Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s blood flows over all of us

Faysal Ishak Ahmed died on Saturday or was it yesterday … or was it six months ago. Faysal Ishak Ahmed, 27-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker, collapsed inside the detention center on Manus Island, the dumping grounds for those refugees and asylum seekers who seek haven in Australia. This is the same Manus Island where 24-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati was killed two years ago. Eight months ago, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea declared the detention center illegal. Papua New Guinea and Australia have “agreed” to close the center, but, to no one’s surprise, no time frame has been set. Faysal Ishak Ahmed did not collapse nor did he suffer a seizure. He was killed, and his blood joins the blood of Reza Barati; their blood flows everywhere.

Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s story is all too familiar. For at least six months Faysal Ishak Ahmed complained of chest pains, swollen arms and fingers, high blood pressure and a pain at the back of his head, seizures, blackouts and breathing difficulties. He begged and pleaded for medical care. Fellow prisoners begged and pleaded on his behalf. He wrote letters; fellow prisoners wrote letters. He deteriorated; he received no medical care. When he finally died, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection stated a refugee “has sadly died today from injuries suffered after a fall and seizure at the Manus Regional Processing Centre”. There is no sadness like sadness. Jesus wept, the State shrugged.

The story continues. Manus Island prisoners rebel for a while. Letters are written, protests are lodged, pictures and drawings emerge. In Sudan, Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s parents say they want their body returned to them. They also say that they have not been formally informed of his death by anyone from the Australian or the Papua New Guinean governments. The State’s great and deep sadness continues to oppress the vulnerable and the hurting.

Faysal Ishak Ahmed is just another name, just another death, in the litany of neoliberal global ethics in which he must bear full responsibility for the site of his birth, the color of his skin, and the nature of his faith. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault that he spent three years in prison on Manus Island. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed that he ever asked anyone for help, safety, or haven. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault that he begged for six excruciating, agonizing months without any attention. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed that the medical staff consistently claimed he was malingering and returned to his bed. It’s his fault, it’s altogether Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault that his blood flows over all of us. We are innocent, we never saw him, we never knew.

 

(Photo Credit 1: SBS Australia) (Photo Credit 2: The Guardian)

Yvonne Musarurwa smiles, saying NO! to the tyrants of Zimbabwe

Yvonne Musarurwa immediately after being sentenced

On Monday, in Harare, Yvonne Musarurwa and two comrades were sentenced to twenty years in prison. Photos show Yvonne Musarurwa immediately after the sentencing, and she’s smiling, perhaps laughing. As it was in Hades and then Algeria, so in Zimbabwe today, “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a woman’s heart. One must imagine Yvonne Musarurwa happy.”

In 2011, 29 MDC-T supporters were arrested on suspicion of having killed a police officer. In 2013, 21 were acquitted because of lack of evidence. There was no evidence, and yet they remained behind bars, in Chikurubi, some for more than two years. The High Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu took great pains to discuss the case of human rights activist Cynthia Manjoro. Manjoro had been released on bail in 2012, after a State witness testified that Manjoro had been arrested “as bait” to lure her boyfriend into a trap. Cynthia Manjoro spent May 2011 to October 2012 in prison. That left eight in the hellhole of Chikurubi. In August 2013, Rebecca Mafukeni died … or was killed. Rebecca Mafukeni had meningitis, she was clearly deteriorating quickly when the judge repeatedly refused bail and all appeals for medical attention were rejected.

Yvonne Musarurwa was with Rebecca Mafukeni in Chikurubi Prison and recalled the ordeal: “The first weeks in police custody were the toughest. We were being interrogated, beaten and tortured. I’ve never felt so much pain in life before. I sustained a broken hand; lacerations all over the body and the only thing I got for all that were a few tablets of paracetamol. They said we were MDC and that there was every chance we would influence the other prisoners and clash with others from ZANU PF. This is why they kept us in solitary confinement. The conditions though were very bad. We stayed in cells that had raw sewage passing through and we cleaned that up using our bare hands. That was the most difficult part and I told myself the day Zimbabwe is free from tyranny, I will personally go to the Minister of Justice and those in charge of prisons to tell them exactly what needs to be done.”

That was 2013. This week, three years later, Yvonne Musarurwa, Tungamirai Madzokere, and Last Maengahama were sentenced to 20 years, despite eyewitnesses stating in court that the three were innocent, despite a complete lack of evidence, despite video evidence that Last Maengahama was in a church miles away when the officer was killed. According to Beatrice Mtetwa, who leads the defense team, the three were convicted based on the doctrine of common purpose, an archaic doctrine by which one may be found guilty of another’s crime. The State went to great lengths to convict Yvonne Musarurwa and her colleagues.

Yvonne Musarurwa is 29 years old. She has spent the last five years in the clutches of the State for a crime she never committed. How many more years until Yvonne Musarurwa, and the rest of Zimbabwe, are freed from prison for a crime they never committed? In Zimbabwe, the State is the crime. For now we must continue to imagine, and see, Yvonne Musarurwa smiling, knowing exactly what needs to be done.

Yvonne Musarurwa

 

(Photo Credit 1: Nehanda Radio) (Photo Credit 2: Nehanda Radio)

Why does Australia criminalize psychiatric and cognitive impairment? Ask Rosie Ann Fulton

Rosie Ann Fulton

Rosie Ann Fulton, an Aboriginal woman living with fetal alcohol syndrome, lives in Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory of Australia. In many ways, she is the embodiment of the State’s criminalization of psychiatric and cognitive impairment. This abuse is particularly addressed to women, and even more intensely so Aboriginal women. Rosie Anne Fulton has spent much of her adult life in jail for no reason other than her intellectual disability. After a mighty campaign was waged, she was released and agreements were made. Today, her custodian says the support, such as it was, has collapsed and Rosie Anne Fulton is “back on the streets, taking drugs, being exploited and is at serious risk.” This is what the State of Abandonment looks like. At the end of November, a Senate committee issued its report, “Indefinite detention of people with cognitive and psychiatric impairment in Australia.” Rosie Anne Fulton is typical of hundreds.

In March 2014, media uncovered that then 23-year-old Rosie Anne Fulton had spent 18 months in Kalgoorlie Jail without a trial or conviction: “The magistrate in her case declared her unfit to plead because she is intellectually impaired – a victim of foetal alcohol syndrome – and has the mental capacity of a young child. Her legal guardian, former police officer Ian McKinlay, says Ms Fulton ended up on a prison-based supervision order because there were no alternatives in the area at the time. `At the moment this outcome is almost entirely reserved for Aboriginal, Indigenous Australians,’ he said.” The State “explained” that no other options existed. Three options were available: first, a “declared place”, designed for precisely this kind of case; second, an authorized hospital; third, prison or juvenile detention center. Although the Act authorizing “declared places” had passed 15 years earlier, none actually existed. Hospitals could only admit someone who has a “treatable” mental illness, which did not fit Rosie Anne Fulton. And so the only available option was prison … according to the State.

That was 2014. In 2016, Ian McKinlay reported to the Senate Committee on Rosie Anne Fulton’s condition: “[Rosie Anne Fulton] was born with fetal alcohol brain damage, and this was compounded by a life of abuse. She was dumped by NT health after she ended up in indefinite prison-based supervision in Kalgoorlie. She was forced back into the NT health domain by a media and public outcry. This clearly caused resentment. It was reflected in the denial of a transitional support plan earlier discussed. Instead, she was placed under a clearly designed-to-fail support plan, which has seen her under conviction for 70 per cent of the time since her return to the Northern Territory. She has now lapsed into full-blown chemical addiction, and to all intents and purposes she is back on the streets and at serious risk. Yesterday I found her drunk with facial injuries; she was again bashed overnight and she appeared in court today. This support hides behind a pretence of freedom of choice values that contradicts repeated guardianship court findings that she lacks decision-making capacity. The external pressure needed to compel NT Health to accept responsibility for Rosie Anne has also been needed to maintain even tokenistic levels of commitment, the latest re-engagement prompted by monitoring by the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet plus the current Don Dale media coverage.”

What crime did Rosie Ann Fulton commit? She has committed the crime of survival, a crime she commits every second of every day, and so she, and all her kind, must be punished. Do not build a “declared space” where she might live with dignity. Do not open a mental health institution that might accommodate her not so unusual circumstances. Build more prisons, fill them up with Rosie Ann Fulton and her sisters, then throw away the keys, and call it democracy in an indefinitely austere world.

 

(Photo Credit: ABC Australia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

From Jacqueline Sauvage to Bresha Meadows, the State abuses women victims of violence

Bresha Meadows in 2015

Bresha Meadows in 2015

Two weeks before her 15th birthday Bresha Meadows was arrested for shooting her father in his sleep with the gun he used to threaten her and her mother. She was defending her mother and herself and still the first response from the state was to imprison Bresha. Despite all evidence of domestic extreme violence the state unleashed more violence on a child who had already experienced and witnessed violent mental and physical abuse. This time prosecution of the victim takes place in Ohio close to Cleveland, where the child Bresha Meadows is facing the unbearably violent vicious US penal system.

As Bresha turned 15 while incarcerated at the Trumbull County Juvenile Detention Center, no visitors for her birthday were allowed, signaling a clear lack of interest for her well being after everything she had been through. Her mother, Brandi, had been beaten since her first pregnancy and almost lost it due to the severity of her injuries. Year after year, for 22 years of marriage, her husband, Jonathan Meadow, used brutal, emotional and physical isolation techniques to control his wife, regularly threatening to kill her children, especially in recent years.

Bresha Meadows suffered directly from these conditions. As she grew older, she realized her father could eliminate anyone at anytime. Bresha escaped her home twice to seek help with her aunt Latessa, telling her how their father was trying to isolate their mom from her children as well as the constant physical abuse.

Despite all the evidence Bresha’s act was not judged as an act of defense. Instead, she had to be harshly punished. There is a manifest differential of punishment between a case like hers and male killing their partners or committing racist crimes.

Why does the state want to punish not only battered girls and women like Bresha but also pregnant women or women wielding their right to control their reproduction? 75% to 80% of women incarcerated for murder were battered and killed in self-defense, not to forget that class and race play a crucial role in their incarceration generally. Moreover, 84% of the US girls in custody were victims of abuse or experienced domestic violence. Even scarier is that the last comprehensive data on US children who killed their parents was published in 1990 and at that time 90% of the 280 children who killed their parents were abused.

According to Michel Foucault, “Systems of punishment are to be situated in a certain political economy of the body.” Bresha Meadow’s incarceration had nothing to do with reducing crime, had less than nothing to do with ending violence against women. The latter is a crime that has international recognition with a day, November 25th the international day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to raise awareness.

As opposed to Jacqueline Sauvage, the French woman also incarcerated for killing her husband, Bresha, if prosecuted as an adult, will face life in prison because of mandatory sentencing while Sauvage is going to be released in January since France does not have mandatory sentencing anymore and uses a system of sentence remission. Even if the judge decides to keep her case in juvenile court, she will still face a harsh sentence thanks to the complicated legal system in Ohio. In both cases the judges demonstrate a vision of the political economy of the woman’s body in which violence against women is permitted and women are on their own.

The ultimate action should not be to only find ways to bypass mandatory sentencing in the US or influence judges in France. Rather, we need to expose the patriarchal rules and economy that use prison as an instrument of control of women’s bodies, which is exactly the reason Bresha’s father thought that it was fine to put his wife and family in a box. As Latessa explained, “If they stepped out of that box, they were reprimanded and put right back in that box.”

Meanwhile Bresha who was living in hell with no help from the state to change the situation of violence in her family is now living in the hell of the state jail.

Please consider signing the petition that calls for the immediate release of Bresha and demands the withdrawal of all charges.

https://campaigns.organizefor.org/petitions/free-bresha-meadows

 

(Photo Credit: Lena Cooper / Cleveland Plain Dealer)

 

 

Free Jacqueline Sauvage, domestic violence survivor, patriarchal (in)justice prisoner!

In France, the case of Jacqueline Sauvage captures the inability of the justice system to do away with patriarchal rules and with prison as the essential means to assert punitive power. Jacqueline Sauvage’s story is the archetype of the effects of repetitive domestic violence. In September 2012, Sauvage, the daughter of a victim of domestic violence, shot her husband in the back, thinking that this time he would carry out his brutal threats, after 47 years of constant and ferocious abuses. She feared for her life one time too many.

The couple had four children, one boy and three girls, all raised in a climate of violence orchestrated by the father. The family is a middle-class family that runs a small business in Montargis, in central France; all these years of abuse, nobody dared say anything. The daughters were sexually abused and the son verbally abused. The son reproduced the climate of violence in his own life. He committed suicide the night before his mother killed her husband, but she did not know that when she killed her abusive husband.

Jacqueline Sauvage was accused by the prosecutor of faking or lying, arguing that she and her daughters never pressed charges against the husband/father oppressor. She lived in fear of retaliations; moreover she was under his control.

In France only 14 % of the women who declare having been a victim of violence file a complaint. Every year, 134 women are killed by their respective partner. In addition, 90% of rapists are known by their victims; 37% are their husbands.

Jacqueline Sauvage’s defense attorneys relied on a self-defense argument to save their client from more punishment. The court dismissed the argument and sentenced her to 10 years for aggravated murder. Another court dismissed the argument a second time in appeal. Meanwhile, the case became emblematic of the lack of support for women victims of domestic violence.

Then, Jacqueline Sauvage’s lawyers sought presidential pardon. They obtained a partial pardon, which means that it allows the justice system to grant remission but does not change the charges. She was still convicted of aggravated murder. The pardon skillfully did not challenge the status quo.

Finally, two weeks ago, a court decided that Jacqueline Sauvage would remain in prison despite the presidential pardon. The judge declared that self-defense cannot be applied, and she should have responded to the violence of her husband with proportionate action. With mass support, Jacqueline Sauvage is now appealing this last decision.

In the patriarchal code of justice women are still held responsible of their situation, particularly cases of abuse. In refusing to free Jacqueline Sauvage, the judge has normalized violence against women, making clear that revolt for abused women is unacceptable, even unfathomable. This long and painful story demonstrates one more time that women’s well being and rights are still a burden that lies on women’s shoulders, no matter what outfit they are wearing!

 

(Photo Credit 1: Grazia) (Photo Credit 2: 20 minutes)

The federal ban on using private prisons is a question that’s still very much up in the air

August 18, 10:36 am CST— my hand absentmindedly twitches towards my pocket at the staccato hum of my email app notification. A quick glance at the screen reveals a Washington Post news update forwarded by my mother. By this point in the day, she’s sent me at least half a dozen such emails, so I’m ready to delete this one once I’ve skimmed the headline–

“Fwd: National News Alert: Justice Department says it’s ending the use of private prisons”

Wait… what?

I read it again, and again, just to prove to myself that I got it right the first time.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who encountered the news with more than a little disbelief. It seemed almost too good to be true after decades of accelerating full throttle down the rabbit hole of “law and order” with little regard to changes in white house residency.

In moments like these, I think it’s important to play the broken record and ask ourselves again—wait…. what?

As in, what exactly is happening here? What change, if any, will this new policy bring?

In short, what happens to the inmates now?

Will they stay in the same private prison buildings, but this time under “new management”? Will prison administration and CO’s carry over? If so, what will be the new training procedures that ensure quality of life improves for their charges? Or is that being too optimistic?

Or, on the flip side, will inmates be moved to existing public federal prisons or state and local facilities that could still be privately owned? Will the facilities be further away from the inmates’ families, and are we really okay with it if that is in fact the case? What does this mean for overcrowding? And to what extent will private corporations continue to play a role as contractors for food, building materials and other day to day necessities of public detention facilities?

I have to believe that any major government condemnation of the prison industrial complex (even if just one sector of it) is a good step forward. It suggests that the public discourse is starting to change, that there is some growing political incentive to questioning the status quo.

And yet, there’s enough doubt that it’s worth unpacking whether this is truly a victory in the material sense. Will it lead to a shrinking of the prison industrial complex, or even improve the day to day existence of those ensnared by it?

But really, I think there’s only one larger question that truly matters here: is the public vs. private prisons debate even relevant?

And that, in my book, is a question that’s still very much up in the air.

 

(Image Credit: Washington Post)

Will France choose to follow the U.S. and build and overcrowd more prisons?

Adeline Hazan explains the rise in number of detainees in France

Adeline Hazan explains the rise in number of detainees in France

Last week, with media in tow, Manuel Valls accompanied Minister of Justice Jean Jacques Urvoas, who replaced Christiane Taubira, to Nimes prison, one of many overcrowded French prisons. Located in southeast France, Nimes prison is designed to receive 192 prisoners but currently holds 406 prisoners. Nationally, the number of detainees has reached record levels. Since 2010 the number of convicted prisoners went from 45 583 to 49 340 in 2016, but more significantly the number of remand detainees has moved from 15 395 in 2010 to 20 035 in 2016.

The previous president Nicolas Sarkozy instituted a martial discourse of intimidating governance based on penal populism and social ostracizing of social and racial minorities. He envisioned building new prisons to “accommodate” 80 000 more inmates.

Urvoa’s predecessor, Christiane Taubira tried to reverse this trend with her reform, passed in August 2014, to make incarceration the last result. Focusing on restorative rather than punitive justice, Taubira’s reform created penal counselors for reintegration as well as alternative sentences. The reform passed, but implementation has been to slow to none, thanks to a justice system that has followed the global trend of imprisonment as a social and governing instrument in a time of global violence. Recruitment of the counselors has been slow and underfunded while alternative sentencing has been ignored by a hardened justice system that has responded positively to the populist call for a repressive justice. The number of liberations under the control of the counselors has been reduced by 20% in one year. A Union representative declared that, instead of emptying prisons, the reform has filled them because the magistrates don’t play fair.

At the end of their visit to the Nimes prison, the head of government and his minister of justice declared that they would come up with a “specific, concrete and financed plan” to remedy the problem. They announced the building of more prisons to add 6000 beds, still largely inferior to what the right and extreme right political elite is demanding. Despite the few good moves such as the opening of “observatoire de la récidive et de la désistance” (Observatory of repeating offense and crime exit), as well as Jean Jacques Urvoas’ stated commitment to enforce the sentencing reduction bill, the funds have not been allocated.

In a climate of fear in which the “radicalization” of Muslim youth in France is offered as a source of violence that has to be fought in the most brutal manner, the political elite has given a radical and superficial picture of the situation in order to impose prison as the immediate and natural solution to all problems.

Meanwhile, a regime of urban marginality is reinforced with increased incarceration, making prisons and jails the instruments of violent isolation and ostracism. The over representation of populations of Muslim descent in prison mirrors the over representation of minorities in US prisons, with some differences of course. Will French elite choose to follow the American model of building and overcrowding more prisons?

In response, Adeline Hazan, the “contrôleure général des lieux de privation de liberté” (an independent body that monitors all places where people are deprived of liberty, and checks that fundamental rights of people in these places are respected) insisted “the more prisons we build, p the more we will fill them.” She added that carceral inflation year after year is not the solution and lamented that the law of 2014 has not been applied properly, and case-by-case sentencing, which was the heart of the Taubira’s bill, has not been implemented.

In a public radio program Hazan explained that according to French law, prison should remain the last result. The quantum leap in the number of short sentences demonstrates the opposite. The prison suicide rate is also rising with 90 attempts a month. Most of the attempts occur during the first days in prison. The suicide rate in French prisons has increased from 4 to 19 between 1945 and 2010, seven times more than outside of prison. The number of pretrial detainees is also on the rise. The state of emergency and its violent policing of demonstrations has sent many to pretrial detention.

Adeline Hazan remarked that women, who are only 3.8% of the detainees, have seen the degradation of their conditions of detention as a consequence of the over populated male prisons. She added that it is like a double sentence for women. The institution that she presides has produced numerous reports to alert the authorities about these situations. She noted that it is hard to be heard in this context of hard line security propaganda. Nonetheless, she acknowledged one of their recent victories in the elimination of incarceration of pregnant women.

In 2017, France will hold presidential elections. In France’s pre election climate of fear of terrorist attacks, the tough on crime approach seems to be the main message used by the political elite while neoliberal budget restrictions of public services increase and aggravate the inequality and abuse of those left behind in French society. In his most recent book Achille Mbembe has called this the “politics of enmity”. Prisons are places of enmity and gender racial discrimination: we don’t need more of them.

 

(Photo Credit: Ouest France)

Canada built a special hell for women: the Nova Institution for Women

Camille Strickland-Murphy, left, and Veronica Park, right

On April 24, 2015, Veronica Park died in the Nova Institution for Women. On July 28, 2015, Camille Strickland-Murphy killed herself in the Nova Institution for Women, committed suicide. On October 31, 2006, Ashley Smith, a “troubled teenager,” was shifted from youth custodial services to a federal women’s prison, the Nova Institution for Women, in Truro, Nova Scotia. From there, over the next year, Smith was transferred 17 times, and subjected throughout to full body constraint, shackles, and extended solitary confinement. On October 19, 2007, Ashley Smith hanged herself while seven guards watched and did nothing. The State was “shocked”. Some said, “Ms. Smith’s death should haunt Canada.” It didn’t and, as the corpses of Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy demonstrate, it hasn’t. The death of women prisoners haunts absolutely nothing. Last week, the families of Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy sued Canada’s federal correctional service for “negligence.” Rather call it torture. This play unfolds in three acts: the deaths, the after-death, and the darkness gathering.

Act One: Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy die.

Veronica Park entered Nova Institution for Women on August 14, 2014. Her family says she suffered from mental health issues, which they attribute to having been sexually and physically abused as an adult. She took to self-medicating and became addicted. In prison, she continued to self-medicate. Prison staff responded to her “situation” by throwing her, three times, into “segregation”, where she spent a total of 22 days. In the weeks before her death, Veronica Park went to the clinic seven times. She was clearly sick. On April 23, 2015, Veronica Park went twice to the clinic, where the nurse recorded a sore throat, cough, body aches and shortness of breath, and sent her on her way. The next day, Veronica Park was found incapacitated, gasping for air. She was taken to hospital, where she was diagnosed with a serious case of pneumonia. By 4:30 pm, Veronica Park was dead.

Camille Strickland-Murphy entered Nova Institution for Women on November 10, 2014. Strickland-Murphy had been in Nova before, at the age of 19. At that time, she had been beaten twice, by other inmates. Her family says that Strickland-Murphy’s mental illness began then, with untreated concussions. She began having seizures, fainting spells, and periods of loss of consciousness. The State responded with “segregation”, seven times totaling 23 days. When Camille Strickland-Murphy returned to Nova, her condition was worse. She was engaging in self-harm, which, again, resulted in segregation In February, she cut her face, and was found in a pool of blood. In March, she set her leg and room on fire. On July 20, she attempted suicide, and was sent to hospital. She was then returned to the Nova Institution for Women. On July 28, Camille Strickland-Murphy killed herself.

Who really killed Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy?

Act Two: The State abuses the families of Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy.

When Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy asked, directly and indirectly, for help, they were sent into segregation. Segregation means no family contact and that one’s security changes from medium to maximum. The families say they were never told about their loved ones’ deteriorating conditions. No one in either family knew how bad the situation was. How could they, when Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy were in and out of “segregation”? After the deaths, the State met the families’ various requests for information, both on what happened and what follow-ups were going on, with stone dead silence. According to Kim Pate, of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, when the Park family asked for more information, “they were told it was protected. It is outrageous.” There’s no outrage here, and Ashley Smith does not haunt the Canadian justice or prison system. The State kills women in prison, and then “protects” information. According to the family, the investigation into Veronica Park’s death didn’t even begin for a full four months.

Act Three: The darkness gathers.

Howard Sapers, the federal prisons ombudsman, released a report last week on how Canadian prisons deal with families after prisoners have died “in custody.” Investigative reports are consistently blacked out. Sometimes whole pages are missing. This repeats the treatment prior to the death, when the prisons don’t inform families. Prisons treat the families callously and worse. One man told the prison he would be coming to view his family member’s body on a certain day. When he arrived, he was told, for the first time, that his family member had been cremated. Later, without any notice, the ashes were couriered to him: “They cremated him and they sent him by Purolator…sending someone in the mail…it’s just not right.” It’s just not right. Sapers’ report is titled In the Dark.

Ashley Smith died, or was killed, nine years ago. In the interim, the darkness has gathered and thickened. In the name of Veronica Park, Camille Strickland-Murphy, and Ashley Smith, no more red flags, reports, inquiries or commissions. It’s time, it’s way past time, for action. Close the Nova Institution for Women. Close all places where segregation and isolation are the protocols for healing. Build spaces that are actually for women. Anything else is just not right.

A report to a family on their loved one’s death

 

(Photo Credit 1: CBC News) (Photo Credit 2: News 1130 / Office of the Correctional Investigator)

Australia’s “I can’t breathe” moment … or not

Last night, Australians watched in horror as the investigative journalism series Four Corners showed the torture and abuse of children in a so-called juvenile justice facility in the Northern Territory. The show opens: “The image you have just seen isn’t from Guantanamo bay…. or Abu Ghraib.. but Australia in 2015… A boy, hooded, shackled, strapped to a chair and left alone. It is barbaric. This is juvenile justice in the Northern Territory, a system that punishes troubled children instead of rehabilitating them – where children as young as 10 are locked up and 13 year olds are kept in solitary confinement. Most of the images secured by Four Corners in this investigation have never been seen publicly. They are shocking – but for the sake of these children who are desperate for the truth to be known, we cannot look away.” It may “shocking” but none of it is new. We have known all along.

At a number of points in the near hour-long documentary, children are heard to plead, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” To no one’s surprise, their pleas go unattended, or worse, their pleas incite the guards to further and more intense violence. From Staten Island to Berrimah, where the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre is located, “I can’t breathe”. Eric Garner haunts the world … to no one’s surprise.

To no one’s surprise, a majority of the children in the video and center are Aboriginal. To no one’s surprise, Indigenous incarceration in Australia is rampant.

To no one’s surprise, this very torture of Aboriginal children in custody had been reported, and largely ignored, last year. It takes a video to document the destruction of a child.

When indigenous leader Nova Peris was a Senator, she raised this very issue in Parliament, and now she asks, “How many more royal commissions do Aboriginal people have to get excited about? There was a lot of hope when the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody was done, yet barely any recommendations were implemented. In 1997, the Bringing Them Home report about children in out-of-home care gave us hope, but what actually happened there, if anything? No-one listened. These kids need rehabilitation, they don’t need torture: hate breeds hate, they need to know that there is life outside. Over the years people brushed these kids off, calling them ‘little bastards’. These are kids as young as 11 years old, how are they even thinking criminal activities. Let’s look at the underlying issues here.”

To no one’s surprise, the Indigenous Affairs Minister ignored earlier reports of abuse. They didn’t “pique” his interest.

So now, the Northern Territory Minister has been fired; the “shocked” Prime Minister has called for a Royal Commission; and the guards in the video are still guarding the very children they were taped abusing.

Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo. Eric Garner. The new Gulag Archipelago, same as it ever was. We all share Australia’s shame. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

 

(Image Credit: Fastcodesign) (Photo Credit: ABC Four Corners)