one of the dead.

The army knew it could act with impunity. It was covered by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, or AFSPA. AFSPA was imposed in Manipur in 1961. Much of the rest of the Northeast has been under its rule since 1972. By the government’s own testimony, tens of thousands of people have been disappeared, tortured, beaten, abused. In Manipur, this began in 1961. By 2000, it had gone for almost four decades.

Irom Sharmila decided then and there that enough was too much. On November 4, 2000, she entered into an indefinite fast, a hunger strike that would continue until the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is rescinded, the soldiers withdrawn, the people restored. She was arrested almost immediately and put into “custody” for attempting to commit suicide.

This week a judge decided that there was no evidence of a suicide attempt, and the State must release Irom Sharmila, and so on Wednesday, she walked out of the hospital, a “free woman.”

Asked about her feelings, Irom Sharmila smiled and described the air outside as “refreshing.” She then got down to business: “I will not touch food or water. I want a mass uprising on the AFSPA issue. I don’t want people to glorify me. I want them to come forward and support my cause, my protest against AFSPA. It’s a draconian law that has widowed many women, robbed women of sons, husbands and fathers. It must be repealed.”

Fourteen years ago, Irom Sharmila began a hunger strike against militarization in one part of India. Today, we see a global network of supposedly democratic, ostensibly protective militarization of everyday life, a “special powers” global factory that produces only corpses and widows and mothers in mourning in the name of security, just war, and, worst of all, peace. When Irom Sharmila left the hospital, where she’d been held for fourteen years, she walked a short distance to a tin shack, where her supporters have been camping. She wanted to spend her first day of independence in the arms of solidarity, surrounded by women. The struggle for peace continues.

 

(Photo Credit: The IndiAgent)

In Greece, austerity builds its own gulag

Korydallos Prison Hospital ward

Austerity loves prisons. From the United States, where debtors prisons are seeing a return, to Australia and the United Kingdom, where immigration prisons choke with people and atrocities, austerity loves its prisons. In Greece, austerity has built its very own gulag, out of prison hospitals, immigration prisons, prisons within prisons, and the free floating fear of going to prison for indebtedness, inability, or any of the other `failings’ that are part and parcel of being human.

But this year, the State may have to start paying its debts, not to multinational agencies and stock brokers but rather to ordinary human beings.

The Korydallos Prison Complex is Greece’s main prison. The Korydallos Prison hospital is the only prison hospital in Greece. In February, hospital inmates went on a hunger strike, which included refusing medications. The vast majority of the Korydallos hospital prisoners are HIV positive. Their complaint was simple: inhuman overcrowding. Korydallos prison hospital is meant to have no more than 60. It currently houses over 200. Prisoners’ testimony, and leaked photographs and videos, describe the place as a hellhole. They’re right. People come in and get lost in the crowd and often die there: “There’s a 23-year-old who’s already been here for a month without getting a check-up. We enter the hospital with a medical condition or a disability and leave with a chronic illness. Do you know why you don’t hear of deaths in prisons? Because when someone is near death, they move him to a public hospital. That’s where his death is recorded.”

Many of those in the hospital are awaiting trial. Many others are in for minor offences, and many others are in for survival economic offenses: “We’re human beings. Many of us are in prison for financial crimes; we haven’t done anything violent. We don’t understand why we’re being treated like this.” Austerity loves prisons, and Greek austerity loves a good gulag.

On June 26, the European Court of Human Rights decided that Greece had violated the rights of Mariana de los Santos and Angela de la Cruz, two women from the Dominican Republic who had been arrested as undocumented residents. The two lodged a complaint concerning the conditions of their imprisonment in Thessaloniki and in Athens. In Thessaloniki, the cell was overcrowded, and the amount of money allocated was insufficient to purchase a meal. In Athens, along with overcrowding, “they described numerous sanitary and hygiene problems, particularly the fact that there had been only a single shower and a single toilet for all of the female detainees.” Overcrowding, hunger, debt, and no facilities: austerity loves its immigration prisons.

On June 23, prisoners across Greece started a hunger strike that went on for over ten consecutive days. Along with overcrowding and the general architecture of despair, the prisoners were, and are, protesting new laws that create a new kind of maximum-security prison, called type-C prison. These are designed to house the `most dangerous of the dangerous,’ but that’s a fluid concept. It includes “terrorists”, who more often than not are young militant anarchists; members of “criminal organizations”, such as the Golden Dawn, and “prisoners who lead mutinies or hunger strikes like the one under way at the moment.”

Prisoners call C-type prisons the Greek Guantanamo: “a Greek ‘Guantanamo Bay’, a prison within a prison, without leaves, without visits, without tomorrow”. The gulag is national and global: “We start a mass hunger strike in all prisons across Greece. We claim our rights, and we fight to remain humans, instead of human shadows locked up and forgotten into despair.”

Prison guards are also on strike because of overcrowding. According to the guards, the current average on any given shift is one guard to 500 prisoners. Austerity hates workers, loves prisons.

From the cleaning women of the Greek Ministry of Finance to the Kordyallos Prison hospital to the immigrant detention prisons to all the prisons, the cry is the same: “We claim our rights, and we fight to remain humans, instead of human shadows locked up and forgotten into despair.”

 

(Photo Credit: http://greece.greekreporter.com)

Harmondsworth, where a sense of humanity is lost

Asylum seekers in detention in the United Kingdom are on strike. They object to being treated as trash. The action began last Friday at Harmondsworth IRC, Immigration Removal Centre. Over 300 prisoners staged a sit-down protest and hunger strike. They are protesting the fast-track deportation program; the toxic health care system; the lack of access to legal representation, and more: “They’re not running detention. It’s like prison over here.”

The spark, this time, was a broken fax machine. The fax machine broke and was left broken for days. That meant prisoners could not file their appeals against deportation. Everything came to a standstill. For the prison, the fax was just another machine. For the prisoners, it meant life or death.

The urgency that turns a fax machine into a lifeline is produced by the fast-track system, which places practically every asylum seeker into a 14-day pressure cooker, during which they must do everything, from find an attorney to learn English to get comfortable speaking the unspeakable suffering and pain. Fourteen days. The detention center is not a detention center. It’s a prison. And the prison is not a prison. It’s a factory, and its business is removal.

On Tuesday, 20 prisoners in Brook House IRC staged an all-night protest in the exercise yard. They all refused to return to their cells. Over 50 prisoners at Colnbrook IRC have also engaged in a collective action. Yesterday, at Campsfield IRC, near Oxford, about 50 prisoners started a hunger strike. In each instance, the prison’s response has been to take the bulk of prisoners and dump them into solitary. That’s what you do with defective parts.

At 615 prisoners, Harmondsworth IRC is one of Europe’s largest detention centers. It has always been an abomination. The conditions have always been inhumane. Last year, a surprise visit by the Chief Inspector of Prisons found mismanagement and worse: “A number of security procedures lacked proportionality. Separation was being used excessively and was not in line with the Detention Centre Rules. Disturbingly, a lack of intelligent individual risk assessment had meant that most detainees were handcuffed on escort and on at least two occasions, elderly, vulnerable and incapacitated detainees, one of whom was terminally ill, were needlessly handcuffed in an excessive and unacceptable manner. These men were so ill that one died shortly after his handcuffs were removed and the other, an 84 year-old-man, died while still in restraints. These are shocking cases where a sense of humanity was lost.”

They should be shocking cases. They’re not. The State responded by yanking the prison contract from Geo and giving it to Mitie, which is to say no response at all. Harmondsworth has been a private operation since the 1970s, and it’s been bad for forty years. There is no shock at the end of four decades of abuse.

Ten years ago, doctors commented on the inappropriate shackling of sick and dying prisoners: “I had told the manager of the centre that in my professional opinion handcuffing was wholly inappropriate. We have a number of detainees brought here in cuffs. The question is: at what point does a doctor’s intervention cease to carry weight?” There is no room for shock. In 2007, the Inspectorate found Harmondsworth was more a high-security prison than an immigration removal center, complete with over use of solitary confinement and unrestricted antagonism from prison staff. In other words, they found in 2007 what they found last year.

In 2004, the atrocity of Harmondsworth’s mental health care and health care was so bad it inspired doctors to form Medical Justice. Today, despite advocacy and services, the vulnerability of asylum seekers means less than nothing. It provides one more reason to speed up the line and move them out more quickly.

In 2005, Amnesty wrote extensively about the horror of Harmondsworth. In 2006, the Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers commented: ‘This is undoubtedly the poorest report we have issued on an Immigration Removal Centre’. And what comes of these reports? Some other corporation gets the contract, and then, two years later, the Inspector is shocked.

In 2010, the Inspector found there was no information about legal rights and no up to date legal materials available for prisoners. The only legal help for prisoners was a consultation room open for only ten hours a week. In any week, only 20 clients could be seen. So, the room was booked two weeks in advance. But unrepresented prisoners in the fast track could not defer their asylum interviews for lack of legal counsel. So, by the time legal help was available, their claims had been refused and appeals dismissed. It’s a perfect amped up production line factory system.

Since 1989, 21 people have died in immigration removal centers in the United Kingdom. At the top of the list, with eight deaths, is the Harmondsworth IRC. Stop being `shocked’. Close Harmondsworth. End the brutality of fast-track asylum, which turns time into torture. One Campsfield prisoner explained, “We want our freedom. We want our life with dignity.” It’s time.

 

(Photo Credit: Snipview.com)

A specter haunts California

 


At some point California dreamin’ and going back to California turned into Golden Gulag California. One day, the gulag too shall pass. After the gulag, what will emerge, and who shall write that history? Today marks the second day of the California prisoners’ hunger strike. Some 30,000 prisoners have laid down their tools, in this instance their bodies, in what is reported to be the largest hunger strike in state history. Prisoners across the state have put their lives on the line.

The core demands are straightforward and eminently reasonable: end group punishments; abolish the whole gang identification and `debriefing’ apparatus; end long term isolation; provide adequate and nutritious food; expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for those placed in indefinite solitary confinement in what California calls “secure housing units”. A secure housing unit is a warehouse of pain, suffering and slow death.

Indefinite solitary confinement is torture. Being buried alive is torture. But this hunger strike is about more than that. It’s about the future as well as the present. It’s about who will write the history, and what master narrative will rule that roost. It’s about being human

Solitary cells of America are filled with people living with disabilities. Prisoners, like Prisoner #6 in Pennsylvania SCI-Muncy, are depressed, live with mental disabilities, act out, try to commit suicide, and they are thrown into the hole and abandoned there. And then die horrible deaths.

But that’s not good enough for California. California has Secure Housing Units in which “security” means indefinite and long term isolation, and debriefing means coerced reporting on gangs, even if one is not in a gang.

Meanwhile, in the ordinary and everyday world of California prisons, until fairly recently, women prisoners were tricked or coerced into sterilization. 66% of the guards inside women prisons are male; most of the rapes inside women’s prisons are at the hands of male prison staff.

When the Valley State Prison for Women, VSPW, was closed, to turn it into a men’s “facility”, and the women were shipped to the already crowded Central California Women’s Facility, CCWF, what happened? Overcrowding, antagonism, tension, violence … and segregation and isolation. Take the case of Prisoner T: “T. has been incarcerated for 30 years, with a parole date in late 2014, and was among the women transferred from VSPW after 25 years of violation-free programming.” Twenty-five years without a violation. Because of CCWF circumstances beyond T’s control, T is segregated and will probably stay in segregation for the entire year, until she’s paroled. According to T., “It’s disheartening to be in Ad Seg as I am locked up in a cell 24 hours a day. I only receive six hours of exercise a week, which consists of a small fenced in cement yard that has no place to sit except on the cement floor. I just go out for the fresh air.” Fresh air. To get fresh air, T. is stripped naked and spends her hour in that cement yard completely naked and completely alone. When she returns, she is strip-searched. When she goes to shower, she is handcuffed behind the back. She is allowed to shower three times a week. T. is not in segregation for disciplinary reasons, and yet she is treated as if she were.

Meanwhile, in the “free world”, in California developmental centers, the in-house police do less than nothing to protect residents and patient, or to investigate incidents of abuse. According to a report today, “dozens of women were sexually assaulted inside state centers, but police investigators didn’t order `rape kits’ to collect evidence. Police waited so long to investigate one sexual assault that the staff janitor accused of rape fled the country. The police force’s inaction also allowed abusive caregivers to continue molesting patients – even after the department had evidence that could have stopped future assaults.”

The California prison hunger strike is about being-human. Across the state of California, people in prison are regularly abused, humiliated, tortured, and worse. Women are regularly attacked as women. Indefinite solitary confinement, “debriefing”, group punishments, toxic food regimens, denial of basic services and programs, forced sterilization, routine sexual violence, these are all public policies. They are not incidental nor accidental. The struggle taking place right now in California is for the soul of humanity, for that remote possibility that after the Golden Gulag, something human will emerge. A specter haunts California.

 

(Photo Credit: The Examiner)