Why do we continue to leave pregnant women in deathtrap jails, prisons, detention centers?

Tammy Jackson

At the beginning of March, we asked if Florida would finally stop shackling women prisoners in childbirth. At the end of June, Florida’s Governor signed the Tammy Jackson Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act. Last year, Tammy Jackson gave birth, alone, in a cell in the North Broward Jail, in Pompano Beach. The new law bans shackling pregnant women prisoners; invasive body cavity searches; and the use of solitary confinement; and requires medical examinations at least once every 24 hours. While this is welcome news, it begs the question why it took Florida so long to address the ongoing violence against women in its prisons and jails. Why? Why are pregnant women shackled while pregnant, in childbirth, and after delivery? Why? Across the United States, women, alone in their cells, give birth to children. They are alone because … because they are incarcerated. That justifies all acts of violence and violation, especially against women. Remember, Andrea Circle Bear, the first woman to die of Covid 19 in federal prison, was pregnant when she was sent to prison. Remember, Andrea Circle Bear should never have been incarcerated in the first place, and should never have remained incarcerated. Why is it so hard to release pregnant women from clear and imminent danger?

Every month, the reports come out, and every month, for the past few months, prisons and jails have been the epicenters of Covid infection and mortality. Has that mattered to prison authorities or the public at large? No. Have pregnant women, the most vulnerable sector of the the incarcerated population, been released? No.  In North Carolina, pregnant prisoners were told they would be released. It hasn’t happenedThe women worry and organize, their families worry and organize, and meanwhile … What? 

This week, faced with a monster outbreak of coronavirus in its prison system, and in particular in San Quentin, California is beginning to consider releasing prisoners. Included in that process is the following: “The department also said it is `reviewing potential release protocols’ for those who are pregnant or in hospice.” Why only now are those processes being reviewed? Why is it so very difficult to understand that pregnant women, and those in hospice care, are at particular risk? What is it about a prison uniform that fatally hides one’s humanity? Meanwhile, part of California’s `process’ of reducing prison overcrowding is to keep people in jails. What could possibly go wrong with that plan? Equally nightmarish stories of the abuse of pregnant women in immigrant detention centers continue to pile up as well.

This is the age of mistreatment and abuse of pregnant women. Pregnant women prisoners are the tip not so much of an iceberg as of a continent-wide subterranean volcano. Why are pregnant women being warehoused in jail cells where the staff ignores and `forgets’ them? Why are pregnant women being stuffed into prisons and immigrant detention centers, where they are only meant to suffer and die? If not, we would release them. Period. Meanwhile, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill that would provide medical care for women before and after childbirth, in both prisons and jails. At the same time, “the legislature struck down proposed bans on shackling and solitary confinement for pregnant women this year.” The struggle continues.

(Photo Credit: New York Times)

In Canada, Joelle Beaulieu refuses the death sentence of incarceration

Around the World of Covid, the news these days is pretty grim, and the news from prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers, juvenile detention centers is worse. In those places of confinement, generally, rates of infection are rising precipitously and, despite much hand wringing and loud sighing, the State and nation-states have done little to nothing to less than nothing. Given the past decades increased investment in mass and hyper incarceration, this comes as no surprise. But there is good, or at least hopeful, news, and that is in prisoners’ individual and collective actions and resistance. April saw prison uprisings, demonstrations, hunger strikes, and other actions in Sierra LeoneArgentinaColombia, the United States and beyond. Everywhere, prisoners echo the banner resisting prisoners hung from the rooftop of the Devoto prison in Buenos Aires: “Nos negamos a morir en la cárcel.” We refuse to die in prison. In Virginia, Cynthia Scott, 50 years old, African American, currently incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, agreed: “I was not sentenced to death, and I don’t want to die here.  But I am afraid I will when the coronavirus comes.” In Canada, on April 21, Joelle Beaulieu, a member of the Ojibwe Nation, incarcerated in a Canadian federal prison in Joliette, Quebec, said NO! to the death sentence of conditions in the federal prisons and sued the Correctional Service Canada for its response, or lack of response, to the Covid pandemic. I was not sentenced to death. We refuse to die in prison.

At the end of April, Joelle Beaulieu sued on behalf of all federal inmates who had been imprisoned in federal prisons in Quebec since March 13. What happens to one happens to all. What happened to Joelle Beaulieu is she was incarcerated at Joliette Women’s Institution. She worked as a cleaner. Joelle Beaulieu worked in highly trafficked, congested areas. When she heard about the pandemic, she asked for gloves, mask and protective gear. The authorities only gave her gloves. When Joelle Beaulieu began developing symptoms, she was given Tylenol. For a week, her symptoms intensified. Finally, after a week, Joelle Beaulieu was tested. Then Joelle Beaulieu was sent to her cell, into what amounted to solitary confinement, for 15 days. She requested either a Native elder or a mental health professional. No one was provided. She says guards did not wear masks or gloves until after she tested positive. Prisoners were told to wash their hands, but were not given disinfectant.

Joelle Beaulieu believes she is “patient zero” of the Joliette Women’s Institution. Within two weeks, the number of Covid positive cases rose from 10 to 50, and by the time Joelle Beaulieu filed her case, more than half the residents had tested positive. On April 21, Quebec reported 114 positive cases. Of that 114, 51 were Joliette Women’s Institution prisoners. Of the women in Quebec who tested positive for Coronavirus, almost all were `residents’ of Joliette Women’s Institution. Joliette Women’s Institution is no outlier, and Joelle Beaulieu’s situation is in no way exceptional. According to Emilie Coyle, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, “Every time we speak with women who are inside the prisons, whether it’s in Joliette or other federal institutions  – they let us know they feel as though they’re not getting the right information. They’re kept in the dark. And that’s particularly concerning for them because they’re trying very hard to participate in keeping themselves safe and healthy.”

In Buenos Aires, when prisoners resisted, they released a statement which said, in part, “We are a mirror of the very society that forgets us and drowns in its own misery, silencing its own true reality:

Those who give up will never win.
We refuse to die in prison.
For a world without slavery and without exclusion.”

From the rooftops of a jail in Buenos Aires to the women’s prison of Virginia to the women’s prisons of Quebec, people are resisting the dehumanization of slavery and exclusion, engaging in the Great Refusal which is the Great Affirmation. They will not be kept in the dark nor will they be silenced. In Canada, Joelle Beaulieu, member of the Ojibwe Nation, said NO to the inhumanity, insisted she was not sentenced to die in prison, and lit a match to light the way to a world without slavery and without exclusion. Others will follow. The struggle continues.

(Photo credit: Sol915)

Nicoletta Dosio: “I will carry to the end with joy”

Nicoletta Dosio

Nicoletta Dosio is a 74-year-old Italian activist, feminist, Communist who, in 2012, protested against the Turin – Lyon high speed rail project, TAV. At the end of last year, Nicoletta Dosio was arrested, tried, and convicted to a year in prison, in Turin. From her prison cell, Nicoletta Dosio has written, “I’m fine, I’m happy with the choice I made because it is the result of a just and beautiful cause, the NoTav struggle which is also the struggle for a different model of society and stems from the awareness that the present world is not the only possible world. I feel collective solidarity and personally experience what a fighting family is. The support and affection you showed me when I was arrested, and the demonstrations whose echos reach me from afar, confirm that I made the right choice, which I will carry to the end with joy. I tell the other inmates about you, I tell them that the solidarity given to me is for all the women and men locked behind these brutish walls.”

Italian novelist, poet and translator, Erri De Luca, has written an open letter to Nicoletta Dosio:

Rome, March 23, 2020

Dear Nicoletta,

In these days, I reread. Once again, I have Rosa Luxemburg’s letters on my lap, the letters she wrote from Berlin prison. In one, addressed to Mathilde Jacob on February 7, 1917, Rosa recounts the cry of the chickadee, tss-vi, tss-vi. She knows how to imitate it so perfectly that the chickadee approaches her bars.

Rosa writes, `Despite the snow, the cold and the loneliness, we believe, the chickadee and I, that spring is on the way.’

And so here we are, in the days that announce that winter has ended. You were secluded in prison, and by some mysterious solidarity, an entire people locked themselves in their homes. The streets are empty, the North of Italy is emigrating to the South, and families fill the balconies. The economists have vanished, and the medical doctors are in charge.

Standing in my field, I watch the trees in bud. In Italian, the word for “bud” and “gem” is the same, “gemma”. For us, the buds are precious stones, and Spring is a necklace of jewels open to all who know how to appreciate them.

Here, now, in the name of politeness, people are staying away and avoiding one another.

But for you, in your prison cells, there is not enough room to turn in. People with pneumonia lack air, you are all forced to breathe and gasp together. The overcrowded, criminally overstuffed prisons have become laboratories of suffocation.

But the valley for which you fought and for which you are in prison continues to produce and breathe its own political oxygen, which rises from within the community, which strengthens its fibers, and thus gives the right of citizen to those whom the authorities have treated as feudal subjects. Treated as a rebellious province, your valley continues to refuse the rape of its territory.

Your inflexible and indomitable calm is that of your community. It emerges manifest when a people awaken.

I am proud to be able to address you, dear Nicoletta, as a close friend, proud to be one with you.

I wait for you here, and I promise you that, when you leave that prison, you will find the same union and the same spring.

Fervently yours,
Erri De Luca

(Translated by Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Nicoletta Dosio)

How many children die as a result of a parent, and especially a mother, being incarcerated?

Last week former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg made claims as part of his 2020 presidential campaign to tackle racial bias in the criminal justice system and lower the prison population. In his plan, released on February 18th, Bloomberg promised to “end the era of mass incarceration, ensure fairness and equality in our criminal justice system, and shift its focus from punishment to rehabilitation.” At the same time, he received criticism for his previous support of stop-and-frisk policing that disproportionally targeted people of color during his tenure in New York City. 

If going through the courts is a necessary step to address the criminal justice system, what do these alleged promises mean in a time when the Trump administration has worked to appoint conservative judges? Bloomberg states that as President he would support legislation to make changes for federal officers, pledge money to reforms, and end federal cash bail. While he’s getting pushback for his positions on social issues, it’s worth noting that he spent more than $41 milliontowards campaigns in the 2018 midterm election that would later help elect 21 Democrats to the House. 

Bloomberg’s allocation of wealth raises the question: if wealth and positions of power created the unjust systems that exist today, is wealth also needed to dismantle them? Is it enough to have people with good morals taking initiatives on criminal justice reform, or do you need to have accomplices in positions of power of wealth? In the case of Bloomberg, his contradictory actions bear assessment

Bloomberg claims he will invest $1 billion in programs to support young men of color, but what about young women of color?

This past week, a California lawmaker proposed bill AB 732, also known as the “Reproductive Dignity for Incarcerated People Act” to improve treatment of incarcerated pregnant women. This followed a 2016 ACLU report exposing the abhorrent conditions for pregnant women in jails, and a class action lawsuit after there were three miscarriages and inmate Candace Steel was left alone for hours in her isolated jail cell without care during the labor and delivery of her child in 2017. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office disputed her account, but a federal judge believes otherwise. Steel was one of 28 other women since 2014 who sued for civil rights violations, medical malpractice and emotional distress. This is just one example of an incident that could have been avoided if proper attention was given to the needs of women. 

Surveillance video released this past week reveals Damaris Rodriguez, a mother of five, suffering from starvation and psychological behavior in a Washington state jail cell before dying from a treatable metabolic condition. 

What is wrong with this sentence: “Since this incident, our employees have received comprehensive training in crisis intervention”. It is all too common: proposed action after a lawsuit. Why? Because we are living in a carceral world where mental and physical health is policed before it is assessed and treated. Will this ever be corrected if poor training is used as a loophole for the state? 

Last week, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, local rights group Licadho asked prison officials to investigate the death of a five-month-old baby living with its incarcerated mother during her pre-trial detention for possessing $2.50 of methamphetamine. According to a statement issued, the baby had been taken to the hospital for a hip fracture in late January of 2020, where it was denied the ability to spend the night for observation. Upon returning to prison with its mother, it began experiencing medical complications. Only after the baby’s condition worsened was it taken back to the hospital, where it eventually died from pneumonia and severe malnutrition. 

A Prison Department official blamed the child’s death on the mother and denied the baby suffered from malnourishment. Since 2017, there has been mass incarceration of Cambodians as part of the country’s “war on drugs”. The local rights group is bringing this to light in the hope that all pregnant women and mothers in prison with their children serving pre-trial detention will be granted bail before International Women’s Day on March 8, 2020. 

Would this sort of promise be possible in the United States? How many children die as a result of a parent, and especially a mother, being incarcerated?

(Image Credit: Johns Hopkins Medicine)

Once again, prison is Canada’s “travesty”, England’s “scandal”. Who cares?

This week, within a 24-hour span, major reports revealed that Canada’s prison system “is nothing short of a national travesty” and the prisons of England and Wales are “a national scandal”. The reports are important, well researched, and grim, but they also repeat the findings of earlier reports, with one glaring exception. The situation is worsening, in fact the negative aspects are at an all-time high. If the various national populations have time and again received reports of a terrible situation worsening and if those populations and their national governments have done nothing, have done less than and worse than nothing, it is reasonable to ask, “Who cares?”

On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, Canada’s Correctional Investigator, Dr. Ivan Zinger, released a report on the current status of Canadian prisons: “Four years ago, my Office reported that persons of Indigenous ancestry had reached 25% of the total inmate population.  At that time, my Office indicated that efforts to curb over-representation were not working.  Today, sadly, I am reporting that the proportion of Indigenous people behind bars has now surpassed 30% … On this trajectory, the pace is now set for Indigenous people to comprise 33% of the total federal inmate population in the next three years.  Over the longer term, and for the better part of three decades now, despite findings of Royal Commissions and National Inquiries, intervention of the courts, promises and commitments of previous and current political leaders, no government of any stripe has managed to reverse the trend of Indigenous over-representation in Canadian jails and prisons. The Indigenization of Canada’s prison population is nothing short of a national travesty.” Indigenous women are the core of this Indigenization of Canada’s prison system, accounting for 42% of women inmates. In some prairie regions, Indigenous women comprise almost 90% of the prison population. Where once there were boarding schools, now there are prisons and jails.

On Wednesday, January 22, 2020, Inquest released its report, Deaths in prison: A national scandal. At the outset, the report notes that “levels of distress are at record high levels” and that “since 2016 the number of deaths have remained at historically high levels, with little sign of significant change.” 2016 was “deadliest year on record”. In their press release, Inquest suggests that that “‘national scandal’ of deaths in prison caused by neglect and serious failures.” But what if it’s neither neglect nor failure? What if death, largely through self-harm, is the system successfully at work?

This question arises out of the cyclical redundancy of these discoveries. 2013: Canada’s Correctional Investigator reports that federal and provincial prisons are booming, with Aboriginal people, especially women, “over-represented” in prisons, in maximum security and solitary confinement. 2014: Canada’s Correctional Investigator reports concern over the incarceration of Aboriginal women and the routine use of psychotropic drugs to control Aboriginal women behind bars, producing a mass population of “walking zombies”. 2016: another report, more expression of concern: Of 683 women prisoners, 248 are Aboriginal. Over 36% of women prisoners are Aboriginal. There’s more, but you get the picture.

In England and Wales, the picture is the same. Here’s 2014: “In 2014, 84 people killed themselves `in custody’ in England and Wales That’s the highest figure in seven years and an increase of 12% over the year before. The rise in suicide is surpassed by the rise in self-harm, up more than 25%. Overall, it was a banner year for the prison state, with 243 deaths in custody.” 2016, as noted, prison deaths, and particularly suicides, soared, as did self-harm: “When considering females, despite the falls seen between 2009 and 2012, rates of individuals self-harming among females remain disproportionately high in comparison to the overall rates of individuals self-harming … Females accounted for nearly a quarter of self-harm incidents in this reporting period, but only make up less than 5% of the prison population.” Again, there’s more, but the picture is already clear.

Both the Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada and Inquest note the need to learn from past experiences while both express disappointment at lessons unlearned, unheeded, but what if there are no lessons to learn? What if these deaths are but a station on a global assembly line at which employees dutifully stand and wait for the next body to ignore? The prisons of Canada and of England and Wales are a tiny part of the global labor of necropower: “New and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead … Under conditions of necropower, the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom are blurred.” Once again, prison is Canada’s “travesty”, England’s “scandal”. Who cares?

(Infographic Credit 1: Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada) (Infographic Credit 2: The London Economic)

Being a trans woman in a men’s prison means solitary confinement

At least 61,000 people on any given day are in solitary confinement in the United States. Every day, they spend 22-23 hours in a cell the size of an elevator. Most prisoners in solitary confinement spend months in solitary, with some spending years. This torturous practice leaves long-lasting damage and increases the likelihood of re-offending. The practice also disproportionately affects Latinx and African American populations.  

There are few studies about this, as prisoners are constantly left out of research; they are a population that remains invisible to the eyes of the public. There are serious problems with lack of data transparency and the fact that many prisons are closed off to observers. Many researchers are denied access to data and prisons, which allows for the extent of the use of solitary confinement and its impact on prisoners to remain understudied. 

The few studies that have been conducted show that solitary confinement doesn’t make prisoners more dangerous to other prisoners or guards, but it is more likely to make them a danger to themselves. A study conducted by the American Public Health Association reports that suicide is a major concern. The population studied includes 4,699 incarcerations between January 1, 2010, through January 31, 2013. The study found evidence of self-harm associated with solitary confinement even when put in confinement only once. 

Trans women in men’s prisons are continuously abused and face humiliation. Being sent to an all-male-detention center as a female often means automatic solitary confinement. They are dumped, alone, into tiny cells because they can’t be sent to women’s prisons. Prison systems are unsuitable for women and for trans women and men. 

Sonya Calico, a Latinx trans woman, was put in solitary confinement “for her protection.” She spent 9 months, 23 hours a day, in solitary. She began questioning her life, doubting herself, doubting everything, doubting her identity, doubting her sanity, doubting whether she would survive. Why was Sonya Calico in solitary? For the crime of being a trans woman.

A trans person should be able to enter the prison that most accurately represents their gender identity. While trans identity is increasingly recognized as a human right, in prisons it is still a managing tool. When prisoners are intentionally degraded and stripped of their humanity, the prison is only a site of punishment without any pretense of rehabilitation. 

By punishing trans women for being trans women, prisons further enforce discrimination and persecution. By keeping prison seclusion practices hidden, activists and scholars find it more than difficult to design evidence-based policies. Advocacy groups who want to address the enormity of this abuse find little to no evidence and data. The issue demands attention. Since it goes understudied, the public doesn’t know what’s going on in prisons, and especially in segregation units. Using a petition, reaching out to local politicians or even just using social medias to bring attention to the abuse is a step we can take, as an initial response. Data matters. Transparency matters. Trans women matter. 

(Image Credit: Buzzfeed)

India votes and `suffers’ women prisoners and their children. And we call it democracy.

Elections matter. Australia voted, catastrophically, and immediately after suicide attempts and other forms of self-harm spiked among refugee and asylum seeker prisoners on Manus Island and Nauru. Elections matter. India voted, catastrophically, and the news for women inmates in prisons and jails across India is grim. The last five years of the Modi regime have meant ongoing and increasing violation of women prisoners’ rights, autonomy and well-being, on one hand, and a policy of increased opacity, on the other. In both instance, Australia and India, the State blames the women and children for the violence and torture the State visits upon their bodies and souls … and they call it democracy.

India went to the polls from April 11 to May 23. While it had little or no impact, the same week the elections began, the National Crimes Record Bureau, NCRB, finally released its Prison Statistics India 2016 Report. That report came in after an unexplained years’ long delay. The Prison Statistics India 2015 Report was issued in a timely manner in September 2016. The 2015 Report opens: “I am privileged to release the 21stedition of `Prison Statistics India’ for the year 2015, an annual publication of National Crime Records Bureau since the year 1995.” In 1996, the National Crime Records Bureau was tasked with publishing an annual report on the conditions in India’s prisons and jails. For 21 years, it did so, dutifully and faithfully. And then … it stopped. This silence concerning the conditions of prisons, jails and, most importantly, prisoners was matched by an equivalent “failure” by the NCRB to publish its annual Crime In India report for 2017. This was the first “failure” of this annual report since 1953. Taken together, the lack of reporting begins to look more like refusal than failure: “All this has happened on the watch of a government that is known for being less than forthright about official data.”

This refusal to provide detailed data continues throughout the Prison Statistics India 2016 Report. Most glaringly, the new report says nothing about caste or religion. Whereas earlier reports described, in detail, the situation and conditions in prisons and jails for Dalits, members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, members of religious minorities, especially Muslim, this last `report’, the methodology of which is ostensibly the same as previous reports, says nothing. According to the most recent census, 16.6% of India is Dalit, while Dalits made up 21.4% of India’s prison and jail population. Likewise, Scheduled Tribes make up 8.6% of the Indian population and 12.8% of the prison and jail population. Many noted these discrepancies and strove to address them. The Modi regime has addressed them by erasing not only categories but whole sectors of the population. This is not failure to represent, this is refusal to represent, and it’s part and parcel of the caste and religion-based politics of the Modi regime and of his political party.

Where are the women in this picture? Everywhere and nowhere. Before the latest report came out, it was already known that prisons and jails in India are particularly damaging to women. First, they’re designed for men. Second, they have less access to facilities and resources within prisons and jails. Third, they have less access to resources outside of prisons and jails. For example, “a woman, nearly 70 years old, has been in jail for the past 18 months on kidnapping and rape charges … While five others, including two male co-accused, have been released on bail, she continues to be behind bars. Having lost her husband during her incarceration, she has no one to reach out to. What purpose is being served by keeping her inside?”

Further, over the preceding fifteen years, the rate of men’s incarceration has increased by 33%, while that of women has grown by 61%. Despite this growth of women’s incarceration, neither budgets nor infrastructure has increased. Thus, the women’s prisons are severely overcrowded and filthy; the food and hygiene are deplorable; and there is virtually no physical and mental health care. For Dalit and Adivasi women, the conditions are predictably worse. According to a recent study, “76% (279 prisoners) of prisoners sentenced to death in India belong to backward classes and religious minorities, with all 12 female prisoners belonging to backward classes and religious minorities.” None of this is in the most recent NCRB report.

The NCRB report does provide some data, and the most salient fact is that 67% of India’s prisoners are “undertrial”, meaning awaiting trial … meaning officially innocent. From 2014 to 2016, the number of undertrial, or remand, prisoners rose 3.6%, from 282,879 to 293,058 in 2016. Close to 71% of undertrial prisoners are deemed illiterate or low literate. While among convicted prisoners, prisoners 30 – 50 years old predominate, among undertrials the majority are 18 to 30 years old. 72% of women prisoners are awaiting trial. Much more than with male prisoners, women prisoners are overwhelming young, minimally educated, poor … and formally innocent. Additionally, there are 1,809 children in prisons and jails across India, and they all are cared for by their mothers, women prisoners. Of the 1809 children living behind bars, 78% of their mothers are awaiting trial, minimally educated, poor … and formally innocent. 

Elections matter. Information matters. Transparency matters. Democracy matters. The United States “discovered” this week that a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador died in custody, last September, and that the State lied and hid that girl-child’s death. We are dismayed but not shocked or surprised. Refugee and asylum prisoners in Australia engage in increased self-harm and suicide attempts following the Australian national elections. Some are finally, in some cases after five-year delays, sent to the mainland for `care’. India cages more and more Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim young women and children, all formally innocent, and covers it in the civil equivalent of the fog of war. And we call it democracy.

(Photo Credit: The Tribune India)

Australia is not shocked by the torture of refugee children; Australia is shocked by their survival.

Sajeenthana

Tomorrow, Thursday, May 16, 2019, in Sydney, Australia, for one night only: “COMMUNE presents LIMBOLAND, an exhibition by Sydney artist Lachie Hinton and photojournalist Mridula Amin exposing the stories of refugees and asylum seekers who were detained indefinitely on Nauru.” At the heart of this exhibition, and project, is a Tamil girl from Sri Lanka, named Sajeenthana. At the age of three years old, Sajeenthana “arrived”, was dumped, on the island of Nauru, thanks to Australia. When anyone tried to engage with Sajeenthana, she had a simple, straightforward response: “I want to kill myself”. That’s what Sajeenthana said, and that’s what the other child refugees on Nauru said. Australis is not shocked by the pain, suffering, torture it has inflicted on these children. Australia is only shocked that they survived. Sajeenthana is now eight years old.

In February 2019, Australia emptied Nauru of its child refugee population. Many were sent to the United States. Sajeenthana and her father were rejected. In October 2018, Sajeenthana stopped eating. She spent 10 days in hospital on Nauru. Then she and her father were moved to a Brisbane hospital. From there they were moved to “community detention” in Brisbane. No one knows what will happen next.

What is known is this: Australia forced Sajeenthana to endure a childhood composed of suicide and self-harm. Leaving Nauru is a first step, but Nauru has not left Sajeenthana, nor all the other children who lived there, the ones who witnessed “successful” suicides as well as suicide attempts, who watched so many others cut themselves that it became a “natural” part of life. 

Australia has engaged in a decade and more of unrestrained, indefinite detention of migrant, immigrant, refugee, asylum seeker children. Why do the adjectives matter? Australia’s national policy has been to torture children. The torture of children has become ordinaryroutine, and while some may claim to be shocked, in fact the State has been proud of its routine torture of children and proud of its people, the true Australians, who are NOT shockedNOT SHOCKED, by the routine torture of children. That’s why, even if it looks like the camp on Nauru is closed, there are no plans to close the camps.

So, here is a poem for the children, the ones who were never meant to survive:

Detention Deficit Disorder
by Jane Downing

How do you write a poem about Manus and Nauru
We’ve seen the razor wire footage/ listened to the reports succumbed to Attention Deficit Disorder – look a celebrity died Will a well chosen image connect
Move someone to action (not me)
like poetry in the old days recited in the heat of revolution Does this need a personal anecdote
to give it a punch above lecture/harangue
a poignant quote*
A crisis point to bring into focus the human face
that reveals the inhumanity of our country of the Fair Go turning a willfully blind eye
and blaming the hypocrisy of smiling politicians
Will a reference to Hitler help any (no) 

How could the Germans not have known? It’s not as if we don’t 

History will not be kind
An Apology will be too late
Having written a poem will not have been enough 

* ‘Poetry is about the grief. Politics is about the grievance’. Robert Frost 

(Photo Credit: SBS News / Lachie Hinton)

The wealthy bribe their way in the world; the poor just go to jail

Tanya McDowell addresses reporters

The newest college admissions scandals bring into focus the distorted and privileged ways the rich bribe their way to make sure their children get into prestigious colleges and Ivy League schools. Some of the more ridiculous attempts included a teenage girl who did not play soccer becoming a star soccer recruit at Yale for $1.2 million; a high school who was falsely deemed to have a learning disability so that he could have a proctor at a standardized test to get the right score to attend the University of South California for $50,000; a student whose parents paid $200,000 so that she could win a spot on the U.S.C. crew team, without any experience in rowing, by having another person in a boat submitted as evidence of a nonexistent skill. 

The outrageous attempts go on and on, in a scandal that led federal prosecutors to charged 50 people to buy spots in the freshman classes at Yale, Stanford and other major-leagued schools. Those wealthy parents included Hollywood celebrities and prominent business leaders, with more indictments to come. Top college athletic coaches were also implicated for accepting millions of dollars to help admit those undeserving students to those high-profile schools. And while the theoretical punishment carries a penalty of 20 years, it is highly unlikely that these wealthy people will face any serious prison time. They’ll get lighter sentences or alternative punishments: “The judge could actually impose a sentence of probation in cases like this. He could impose community service, public work service, or home confinement. There’s a wide range of options available to the judge.” 

Meanwhile, we continually imprison Black and Brown parents for longer periods of time for lesser offenses, including nonviolent drug offenses, minor misdemeanors, or something as simple as not being able to post bail, despite having committed no crime (16-year-old Kalief Browder was held at Rikers Island for three years because, accused of stealing a backpack, he couldn’t afford the $3,000 bail to get out).

Where is the sympathy and compassion for these individuals? Where is the leniency for those who have not committed a violent offense? If you’re not rich, there is no sympathy, compassion or leniency. None.

Consider Tanya McDowell, a homeless Bridgeport, CT mom who was arrested and charged with first-degree larceny for enrolling her son Andrew in a better school in neighboring Norfolk. McDowell eventually took a plea deal and was sentenced to five years in prison for sending her child to a better school district. To give her child a better education. In a hyper segregated country where there is nearly $23 billion more in state and local funding for white schools than predominantly nonwhite districts.  

It’s time for us to acknowledge that both prison and education have been set up so that only the wealthy and white get the best services. Wealthier members of society can “donate” their way into having children attend, even if they don’t deserve it; the wealthy can leave prison and serve house arrests in large mansions or pay lawyers to never “suffer” any kind of punishment whatsoever. To be poor means to be imprisoned for wanting your child to succeed and never being able to pay your way back out. 

(Photo Credit: Kathleen O’Rourke / Stamford Advocate) (Image Credit: A Different Drummer)

No one is free until we are all free!

Children are dying at detention centers on the border. ICE detention centers, which line the pockets of counties like Essex, New Jersey, with millions of dollars each month, have been reported with disgusting health and safety code violations, violating the cushy contracts. Undocumented immigrants in detention at the border have finally won their right to continue protesting with hunger strikes without the fear of nasal tube force feedings. In New Jersey, a Guatemalan toddler died in a state hospital, after being detained by ICE.  Her 104-degree fever was ignored before she was reunited with her family in the Garden State. a record number of babies are in detention, raising concerns about the children’s health and wellbeing; and the list goes on and on. 

We have reached a crisis moment in the United States when we can ignore the violence and the othering of people, denying them their humanity and justifying carceral violence as a penalty of illegality. Babies and children should not be in detention. Women fleeing violence should not be incarcerated; people should not be put behind bars.  

The bubbling incarceration rates of all people in this country, the ties to private prisons that give stockholders millions or billions for putting people behind bars for nonviolent crimes, drug crimes, crimes of self-defense, tickets, misdemeanors, children incarceration: all of this should not be. The crime of being poor and being black or being brown should not be. The lists of should-not-be are endless.

We have more in common with undocumented immigrants in our community, working hard to raise and provide for their families each day, than we do with the billionaires sitting in the oval office and the capitol buildings. We have more in common with the incarcerated than we do with Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Betsy Devos. We have more in common with the impoverished and homeless than we do with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The threat of homelessness looms over many in this country, including those who claim to be members of the middle class. I have known the certified letters from mortgage companies, threatening foreclosure and homelessness. Many can relate to earning the bare minimum and working until our bodies have deteriorated. For someone whose entire political career involves an obscene amount of “executive time”, he does not understand the calloused fingers and sore feet of working twelve, fifteen hour shifts and then waking up the next morning to do it again. 

We will not become a nation for the people, until we understand that we are all together, all people, all humans, deserving of dignity and humanity, and that we deserve not bars but homes and healthcare, rehabilitation and not violence and felony charges. Prisons give those in power the ability to de-humanize and then justify no one deserving basic human rights: why should the criminal get healthcare when you work for it; why is Narcan for the drug addict free but my medication prices will kill me?

When you realize that the politicians won’t save you, but your common man and women will, then one must organize to demand an end to the inequality and inhumanity in this country and the world. To begin, we must destroy the prison industrial complex.

(Photo Credit: Dialectical Delinquents)