The F-word: The vicious cycle for women in prison

A report following an unannounced inspection of Styal women’s prison by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick has made serious criticisms of the prison’s provision for women with mental health problems.

…the jail’s Keller Unit, which looks after vulnerable inmates, is still ‘wholly unsuitable. He said prison officers often had to use force to remove ligatures from the necks of women intent on harming themselves. And he said the plight of the women in the unit was ‘more shocking and distressing than anything I have yet seen on an inspection’. … there were too many women serving very short prison sentences, and mental health services were stretched.

Many of the difficulties experienced by prisoners are exacerbated by the excessive use of jail terms as sentences for people whose needs would be better served – and who would be less likely to re-offend – if, instead, better services were offered to them in the community.

It’s a vicious cycle: inadequate welfare provision pushes the prison population up, which makes it harder for prisons to cope, which worsens the problems that prisoners continue to face after they are released – a dynamic heartbreakingly exemplified in the awful story of Neil Carpenter, sent to prison by magistrates to “get [him] over the hardest part of winter”.

It’s a strange kind of fiscal austerity in which the enormous expense of jail terms has come to be positioned as any kind of alternative to proper social services.

Custodial sentences are especially unsuitable in the particular circumstances faced by many foreign national women, who form a seventh of the prison population in England and Wales and whose experiences are discussed in a recent briefing by Hibiscus and the Prison Reform Trust. These women are disproportionately sentenced to short prison sentences for non-violent, non-sexual and non-robbery offences:

Foreign national women are far less likely than UK nationals to have committed serious violent or sexual offences or robbery. Only 15% of foreign nationals are serving sentences for serious crimes compared to 41% of UK nationals. A disproportionate number of foreign national women are in prison for drug or immigration related offences. The briefing’s findings reveal that the average length of sentence given in 2009 for drug offences was six years, with findings of guilt after entering not guilty pleas resulting in sentences of up to 15 years. The average sentence for false documentation was eight months and for deception 12 months.

The briefing points out that too little is done to effectively ascertain whether offending by foreign national women is connected to trafficking or coercion, and to rethink sentencing accordingly:

Worrying cases are also uncovered where the woman has been smuggled into the country to escape persecution or has entered the country on debt bondage or other forms of people trafficking and for whom survival has necessitated accepting work in illegal activities or use of fake documents to survive. …

Despite the fact that the UK government has ratified the European Convention on Trafficking, with its emphasis on victim protection, there is little attention given by their legal representatives to identifying evidence of exploitation or persecution, or women acting under duress, and the standard advice given is that there is no option but to plead guilty on the immigration related charges.

These women are therefore sentenced, with the assumption of deportation, before they can disclose the necessary information to be assessed as victims or genuine asylum seekers. Failure to get appropriate legal advice on immigration issues in the early stages of court appearances thus prejudices any chance of a positive asylum or residency outcome, as they are slotted into the category of “foreign criminals”.

 

The inside of Styal Prison

This was first published at The F-Word, here:  http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2012/01/women_in_prison_2. Thanks to Jolene Tan and all the people at The F-Word for this collaboration.

(Photo Credit 1: Manchester Users Network) (Photo Credit 2: BBC)

Prison labor haunts `history’

When is slavery not slavery? When the slaves are called prisoners, their condition is not slavery. It’s … history. The Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution says so, and so do the United Kingdom Border Authority, UKBA, and the private prison corporation, Serco.

Last month, on December 9, 2010, prisoners in several prisons across Georgia went on strike.  According to Elaine Brown, one of the prisoners’ spokespersons, the strike involved “Augusta, Baldwin, Calhoun, Hancock, Hays, Macon, Rogers, Smith, Telfair, Valdosta and Ware state prisons.” Others claim seven prisons were involved. The strike concerned prisoners’ working and living conditions across the state. The conditions of prisoners in Georgia are famously bad. Prisoners in Georgia receive no pay for the work they perform. The possibility of going to jail in Georgia, especially for people of color, is infamously high. Georgia has the highest rate of prison `involvement’ in United States: “In Georgia, 1 in 13 adults is either in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole.” The national average is 1 in 31.

The strike was non violent, peaceful even. The media focused on the capacity of prisoners to organize a structured, non spontaneous, non violent work stoppage across the state. This was facilitated by the use of contraband cell phones, bought largely from guards.

The strike was called `historic’, in two senses. On one hand, it was massive. Again according to Elaine Brown, the strike was “historic in scope and in the unity of thousands of black, brown, white, Muslim, Christian and Rastafarian prisoners.” Others claimed it was one of the largest prison strikes and the biggest prisoner strike in U.S. history. In terms of scale, of numbers of prisoners involved, of numbers of kinds of prisoners involved, the action was historic.

On the other hand, the strike was historic in that it protested the history of prison labor. Prison labor has historically been part of a racially, ethnically segregated labor market, “an emblem of racial subjugation.” Prison labor, especially in the United States, has its roots in slavery. Read the Constitution of the United States.

According to the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” For prisoners, slavery and involuntary servitude are constitutionally just fine. Where do slavery and justice sleep comfortably together? In prison.

And not only in the United States.

At Yarl’s Wood, in the United Kingdom, women refugees and asylum seekers are held in detention … for the crime of applying for asylum. This week, current and former prisoners, all women, revealed their working conditions and described them as modern day slavery.

Asylum seekers are not allowed to work while their application is in process. But not at Yarl’s Wood. There they work, for next to nothing. Gloria Sestus, a 32-year-old Nigerian, says she is paid £1 to clean the dining room twice a day. The job takes more than an hour each time. As former prisoner Nordia Hylton, 34-year-old Jamaican asylum seeker, noted, “People who work without papers to try and feed their families are arrested for illegally working and detained. But once they get to Yarl’s Wood they can work for next to nothing. The UKBA and Serco are hypocrites. They are taking advantage of people’s situation.”

Gloria Sestus sees it as more than hypocrisy, “It is like slavery in a modernised form.”

It is like slavery in a modernized form. African women, Afro Caribbean women, women of the African diaspora know a thing or two about the history of slavery. The prison strike across Georgia was historic. The prisoners’ testimonies and protests concerning Yarl’s Wood are historic as well. Both call on us to speak and address the historic name of prison labor: slavery.

 

(Photo Credit: hiphopandpolitics.com)

 

The children of Afghanistan haunt the modern democratic nation-State

Children of asylum seekers and children who are asylum seekers in prison. What is their crime? Seeking asylum. These are children fleeing violence, in their households, in their communities, in their countries of birth. And how do `we’ respond? Prison.

Australia is bracing for a serious uptick in children in detention mutilating themselves: “Self-mutilation in Australia’s detention centres is increasing with the number of recorded cases quadrupling in the past year and mental health experts bracing for worse to come as children begin cutting themselves.” Why are the children cutting themselves? The prisons are becoming more overcrowded, the time spent in prison is increasing, and government officials are `promising’ increased rates of deportation. Who are these scoundrel children? Afghans. Sri Lankans.

According to Harry Minas, director of the Centre for International Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, the conditions for imprisoned asylum seekers and immigrants is returning to the dark days of 2001 – 2003, “when children drank shampoo and detainees sewed their lips together.” All of this has happened before, and it is happening again. We are told the first time it was tragedy.

Why are children cutting themselves? There is no school, there are no sustaining structures, there is no home life, there is no community, there is no future, and, increasingly, there is no past. There is only prison. From the State, there is only the promise that the rate of deportation to Afghanistan will increase. For the children, there is only threat and more threat.

The children are cutting themselves, they are poisoning themselves, because they are children, and self-harm is the only electoral process allowed them by the modern democratic nation-State. There are currently around 700 children in immigrant detention `facilities’ in Australia.

These children of asylum-seekers, these children asylum seekers are viewed as budget targets, as opportunities for greater efficiency. In Britain, it was announced today that “thousands of child asylum-seekers are to be removed … under savage budget cuts being drawn up by the Home Office ahead of this week’s comprehensive spending review. A briefing document sent to ministers sets out detailed proposals to remove child refugees before they reach 17 years old, and recommends bearing down on benefits given to asylum seekers…. Of greatest concern will be a policy of mass removal of unaccompanied children before they reach 17 and a half, the age when they are deemed to be adult asylum-seekers. Under current rules unaccompanied child asylum-seekers are usually granted leave to remain in the UK until they can make a fresh asylum application as an adult. There are more than 4,200 unaccompanied child asylum-seekers in Britain, with most being supported in local authority social services homes.”

The opportunity for economy here, for efficiency, is great. It is so great that the United Kingdom is willing to invest £4m in a `re-integration center’ in Afghanistan. The children of Afghanistan have traveled far, to seek asylum, to seek haven, to escape the violence of the Big War and the myriad forms of violence of the more intimate wars of the everyday. These children shall be returned to Afghanistan, after having been subjected to the democratic rule of law and of due process.

The planes are waiting, the ministers are promising swift, increasing, and ever more efficient returns. The children who have come asking for help will be returned to Afghanistan because Afghanistan is a better place … for them. It must be. It has been democratically decided. Those children who have not been allowed to kill themselves shall be sent `home’. The modern democratic nation-State is bracing itself for mass removals, for bearing down, for the mutilation of children. The children who seek asylum and the children of those who seek asylum have been targeted. The children of Afghanistan haunt the modern democratic nation-State.

 

(Photo Credit: Australian Human Rights Commission)

Azbaa’s anguish, Auden’s blues

Azbaa Dar

Pakistani born Azbaa Dar is being held in Yarl’s Wood. On Monday of this week she reported, dutifully, to the Liverpool office of the UK Border Agency. She has been applying for asylum for nine years, and as part of the process, she has to `visit’ the UKBA offices regularly. At this visit, she was given a letter denying her asylum. She was then taken to Yarl’s Wood and told she was to be returned to Pakistan.

Azbaa’s family had been turned down for asylum on Easter 2006, after a five year asylum process. Her father, Arif, a local high school governor, her mother, her four younger sisters were sent to Yarl’s Wood, and then shipped back to Pakistan. Since their return, Arif has been detained and tortured on a number of occasions, her mother is ill, her sisters have been threatened if they pursue formal education. And then of course there are the floods.

Azbaa escaped capture and lived clandestinely around Liverpool for close to four years. Finally, a deal was struck that if she turned herself in and came regularly to the office, she’d be fast tracked. She was. To Yarl’s Wood.

She was supposed to fall under a `legacy’ agreement, that would take into account the roots of the applicant in her new community. Azbaa has won Good Citizenship awards, has logged in 800 hours of volunteer, unpaid service at a local hospital, and is generally viewed as a model. She was supposed to be treated with some modicum of decency, recognition, appreciation. She was supposed to receive due process of some sort.

Instead, she has been treated as a dangerous criminal, a threat to society.

Azbaa Dar’s story, and that of her family for that matter, is all too common in the so-called advanced democracies. Pregnant Tamil asylum seekers are kept as prisoners in Canada. An Australian candidate for Prime Minister of Australia bases his campaign on severely limiting the number of asylum seekers who reach the nation’s golden shores.

It’s a common story. Seventy one years ago, 1939, on the verge of World War II, W.H. Auden wrote “Refugee Blues”. Here are some stanzas:

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us….

The consul banged the table and said,
“If you’ve got no passport you’re officially dead”:
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
“If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread”:
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me….

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.”

I dreamed I saw Azbaa Dar and W.H. Auden, walking down the road, smiling. But that didn’t happen. Instead, we live with the anguish of the asylum seekers, in the UK, in Canada, in Australia, in the US, in the great democracies of the world. Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk)

Asylum haunts the foreign service

Bita Ghaedi fled to the UK in 2005 to flee a forced marriage. Then her troubles really began.

Asylum haunts the foreign service. People face violence, persecution, torture, from the State, from partners, from various sectors. Finally, they flee. They escape. They go to the United Kingdom, say, or the United States. Where they apply for asylum. And are treated like criminals. Often they are placed in immigrant detention centers, where they are treated as immigrant detainees, which is to say where they are treated as common criminals … or worse. Then they are returned to the torture zones and the killing fields. They tell their stories, others tell their stories. Their stories circulate, in the languages of those who suffered throughout their communities. Their stories, their bodies, their scars and their memories, precede the ambassadors and the envoys.

This week Bita Ghaedi was informed that she would not be deported immediately to Iran. Further, she was informed that she could finally leave Yarl’s Wood. In 2005, Bita Ghaedi fled a violently abusive family and an imminent forced marriage. In the UK, she has been a civil rights, women’s rights and human rights activist who has publically supported the opposition to the Iranian government. She has reason to believe she would be killed if she is returned to Iran. The question is whether it would be the State or her family who would commit the deed.

In 2007, Bita Ghaedi’s application was turned down. She attempted suicide. She appealed the decision. In January of this year, she was on weeks long hunger strike. She was supposed to be deported April 20, but Icelandic volcanic ash postponed that. She was supposed to be deported this past Wednesday, May 5. That’s when the high court decided, again, to delay the deportation and hold another hearing. That is meant to happen July 21.

Bita Ghaedi’s story parallels that of Rodi Alvarado. Rodi Alvarado was born and raised in Guatemala.  In 1984, at the age of 16, she married a man, a former soldier, who immediately began beating, torturing, raping her. She went to authorities who did nothing. She ran away, was caught by her husband, and beaten unconscious. Finally, in 1995, she fled to the United States, leaving her two young children with relatives. She applied for asylum. In September 1996, an immigration judge granted her asylum.

That’s where the story turns: “The Immigration and Naturalization Service appealed the grant to a higher court, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). And in June 1999, the BIA reversed the decision of the immigration judge, by a divided 10-5 vote, and ordered that Ms. Alvarado be deported to Guatemala”

The case then lingered on until December 2009, when Rodi Alvarado was finally, and without explanation, granted asylum. For fourteen years, Rodi Alvarado waited in terror.

In March 2009, Amnesty USA released Jailed Without Justice: Immigration Detention in the USA. Without naming Rodi Alvarado, the report suggests that, in the context of US treatment of asylum seeking women, Rodi Alvarado’s case is not unusual. In fact, it’s almost benign.

In the United States, women asylum seekers are routinely abused. Some, like Saluja Thangaraja, can share their names: “Saluja Thangaraja fled the brutal beatings and torture that she suffered during the Sri Lankan civil war only to endure more than four and a half half years of immigration detention upon arrival in the United States in October 2001. She was granted asylum in 2004. However, immigration authorities appealed the decision, and Ms. Thangaraja remained in detention. She was finally released in March 2006 after filing a habeas petition. Despite posing no danger to the community and demonstrating a commitment to pursuing her asylum claim, Ms. Thangaraja was never given a custody hearing during the four and a half years she was detained.”

Others must continue to insist on anonymity: “A 26-year-old Chinese woman cried as she told AI [Amnesty International] researchers that she fled persecution after she and her mother were beaten in their home for handing out religious fliers. She arrived in the United States in January 2008 seeking asylum and was detained at the airport before being moved to a county jail. No one explained to her why she was being detained. An ICE Field Office Director decided that she should remain in detention unless a bond of $50,000 was paid. Neither her uncle in the United States nor her family in China had sufficient funds to meet the required amount. Her attorney told Amnesty International that the immigration judge indicated that he did not have the authority to release her from detention or change the amount of the bond set. Family members in the United States were finally able to raise the money needed to secure her release in December 2008, after she had spent nearly an entire year in detention.”

Women asylum seekers in detention centers are shackled in childbirth, placed in isolation for the crime of not speaking English, sexually harassed, abused, exploited. In other words, women asylum seekers are treated exactly the same as women immigrant detainees.

Bita Ghaedi, Rodi Alvarado, Saluja Thangaraja, the “Chinese woman”, and the thousands of other asylum seekers who are and have been abused, these are the ambassadors of the United States and the United Kingdom. Not the Secretary of State nor the Foreign Secretary. Not Hillary Clinton nor David Miliband, or whomever it will be next week. The lives and bodies of these women testify to the story of women who have sought refuge and the manner in which they have been treated in the great democracies of the early twenty first century. These women and the asylum they have sought haunt the foreign service and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

 

(Photo Credit: indymedia.org.uk)

The Parable of Yarl’s Wood

You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall and like the heat of the desert.  — Isaiah 25: 4-5

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”… “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  — Matthew 25: 35-40.

Once, providing asylum to those who needed it was considered a sacred act. In the Book of Numbers, God ordered Moses to create “cities of refuge” or “cities of asylum,” for those fleeing unjust punishment. International conventions written following the Holocaust and World War II confer refugee status on people who face persecution, abuse, torture, or death in their own countries. And even today, the immigration laws of most Western countries have provisions for granting asylum to such refugees—in theory at least. In practice, it’s a different story. In the United States, refugees seeking protection have often found themselves in prison instead. In the United Kingdom, the situation is just as bad or worse.

The United Kingdom has eleven `immigration removal centres.” Seven are privately run. Six are run by G4S, the world’s largest security provider. The seventh, Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, is run by Serco. Of the seven prisons, two house women. Tinsley House holds 5 females. Yarl’s Wood has 405 `bed spaces’, which divide into 284 single female bed spaces; 121 family bed spaces. Serco has responsibility for practically all the women and children who apply for asylum.

On February 5, at least 50 women prisoners at Yarl’s Wood went on a hunger strike, which they suspended on March 19. They may resume the hunger strike on April 9.

The women were protesting the Detained Fast Track Asylum System, which discriminates against those fleeing sexual and domestic violence. It is estimated that over 70% of the women at Yarl’s Wood are rape survivors. They were also protesting the length of time many had been detained. One woman who spoke little or no English had been at Yarl’s Wood for two years. Generally, they were protesting degrading and humiliating treatment.

According to Nigerian asylum seeker Mojirola Daniels, on February 8 about 70 women were herded into a long airless hallway and then locked down. They were denied access to toilets, water, anything. There was no heat. Women suffered hypothermia. Blood, urine, faeces covered the floor. Some women passed out. Others were beaten. Finally, hours later, the women were allowed to leave, in pairs: “We were about 70 which consist many Nigerians, Chinese, Jamaicans, Zimbabweans and some nationals that I do not remember. I have been traumatised and victimised because of this experience. I can never believe this can happen in the UK and I am still in shock.”

Another woman reported: “One of the managers told the women they would regret what they have done; she called the Chinese women monkeys, and the Black women black monkeys. Four other women have been locked in other rooms for three hours, and have been told by room mates that their belongings have been packed. They are worried they face immediate removal even though their cases are still being considered. Fifteen women have been locked up in “Kingfisher”, the punishment wing.”

Hunger striker Aisha and non-participant Victoria agree on the conditions in Yarl’s Wood.

35 year old Jamaican asylum seeker Denise McNeil was identified as a `ringleader’, moved to another prison, and placed in solitary. Gladys Obiyan from Nigeria, Sheree Wilson and Shellyann Stupart from Jamaica, and Aminata Camara from suffered a similar fate. Others were suddenly `repatriated’. Leila, an Iranian prisoner, had been at Yarl’s Wood for 20 months, 15 days. After taking part in the hunger strikes and other protests she was placed in solitary: “I want to kill myself, I cannot live here”. Women do try to kill themselves at Yarl’s Wood.

The women are suing Serco. Their lawyers noted: “Serco guards intervened, and according to accounts from our clients “kettled” protestors inside and outside the building, injured some and locked the “ringleaders” in isolation for more than two weeks.”

There will be investigations and trials; poems, plays, and performance pieces; testimony and more. Perhaps the fast-track asylum system will be slowed down. Perhaps detention for women who have been tortured and rape will come to an end. Perhaps no more children will be sent to immigration removal centres. One can hope for these changes.

But asylum will not come until we have cities of refuge: Asylum is a sacred responsibility, not only around Passover or Easter or any other holiday. The building of cities of refuge begins with the end of automatic asylum seeker incarceration. The end of automatic asylum seeker incarceration begins in practice. End the practice of shame and isolation of women asylum seekers now. Walk with the women hunger strikers, the innocent prisoners of Yarl’s Wood, for they are the architects and the carpenters of the cities of refuge to come.

[In a very slightly different form, this was posted at Solitary Watch. Thanks to Solitary Watch, and Jean Casella in particular, for the invitation, editing, and for their great work and labor.]

 

(Video Credit: visionontv / YouTube)

 

Black Looks: Yarlswood refuses xmas for imprisoned children

December 15th, 2009 

I heard on Sunday morning of an asylum seeker who was picked up yesterday and sent to Yarlswood women and children’s detention center. I have visited and met some of the women in Yarlswood and personally know two women, a young Nigerian lesbian and a young Ugandan woman both deported last year to Lagos and this year to Kampala – two cities where neither has lived or has family. The Ugandan woman had spent 5 years within the legal process of seeking asylum on the basis of sexual assault. Every few weeks asylum seekers have to check in with the police. As the date nears one becomes more and more anxious wondering if this will be the time they decide to physically grab you and send you to Yarlswood and 24 hours later on a plane.

Once again, the papers are full of reports about children being placed in Yarlswood which is run by a private security company SERCO. The horror of Yarlswood is that it is a prison yet no one imprisoned there has committed a crime. Still they are locked up, harassed, subject to body searches, abuse and sexual assault by guards, and wait for the moment they will be physically restrained en route to Gatwick or Heathrow and forced on to a plane. The latest story centers on SERCO refusing to allow two Anglican pastors from bringing Christmas presents for the children.

The Mothers’ Campaign of the All African Women’s group are mothers who have had to flee to the UK. The mothers had to make the very difficult decision to leave their children behind because they felt they would be safer without them. They have launched a petition for family reunion which they plan to submit on Mothers Day in March 2010. You can sign here. .

Sokari Ekine writes and organizes at Black Looks: http://www.blacklooks.org/ . This post appeared originally at http://www.blacklooks.org/2009/12/yarlswood_refuses_xmas_for_imprisoned_children.html

Mourning Mothers, Morning Mothers

Kessie Moyo with a picture of her son Godfrey Moyo

A mother is a mother for as long as she lives.

Around the world, mothers gather in parks, gardens, public open spaces. As they sit and watch and talk, they gather and create comfort, wisdom, knowledge, strength, pleasure, laughter, sighs, touch, love, safety. They create spaces where truth can be spoken and heard. This is not sentimental or romantic. It is the news of the day.

Parvin Fahimi is Sohrab Arabi’s mother for as long as she lives.

Sohrab Arabi, a 19 year old student, “was reportedly killed on June 15, when a member of Iran’s ideological basiji militia opened fire on a crowd of protesters close to central Tehran’s Azadi Square, according to his aunt Farah Mohamadi, who was informed of his death by security forces.”

Fahimi went looking for her son. She went to the prisons, she went to the courts, she went to the hospitals, she went to the morgue. Then, on Saturday, July 11, 26 days later, Parvin Fahimi “was finally called in by officials and asked to identify her son in several photographs of corpses.” He had been shot.

She went looking from place to place to place, from face to face to face, for her son.

Taraneh Mousavi was also a young person in Iran. On Friday, June 19, she went to the Ghoba Mosque, in Tehran, to hear a sermon on the post-election `martyrs’. She was arrested. Reports suggest she was tortured, raped, burned to death. It’s hard to confirm. What isn’t in dispute: Taraneh Mousavi was arrested and disappeared. “Taraneh, whose first name is Persian for “song”, disappeared into arrest. Weeks later…her mother received an anonymous call from a government agent saying that her daughter has been hospitalized in Imam Khomeini Hospital in the city of Karaj, just north of Tehran — hospitalized for `rupturing of her womb and anus in…an unfortunate accident’. When Taraneh’s family went to the hospital to find her, they were told she was not there.”

Taraneh Mousavi’s mother is Taraneh Mousavi’s mother for as long as she lives.

The Mourning Mothers, the Mothers of Laleh Park, gather every Saturday in public parks, such as Laleh Park in the heart of Tehran, from 7 – 8 pm, the day and hour in which Neda Aghasoltani was killed.

The world is too full with Mourning Mothers.

Kessie Moyo is Godfrey Moyo’s mother for as long as she lives.

Godfrey Moyo was from Zimbabwe and suffered from epilepsy. On January 3, 2005, he was awaiting trial, at Belmarsh prison in the UK, when he suffered a seizure, followed by a behavioral disturbance, in which he attacked his cellmate and struggled with guards. He was taken out of his cell, thrown to the floor, constrained and controlled, during which he suffered two more seizures. Unconscious, he was taken to the intensive care cell and dumped, kneeling against a bed. Then he was injected with a sedative and died, 20 minutes later.

Four and a half years later, an inquest was finally held, from June 22 to July 6, 2009.  This story brings together disability, race, nation, class into one terrible stew. And it conjures the Mourning Mothers.

Kessie Moyo, Godfrey Moyo’s mother, lives in Zimbabwe. In 2005, she received a six-month visa to attend the funeral and inquest, the inquest which wouldn’t occur for another four and a half years. When Mrs. Moyo applied for an extension, she was denied. Due to “very compelling family reasons”, Kessie Moyo stayed in England until 2007, only then returning to Zimbabwe. When at last the inquest date was announced, she was denied a visa. Why? She had overstayed the earlier one, and those family reasons didn’t matter. Also, since Zimbabwe is a humanitarian crisis site, Kessie Moyo would have no reason to return. There’s no logic like State logic.

Finally, the High Court [a] granted her a visa and [b] forced the UK Border Agency to expedite the processing. She barely arrived in time to sit with her daughter, Godfrey’s sister, Lomaculo Moyo, and listen to the guards describe her son as `a smashing lad’. She barely arrived in time to weep for her murdered son.

Kessie Moyo is Godfrey Moyo’s mother for as long as she lives.

Marta Servin lives in Koreatown, in Los Angeles, and she is the mother of three children. She is their mother for as long as she lives.

Koreatown, located in the center of Los Angeles, is the most densely populated area of the city. Mostly Koreans and Latin@s. Ten years ago a group of women started a community garden, Francis Street Community Garden. Small in size, huge in value. Now, “every day at about 5 p.m., women from the neighborhood gather at the garden to drink coffee and tea, cook spontaneous meals and talk for hours as the sunlight fades and neon signs begin flickering on in neighboring strip malls. They celebrate birthdays together with colorful pinatas and paper flowers and welcome newcomers to the neighborhood. Their children play and chase after the free-roaming roosters, hens and chicks.”

Marta Servin is one of those women. She came to help the clean up and never left. Mothers and daughters gather, in their garden, in their space. They are the Morning Mothers. One day, I hope the Mourning Mothers, those of Iran, those of Zimbabwe, those of anywhere else, might become the Morning Mothers as well, because, you know, a mother is a mother for as long as she lives.