Pay raises, affordable healthcare: Teachers strike across the country

West Virginia teachers, wildcat strikers, on the move

When teachers in West Virginia closed every school in the state for nine days to strike for better wages and better healthcare plans, other educators, and the public around the country, took notice. One of the key issues of the West Virginia teachers was the Public Employee Insurance Agency, or PEIA, and the increasing payments from employees’ paychecks alongside the lack of quality take-home pay for teachers. West Virginian teachers rank 48th in the country in terms of pay, and any raise agreed upon between the West Virginia Education Association and the state would not have been enough to cover the rising PEIA costs.

Instead of caving to the governments’ demands, and suggestions to return to work from the union leaders, West Virginia teachers continued striking two days longer than the union had wanted; when a tentative “agreement” for a five percent raise for teachers and three percent raise for public sector workers was announced by union leaders, the teachers balked, rejecting the agreement and voting to continue the strike, shouting, “We are the union bosses!” and “Back to the table!” The fear would be that the raises would not do anything to fix the more pressing concern of rising healthcare costs, which, teachers argued, would only have short term impact. Chants echoed at the state capitol while the Senate was in session, “Pass that bill or we walk out!” “Hey, hey, whaddya say, fund PEIA!” In the end, instead of a watered down 3-4% raise, the Senate passed a 5% raise and will consider long term action for fixing the state’s public employee healthcare system.

News of the success in the teachers’ strike seems to be emboldening educators in other states. Oklahoma teachers, the lowest paid in the country, are considering a strike, the first major strike since 1990, to demand higher pay from the State Legislature. Teachers in the state are so underpaid that there has been an educator crisis, forcing the state the allow for three day weekends to entice teachers to work in Oklahoma.

On February 26, graduate student workers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign launched a strike to protect tuition waivers, which the university is planning to roll back by allowing academic departments to exclude students in their program from being members of the Graduate Student Union (GEO) bargaining unit. The strike also aims to making graduate education accessible for all students, demanding comprehensive childcare, healthcare and financial provisions to keep access to graduate level education open to poor and working-class people. The “Education for All” proposal was announced on day four of the strike.

In New Jersey, Jersey City educators have voted to strike, demanding relief from the rising cost of insurance. The union and teachers are demanding a reform of a Christie Era law, signed in 2011, called Chapter 78. The law required teachers to begin paying for their healthcare costs by percentages that increased over a four-year phase-in. Now that the four years are over, the district is permitted to allow teachers to pay a lower contribution than Chapter 78 requires, something the school board does not want to give in on. Any raises from the contract would not cover the cost of the healthcare payments, as one special education teacher pointed out, “I’m making less than I was five years ago.” As of today, the teachers are still working without a contract.

The rising tide of labor, like waking a slumbering giant, is a welcome relief form the ongoing attack on unions across the country, especially during the Trump administration. This time, instead of relying on union bosses, teachers relied on a collective, on each other, and on public support. And they’re winning.

University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign graduate students, strikers, on the move

 

(Photo Credit 1: In These Times / West Virginia Education Association / Facebook) (Photo Credit 2: In These Times / GEO / Facebook)

Oklahoma: Time to shut down debtors’ prisons and jails

Since 2010, sheriffs across Oklahoma have used bail collection as a means to wage war on the poor and to enrich themselves. That helps explain why Oklahoma is the Number One incarcerator of women in the United States, disproportionately Black and Native American,  and Number Two incarcerator of men. Last November, Ira Lee Wilkins, an indigent Tulsa resident, sued to stop the fine and cost collection system. At that time, Wilkins had two local attorneys. On February 1, 2018, an amended complaint was filed. Ira Lee Wilkins has been joined by Carly Graff, Randy Frazier, David Smith, Kendallia Killman, Linda Meachum, and Christopher Choate. Two national criminal justice law firms joined two attorneys. Together these women and men are saying NO! to a system that converts the most vulnerable into walking ATMs. In so doing, they join those in Texas challenging fine collection systems, and those in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia who have successfully challenged the cycle. The time to shut down debtors’ prisons and jails is long past.

While the stories of the complainants are heartrending, the real story here are the plaintiffs, in particular the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association and Aberdeen Enterprizes II, Inc. In 1991, the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association was formed as a private entity, and was almost immediately drenched in scandals involving embezzlement. Then, the Association’s world changed. In 2003, it was allowed to have a role in misdemeanor fine collections. In 2010, that role was expanded to include felonies and traffic tickets. At the end of 2009, the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association had $40,686 in the bank. At the end of 2016, that number was $2.8 million.

Aberdeen Enterprizes was founded in 2006 “by a disbarred attorney after he was released from federal prison for bankruptcy fraud.” According to the suit, “Aberdeen Enterprizes II, Inc. (“Aberdeen, Inc.”) is a for-profit Oklahoma corporation registered to do business in Oklahoma. Aberdeen, Inc. contracted with Defendant Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association to collect court debts owed in court cases arising in 54 counties throughout Oklahoma. The Agreement provides that Aberdeen, Inc. receives a percentage of the money that it collects. Aberdeen, Inc.’s cut of the money that it collects constitutes Aberdeen, Inc.’s sole revenue source.” Aberdeen’s cut of the money is the only money Aberdeen has.

The sheriff’s private association grows rich. The company doing the dirty work depends on intimidation and extortion to survive and thrive. The jails and prisons are choking with overpopulation, and everyone wonders how this happened. Oklahoma is open for business.

Kendallia Killman is 48 years old, indigent, and the caretaker of her intellectually disabled adult son. They live on monthly disability payments of $543. In 2009, Kendallia Killman was fined for two misdemeanors. She couldn’t pay the fees and fines, and tried to negotiate an arrangement. In 2015, her file was turned over to Aberdeen, who told her that she had to pay a lump sum of $1000. She called Aberdeen and offered to pay $25 a month. Aberdeen hung up on her. This happened more than once. Now there’s a failure to pay warrant, and Kendallia Killman lives in constant fear of being arrested: “When these police departments sent this to Aberdeen, they took out the humanity part of it. … They took out having to see people and seeing the hurt and seeing the pain”.

Carly Graff, 40 years old, mother of two, has a single traffic ticket. She can’t pay the fees and fines. Half the time she can’t afford to pay for food or electricity. She didn’t pay the fees and fines, and a warrant, and more fees and fines, were issued. Aberdeen now has her file: “Ms. Graff now lives in constant fear of arrest and does not leave her home unless necessary to care for her children because she is so afraid of being taken to jail for nonpayment.”

Linda Meachum, 58 years old, disabled by domestic violence, living on $244 a month, knows the same fear. Arrested for a misdemeanor, Linda Meachum spent a month in jail and was ordered to pay $200 fine and court fees. She set up a plan to pay $40 a month. Then she lost her job. Then her file went to Aberdeen, who insisted on at least $75 a month. She couldn’t pay. A warrant was issued, and Linda Meachum went back to jail. Now she owes $800, and still can’t pay: “She has no money to pay Aberdeen, Inc. and fears that she will be arrested for nonpayment of court debt.”

In Oklahoma, big money is made extracting impossible value from the poorest of the poor through an ever expanding ever intensifying system of constant fear and terror. That’s criminal justice. It’s time to shut the whole system down.

(Infographic Credit 1: The Oklahoman) (Infographic Credit 2: Scott Pham / Reveal)

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)

Georgia did not listen: They killed her.

Kelly Gissendaner at her theology graduation ceremony

They did not listen; they killed Kelly Gissendaner at a state prison in Jackson, Georgia, Wednesday, September 30, early in the morning.

She is the first woman executed in Georgia since 1945. Her execution was postponed after the lethal liquid was declared improper for killing because it was too cloudy. This decision was made after a series of botched executions, that left the condemned to death screaming and shaking for too long before dying. Just a reminder that the death penalty is first a violent act committed by the state.

All her appeals for clemency based on numerous testimonies that she changed her life were denied and early Wednesday morning Kelly Gissendaner received shots to die.

Now it is the turn of Richard Glossip in Oklahoma. His execution was stayed just before he was going to be executed by lethal injection. He was accused of a hired murder. Many elements have been assembled to assert that Richard Glossip is most likely innocent and was set up by the actual murderer who denounced him for a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty for himself.

None of this matters. The sentence was confirmed, and the delay is only due to the fear that he was going to be another botched execution because of the injection.

Everything was arranged so this little dirty business could go on, they even turn off the microphones, which is allowed since the last incident, so the torture-victim will not be heard.

They want blood at all price, and as Sister Helen Prejean explained, “The system in our criminal justice system, and particularly the administration of the death penalty, is so corrupt, it is so messed up.”

The eye for an eye law outweighs innocence or rehabilitation; that is not justice!

This cynical game must cease. No technology or protocol will change the fact that the death penalty is nothing other than a violent and arrogant form of oppression and has nothing to do with crime reduction or with reparation for victims’ families. It exacerbates violence in society and reinforces the process of dehumanization, adding to economic, racial and gendered forms of dehumanization. As some states are abolishing the death penalty, others are accelerating a kill-them-all policy.

It is time to stop the death penalty!

 

(Photo Credit: Ann Borden / The Emory Wheel)

What happened to Christina Tahhahwah? Just another Native American jail death

On July 14, 53-year-old Choctaw activist Rexdale W. Henry was “found” dead in the Neshoba County Jail in Philadelphia, Mississippi. That’s the same day 18-year-old Kindra Chapman was “found” dead in her jail cell in Homewood, Alabama, and a day after Sandra Bland was “found” dead in her jail cell in Waller County, Texas. Like Sandra Bland, Rexdale Henry was arrested for a traffic violation, in this case non-payment of a fine. Mississippi was already investigating the death of Jonathan Sanders, a Black man who died at the hands of police in Clark County, Mississippi Jail a day before Henry was arrested. Four days after Rexdale Henry was “found”, Troy Goode was “found” dead in police custody. Goode was White. In dying in jail, Rexdale W. Henry joins more than this list of “mysterious” jailhouse morbidity and mortality. He joins a national list of Native Americans dying in jail and at the hands of police. He joins Christina Tahhahwah.

In Lawton, Oklahoma, Christina Tahhahwah lived with bi-polar disorder. When she stopped taking her medicines, her family called the police and asked them to take her to the hospital for medical care. She was at her grandparents’ house. When she refused to leave the property, the police arrested her for trespassing and took her off to jail. Not to the hospital, to jail. That was November 13, 2014.

On November 14, minutes after being handcuffed to the cell door, Christina Tahhahwah was “found” unresponsive. She was in cardiac arrest. She was transferred to the hospital, where she died. Her family was not notified of her heart attack nor of her transfer to the hospital. One family member says they only found out because a family friend, who works at the hospital, sent them a note via Facebook. The family went to the hospital and there heard that fellow jail inmates were saying that Christina Tahhahwah had been tasered for refusing to stop singing Comanche hymns. The Lawton police say no Tasers were used.

Tasers are not the issue. The issue is that Christina Tahhahwah is dead. Just another bipolar Native American woman “found” in jail. The Lawton Police have not said they treated or cared about the reports of her bipolar condition. The issue is justice.

Police are killing Native Americans at a staggering, and by and large unremarked upon, rate. Overrepresented in prisons and jails, Native Americans are beyond overrepresented in jail mortality rates. They are the nation of “found” bodies. What happened to Rexdale Henry? What happened to Christina Tahhahwah? Nothing out of the ordinary. Just another Native American death in a jail in the United States.

 

(Photo Credit: http://nativenewsonline.net)

In the land of secrets, the butcher is king

California sterilized women prisoners without consent; Tennessee criminalizes pregnant women who take drugs. These policies go beyond cruelty; they institutionalize and normalize the dehumanization process in a large scale. Here are three recent examples from inside the border, at the border, and outside the borders of the United States.

In Oklahoma on Tuesday, a death row inmate was scheduled to die.

Since 2005, the European Commission has imposed restrictions on the export of anesthetics that may be used “for capital punishment, torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” But in the United States, executions must proceed. So, States came up with a secret new deadly cocktail of drugs to kill. The recipe is secret, but not the process of keeping it secret, especially since the two Oklahoma inmates sentenced to die challenged the secrecy weeks earlier.

After Tuesday’s execution, reporters and commentators made it clear, the man tortured to death, tased earlier in the day, had committed a heinous crime. And so butchering him was justified. The business of justifying the cruelty came with the help of numbers and statistics. On the PBS News Hour, Roy Engert recommended we put the issue in perspective, since only 3% of executions encountered problems. Engert’s unchallenged remark validates torture cases as just so many numbers in a deficit account.

On the US – Mexico border, US border patrols are under investigation for having recently killed more people than ever before. An independent review, leaked to the Los Angeles Times, considered 67 shootings by US Border patrols at the Mexican border between January 2010 and October 2012. These resulted in 19 civilian deaths.

The report was going to remain secret, as well as the policies and practices that allowed US patrol to shoot at Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, a 16 year-old boy who was on his way home. He was on the other side of the fence, in Mexico. The officers on the US side shot him 10 times. He was killed with two bullets in his head and then butchered with eight more bullets in his back. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in the past three years, they have shot across the border and killed six people inside Mexico.

U.S Customs and Border Protection explained they opened fire because people in Mexico were throwing rocks and one hit their patrol dog. That explanation exposes the level of dehumanization that has normalized the use of lethal weapons against people who have been made ever more vulnerable, thanks to border fortification, intensified immiseration, and expanded displacement, all in the service of NAFTA and neoliberal development.

Outside the borders, drone strikes, to kill human targets, are carried out by the US Air Force for the CIA with the help of the NSA. As one US Air Force personnel declared, “I cannot tell you what I am doing, but I can tell you that’s super-secret.” The operations are super-secret, but the fact of the secrets is quite public.

What is secret is the name and location of the future victims. The entire process reflects US drone program whose impunity has been intensified and broadened in recent years. In the United States, every week, Tuesday is “Terror Tuesday,” the day when it is decided who will die in Yemen or Pakistan. US agents establish a list of potential victims determined through their “pattern of life,” a series of behaviors identified as potential signs of militant activities.

These various secretive methods are as dubious as the lethal drug cocktail in Oklahoma. Many stories have related how civilians in a wedding, or in a field, women and children, have been butchered by a robotic drone attack.

All these stories are linked by what Denis Salas has called the three characteristics of moral indifference: unlimited authorized use of violence, normalization of acts of violence, and dehumanization of targets. These stories reveal the power of secrecy to serve a neoliberal global disorder. Beyond cruelty, the scale of dehumanization is both intimate and global.

 

(Photo Credit: Paul Ingram / Tucson Sentinel)

Botched: How Oklahoma got away with murder

Oklahoma successfully tried to kill a man last night.  After writhing and groaning for 43 minutes, Clayton Lockett died. Almost universally, this has been translated into a “botched” execution. Democracy Now, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the BBC, CNN, Slate, and The Tulsa World all agree. The execution was “botched”.

The execution was not botched. It was successful. Oklahoma got exactly what it wanted, what it’s been pushing strenuously to get. A corpse. When it couldn’t get approved lethal drugs, Oklahoma insisted on using an untested combination of killer drugs. Oklahoma fought for the right to kill a human being last night, and it won.

Let no one tell you that that execution was botched. It wasn’t. It was ugly, but executions are ugly. It didn’t go exactly according to plan, but then what does? The end goal was attained, and that’s all that matters. To botch means to clumsily repair or to bungle. No one clumsily repaired or bungled the execution. Clayton Lockett is dead. If anything, by the performative terms of executions, it’s Clayton Lockett who botched his own death. Fortunately, the State was there to make sure the execution wasn’t botched.

A character in a novel once turned to his friend and exclaimed, “What should be displayed in public is something that‘s never shown. What the public really should see are – executions! Why don‘t they put on public executions?”

In Oklahoma last night, that’s just what they did.

In 1930, Georges Bataille suggested, “According to the Grande Encyclopédie, the first museum in the modern sense of the word (that is to say the first public collection) would seem to have been founded on 27 July 1793, in France, by the Convention. The origin of the modern museum would thus be linked to the development of the guillotine.”

What museum will emerge from the story of Oklahoma’s botched execution?

Nothing was botched last night, but a man was butchered to death.

 

(Photo Credit: KWTV.com)

Women prisoners. What do they want? Justice. When do they want it? Now.

REPOST LET GET ALL PEOPLE TO JOIN THIS CAUSE AND THE FAMILIES OF THE INMATES AT TUTWILER !!

Posted by Justice for The Women of Tutwiler on Thursday, August 2, 2012

Alabama is one of the epicenters of imprisonment in the United States. The government calculates rate of incarceration as the number of prisoners sentenced to more than 1 year per 100,000 U.S. residents. The national rate of incarceration is 502. Alabama’s is 650. The national rate of incarceration of women is 67. Alabama’s is 95. Where the national rate of incarceration women dropped by a little over 1% in the last year, in Alabama, it rose by 9%.

Alabama has one prison for women, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, located in Wetumpka, Alabama. The prison was built in 1942, and designed to hold at the very most 370 women. In 2002, it held over 1,000 women prisoners. That’s when the prisoners sued the state, in what became the Laube v. Campbell case. The women won, District Court Judge Myron Thompson declared the prison “a time bomb ready to explode facility-wide at any unexpected moment”. Judge Thompson found the overcrowding to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

So, what did the State do? It started shipping women out of State, particularly to the South Louisiana Correctional Center, in Basile, Louisiana. Where Alabama’s rate of incarceration is 650, Louisiana’s is 881, the highest in the country. Where Alabama’s rate of incarceration of women is 95, Louisiana’s is 113, second only to that of Oklahoma. But hey, at least they’re not `overcrowded’.

Women would be moved three and four times, without prior notification, in the middle of the night, and without any apparent concern for their situation. Pregnant women were moved, women in rehab programs and educational programs were moved, women in medical treatment programs were moved. The South Louisiana Correctional Center is a for-profit, run by LCS Correction Services. The women who were moved found lots of correction and little to no service. For those in programs, such as educational or treatment programs, time in Basile was time lost, and thus time added on to their prison stay. None of that mattered. What mattered was `reducing the prison population’. What mattered was accounting. The prisoners were numbers, not people, not humans, not women. Just numbers.

That shell game didn’t work, and so now Alabama is experimenting with something called Supervised Reentry Program, which, it is hoped, will reduce the number of women prisoners in Alabama in a more reasonable and sensible way. Basically, the program takes `good prisoners’, and especially those who are in for non-violent offenses, and puts them in supervised residential programs, offers training and counseling, and tries to create a pathway for `reentry’.

If the State had consulted with the women right away, they would have come up, right away, with a more reasonable and sensible program.

Erline Bibbs was one of the women in the Laube v Campbell class. She then became a founding member of the Longtimers/Insiders. The Longtimers/Insiders were women prisoners from Tutwiler who had been shipped to Basile. With the help of the Southern Center for Human Rights, they studied and learned. In Bibbs’ words, the women learned “to organize and … how to make a difference in the right way.”

The women prisoners of Alabama want to see women helped rather than locked up. For themselves, and for other women prisoners, they want to be in the processes of decision-making concerning their own lives. For example, they want to face their victims. They want “the opportunity to present to the parole board in a face-to-face hearing our real selves and how we have changed through the years. We believe our obligations are with the victims’ families, not professional victims’ groups or politicians who use victims for their own gain.”

The women’s class action suit against Alabama charged the State with indifference. These women are the difference. They are the ones to tell the stories of their lives. They must be the authors and the judges of `prison reform’.

What do the women prisoners of Alabama want? Justice. When do they want it? Now.

(Photo Credit: Justice for the Women of Tutwiler / Facebook)

Those who recall the future were never meant to survive

Marta Candeloro was abducted on June 7, 1977 in Neuquen. She was then taken to the Secret Detention Centre “La Cueva.”

On January 30, 1972, British soldiers opened fire and killed thirteen men in a peaceful civil rights march in the Bogside neighborhood of Derry. That day is called Bloody Sunday. Next Tuesday, thirty eight years later, the British government will release a report that states the killings were unlawful.

Thirty eight years is a long time. Ask the survivors. Ask those who remember.

Ask Kay Duddy. Kay was 25 years old then. Her brother Jackie was 17, a textile worker. He was shot dead as he fled across the Rossville Flats car park. He was the first person killed on Bloody Sunday. “We put Jackie’s 50th birthday in the paper and I thought, `That’s all we can do for you now, a wee memorial in the paper, people will say a prayer for you on your 50th birthday when we should have been out partying with you’. It is the everyday things, the wee family things that get you.”

It is the everyday things, the wee family things that get you.

Ask Regina McKinney. She was the third child of Gerry McKinney, 35, a wrought-iron worker and dance hall manager. He and his wife had eight children. On that Sunday, he blessed himself and put his hands in the air when confronted by soldiers. Then, one of them shot him dead: “Mammy never got over it. It took 25 years for her to even start to come to terms with it.…These men took away everything….My daddy was shot with his hands  up. I was proud the way my father died, that he had his hands in the air, that he had nothing in his hands, that he did not retaliate. To me he was a hero….The only thing I want out of the report now is for the men who were shot to go down in history as innocent. I think that is the only truth we need. The soldiers are going to have to stand before God.”

And ask Kate Nash, now 60 years old. She was the oldest daughter in a family of 13 living in Creggan on Bloody Sunday. Her 19-year-old brother William was shot dead at the Rossville Street barricade. Her father Alex went to comfort his dying son. He was shot and wounded. According to Kate, her mother laid the blame on her father’s shoulders: “She blamed my father because he survived. She wanted my brother back, not her husband. My father accepted that blame and carried it until he died.”

It is the everyday things, the wee family things that get you. Thirty eight years is a long time. Ask those who have waited, ask those who wait. Ask those who remember and those who cannot forget.

Ask Paula Luttringer. On March 31st 1977, Paula Luttringer was 21 years old and pregnant. She was kidnapped by the Argentine police and held, for five months, in a secret prison. While there, she gave birth to a daughter. She was then abruptly released and forced to leave the country immediately or face further violence. She fled to Uruguay and then to France. That was thirty three years ago. Thirty three years is a long time.

In 1995, Luttringer returned to Argentina and began to use photography as a way to explore the memories of the State violence committed against her and other women. El Lamento de los Muros (The Wailing of the Walls) emerged, a photographic essay, an archive of memories. Pete Brook, who has interviewed Luttringer, notes: “I have twice heard people urge Paula happiness in that she survived. Paula is unequivocal; having survived does not make her happy, living in a world in which people didn’t have to be survivors would make her happy. The violence once it is done, cannot be undone.”

The violence, once it is done, cannot be undone. Happiness would emerge from living in a world in which people didn’t have to be survivors, in which people don’t have to remember they were never meant to survive.

Estella Jackson remembers she was not meant to survive. Estella Jackon is 60 years old, a convicted killer, and a prisoner in Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in Oklahoma, the largest women’s prison in the state. Oklahoma incarcerates more women per capita than any other state in the United States.

Estella Jackson chose when there was no choice: “I didn’t have a choice in what I did. It was either kill or be killed. And I chose to live”. Now the hardest thing now is explaining her life to her grandchildren. She says it’s hard to explain to children that she took a life because there were no choices and because she chose to survive. For Estella Jackson, the hardest thing is the painful memory of her grandchildren’s future, a memory in which it’s not clear they will know she chose to survive.

Herbert Murray remembers he was not meant to survive. Herbert Murray was a young man convicted by a jury for having robbed and murdered a blind man in New York City. The judge thought Murray was innocent, but had no choice, according to the mandatory guidelines, and so sentenced Murray to prison for 15 years to life. That meant after 15 years, Murray could come up for parole. He was denied repeatedly. Why? Because he claimed his innocence, he could not demonstrate remorse and so remained in jail. This is called “the innocent prisoner’s dilemma”.

And what of those who cannot remember?

New York’s Fishkill Correctional Facility has the first prison unit for the cognitively impaired. The average age of its residents is 63. Everyone suffers from dementia. Many, maybe most, live with Alzheimer’s. Dr. Edward Sottile directs the center. Recently he was asked how prisoners with dementia, who don’t remember their own histories, can be rehabilitated. Dr. Sottile smiled a Hippocratic smile and replied that he had the same question and his solution is to do the best he can, to provide humane and compassionate care.

Remorse, remorse of conscience, remorse of mind is grief, sorrow, torment, painful memory. Ask those who remember, and those who cannot, they were never meant to survive, for they recall the future.

 

(Photo Credit: Prison Photography / Paula Luttringer, The Wailing of the Walls)

 

Security of Sex: New Oklahoma Abortion Law

Yesterday, October 7, 2009, the Oklahoma legislature passed a law requiring that private and identifying information be published online for women who have had abortions in state in order to deter women from having abortions.  While this is only one of a plethora of restrictions on women’s right to choose in Oklahoma, it is a particularly dangerous one.  The law has no actual scientific purpose, the manner in which the data is collected is practically unusable for any objective research, instead it is meant to shame and endanger women who seek this medical procedure. It even goes so far as to ask women why they are getting the procedure and outlaws any sex-based abortions.  Though women’s names are not published, information such as their age, race, level of education, marital status, number of previous pregnancies, and the county in which the abortion was performed.  Such information could easily identify a woman living in a smaller town.  No woman should have her medical history judged in the public square and the idea that this will deter abortions shows an unfathomable misunderstanding of pregnancy and abortion in this country.  Abortions are not sought simply by promiscuous teenagers that the overly paternalistic legislature is trying to make “take responsibility”.  You have to be 18 or have parental consent in Oklahoma anyway.  Abortions are sought by women for a wide variety of reasons including incest, rape, health of the mother, viability of the fetus or inability to care for the child.  Irrelevant of the reason, it’s private.

Likewise, the paperwork is incredibly long and puts an additional burden on already overstretched doctors and nurses at the handful of clinics in the state.  The publication of this information is a potential violation of HIPPA and the Oklahoma Constitution and while there are likely to be suits to overturn the bill, they will not be able to have an effect for some time.  The law goes into effect on November 1st.

Regardless of your feelings on the abortion debate, publishing women’s private medical history with information that could easily identify them is a gross abuse of power by the legislature.  It is not a matter of religion and scare tactics that drive women’s health procedures further underground are never for the public good.  Abortion will be reduced when the need for them is reduced through accessible and affordable contraceptives, education regarding contraceptive use and family planning as well as prevention of sexual abuse.  We need to let our legislators know that this is not acceptable.  Please look up your representatives here: http://www.lsb.state.ok.us/.  Write and call them immediately and let them know that you do not want this law.  Pass this information on to every Oklahoma voter that you know.  Below are several articles and the language of the law itself.

http://mobile.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/feature/2009/10/07/okla_abortion/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/08/oklahoma-abortion-law-det_n_313779.html
http://jezebel.com/5376502/new-oklahoma-law-will-put-details-of-all-abortions-online
http://www.sos.state.ok.us/documents/Legislation/52nd/2009/1R/HB/1595.pdf

(Photo Credit: Michael Cross / KOSU / NPR)