Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Interrupted Life

Interrupted Life: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States

Rickie Solinger
Paula C. Johnson
Martha L. Raimon
Tina Reynolds
Ruby C. Tapia
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 480
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Interrupted Life
    Book Description:

    Interrupted Lifeis a gripping collection of writings by and about imprisoned women in the United States, a country that jails a larger percentage of its population than any other nation in the world. This eye-opening work brings together scores of voices from both inside and outside the prison system including incarcerated and previously incarcerated women, their advocates and allies, abolitionists, academics, and other analysts. In vivid, often highly personal essays, poems, stories, reports, and manifestos, they offer an unprecedented view of the realities of women's experiences as they try to sustain relations with children and family on the outside, struggle for healthcare, fight to define and achieve basic rights, deal with irrational sentencing systems, remake life after prison; and more. Together, these powerful writings are an intense and visceral examination of life behind bars for women, and, taken together, they underscore the failures of imagination and policy that have too often underwritten our current prison system.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94456-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[xii])
  3. INTRODUCTION. Certain Failures: Representing the Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States
    (pp. 1-6)
    Ruby C. Tapia

    The politics of representing the experiences of incarcerated women play out on a landscape of necessity and violence. To turn away from the need to understand and reveal the mechanisms and circumstances of dehumanization that mark the women’s prison is unconscionable in any political or intellectual sphere that makes a claim to feminism in the twenty-first century. To believe that any of us can fully render this picture for ourselves or for anyone else is equally so. For the past three years, the editors of this volume have been compiling writings that seek to illuminate the environment and experiences of...


    • [PART ONE. Introduction]
      (pp. 7-10)

      WHY IS THE UNITED STATES ENGAGING IN—gripped by—a crisis of mass incarceration today? What national and international factors are feeding this development, and whose lives are at stake? This volume begins with a series of pieces that lay out basic principles and analyses, gather and introduce voices of recently and currently incarcerated women, and consider dilemmas and strategies confronting individuals and groups working in the interests of incarcerated women and their families. Looking at the phenomenon in the largest terms, internationally renowned prison abolitionist Julia Sudbury explains the socioeconomic roots of mass incarceration in the United States in...

    • 1 Unpacking the Crisis: Women of Color, Globalization, and the Prison-Industrial Complex
      (pp. 11-25)
      Julia Sudbury

      The emergence of a vibrant antiprison movement has brought attention to the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States. This crisis is a direct outgrowth of tough-on-crime policies that have lengthened prison sentences and widened the net of activities that U.S. society deals with through imprisonment. As more and more people have received longer sentences, federal and state governments have responded to the ensuing overcrowding by building more prisons and contracting with private prison firms for additional prison beds. Low-income women and girls of color have particularly felt the impacts of the exponential growth in the use of prisons...

    • 2 Glossary of Terms
      (pp. 26-27)
      Tina Reynolds

      I developed this glossary of terms in opposition to the language that society has adopted to unidentify people who have been in conflict with the law. These examples of oppressive terminology show how language harms people, deepening their invisibility as human beings and undermining their eligibility for forgiveness and redemption. Derogatory, dehumanizing, and oppressive, this language is passed down to innocent family members, including children, further complicating the acceptance of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people into social circles and society.

      Reentry A broad term loosely used by government officials and academics to describe the process a formely inarcerated person a...

    • 3 The Long Shadow of Prison: My Messy Journey through Fear, Silence, and Racism toward Abolition
      (pp. 28-34)
      Kay Whitlock

      Abolition of the U.S. prison system is not only a political and economic imperative for those concerned about the meaning of justice. It is also a spiritual necessity in a society that has turned the imprisonment of massive numbers of human beings, two-thirds of whom are people of color, into a brutal growth industry.

      My path to this conclusion has not been a simple one of ideological certainty. The journey to abolition is intensely human; it is a volatile, complicated journey into the nature of relationships at the intersections of race, gender and gender identity, culture, class, and sexuality. It’s...

    • 4 Unpeeling the Mask
      (pp. 35-36)
      Elizabeth Leslie

      Could you believe unpeeling my mask was such a difficult task?

      Yeah . . . Because there were numerous questions to be asked.

      I can’t even begin to discuss the well-kept secrets from my past!

      How long should the pain last?

      It isn’t easy unpeeling this mask . . .

      I’ve got secrets to conceal

      They are too unique to be revealed

      This mask can’t be unpeeled!!!

      It’s my best disguise

      To cover all my lies . . .

      And lies . . .

      And lies . . .

      I told you it isn’t easy to unpeel!!

      I mean unveil....

    • 5 Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Bill of Rights
      (pp. 37-44)
      San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership

      Two point four million American children have a parent behind bars today. Seven million, or one in ten of the nation’s children, have a parent under criminal justice supervision—in jail or prison, on probation, or on parole.

      Little is known about what becomes of children when their parents are incarcerated. There is no requirement that the various institutions charged with dealing with those accused of breaking the law—police, courts, jails and prisons, probation departments—inquire about children’s existence, much less concern themselves with children’s care. Conversely, there is no requirement that systems serving children—schools, child welfare, juvenile...

    • 6 United Nations Report on Violence against Women in U.S. Prisons
      (pp. 45-56)

      Report of the mission to the United States of America on the issue of violence against women in state and federal prisons (excerpts)

      Wherever the Special Rapporteur went, officials asked her why she decided to visit the United States. She explained that based on information received from diverse sources, she was convinced that there were serious issues of custodial sexual misconduct in United States prisons that had to be investigated. Many felt nevertheless that special rapporteurs should concentrate on crisis situations around the world rather than focus on countries where human rights protection is more or less ensured. The Special...

    • 7 Being in Prison
      (pp. 57-60)
      Joanne Archibald

      I was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison when I was three months pregnant. My court case took a long time, so I was able to give birth to my son outside. He was seven months old when I went in. That day is so clear in my mind, driving up to the gate in my sister’s little Volkswagen bug, with my sister, my friend Joan, who was going to take care of David, and David and me. Then leaving him there and walking through that gate. And even though it was real then, it wasn’t...

    • 8 Wearing Blues
      (pp. 61-62)
      Kinnari Jivani

      Wearing Blues

      while our roots are grounded on the barren land

      branches spread wider than wings

      in hope that the wind-god will bring

      the footwear for the roots

      and free them from the heavy six digit chain

      Wearing Blues

      over the limbs that had ridden the ship of battles

      out of desperation or need or want or

      out of fear of the shadows crawling over our bodies

      Wearing Blues

      for the tears that never could bleed but dry and turn into scabs,

      coarse tears scabs

      that peel away slowly

      Wearing Blues

      brings somber burden, taboo and

      the grief that cry...


    • [PART TWO. Introduction]
      (pp. 63-66)

      THIS SECTION EXPLORES THE DEEPLY EMOTIONAL REALITY of separation, loss, and grief that characterizes the experiences of so many mothers behind bars. It also looks at policies and programs that aim to respond to maternal incarceration, including some that facilitate the end of maternity and others that open spaces for honoring it.

      A number of currently and formerly incarcerated mothers write in this section about the ways that tragic personal mistakes—along with the institution itself, institutional staff, and harmful applications of law and policy—threaten and degrade the possibilities of maternity from inside. For example, Kimberly Burke describes in...

    • 9 Get on the Bus: Mobilizing Communities across California to Unite Children with Their Parents in Prison
      (pp. 67-70)
      Suzanne Jabro and Kelly Kester-Smith

      The prison system was designed to punish men. Its activities, policies, and regulations were developed in response to male models of behavior, morality, and rehabilitation. When mandatory drug sentencing laws were passed in the 1970s and 1980s, the number of women serving prison sentences doubled. Despite increased female representation in the prison population, the system did not evolve to address the family crises that resulted when the laws changed. No one seemed to comprehend that more women in prison would result in the abandonment of more children to foster care or out-of-home kinship-care placements. No one predicted that deconstructing families...

    • 10 Do I Have to Stand for This?
      (pp. 71-72)
      Kimberly Burke

      Slowly my eyes blink open to the sound of my alarm. Because it’s my day off, I shouldn’t even be getting up, especially since I just went to sleep a few hours ago. I was so excited last night that it was hard for me to fall asleep. You see, today is my first visit with my seven-year-old son since I was first incarcerated three years ago.

      My mother and son flew to Texas from Utah just to see me. I’ve been waiting for this for so long just so I could hug my son. The day has finally arrived....

    • 11 Out of Sight, NOT Out of Mind: Important Information for Incarcerated Parents Whose Children Are in Foster Care
      (pp. 73-76)
      Children of Incarcerated Parents Program, NYC Administration for Children’s Services

      If you are incarcerated and your child is in foster care, this section is for you. It will provide you with important information about the child welfare system and your rights and responsibilities towards your child in foster care. Your child may have already been in foster care before your incarceration or may have entered foster care as a result of your arrest and incarceration, or during your incarceration. No matter what, your situation now may feel very difficult and frustrating. You may worry about your children, miss them, and wonder if and how you can parent under these difficult...

    • 12 The Impact of the Adoption and Safe Families Act on Children of Incarcerated Parents
      (pp. 77-82)
      Arlene F. Lee, Philip M. Genty, Mimi Laver and Child Welfare League of America

      On November 9, 1997, President Clinton signed the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) to improve the safety of children, to promote adoption and other permanent homes for children, and to support families. The changes in ASFA are important to ensure the safety of children and increase their likelihood of placement in permanent homes. The change that requires close examination is the timeline for initiating termination of parental rights (TPR) proceedings. Under ASFA, TPR proceedings must be brought if:

      the child has been in foster care for fifteen of the most recent twenty-two months, or

      the court has...

    • 13 ASFA, TPR, My Life, My Children, My Motherhood
      (pp. 83-85)
      Carole E.

      In 1997, as a thirty-seven-year-old single mother, I was arrested for the sale of ten dollars worth of crack to an undercover detective, and I’d just given birth to my fourth child. My brother picked up the new baby from the hospital, presumably to care for her until I was released six months later, but upon release I returned to drug use. My other children had been distributed among relatives; two of them had tested positive for drugs at birth.

      Though I was on Rikers Island for five months, I was only allowed two visits with my children. The ACS...

    • 14 The Birthing Program in Washington State
      (pp. 86-88)
      Tabitha and Christy Hall

      Most people who think about an expectant mother behind bars probably jump to blame the woman and label her a bad or unfit mother. How could she let herself end up in jail? Surely such a woman behaved in selfish and careless ways. But if you spend time with mothers who are in prison, and listen, you find a much more complicated reality. As a prison doula, a birth attendant for incarcerated women, I’ve learned that incarcerated women love their children as much as any other mother does.

      One of the recurring themes in the stories I have heard from...

    • 15 Pregnancy, Motherhood, and Loss in Prison: A Personal Story
      (pp. 89-93)
      Kebby Warner

      My name is Kebby Warner. I am a twenty-five-year-old woman prisoner in Michigan. I have been incarcerated since October 17, 1997, for littering and publishing. Passing a $350 stolen check. My time has been one of struggle, heartache, pain, and desperation. Here is my story:

      I spent my first month in prison being sick. Health Care told me my “illness” was a stomach flu and my other “symptoms” due to stress, but then they said I was pregnant. I calculated that the day I stepped through the razor wire and fence, I was ten days along.

      I didn’t know what...

    • 16 What the Parenting Program at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women Has Meant to Me
      (pp. 94-97)
      Mary Alley, A. D. and C. S.

      In 1974, the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women (NCCW) housed about thirty-five women from Nebraska and from South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado, which did not have their own facilities for women.

      At that time, children visiting their mothers came a long way for just a few hours. The warden, a visionary, developed a program that allowed children to stay overnight with their mothers.

      The number of children who are wards of the state due to their mothers’ incarceration has tripled over the past ten years. Some of these children get to see their mothers, first, for supervised visits, one-on-one, and...

    • 17 The Storybook Project at Bedford Hills
      (pp. 98-102)
      Beth Falk, June Benson, Amorel Beyor and Alte

      Storybook projects inside prisons share basic features: inmates select books for their children, record themselves reading the books aloud, and include a personal message to their children. The tapes and books are mailed to the children, who can listen to their parent’s voice and follow along as they read. The Storybook Project started in several corrections facilities in the early 1990s; now there are sites in more than twenty states.

      All storybook projects focus on literacy as a vehicle for promoting healthy parent-child relationships. At the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, New York, the project is known as...

    • 18 A Trilogy of Journeys
      (pp. 103-106)
      Kathy Boudin

      The day approaches

      when I begin

      my yearly pilgrimage

      back in time,

      the present no longer important,

      only the exact hour and minutes on a clock.

      They will bring me to that moment

      when you began

      the longest journey

      man ever makes,

      out of the sea that

      rocked you and bathed you,

      out of the darkness and warmth

      that caressed you,

      out of the space

      that you stretched like the skin of a drum

      until it could no longer hold you

      and you journeyed through my tunnel

      with its twists and turns,

      propelling yourself

      on and on until

      your two...


    • [PART THREE. Introduction]
      (pp. 107-110)

      THIS SECTION COLLECTS POEMS and other forms of reflection on the possibilities for closeness among women inside, as individuals and as members of a community. The authors of the pieces here meditate on pleasure, danger, longing, and loss under the constraints of incarceration. Some of the poets, storytellers, and essayists write about the project of self-definition in gender and sexual identity. In almost all cases, authors are exploring terrain that is secret, discouraged, proscribed, and forbidden, to begin with, and that risks sanctions for those who enter.

      Essays in this section are alternately ecstatic and despairing, as one might expect....

    • 19 Untitled
      (pp. 111-111)
      Celeste “Jazz” Carrington


      And dying


      in the


      of the

      Living dead

      Loving madly

      Living fiercely

      All we can

      While we can

      Filling every moment

      Knowing her /myself


      No thought

      or gesture

      Will gather

      Dust . . ....

    • 20 Analyzing Prison Sex: Reconciling Self-Expression with Safety
      (pp. 112-120)
      Brenda V. Smith

      This article examines the complexity of prison sex and the challenges that it raises in the context of recently enacted U.S. legislation, specifically the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). It first identifies a range of prisoner interests in enhanced sexual expression as part of an attempt to disentangle prisoners’ rights in sexual expression from states’ legitimate interests in regulating that expression. This article also directs policy makers and decision makers to mine international documents and human rights norms that both recognize the necessity of punishment and outline standards for the safety of individuals in custody, the protection of human dignity,...

    • 21 Who Said Women Can’t Get Along?
      (pp. 121-124)
      Elizabeth Leslie

      Whoever said that women can’t get along with each other—lied! I, too, believed that poisonous propaganda. People misinformed about women misinformed me for years. I read stories of the evil-wicked stepmother, jezebels, man stealing, creeping and cheating, cat fights, etc. I was definitely scared of women!

      In June 2005, I was blessed by being sent to a drug rehabilitation program as an alternative to incarceration, Project Greenhope Services for Women. Project Greenhope houses fifty-three women in multifaceted components (alternative to incarceration, outpatient, intensive outpatient, relapse prevention, and parolees). Fiftythree women! Fifty-three personalities! I was scared to death and definitely...

    • 22 Sorry
      (pp. 125-127)
      Tina Reynolds

      imprisoned in this corner

      this darkness that felt so comfortable

      this place ofsorry

      voices loud

      voices soft






      you are sorry

      girl you are so sorry

      people told me I wassorry

      I almost believed them

      but that meant I didn’t deserve those hugs

      those kisses

      didn’t deserve to hear

      I love you Mommy

      imprisoned within this image of feelingsorry

      this relationship so thick with time

      no empathy

      no concern

      no good morning

      playing this game of tug of war

      and being on both ends

      dragging myself closer to the mud hole

      gates slamming...

    • 23 The Chase
      (pp. 128-128)
      Holli Hampton

      I love the lady living 3 cells down.

      But she doesn’t know it.

      I watch her all day at work.

      But she doesn’t know it.

      I wait for a shower so I can see her body.

      I fall in line so I can devour her scent.

      But she doesn’t know it.

      I touch myself, wishing it were her.

      But she doesn’t know it.

      I hear her cry every night until the wee hours.

      But she doesn’t know it.

      I love the lady living 3 cells down.

      And she’s gonna know it....

    • 24 Why? A Letter to My Lover
      (pp. 129-130)
      Sheena M. King

      I’ve had so many lovers before you, both male and female, so why didyoutouch me in such a deeply profound way? Why did you cross my path at that crucial moment when I was in therapy trying to heal from the past and learn for the future? Why did we have to meet and fall deeply, madly, and ridiculously in love, in prison? Why did it have to happen here? When we could no longer deny what we felt. When we had shared our minds, hearts, hopes, dreams, and desires and decided we were best friends, why did...

    • 25 Gender, Sexuality, and Family Kinship Networks
      (pp. 131-144)
      Juanita Díaz-Cotto

      Chicana pintas struggled with demands placed on them simultaneously by their families, their barrios, and the state.¹ Gender roles, sexuality and sexual identification were arenas within which pintas challenged such expectations. As such, pintas took advantage of the institutional setting to experiment with many different types of relationships with other women, some of which were sexual in nature. They also had both voluntary and involuntary sexual contact with female, but most often, male staff.²

      This essay asks questions such as: How did pintas incarcerated at Sybil Brand Institute for Women (SBI), Los Angeles’s women’s jail, seek to exert their independence...

    • 26 Getting Free
      (pp. 145-149)
      Amy Stout

      I come here about six months ago, and I’ll be here a while longer. Longer than that if I trip up. But so far I’ve gone along with the program, so I think I’ll be out on time. Ever since I come in, I’ve had such a hole in my heart you wouldn’t believe. Something just eats away at me. It’s there when I wake up and there when I go to bed. I’d sleep it away if I could, but I’m nervous during the day and so I can’t sleep. I just try to get through every minute even...

    • 27 My Name Is June Martinez
      (pp. 150-152)
      June Martinez

      My name is June Martinez, and I’m a transgendered Latina. I was asked to speak today, but unfortunately I am unable to be here, so I’ve asked my friend and caseworker Sabina Neem to distribute this report.

      I would like to inform all of you here today about life behind bars for trans women. I know that many speculate about how easy it must be for trans women because they believe that being surrounded by men all day long is a pleasure. Trust me, it’s not, and for those people who think that trans women have support systems in prison,...

    • 28 King County (WA) Gender Identity Regulations
      (pp. 153-155)
      Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention

      To establish protocols on providing the appropriate treatment of transgender, transsexual, intersex, and gender variant persons who are incarcerated and housed within King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention [DAJD].

      Having guidelines for proper treatment of transgender, transsexual, intersex, and gender variant inmates by all jail staff (custodial, administrative, healthcare, and all other support and program access staff) and volunteers ensures not only that the inmate is treated with dignity, but that staff have the information and support they need to be more effective.

      1. All DAJD forms, formal interaction, addresses, and valid law enforcement discussions shall include the...

    • 29 Mother
      (pp. 156-156)
      Mayra Collado

      Mother, you weren’t always the best parent

      Sometimes we didn’t flow at the same current

      I know I haven’t been the best daughter

      Now I have one of my own,

      and I couldn’t even fight for her

      What I want to be for you

      Is what I want my daughter to be for me

      But I am the one lost between you two

      This day I never thought would come for me to see

      This here I see is my fate, my destiny

      I made my own bed, and lie

      in it I dragged her down,

      Now she’ll find a...

    • 30 Daddy Black Man
      (pp. 157-158)
      Cassandra Adams

      I had a dream that one day daddy would love me like I thought he should

      No lying words from his mouth at a

      Constant rate

      My tears falling for an act I hadn’t committed

      BLACK MAN!

      I didn’t ask to be born

      Love me if you wanted!

      Your shoulders another woman’s child sat upon Me? I sat upon my mother’s lap

      She nurtured . . . loved . . . tried

      Failed and tried again

      Never giving up even when she was fed up. With my nasty attitude and Smart mouth

      Places she could have sent me but didn’t...

    • 31 Watershed
      (pp. 159-160)
      Kinnari Jivani

      she disn’t even know

      i existed

      until after

      she drenched in raving red shred

      until after

      red dried to entrust patched skin and semi-stiff hair

      news came to her as collision

      unveiled secret love sketched back to valentine’s time

      the moment she wanted to cherish

      came when she wished herself dead

      walking sandy steps on sticky lane

      downhill fate

      our soul shivered as

      butcher-faced hacked the union

      then badge-chest stole dead me

      installed in ice box

      to trace DNA strands

      they called her “coward”

      she watered long nights grieving

      for raving red shred and a piece of herself immersed in...


    • [PART FOUR. Introduction]
      (pp. 161-164)

      AS MICHELLE FINE AND HER TEAM of participatory-action researchers at Bedford Hills prison point out in “Changing Minds,” an essay about a unique coalition of insiders and outsiders resisting the termination of educational programs at that prison, more than three hundred college programs in prisons nationwide were shut down in the mid-1990s.

      The same politicians who ended welfare and systematically reduced funding for public education at all levels also cut programs for prisoners around the country, despite what we know about the good outcomes associated with the education of incarcerated and free persons. Life inside got much bleaker, and prospects...

    • 32 Lit by Each Other’s Light: Women’s Writing at Cook County Jail
      (pp. 165-177)
      Anne Fowell Stanford

      Jail is, among many other things, a liminal space, a place of crisis, where the life narratives of those who have been incarcerated unravel. For most of those detained in a county jail, it is a place between arrest and conviction, a place of waiting, a twilight zone where rules arbitrarily shift, cell mates come and go, anger is dulled by drugs, and tier assignments change for no apparent reason. Cook County Jail (“County”), where I spent over seven years writing with women (and the last two years training adult students to do the same), is a place of radical...

    • 33 Tuesday SOUL
      (pp. 178-179)
      Kinnari Jivani

      Becoming a writer

      was not my childhood dream.

      But inside the closed fence with the closed door

      writing became my on and off companion

      writing journal was something that

      I learned to do

      to ease my pain my anger

      to survive

      to jot down the scrambled thoughts

      to drop all the masks

      of merry-go-round myths

      in search of my true self.

      Joining SOUL

      has added new spices

      in my recipe for writing.

      Like breeze in the air

      that helps the kite fly smoothly

      it provided boost for

      my creative ink

      to run the quality mile

      to grow hummingbird wings.


    • 34 “I lived that book!” Reading behind Bars
      (pp. 180-187)
      Megan Sweeney

      “They lull us to sleep with romance! I’m telling you, four shelves of romance! Danielle Steel has a whole big huge section!” So says Solo, a fifty-six-year-old African American woman, in discussing the library at the midwestern prison where she is currently incarcerated. According to Solo, the prison library includes “books mainly to entertain”—no political magazines or books that will “incite us to become conscious of the fact that you may be infringing on my rights”—and it caters to prisoners’ “fantasy” of “being a[n] entrepreneur or falling in love.” Rather than offering numerous books about starting your own...

    • 35 Changing Minds: A Participatory Action Research Project on College in Prison
      (pp. 188-195)
      Michelle Fine, María Elena Torre, Kathy Boudin, Iris Bowen, Judith Clark, Donna Hylton, Migdalia Martinez, Cheryl “Missy” Wilkins, Melissa Rivera, Rosemarie A. Roberts, Pamela Smart and Debora Upegui

      In 1995, President Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which effectively stopped the flow of all federal dollars (in the form of Pell Grants) enabling women and men in prison to attend college. As a result, at a New York State maximum facility for women, a vibrant fifteen-year-old college program closed, as did more than 340 other programs nationwide. The air in the prison thickened with a heavy sense of disappointment and despair on the faces and in the bodies of women who had been participating in the college, precollege, GED (high-school equivalency), ESL (English...

    • 36 Imagining the Self and Other: Women Narrate Prison Life across Cultures
      (pp. 196-204)
      Lynne Haney and András Tapolcai

      On an afternoon in the summer of 2002, a dozen inmates gathered in a California prison for incarcerated mothers for the first meeting of our creative writing class. We began with a writing exercise that had worked well in similar settings: We asked the women to list ten feelings, which we then wrote on the blackboard. “Sorrow,” Maria called out. “Grief, fear, and depression,” Chanel added. “You’ve got to put anxiety and frustration at the top,” Melissa demanded. “No way,” Claire interjected. “Guilt and regret should be up there.” The list concluded with “disappointment” and “loneliness.” Looking at the list,...

    • 37 My Art
      (pp. 205-205)
      Kinnari Jivani

      My art is my voice

      my vision, my passion, my meditation

      my expression, my existence

      my sanity walk

      my devotional desire

      my art is a part of me

      sobbing, fussing

      changing, growing

      dancing, playing, living . . .

      part of me dropped, draped in colors slowly emerging in details.

      Art teaches me to keep flowing

      flowing is my dharma

      My art is my voice

      if you listen closely

      you will hear it whisper...

    • 38 My Window
      (pp. 206-206)
      Michele Molina

      Isolation—Desperation—The hours become days And the days become weeks.

      I look up and the leaves are turning colors once again.

      Bright and sunny days make no difference when my mind is clouded and every heartbeat is like a thunder bolt of pain.

      I tread through the months and the years.

      At times I have to scrape up the energy to greet each day.

      I see the light out of my window, but only feel the darkness around me.

      My body is listless and my features betray my true age.

      It is time to open the window to my...

    • 39 They Talked
      (pp. 207-208)
      Kinnari Jivani

      Come to the workshop next week

      bring your writing on ‘Why I love me’

      They heard

      It frowned them into the silence

      They sat on the metal bunk

      beside the glass window view

      enveloped by dirty-gray blue cloudy sky

      They talked I and me

      I asked me

      why is it so difficult for you to write it

      Me said

      therapists have theories attached to it

      affected by all that makes you

      brown, unrich, youth, immigrant, inmate

      most important of all a woman

      I said

      Yes! I know that

      but don’t you see the beauty in all that

      only the seasonable...

    • 40 I Never Knew
      (pp. 209-210)
      Darlene Dixon

      I never knew . . .

      how much I loved my family,

      until they wouldn’t accept my calls, or even visit;

      how reassuring a hug could be, until I had to risk confinement to enjoy even one;

      the joy in watching children, until it was years since I heard their laughter.

      I never knew . . .

      how priceless my quiet time could be, until it no long existed in my world;

      the warmth of a sofa, until I spent years on cold steel and cement;

      the beauty in a horizon, until all I saw was the razor wire around...

    • 41 Wise Women: Critical Citizenship in a Women’s Prison
      (pp. 211-215)
      Tanya Erzen

      During the first day of a college history class called Women, Politics, and Citizenship at the Bayview Correctional facility in New York City, the nine women in the class wrote down their definitions of citizenship and politics: “Belonging to a country”; “A person born in the United States, no matter what their ethnic background or cultural beliefs”; “My view of citizenship is closely related to freedom. As a citizen, I would be able to vote, protest, and have the right to practice my religion. I would be a resident not an occupant”; “A place of belonging. A part of a...

    • 42 Women of Wisdom: An Alternative Community of Faith
      (pp. 216-219)
      Suzanne Jabro and Kelly Kester-Smith

      Once a month, a group of women living at the California Institution for Women in Corona, California, and women from the community “outside” gather to breathe in a sense of peace and sisterhood and breathe out the burdens that wear heavy on the heart. Some of the women in the circle are serving lengthy sentences—most of them are lifers. Some of the women in the circle travel from their homes and busy lives to take an equal part in forming an unlikely community. The sum of the group transcends life circumstances to reach a space, and a place, far...

    • 43 Chain of Command
      (pp. 220-222)
      Kinnari Jivani

      Do you know how it feels

      to live in a big cigarette?

      I do’

      cause i am trapped in one

      hand rolled





      groomed cancer

      Clinching inside are

      loud tobacco flakes

      their tongue roll

      good morning ugly hoe,

      my bitch, your bitch,

      Mm babies’ daddy’s bitch,

      can’t wait to fuck that nigger,

      shit, let’s get high,

      u do u, i do i,

      you m. . . . f. . . . . get at me salty.

      All nonsense

      will get-them-no-where talk Weary inside are

      quiet tobacco flakes

      hankering to be green leaves again

      we sob our choky...


    • [PART FIVE. Introduction]
      (pp. 223-226)

      A TRAGIC FACT OF LIFE FOR ALL AMERICANS is that basic health care is available in this rich country for consumer purchase, not as a human right. Because prisoners have little or no status as consumers, they have scant access to decent health care. Many incarcerated persons in this country have lost their freedom and also their health. (Because incarcerated persons are typically poor when they enter jail and prison, many of them already have health problems when they begin their sentences.)

      The essays, reports, stories, and fact sheets in this section chronicle the varieties of deteriorating health that women...

    • 44 Hep C, Pap Smears, and Basic Care: Justice Now and the Right to Family
      (pp. 227-235)
      Johanna Hoffman

      In 2005, Stacy Stevens (a pseudonym), a thirty-year-old mother of two young children, was sentenced to two years in state prison on a marijuana-related charge. After moving her from one institution to another, prison officials noticed signs of mental illness, which prompted them to transfer Stacy from a rehabilitation facility to the California Institution for Women (CIW). There, she was supposed to receive mental-health services while serving her prison term. Stacy did not receive these services. Instead, doctors responded to her clear expressions of suicidal intent by giving her sleeping medication and leaving her alone in a cell. Within days,...

    • 45 A Dazzling Tale of Two Teeth
      (pp. 236-241)
      Tracy Lynn Hardin

      I have always been a freak about teeth. I guess you could say I’m very obsessive when it comes to the human grill. It might have started when I got my braces off. I had worn them from the time I was ten until I was fifteen years old. Braces are a pain in the ass. They cut up the inside of your mouth and are practically impossible to keep clean. Then they get tightened at least once a month and your mouth hurts so bad you can’t eat anything but soup and mushy food. So when I finally got...

    • 46 Women’s Rights Don’t Stop at the Jailhouse Door
      (pp. 242-245)
      Rachel Roth

      Imprisoned women won an important victory when a state court of appeals ruled against a county sheriff ’s unwritten policy requiring women to obtain a court order in order to be transported from jail to a clinic for an abortion.

      The unconstitutional policy was that of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America,” who oversees the jails in Maricopa County, Arizona.

      Arpaio boasts of forcing prisoners to work on chain gangs, housing hundreds in tents under the hot Phoenix sun, exposing them on the Internet via his “jail cam,” and making men wear pink underwear.

      Although Arpaio’s persona...

    • 47 The Death of Luisa Montalvo
      (pp. 246-251)
      Nancy Stoller

      It was Thursday, August 28, 1997, in C Hall, cell 347, at the Women’s Facility in Hot Springs. Luisa Montalvo, a thirty-six-year-old woman with a five-year sentence, had been vomiting since Tuesday morning. She had been unable to keep anything down, not even water. This day she was too weak to do her usual job of mopping the C Hall floors. She had difficulty pulling herself up to her assigned top bunk, and as a prisoner, she was not allowed to trade her sleeping space even temporarily. Her five cell mates were worried.

      On Friday, under a blazing hot sun,...

    • 48 Rights for Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities
      (pp. 252-253)

      We must end the discrimination and dehumanization in the criminal justice system!

      We are a grassroots, direct-action organization united to demand justice and social change for imprisoned people with disabilities.

      Our membership is made up of people with psychiatric disabilities who have been in jail or prison, who have suffered in the system. Our membership also includes family members and friends of people with psychiatric disabilities who are, or who have been, imprisoned.

      We believe in humane treatment for all regardless of race, class, or sexual identity. We want to end the discrimination and dehumanization in the criminal justice system....

    • 49 A Plea for Rosemary
      (pp. 254-255)
      Beverly (Chopper) Henry

      Rosemary (Rosie) Willeby died on October 22, 1999. Rosie was one of many female prisoners diagnosed with both HIV and the hepatitis C virus (HCV). On February 28, 1998, Rosie came here (the Central California Women’s Facility, or CCWF) to serve a short sentence and then return to her mother and children.

      My peers and I watched as, earlier this year, Rosie’s health began to decline: her abdomen was swelling inch by inch, which gave her the appearance of being nine months pregnant. Her legs and feet were swollen tight; walking became a task, and regular shoes no longer fit...

    • 50 The Thing Called Love Virus
      (pp. 256-256)
      Tiffany Jackson

      You didn’t tell me you were sick,

      You didn’t tell me I’d get it . . .

      You never said you’d soon die

      You never told me it could happen one night

      Oh God what will my family think,

      Will they still want to be around me . . .

      A is for Always living inside,

      I is for It never dies

      D is for Deadly weapon

      S is for She caught me slippin’ . . .

      Why, my love, did you do this to me, the one you loved?

      I guess we’ll go together to the heavens above.


    • 51 Bill of Health Rights for Incarcerated Girls
      (pp. 257-258)
      Residents of the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center

      A right is defined as something that all people deserve, simply because they are human beings. This bill of rights was created by young women who are or have been incarcerated in Cook County’s Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. These are rights that all young women deserve, regardless of their involvement with the juvenile justice system.

      1.Family Contact.We believe girls should be able to see their children more than once a week and without a judge’s special permission. Girls should be allowed to see their immediate family members regardless of age.

      2.Accurate Information.We believe girls should have...

    • 52 Working to Improve Health Care for Incarcerated Women
      (pp. 259-263)
      Sheila R. Enders

      Gathering in groups, expressing their fears, frustrations, and hopes, one hundred and thirteen incarcerated females at the nation’s largest women’s prison described their need for adequate health care inside prison walls. Twenty focus groups met at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) over a ten-month period in 2001 and 2002. I helped organize the groups so that incarcerated women could define ways to reduce their health and medical vulnerabilities inside the prison. The women’s comments resulted in the compilation and publication of a handbook,Simple Answers to Difficult Healthcare Questions—Choice.

      While providing technical assistance for the prison staff, and training...

    • 53 Women in Prison Project Fact Sheets
      (pp. 264-270)
      Correctional Association of New York

      A study conducted in 1999 found that 82 percent of women incarcerated at New York’s Bedford Hills Correctional Facility had a childhood history of severe physical and/or sexual abuse and that more than 90 percent had endured physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. This study also found that 75 percent of the women had experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner during adulthood.

      Nationwide, more than 57 percent of women in state prisons and 55 percent of women in local jails report having been physically and/or sexually abused in the past. Two-thirds of female state inmates with histories...


    • [PART SIX. Introduction]
      (pp. 271-274)

      MANY INCARCERATED PEOPLE DESCRIBE the “criminal justice” system, including prison, as an arena where logic doesn’t obtain. This section begins with a trio of essays that explore the experiences of women who have encountered particular and deeply consequential versions of illogic, especially in the realms of sentencing and detention. Irum Shiekh writes about “Zihada,” an eighteen-year-old Muslim woman from Pakistan, who, caught in post-9/11 passions and without apparent legal grounds, was incarcerated, moved from site to site, held for varying lengths of time, and eventually deported. Leticia Saucedo tells us the story of “Mae,” a Chinese woman who, like Zihada,...

    • 54 Reading Gender in September 11 Detentions: Zihada: The Journey from a Young Pakistani Wife to an Anthrax Suspect
      (pp. 275-281)
      Irum Shiekh

      Since September 11, the state’s war on terror has primarily targeted Muslim males. For the most part, women have been spared from detention. In the spring of 2005, however, two teenage girls from New York, Tashnuba Hayder and Adama Bah, were arrested on suspicion of a suicide bombing. Months later, Tashnuba was deported to Bangladesh and Adama was released on bail for immigration violations. Their cases convinced many activists that the government was widening the fish net for Muslims. Yet the number of detained Muslim women has remained considerably low.

      Below I tell the story of “Zihada,” an eighteen-year-old Pakistani...

    • 55 Victim or Criminal: The Experiences of a Human-Trafficking Survivor in the U.S. Immigration System
      (pp. 282-286)
      Leticia M. Saucedo

      In 2004, “Mae,” a Chinese woman who was exploited by human traffickers, was detained by the U.S. federal government for passport fraud as she tried to enter the United States through an international airport in the Southwest. Mae was incarcerated for several months in a contract detention center run by the local police department. I joined forces with students at the Thomas and Mack Legal Clinic in the law school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to represent Mae in her claims for asylum and release from detention. All of us witnessed the ways in which U.S. society increasingly...

    • 56 Detention of Women Asylum Seekers in the United States: A Disgrace
      (pp. 287-293)
      Marleine Bastien and Rosta Telfort

      Every day, women flee their countries of origin to come to the United States for safe haven. Many of the 135,000 to 150,000 refugees in removal proceedings at any given time in the United States are women who are forced to flee their countries of origin as a result of war, political instability, and other societal conflicts related to their gender, including state repression, politically unstable in-country conditions, female genital mutilation, political rapes, sexual slavery, prostitution, and planned and forced marriages. Instead of receiving the protection for which they travel many miles, sometimes in the most horrible conditions, women detainees...

    • 57 “Did you see no potential in me?” The Story of Women Serving Long Sentences in Prison
      (pp. 294-300)
      Kathy Boudin

      Conversations about prison reform are beginning. The buzzword isreentry.The enormous expansion of prisons and the high recidivism rates are raising questions about mass incarceration as a solution to social problems. The conversation usually centers around drugs, the war on drugs, and nonviolent offenders. This chapter, however, takes the reader to a harder space: reform for women who have been convicted of a violent crime.

      Women in prison are known as “talkers.” Sometimes the prison “COs” (aka correctional officers, guards) complain about working in a women’s prison. They’d rather work with men than have to listen to women talk...

    • 58 Dignity Denied: The Price of Imprisoning Older Women in California
      (pp. 301-305)
      Legal Services for Prisoners with Children

      Elder prisoners are costly to care for, yet research indicates that many of these older inmates represent a relatively low risk of reoffending and show high rates of parole success. A 2003 estimate by the Legislative Analyst’s Office suggests that releasing nonviolent prisoners over fifty-five would result in state savings of approximately 9 million in the budget year and significantly more in the out-years without jeopardizing public safety.¹

      Some older inmates may be good candidates for community placement. Perhaps some who committed murder a long time ago truly no longer pose a threat to society.²

      Prisons are alien and intimidating...

    • 59 The Longtimers/Insiders Activist Group at Tutwiler Prison for Women
      (pp. 306-309)
      Erline Bibbs

      The Longtimers/Insiders group grew out of theLaube v. Campbelllawsuit, which a group of women prisoners, of which I was a part, filed in August 2002 against the Alabama Department of Corrections and the State of Alabama. When we sued, Tutwiler Prison for Women housed more than 1,000 women in a decrepit facility built in 1942 to hold 365 women. Every dormitory was filled front to back with bunkbeds. The weather gets extremely hot in the summers—the heat index regularly rises over 100 degrees in the facility—and cold in the winters. Designed to cross-ventilate through large open...

    • 60 The Forgotten Population: A Look at Death Row in the United States through the Experiences of Women
      (pp. 310-312)
      Capital Punishment Project, Women’s Rights Project, National Prison Project, National Criminal Justice Program and National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women

      Since 1973, 148 women have been sentenced to death in the United States. As of December 2004, when we conducted our study, there were 50 women on death row. These women varied in age from twenty-two to seventy-three years old and had been on death row for periods ranging from a few months to nearly twenty years. While much attention has been paid to women who have already been executed, such as Aileen Wournos and Karla Faye Tucker, little is known about the experiences of women who are living on death row.

      Our report, The Forgotten Population, reviews the cases...


    • [PART SEVEN. Introduction]
      (pp. 313-316)

      UNDER A REGIME OF MASS INCARCERATION, what is the definition of “prisoners’ rights?” How are rights protected, asserted, lost, and gained? In this section, we provide examples of the ways that incarcerated women and their allies are approaching matters of rights and developing rights claims in a variety of domains.

      Here we encounter another “bill of rights,” this time, the Incarcerated Young Mothers’ Bill of Rights, a ten-point visionary document that codifies what must not be left to chance. This document seeks to draw a thick, bright line that prison authorities dare not cross, even though the incarcerated females in...

    • 61 Incarcerated Young Mothers’ Bill of Rights: From A Vision to a Policy at San Francisco Juvenile Hall
      (pp. 317-320)
      Sophia Sanchez

      In November 2006, there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Juvenile Justice Center in San Francisco, and planners asked the Center for Young Women’s Development (CYWD) to provide a speaker on the Incarcerated Young Mothers’ Bill of Rights, which had recently become policy for the new facility. I and others at the center wanted to make clear that CYWD was not there to celebrate the opening of a new prison to house young people, but that if the city was going to open a new jail, it needed to have a policy and procedure to protect the rights of...

    • 62 Slaving in Prison: A Three-Part Indictment
      (pp. 321-325)
      shawnna d., the Fire Inside Editorial Collective and Edaleen Smith

      Just as newly freed Africans were convicted of minor offenses and then, as prisoners or indentured servants, used as cheap (free) labor for industrial capitalists, poor people and people of color are similarly targeted and incarcerated at disproportionate rates today. Once incarcerated, California prison laborers are paid almost nothing for their labor. In addition they are regularly exposed to extreme weather conditions, abusive supervisors, and unsafe work environments.

      Over the past two decades incarceration has become one of America’s top growth industries—an industry replete with Wall Street investors, trade exhibitions, conventions, and scholarly journals. Most prisoners work as clerks,...

    • 63 Freedom Gon’ Come
      (pp. 326-327)
      Cassandra Adams

      Freedom . . . the word was a constant in my world for 11 years

      What I cried about

      dream about

      prayed for

      schemed for

      got mad and wanted to fight about

      What motivated me to go to college

      What made me mentor little girls

      because I knew I could help some body because I had a story to tell

      Freedom was going to let me do that

      but it’s just a word—one that has no true meaning because each individual defines the word freedom

      Foolish I thought freedom would come with parole

      but instead I realize I was...

    • 64 Reducing the Number of People in California’s Women’s Prisons: How “Gender-Responsive Prisons” Harm Women, Children, and Families
      (pp. 328-331)
      Californians United for a Responsible Budget

      In April 2007, Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) published a report titledReducing the Number of People in California’s Women’s Prisons: How “Gender Responsive Prisons” Harm Women, Children, and Families.CURB describes this report as responding “to a dangerous and controversial policy that would expand the capacity of California’s women’s prison system—already the largest prison system for women in the world—by up to 40% in two years.”

      Below is a summary of the CURB report. Following this piece is an interview with Cynthia Chandler, founder and codirector of Justice Now, a California-based organization dedicated to ending...

    • 65 The Gender-Responsive Prison Expansion Movement
      (pp. 332-337)
      Cynthia Chandler

      On April 4, 2007, Cynthia Chandler of Justice Now participated in a conversation with Cara Page, then executive director of the Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment; Loretta Ross, executive director of Sister Song; and Rickie Solinger, coeditor ofInterrupted Life.This chapter is an edited version of Cynthia’s critique of what Justice Now and others are calling “the gender-responsive prison expansion movement,” a development that Chandler explains must be opposed. Loretta Ross provides a perspective on the relationship between the work of the reproductive justice and prison abolition movements.

      California is the first state to adopt a commission...

    • 66 Free Battered Women
      (pp. 338-340)
      Linda Field and Andrea Bible

      Of the nearly 12,000 women incarcerated in California’s state prisons in 2007, the vast majority have survived physical, sexual, emotional, and economic abuse by an intimate partner before entering prison. Hundreds of abuse survivors are serving life sentences after defending themselves and/or their children from abusive partners, being forced by batterers to commit or confess to crimes, or being held responsible for their abusive partners’ violence against their children. A disproportionate number are women of color whose efforts to gain and maintain a sense of safety for themselves and their children were systematically blocked by the institutional racism and other...

    • 67 Life’s Imprint
      (pp. 341-341)
      Michele Molina

      Abuse takes the color out of life.

      All that is left is a gray and bleak existence.

      The pain struggles to come to the surface while it searches for an outlet to express itself.

      The world says the pain is a lie, because no outward scars are visible.

      Look into her eyes, and they won’t lie to you.

      There’s the abuser standing at the doorway to her soul.

      No amount of years will ever erase that memory.

      Help her believe in herself and become whole again....

    • 68 Testimony of Kemba Smith before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
      (pp. 342-345)

      Members of the Commission, my name is Kemba Smith, and only a little over five years ago, I was identified by an inmate number, and today I am speaking on behalf of those currently incarcerated, those who are in district court today, and for those in the future who are being sentenced under federal mandatory minimum drug sentences.

      Three days before Christmas 2000, President Bill Clinton commuted my sentence of 24.5 years for [a] drug conspiracy charge. If he had not done so, this morning, instead of talking to you, I would still be in federal prison until the year...

    • 69 Keeping Families Connected: Women Organizing for Telephone Justice in the Face of Corporate-State Greed
      (pp. 346-351)
      Lauren Melodia and Annette Warren Dickerson

      When a woman is incarcerated, how does she maintain contact with loved ones? When an incarcerated woman is a mother, where do her children go and how does she continue to play a role in their lives? In New York, under the Adoption and Safe Families Act, a woman who is forced to place her children in foster care during her incarceration can lose her parental rights in as little as fifteen months if she cannot maintain consistent contact with her children or adequately “plan for their future.” However, maintaining consistent contact is physically impossible for the majority of incarcerated...

    • 70 Prick Poison
      (pp. 352-354)
      Kinnari Jivani

      So . . .

      you’re listening through the wall

      listen carefully

      I am speaking directly to you

      and if you need visual

      of what I look like

      I look like you

      may be shade lighter or darker

      a gender on left or right

      With culture from north or west

      south or east

      but I look like you

      laugh, sob, breathe, grow like you

      you see, I am human, too

      society labels me “criminal”

      if you too keep seeing me distantly then this wall will grow

      tall and fat So you’re listening through the wall

      listen carefully

      my life clogged when...

    • 71 The Prison-Industrial Complex in Indigenous California
      (pp. 355-360)
      Stormy Ogden

      I write this essay from the position of a California Indian woman, a tribal woman, recognized as a member of the Tule River Yokuts tribe, also Kashaya Pomo. I also write as an ex-prisoner of the state of California housed at the California Rehabilitation Center, located in Norco. While there, I was influential in forming the prison’s first American Indian women’s support group, along with the first women’s sweat lodge built at a state prison in California. I am also a survivor of colonization by the European powers, against the original peoples of these lands and especially the indigenous nations...

    • 72 A Prison Journal
      (pp. 361-362)
      Tammica Summers

      I walk into the chow hall, and the usual and familiar stench of a dead animal of some sort slaps me in the face. I squinch my face up and make that ugly face that I’ve become so accustomed to making. The ladies who are serving on the line look exhausted and seriously perturbed because of it. The sergeant on seating and feeding patrol is his usual arrogant, pompous self, frantically screaming out various commands: “There should be no talking in the chow line . . . There shouldn’t be any talking on that serving line . . . There...


    • [PART EIGHT. Introduction]
      (pp. 363-366)

      IN HER GLOSSARY OF TERMS IN THE FIRST SECTION of this volume, Tina Reynolds describes profound problems with the now-ubiquitous termreentry.Reynolds points out that this word is typically employed in a way that does not pay attention to “how the person who has been in conflict with the law is perceived by society. Most important,” Reynolds points out, “reentrydoes not acknowledge this truth: a person needs to know that she is welcomed and invited in order to reenter successfully.”

      The pieces in this section circle around the consequences that plague women who leave prison only to find...

    • 73 A Former Battered Woman Celebrating Life After
      (pp. 367-373)
      Lorrie Sue McClary

      “All right, thank you. I want to note for the record that everyone who was previously in the room and identified themselves have returned to the room. And Ms. McClary, the panel has reviewed all of the following circumstances including that you are suitable for parole and would not pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society or a threat to public safety if released from prison . . . ”

      “Inmate McClary, you have legal mail. The full Board of Prison Terms has decided that you are suitable for parole and is in agreement with the Panel’s decision. The...

    • 74 Life on the Outside—of What?
      (pp. 374-376)
      Alfreda Robinson-Dawkins

      When I think back to the nine and a half years that the federal government snatched from me, seeking to enforce a “conspiracy” charge, I still get a little mad! There was a conspiracy all right, one that the government has against people who seek an honest trial by a jury of their peers, an attorney who actually uses ethics and principles to guide decisions, and a judge who can accurately mete out a sentence based on the actual role one may have played, and other pertinent life factors. How silly to think there was “justice,” as I watched them...

    • 75 California and the Welfare and Food Stamps Ban
      (pp. 377-378)
      All of Us or None

      California is one of seventeen states that deny welfare and food stamps for life to people who were convicted of a drug felony after August 22, 1996. As a result of this policy, more than 2,289 people in need in Alameda County who have applied for food stamps have been denied. An unacceptable 77.8 percent of people denied these benefits are African American.

      The lifetime ban on welfare and food stamps for people convicted of a drug felony harms our community. By taking away the supports that former prisoners need to make the transition from prison, our government encourages recidivism,...

    • 76 Employment Resolution: Human Rights Commission of the City and County of San Francisco
      (pp. 379-380)
      All of Us or None

      WHEREAS people with criminal records suffer from pervasive discrimination in many areas of life—employment, housing, education, and eligibility for many forms of social benefits;

      WHEREAS at least 13 million people nationwide experience lifelong discrimination because of past felony convictions, and California incarcerates and releases more people per capita than any other state, resulting in large numbers of people whose backgrounds include past criminal activity and/or imprisonment;

      WHEREAS many people who have been convicted of offenses in other states have moved to California to begin their lives anew;

      WHEREAS 55,000 people are booked into San Francisco County jails annually with...

    • 77 Only with Time
      (pp. 381-384)
      Tina Reynolds

      I had turned another corner in my life. Before I could process what this meeting might mean for moving forward in my life, arrangements had been made. I was on my way to see Danielle, my third daughter, who lives in New Jersey. She was twenty four; it had been twenty years since I’d seen her. I was in my Volkswagen, driving through the Holland Tunnel toward New Jersey, feeling this vast silence. I was trying to avoid feeling emotions, and then it dawned on me the car was silent too, so I turned on the radio, but the silence...

    • 78 Child of a Convicted Felon
      (pp. 385-387)

      At first I didn’t notice or understand my parents’ wrongdoings. To me they looked normal. I didn’t see my father often, but when I did, I admired his flashiness and liked the presents he brought. My mom, on the other hand, was my best friend. She taught me everything from gymnastics to the catchy hand game “Down, Down, Baby.” She braided my hair and painted my nails every Sunday.

      I noticed the glares my grandmother gave my mom when she was with me and I heard her mumble that I would get hurt in the end, and I did get...

    • 79 Mothering after Imprisonment
      (pp. 388-391)
      Margaret Oot Hayes

      A National Institute of Corrections study recently reported that nearly 85 percent of mothers in prison plan to live with their children when they are released. The fact is, the obstacles to this plan are huge for most women and include lack of support for substance abuse problems, unmet medical and mental health needs, unresolved issues related to trauma and abuse, a lack of educational and occupational opportunities, the need for safe and affordable housing, the impact of extended separation from their children, and specific challenges relating to intimate and family relationships, social functioning, physical and mental health status, and...

    • 80 Being about It: Reflections on Advocacy after Incarceration
      (pp. 392-397)
      Martha L. Raimon, Luz Alvarez, Sunshine Brooks, Casey Deas and Lorrayne Patterson

      The formerly incarcerated women that I, Martha, worked with in two advocacy programs at the Women’s Prison Association and Home (WPA) and at the Women in Prison Project (WIPP) of the Correctional Association of New York dramatically demonstrate the power of Marianne Williamson’s words through their commitment to personal and political change.

      The two workshops seek similar outcomes. The goal of WPA’s program, the Women’s Advocacy Project (WAP), is to develop leaders able to craft solutions to the many-faceted challenges facing incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women. Similarly, ReConnect, part of WIPP, trains women in advocacy and leadership, seeking to provide...

    • 81 The First Time Is a Mistake . . .
      (pp. 398-399)
      Patricia Zimmerman

      “The first time is a mistake; the second time is intentional . . . ”

      This is a phrase that we often use within the prison community when we’re talking about someone getting “locked up” again. I shared those thoughts while behind walls. Yet when I was released in December of 2002, I realized how serious parole supervision was, along with the whole process of reentry.

      I have watched friends go back to jail and prison for so many reasons: problems at home, problems with the parole officer, problems with a spouse or lover. “The money wasn’t flowing right,” or...

    • 82 What Life Has Been Like for Me Since Being on the Outside
      (pp. 400-401)
      Freda Swinney

      I served eight and a half years in prison, and I’ve been home ten months. There was so much for me to learn about life all over again. I had to learn how use modern technology; I had to learn how to cope with relationships.

      Technology changes every day, but still I thought that things would not have changed very much by the time I got out of prison. Some things seem similar when it comes to technology; for instance, software programs have the same kinds of menus and editing tools. ATM machines are the same. But the Internet amazed...

    • 83 Alternatives: ATI in New York City
      (pp. 402-405)
      Alexandra Bell and Leche

      When Leche and I first meet, it is a scorching hot day on the long strip that divides Allen Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan—a strip known as “the island” to many drug users who frequent the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center. The area is familiar to Leche, but today she visits as something of a graduate. She’s been clean now for three years. She has squeezed me between appointments with her counselors—both mandated by her enrollment in an Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) program. On her last bid in prison, the conclusion of which would...

    • 84 Violent Interruptions
      (pp. 406-411)
      Noelle Paley and Joshua Price

      “Three parole officers in a vehicle roll up on me; none of them was even my parole officer. When I looked in the truck, I saw a baby seat and asked what that was for. They told me, ‘It’s so when we violate you, we can take your daughter.’ They have me off balance, unsure. I never know what is going to happen. I’m not going to run from parole, but I don’t answer the door until after curfew.” Candis Henderson, a young black parolee in our hometown, Binghamton, New York, then tells us of yet another time she was...

    • 85 Prison Abolition in Practice: The LEAD Project, the Politics of Healing, and A New Way of Life
      (pp. 412-418)
      Setsu Shigematsu, Gwen D’Arcangelis and Melissa Burch

      In 1982, in a residential neighborhood in Los Angeles, a speeding police car hit a five-year-old boy and killed him. Susan Burton, the mother of the little boy, experienced the agony of losing her son because of this preventable “police incident.” Without a supportive family or community around her, and with a police force that failed to offer even an apology for killing her son, her loss, added to the already-difficult factors in Susan’s life, had a devastating effect. Turning to means deemed illegal by the state to lessen her pain and grief resulted in Susan’s imprisonment on drug-related charges....

    • 86 Booking It beyond the Big House
      (pp. 419-425)
      Jean Trounstine

      Theresa hid behind a baseball cap and slouched low in her chair. “I liked the story,” she said, eyes fleeing my face. I smiled. We both knew she was an unlikely person to be in the Middlesex Community College president’s office, a former addict and alcoholic, recently arrested. But there she was, with a probation officer (PO), six other probationers, and the judge who’d sentenced them to the Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) women’s seminar. Sitting around an oblong table, we had come together for our first session, and we’d just finished reading aloud Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing.”...

    • 87 Being Out of Prison
      (pp. 426-428)
      Joanne Archibald

      I went from prison to a halfway house, an awful place. It was designed for people who were going to be there for a couple of years, so you had a system of levels. I was never able to get past second level, so I wasn’t able to get passes to stay out overnight or anything like that. The staff there was unbelievably petty and not supportive of me spending time with my son, David.

      I had to go out and find a job, and every place I went, the first thing I had to do was hand them this...

    (pp. 429-434)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 435-458)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 459-459)