Texas’s juvenile prison system is (still) in crisis (again): Where are the girls and young women?

E.Y., age 11

The Texas Tribune reports this month, and once again, that Texas’s juvenile detention system is still in crisis, again. As Tribune criminal justice reporter Jolie McCullough noted in an interview yesterday, “The Texas Juvenile Justice Department has really always been – it’s always been in crisis. It’s been more than a decade of crisis after crisis. There’s sexual abuse scandals, mistreatment allegations. They’re actually under federal investigation right now from the U.S. Department of Justice.” The Texas Juvenile Justice Department has always been in crisis. While the system has reduced from thousands to hundreds, that step is of little benefit to those still caught inside. Children are spending 23 hours a day, days on end, alone in their concrete cells, equipped with a mounted shelf and a thin mattress: “The lucky ones have a small window to the outside.” Children are `self-harming’ in record numbers. The “system is nearing total collapse.” Nobody in that system is lucky. And where are the girls and young women? They are in the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex in Brownwood … for now.

In 2008, the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit against Texas challenging inhumane conditions at the Brownwood State School, which was later renamed Ron Jackson. The conditions included invasive, frequent strip searches; frequent, extended use of solitary confinement; frequent application of “brutal physical force.” Why were girls and young women in Brownwood, in the first place? Minor offenses, minor misbehavior, but really for being girls and young women who had survived violence and were living with trauma, depression, and mental health issues. Any of those would send a girl or young woman into solitary, often and for long periods of time. Who in that system, in the early 2000’s, was lucky? That class action lawsuit covered “all girls and young women who are now or in the future will be confined in the Brownwood State School”. From 2008, is 2022 “in the future”, because the conditions at Brownwood, now known as Ron Jackson, are still brutal.

In 2012, the Texas Coalition Criminal Justice Coalition reported on girls’ experiences in the Texas juvenile justice system. They found: “Girls in the Texas juvenile justice system do not receive sufficient help to deal with past trauma in their lives … Negative interactions with staff are the least helpful part of the juvenile justice system; they are also the number one thing girls want changed in the juvenile justice system … Girls in the Ron Jackson state secure facility are extremely isolated from their families.” Anna Yáñez-Correa, Executive Director of the Coalition, noted, “We are failing many of these traumatized children. Half of the girls we surveyed at the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex told us that their time in county juvenile facilities either did not help or actually did more harm than good for dealing with their past trauma. Tragically, eight percent told us that their time at Ron Jackson is doing more harm than good, suggesting that our juvenile justice system may be re-traumatizing many of these domestic violence survivors.” As one girl explained, “Counselors, staff, the legal system – they can’t understand where we’re coming from and what we need. They’re always trying to judge us for our trauma.” Ten years later, the trauma and the judging continue and deepen.

In 2019, the U.S. Justice Department’s Sexual Victimization Reported by Youth in Juvenile Facilities, 2018 found that, nationally, 7% of youth in juvenile facilities reported having experienced sexual victimization, which was down from 9.5% in the previous report, in 2012. Texas was an outlier, reporting 10.3%. Ron Jackson’s lucky residents reported 14%, as they had in 2012. In August 2019, a guard at Ron Jackson was fired and jailed for sexually abusing a “resident”. For those incarcerated girls and young women, when does “the future” begin?

Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into the abuse of children and teens in Texas juvenile detention centers. At the press conference announcing the investigation, Chad Meacham, acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said, “We are particularly troubled by the news coming out of the facility in our district, especially reports of misconduct by staff.” That was an explicit reference to the particularly troubling Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex.

Last year, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department reviewed its own “progress”. Under the heading “Achieving Balance Between Supervision and Population”, the report addressed the particularities of girls at Ron Jackson: “Girls have very high levels of trauma, with 86 percent having 4 or more Adverse Childhood Experiences, and when we screen them for potential sexual exploitation, 36 percent are of clear concern and 55 percent are of possible concern. The small number of girls in state care quite often have an intense level of trauma that causes them to respond automatically and aggressively to stressors. Girls need an overall ratio of 1 direct-care staff member to 6 girls; for the most violent youth and those with significant mental health needs, that ratio is 1 to 4. Of girls in secure facilities 63 percent have been placed on suicide alert at least once— about twice the percentage of TJJD secure youth overall. When this occurs, they often need a 1 to 1 ratio … 84 percent of girls have four or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) as compared to 12.6 percent of the public, 91 percent of girls are clear or possible concern for child sex trafficking … This is the highest concentration of acute needs and risk in the history of the agency.” How does the State respond to the highest concentration of acute needs and history? Diverting federal coronavirus relief funds to Texas’ “border security mission.”

In June 2022, Shandra Carter, Texas Department of Juvenile Justice Interim Director, wrote to her staff to outline her response to the department’s situation. The letter begins, “I am incredibly disappointed to have to inform y’all that we will temporarily be halting intake of youth committed to TJJD.” She then outlines five steps, including moving the female behavioral stabilization unit from Ron Jackson unit to the McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility and “reducing’ the female population by 16 at the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex by moving them to the McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility, currently holding 242 males. So, the reduction involves no reduction but rather moving 16 girls and young women to an all-male facility that is also under federal investigation.

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department has always been in crisis. From the first report to the latest, the “crisis” is always attributed to “staffing shortages”. While staffing shortages exist, the crisis in the Texas Juvenile Justice Department is prison. Texas responds to violence against girls and young women as a matter of criminal justice in which girls and young women are condemned for their trauma as well as their survival. Moving girls and young women from one prison to another does not reduce their population, it reduces their dignity and stature and intensifies their trauma. Blaming the situation on staff shortage refuses to acknowledge the truth, one which Mark Patterson, head administrator of the currently empty Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, explained, “We no longer want to keep sending our kids to prison … Do we really have to put a child in prison because she ran away? What kind of other environment is more conducive for her to heal and be successful in the community?” Stop offering alibis, such as staff shortages, for our own vicious policies; stop sending children to prison; stop treating trauma and mental illness as a crime. Work towards healing in the community and beyond. Begin, again, by stop sending children to prison. Where are the girls and young women; when does their future begin?

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Richard Ross / PBS)

What happened to Holly Barlow-Austin? What happened to Aunty Sherry? Prison. Prisons kill.

                                                                           Holly Barlow-Austin

Holly Barlow-Austin’s husband and mother filed a lawsuit this week, claiming that Holly Barlow-Austin’s death, last year, was the fault of a Texas prison, the Bi-State Justice Center in Bowie County, where she was a `guest’ for two months. Protesters in Queensland, Australia, protested this week at the death in custody of a woman called Aunty Sherry, a Birri Guba woman who died in a cell at the Brisbane police station, September 10. Holly Barlow-Austin was 46 years old when she died; Aunty Sherry was 49 years old when she died. Before the contagion spread through the prisons, the prisons themselves were the contagion, as they continue to be. Prison, jail, police station, immigrant detention center together form a single global gallows. Do not claim to be surprised at current reports of forced hysterectomies in immigrant detention centers. Do not claim to be surprised that South Dakota’s women’s prison reported covid clusters this week, nor that Oklahoma’s did last week. We cannot be surprised. Before Covid killed, prisons killed, as they continue to do. 

Holly Barlow-Austin was arrested for an ostensible violation of probation. She was held, awaiting trial. When Holly Barlow-Austin entered the Bi-State Justice Center, she was HIV-positive, for which she was on medication. Otherwise she was in fairly decent health, regular vital signs, full mobility. When Holly Barlow-Austin left, after two months, she was emaciated, could barely move, and was blind. For two months, Holly Barlow-Austin was regularly denied her medication, regularly denied food and water, regularly denied any dignity. Holly Barlow-Austin called for help. Staff did nothing. Finally, Holly Barlow-Austin was taken to hospital, emaciated, almost immobilized, blind. Then she died. Do not be surprised.

Aunt Sherry’s story is even shorter. She was arrested on Sunday, for `property and drug matters’; arraigned Monday; sent to the Brisbane Watchhouse, the one Human Rights Watch called `terrifying’ last year, to await transfer to a prison; and was found dead early Wednesday morning. Police are `investigating’, while Indigenous peoples and their supporters, as well as all the women currently held in the Brisbane Watch House, grieve.

Grief. Anger. Rage. No surprise. 

Holly Barlow-Austin. Say her name. Aunty Sherry. Say her name. Say their names, shout their names, until your breath runs out. It’s time, it’s way past time, to tear down the entire edifice, to topple the global gallows, to end the witch trials passing for due process, and to start anew. #SayHerName 

 

(Photo Credit 1: Washington Post / AP) (Photo Credit 2: LSJ On Line)

Tracy Whited and, once again, the hellhole that is the Harris County Jail

Tracy Whited

Welcome to another year in the hellhole that is the Harris County Jail. On Saturday, January 12, 42-year-old Tracy Whited was picked up on a misdemeanor. She had allegedly knifed her ex-boyfriend’s car. She then tried to walk away from booking, and so was hit with a second misdemeanor. When Tracy Whited appeared in court, the hearing officer rejected a no-cash personal bond. Instead, Tracy Whited was hit with a $3000 bail, which she could not afford. On Monday morning, Tracy Whited was found, by another inmate, hanging with a bedsheet from her bunkbed. On Monday, after being found hanging and cut down, Tracy Whited was issued a personal bond. She was in hospital by then. On Wednesday, Tracy Whited died. Tracy Whited was the fifth `apparent’ suicide in the Harris County Jail in two years. The Harris County Sheriff says jail conditions are improving. A state Senator says he’s considering putting the Harris County Jail under state supervision, basically putting it in receivership. The two sides argue, and Tracy Whited is dead.

The Harris County Jail has been sued time and again for its violations of prisoners’ Constitutional rights. In the past two years, the Harris County Jail has been found in noncompliance five times. Again, in the past two years, the Harris County Jail has been home to five “apparent” suicides. The jail is overcrowded, fetid, and worse. Who’s overcrowding the jail? People awaiting trial … innocent until proven guilty. According to the Harris County Jail’s most recent reports, this is what the jail population looks like on the last day of typical recent months. On the last day of October 2018, of 9794 inmates, 8301 were pretrial. On the last day of September 2018, of 9804 inmates, 8482 were awaiting trial. In August 2018, of 9677 inmates, 8261 were awaiting trial. The Harris County Jail monthly census report, going back to January 2015 shows that, while the numbers may vary, though only slightly, the percentages stay more or less fixed. On any given month, well over 80% of those sitting, and often dying, in Harris County Jail are pretrial, the overwhelmingly majority of whom are there because they couldn’t afford bail. No. The overwhelming majority are there because Harris County insists that everyone must pay to play. That’s why it’s called criminal justice.

Tracy Whited was only the most recent in this cavalcade of those not rich enough to qualify for something like justice, and so poor enough to be condemned to death. In August 2018, Debora Lyons was picked up on a theft charge. Her bail was at $1500. Within days, she was found hanging from a bedsheet in the Harris County Jail. These deaths are not accidents nor are they suicides. They are a public program of abandonment. Debora Lyons last year and Tracy Whited this year were `left to their own devices’, which means they were left to hang from bedsheets.

In 2013, a women, referred to as Jane Doe, was rapedJane Doe lives with bipolar disorder. In December 2015, Jane Doe testified against the man who raped her. Midway through her testimony, she broke down. Initially, Jane Doe was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward. Once “stabilized”, Jane Doe was sent to the Harris County Jail, where she stayed for 28 days, waiting for the trial to proceed. Jane Doe “was imprisoned in the hellhole of the Harris County Jail for no reason other than being a rape victim who struggles with a mental disability.”

In jail, Jane Doe was assaulted, insulted, verbally abused, demeaned, and worse. She was put in with the general population, even though there is a mental health unit in the jail. She was assaulted by staff who said they were confused and thought she was the rapist. In the end as throughout, Jane Doe cooperated with officials and completed her testimony, in January 2016.

In July 2016 Jane Doe sued Harris County. In July, “Jane Doe” was renamed “Jenny”. Jenny’s mother sued Harris County as she pushed legislators to address the nightmare situation. In April 2017, the Texas Senate unanimously and without debate approved “Jenny’s Law” requires a defense attorney be appointed for witnesses and victims and that would receive a full hearing before a judge could sign a writ of attachment and send them off to jail in order to secure their testimony at trial. Jenny’s mother wrote, “Putting a victim in jail should never be an option. Today Jenny is still struggling with the entire trauma she endured by the rapist and also being re-victimized by the justice system.”

The line from Jenny to Tracy Whited is direct. Tracy Whited is dead because she couldn’t come up with $3000. Debora Lyons couldn’t find $1500. How much is your life worth? Atrocities will continue in the Harris County Jail, and beyond, until the bail-to-prison pipeline is shut down, once and for all. Maybe one day, Texas will enact a Tracy’s Law, ending bail and beginning the long slow walk to justice and healing. Until then, corpses will continue to pile up. It’s in the numbers.

(Photo Credit: Houston Chronicle)

The US denying passports to people delivered by midwives is a modern-day witch hunt!

Twin brothers who were scheduled to prove that they were born in the United States. The twins were born with the assistance of a midwife in a border town. They now potentially face deportation.

It happened under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, but it tapered off in 2009 after a lawsuit by the ACLU. Now, with Donald Trump in office, the number of Latinx citizens who have had their citizenship questioned and their passports revoked has reached hundreds, maybe even thousands. The reason? Being delivered by midwives in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley.

The crackdown began because of accused fraud in the 1950s, whereby midwives and some physicians along the Southern border listed U.S. births for babies born in Mexico. The use of midwives in the region was common, a tradition, because the cost of hospital care was too high. It is nearly impossible to ascertain which midwife-granted birth certificates are fraudulent and which are not.

Throughout the early to mid-20thcentury, borders between the two countries were open, and Mexican and American citizens would travel back and forth on a regular basis. Ironically, it was more difficult to obtain dual citizenship in Mexico if the child was born in the United States to Mexican parents, and if the child was first registered in the United States, the child’s U.S. citizenship was rarely questioned. Immigration law followed an “oldest public document” policy; the child’s oldest public document was considered the most reliable evidence of a child’s place of birth. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a push to close the U.S-Mexican border followed in the wake of the legalization program enacted under President Reagan.

As the push to make citizenship more difficult and closing the border started ramping up, the government started filing fraud charges against midwives in south Texas. Between 1960 and 2008, more than 75 midwives were convicted of signing birth certificates for children they did not deliver. Midwives would end up guessing which certification were given out fraudulently, leading to overly-inclusive lists of names. The parents of the children that were named were not given notice that they were named, and were not given the opportunity to challenge the inaccuracy of the lists. What’s even more alarming was the fact that 250 midwives were deemed “suspicious” with 175 charges being dropped. The U.S. Government never did explain how or why they were considered under suspicion, but egregiously claimed that 15,000 midwife forgeries exist in south Texas. The effect has raised suspicion toward citizens born through midwives in certain regions, a rising witch hunt against midwives and an attack on the children they delivered.

As part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative in June 2009, U.S. citizens who wished to exit or enter the United States were required to have a valid U.S. passport or passport card. The process caused problems for citizens born to midwives. The passport approval process became a convoluted ordeal, forcing the filing of carious legal actions. Problems occurred at a port of entry when a U.S. citizen’s passport reveals birth by midwife, especially if the midwife is on the government’s suspicious or convicted lists. Passport issues also arose in the cases of U.S. citizens who have never left the United States after their birth.

As part of a settlement from a class action lawsuit filed by a coalition of civil rights and legal organizations – including the ACLU, the ACLU of Texas, the international law firm Hogan & Hartson LLP, and Refugio del Rio Grande, Inc. – according to ACLU Racial Justice Program staff attorney Vanita Gupta, “Citizens will no longer be denied a passport solely because of their race, ancestry or because they happened to be born at home with a midwife.”

In 2017 alone, 971 people were denied passports. Those who have had their passports denied or revoked are in a state of limbo, their official birth certificate in doubt, and face possible detention and deportation. An attorney in Brownsville, Jamie Diez, said, “I’ve had probably 20 people who have been sent to the detention center—U.S. citizens.” Coupled with Trump’s crackdown on nonexistent “voter fraud” and campaigns for more restrictive voter identification laws in more conservative areas, especially Texas, those who have had their citizenship questioned may be barred from their legal right to vote.

According to immigrant attorney, Carlos Batara, “From a practical standpoint, the government actions are poorly reasoned…even in cases of seniors who may have been fraudulently registered as U.S. citizens at birth. On the other hand, if there was a fraud committed at the time of birth, they played no decision-making part. They did not commit the fraudulent act. Babies at birth are incapable of criminal intent. On the other hand, if their citizenship was fraudulently procured . . . To the extent they have lived an exemplary life, stayed out of trouble with the law, worked steadily and paid taxes, bought a home for their offspring, little, if any, public good is derived from stripping them of citizenship at such a late stage in their lives. Moreover, little, if any, positive benefit flows to the U.S. government from stripping their spouses and offspring, including grandchildren, of their citizenship . . . which was gained via the family patriarch’s presumed citizenship status. So what principles of legality or compassion, then, are served by challenging these seniors and turning their entire lives, and the lives of their families, upside down 50-60 years later? My view? Absolutely none.”

Why then are we so quick to launch a witch hunt against midwives and the children that they delivered?

 

(Photo Credit: Batara Immigration Law)

Jane Doe, aka Jenny, and the hellhole that is Harris County Jail (Part Two)

Harris County, Texas, is a “special” place for criminal justice. Out of 3000 counties across the United States, Harris County boasts both the highest number of executions, by far, in the past twenty years and the highest number of life-without-parole sentences of any county in Texas, again by far. Harris County Juvenile Justice Center is dangerously overcrowded, largely with so-called low-risk African American children. Harris County Jail is dangerously overcrowded, “thanks” to a vicious cash bail system that dumps the poor into jail and then keeps them there. Harris County, Texas, built a special hell for women. Jane Doe aka Jenny, said NO! Why did she have to say anything in order to receive a modicum of respect and dignity? In Harris County, Texas, criminal justice is truly criminal.

In 2013, in Houston, Texas,  Jane Doe was raped. Jane Doe lives with bipolar disorder. In December 2015, Jane Doe testified against the man who raped her. Midway through her testimony, she broke down. Initially, Jane Doe was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward. Once “stabilized”, Jane Doe was sent to the Harris County Jail, where she stayed for 28 days. Why was Jane Doe sent to jail? The court had a holiday break coming up, and the prosecuting attorney dumped Jane Doe in jail so that she would complete her testimony. Jane Doe “was imprisoned in the hellhole of the Harris County Jail for no reason other than being a rape victim who struggles with a mental disability.”

In her month in jail, Jane Doe was assaulted, insulted, verbally abused, demeaned, and worse. She was put in with the general population, even though there is a mental health unit in the jail. She was assaulted by staff who said they were confused and thought she was the rapist. Apparently, that would have justified the violence. Jane Doe was in the same county jail as the man who raped her: “Her rapist was not denied medical care, psychologically tortured, brutalized by other inmates, or beaten by jail guards.”

After all of that abuse, Jane Doe did as she had done all along. She cooperated with officials and completed her testimony, in January 2016.

In July 2016 Jane Doe sued Harris County, Texas, for the abuse and torture she experienced in jail. In July, “Jane Doe” was renamed “Jenny”, perhaps to distinguish her from all the other Jane Doe’s in Texas, and they are legion. Jenny’s mother sued Harris County as she pushed legislators to do something about the nightmare situation. In April 2017, the Texas Senate unanimously and without debate approved “Jenny’s Law” which would require a defense attorney be appointed for witnesses and victims and that would receive a full hearing before a judge could sign a writ of attachment and send them off to jail in order to secure their testimony at trial. Jenny’s mother wrote, “Putting a victim in jail should never be an option. Today Jenny is still struggling with the entire trauma she endured by the rapist and also being re-victimized by the justice system.”

Jenny’s Law took effect September 1, 2017, four years after Jenny was raped. In December 2017, Jenny’s family sued the local hospital for colluding with the local prosecutor by discharging her when she was clearly incapacitated and effectively sending her into the Harris County Jail. That struggle continues.

Even those who support Jenny’s Law continue to argue that she was “lost in the system.” Jenny was not lost in any system. The system worked exactly according to its design. Why was Jenny in jail? Because her mother couldn’t come up with the $15,000 bail. Why did no one in authority think it wrong to jail a woman suffering a breakdown? Why does it take a law to give a woman due process, as guaranteed by the United States Constitution? Why does it take two years to pass that law? The State of Jane Doe passed Jenny’s Law. The State of Jane Doe is not yet concluded. Texas built a special hell for women inside the hellhole that is Harris County Jail.

 

(Photo Credit: Click2Houston)

Jane Doe, aka Jenny, and the hellhole that is Harris County Jail (Part One)

Texas built a special hell for women, the Harris County Jail, in Houston, Texas. The story of “Jane Doe”, aka “Jenny”, attest to that, but first some general context. The United States boasts 3,000 counties. Most haven’t executed anyone in the last 40 years. Harris County Jail is the outlier. Between 1977 and 2015, twenty counties executed 10 or ore people. Of the twenty, 14 killed between 10 and 19 people; four executed between 20 and 49; one executed 55 people, and then there’s Harris County Jail. Since 1976, Harris County executed 125 people: “If Harris County, TX, were a state, it would be second only to the rest of Texas in terms of executions.” Now that the use of capital punishment has begun diminish, Harris County is leading the way in life-without-parole sentences. According to a recent report, in 2017, Harris County sentenced 21 people to life imprisonment without parole. The next three counties combined totaled 13.  Harris County is a U.S. chapter in the global labor of necropower: “Necropower … account[s] for the various ways in which … 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.” Welcome to Harris County criminal justice.

Not satisfied to kill and contain for life far and away more people than any other jurisdiction, Harris County has targeted children and the poor. In the rest of Texas and across the United States, juvenile detention numbers are dropping, but not in Harris County, Texas. According to reports this week, the Harris County Juvenile Justice Center, which has been overcrowded for years, is now severely, dangerously overcrowded. Youth crime is down, and yet the detained juvenile population is skyrocketing. Why? Between 2010 and 2017, the average number of detained children charged with minor offenses increased by 64 percent. In 2017, children charged with minor offenses were locked up for close to three weeks, on average. That’s twice as long as the wait in 2010. From 2010 to 2017, the number of “low risk” African-American children held in detention rose by 75 percent. This spike has occurred in a mere seven years, and in a state in which 17-year-olds are sent to adult courts and jail.

Meanwhile, Harris County Jail is equally overcrowded and toxic, and one of the reasons is the cash bail system in Harris County. According to recent reports, Harris County systematically denies poor and indigent plaintiffs access to personal bonds or any other forms of assistance that are supposedly available. To the contrary, judges routinely raise bail precipitously. Consider what happened to Shamira Brown. Shamira Brown, single mother of two, resident of Houston, thought that, during Harvey, her neighbor had stolen her daughter’s iPad. A fight ensued. Shamira Brown was released on an unsecured bond and told to show up in court in a few days. The courthouse had been flooded and ruined in the hurricane. Shamira Brown repeatedly called the hotline for information. No one answered. On September 8, the day of her court appearance, Shamira Brown dutifully took three buses to get to the courthouse. The courthouse was closed. She called the hotline. No one answered. Now, there’s a warrant out for Shamira Brown’s arrest, for failure to appear in court. This is a common story in Harris County, and, since Harvey, the numbers have only grown exponentially. Those who need pretrial monitoring get nothing and then get a warrant served. As Shamira Brown noted, “I didn’t get anything in the mail, no lawyer papers. They just never told me where to go. Y’all wasn’t even doing your part, but you’re quick to put out a warrant for someone?”

According to the most recent report, 78% of Harris County Jail detainees are awaiting trial.

Last week, Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis put a name and face to the situation, “Sandra Bland was arrested and kept in jail because she didn’t have $500.” Sandra Bland died, or was killed, July 13, 2015, in the Waller County Jail, not far from the Harris County Jail. Harris County is currently being sued for its “assembly line justice for poor people.” More like sewage line injustice for poor people, people of color, children, women, people living with mental disabilities. This is the context for Jane Doe’s and Jenny’s experiences in the hellhole that is Harris County Jail.

 

(Photo Credit: Houston Chronicle / Eric Gay / STF)

Also 11/7/17

Also 11/7/17

Someone carelessly
looped the flag at half mast for
the latest victims.

Drooping from its slack
rope, even the autumn wind
leaves it listless, like

a hand in its last
moments, the slightest quiver
before giving up.

As before, so in
the aftermath, our lives less
worthy of life, death

dishonored for
not being money, crisp green
deserving a five

sided fortress and
the wealth of a nation. One
wet flag weeps for us.

 

(Photo Credit: The Washington Post / Eric Gay / AP)

26: The infinite mirroring of the horror we have created

Sutherland Springs

“Whose grave’s this, sir?”
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

“Mourning. We will be speaking of nothing else.”
Jacques Derrida. Specters of Marx

26. Two mirrors face each other. “Sutherland Springs: Texas church shooting leaves 26 dead”. “Italy probes deaths of 26 Nigerian women from migrant boats”. These headlines both appeared on the BBC news website today. In Texas, the Governor said, “This will be a long, suffering mourning for those in pain.” In Texas, half of the people killed were children. In Italy, most of the women were between 14 and 18 years old. This is the fearful symmetry we have produced. No immortal hand or eye would dare produce such horror. This is completely ours. 26. We should all be in pain, and not just today. Who will remember the day in which 26 innocents here and 26 innocents there became specters, objects for the work of mourning, subjects for the never-too-soon debates? Who will claim responsibility, for the wholesale mass production of guns, refugees, asylum seekers, and corpses? 26. Whose world is this? Whose grave’s this, sir? 26.

Salerno

 

(Photo Credit 1: BBC / AFP) (Photo Credit 2: BBC / EPA)

The nation-State of Jane Doe: Jane Doe is very tired

Jane Doe is a 17-year-old undocumented woman currently caught in the State of Jane Doe, Texas and the United States of Trump. Both Texas and the United States are hell bent on torturing Jane Doe. Jane Doe is originally from Central America. Last month, Jane Doe discovered that she is pregnant. She requested an abortion. Jane Doe did everything that Texas required of her to obtain an abortion. Jane Doe is an “unaccompanied minor.” She did everything she had to do, and yet she is being held hostage by the United States government. Jane Doe is 17 years old, has played by the rules, and is being tortured for that. Her attorney reports that “she talks about being very tired.”

In the past week, a series of court hearings concerning Jane Doe have swung back and forth, one court allowing the abortion to proceed, the next disallowing Jane Doe’s immediate access to abortion and giving her until October 31 to find a sponsor to assume responsibility of the young woman and transport her to the clinic. Yesterday, another higher court heard an appeal of this decision. With all the attention on the legal proceedings, it’s easy to lose sight of the woman who never wanted to be called Jane Doe.

Jane Doe came to the United States on her own. She has reported that her parents beat her older sister when they discovered she was pregnant. Shortly after crossing the border, Jane Doe was apprehended. At the same time, she learned she was pregnant. She asked for an abortion. In Texas, an unaccompanied minor must obtain a waiver to get an abortion. Jane Doe did that. With the help of Jane’s Due Process and others, Jane Doe raised enough money for an abortion. Transportation was arranged. Everything was set. Despite court orders, the Office of Refugee Resettlement prohibited Jane Doe from travelling to her medical appointments. The Department of Health and Human Services forced her to attend a “Pregnancy Crisis Center” counseling and to have a sonogram. Even though Jane Doe had obtained a waiver that included confidentiality, the authorities informed her mother of her pregnancy. Those same authorities now say that Jane Doe can return to her family home, where she fears violence, and to her native country, where abortion is criminalized. In yesterday’s hearing, the government attorney argued, “Ms. Doe arrived here illegally and refuses to leave. She has put herself to a difficult choice. And if the federal government has to approve, assist, and be complicit in Ms. Doe’s abortion, the government’s interest in avoiding that facilitation outweighs any alleged ‘burden’ she has created for herself.”

Jane Doe bears the burden of living in a world in which the powerful hate young immigrant women of color, and impelled by that hatred lie, torture, and savage the life of a 17-year-old Latina who has braved so much. Then there is the historical burden we all share, that of living in a country in which “health and human services” means being held hostage and tortured and in which “refugee relocation” means being held hostage and tortured and then, of course, being told that the refugee “bears the responsibility.” We have seen this before.

“Who is on the look-out from this strange watch-tower
To warn us of our new executioners’ arrival?
Are their faces really different from ours?
Somewhere in our midst lucky Kapos survive.
Reinstated officers and anonymous informers.
There are those reluctant to believe
Or believing from time to time.
There are those who look at these ruins today
As though the monster were dead and buried beneath them.
Those who take hope again as the image fades
As though there were a cure for the scourge of these camps.
Those who pretend all this happened only once,
At a certain time and in a certain place.
Those who refuse to look around them,
Deaf to the endless cry.”
Night and Fog, Alain Resnais and Jean Cayrol

Jane Doe is 15 weeks pregnant. Texas bans elective abortion after a woman’s 20th week of pregnancy. Who is on the look-out to warn us of our new executioners’ arrival?

 

(Update: Jane Doe had her abortion, Wednesday, October 25, after a Court of Appeals ruling Tuesday, October 24.)

(Photo Credit: The Washington Post / Michael S. Williamson)

SB 4 and the Domestic Workers Fighting Against It: “We have a beautiful sisterhood”

Araceli Herrera

Amid the continuous attacks on undocumented immigrants across the United States, on September 25th courts permitted key elements of Texas’ Senate Bill 4 to go into effect, which allows police to work with immigration officials in detaining suspected undocumented people. SB 4 acts as a ban on sanctuary cities, by allowing police to inquire about immigration status during routine traffic stops, keeping undocumented people detained in jails, and punishing officers or city officials who refuse to comply with the legislation.

Opponents of the bill have raised concerns over the bill as infringing on people’s First and Fourth Amendment rights, and the risk of increased racial profiling during traffic stops. With the increase of racist, anti-immigrant sentiment permeating the country, it is a legitimate concern for those who are undocumented who may fear that they are one stop away from being detained and deported.

That concern has not stopped those who most at risk from speaking out against it. Many immigrants living in Texas have raised their voices in opposition to the bill, most notably domestic workers who fear they are most at risk because of the precarity of their jobs.

Araceli Herrera is a domestic worker who cleans houses for a living and was an undocumented worker for years. She was the founder of Domésticas Unidas, a coalition of domestic workers which fights to empower and educate undocumented domestic workers in San Antonio. The coalition is based on camaraderie and sisterhood among groups of domestic workers who met on a bus route before they started their workdays. Meeting on public transportation, the group could assist one another in instances of illness, which prevented a member from receiving her wages, to offering condolences after the death of a relative. When the bus route was suspended, the women organized, fought, and won the restoration of the route four years later. The group’s official motto became, “Cooking, Cleaning, Organizing and Fighting, The World Changes.”

Domestic workers in Texas have been subject to exploitative labor conditions that could be exacerbated if SB 4 isn’t struck down. 59% of all domestic workers are undocumented and 26% of those domestic workers are live-in nannies, placing them at the mercy of their employers. Many are subject to slave like conditions, abuse and exploitation, afraid to speak out because of their employers’ threats of report and deportation.

Live out domestic workers, who rely on having cars and driving to get to their jobs, do so without a license, as Texas has not issued driver’s licenses to non-naturalized citizens in nearly six years. Domestic workers in Texas therefore need to carefully navigate the public and private sphere for fear of deportation in all walks of life.

In response, domestic workers have organized workshops that educate undocumented women on the rights they have during traffic stops. Fear and anxiety about SB4 has persuaded many that ignorance of the law is the wisest route. According to Araceli Herrera, “Many don’t want to know how SB4 will hurt them because they are scared. They go with their little kids and open their eyes when their questions are answered.”  Instead of hoping and praying for the best,  Domésticas Unidas workshops advise undocumented immigrants in Texas to memorize their respective lawyer’s phone number.

Although racist ideology concerning undocumented people has won at the state level in Texas, the sisterhood of Domésticas Unidas forges forward, undeterred. Undocumented domestic workers and supporters have been out in force, marching in San Antonio, and protesting at the State Capitol in Austin. Workers have put their undocumented status on display, fighting against a bill that will put themselves and their families in jeopardy. During such time, they will make sure to provide advocacy campaigns to empower other domestics to fight for their rights against exploitation and abuse at their place of employment as well. In the words of Araceli Herrera, “We have a beautiful sisterhood.”

 

(Photo Credit: Scott Ball / Texas Monthly)