Painter and poster artist Malaquias Montoya, famous for his contributions to the Chicano Art Movement of the ’60s and ’70s, was kind enough to let his painting Ruth Snyder appear in Razor Wire Women. Ruth Snyder is part of Montoya’s series PreMeditated: Meditations on Capital Punishment. (Also appearing in this series: The Rosenbergs; Jesus Christ). Despite his prestigious career and deep back catalogue, he remains committed to activist causes and has shown great personal kindness again and again to the book’s co-editor, my wife, Ashley Lucas. His presence honors the book.
Just found this from the War Resisters League: “Six Ways for People on the Outside to Support Women’s Resistance on the Inside.”
- Make contact with women in prison. “Visits, phone calls, and letter writing are essential. Only with a firm foundation, a strong foundation, can we together be able to build a greater movement,” says a woman incarcerated in Florida.
- Speak out about these issues, especially when they intersect with issues that are considered “non-prison” issues.
- Send literature and news from the outside.
- Write articles about women prisoners’ issues, experiences, and actions, or publish their articles.
- Peer education groups need up-to-date information on health issues and treatments! They need outside people who are willing to provide services not available (but much needed) within the prison.
- If you are connected to a university or other educational institution, look into setting up a women’s studies course or other program within a women’s prison that helps articulate and challenge the dominant ways of thinking and the power structure.
If you’re thinking about doing Item Six, we just might be able to suggest a decent textbook … 🙂
A valuable piece by Victoria Law, who is the outside publisher of Tenacious and the author of Resistance Behind Bars. (More about both of those here or just look at the sidebar.) She narrates an entire secret history of fighting back in women’s prisons, beginning with the August 1974 rebellion at Bedford Hills:
IN 1974, WOMEN IMPRISONED at New York’s maximum-security prison at Bedford Hills staged what is known as the August Rebellion. Prisoner organizer Carol Crooks had filed a lawsuit challenging the prison’s practice of placing women in segregation without a hearing or 24-hour notice of charges. In July, a court had ruled in her favor. In August, guards retaliated by brutally beating Crooks and placing her in segregation without a hearing. The women protested, fighting off guards, taking over several sections of the prison, and holding seven staff members hostage for two and a half hours.
(Note: My linking to this piece is not meant to valorize rioting or hostage-taking. I wouldn’t want to be one of those seven guards. Nor for that matter would I want to be Carol Crooks after the guards finished beating her. Which is kind of the point.)
Jodie Lawston and Ashley Lucas appeared last week to read from the book’s introduction, “Las representaciones de Estados Unidos: las mujeres encarceladas,” at a conference in Cuba! Thanks to the organizers of VIII Taller Internacional: Mujeres en el Siglo XXI, hosted by the Women’s Studies Department at the University of Havana, Cuba, for hosting them, and hopefully we’ll feature some excerpts from Jodie and Ashley’s adventures in Cuba here on the blog over the next few weeks.
Anyone interested in issues surrounding women’s incarceration should be aware of Northern Arizona University sociologist Kathleen Ferraro’s work. Her 2006 book Neither Angels Nor Demons: Women, Crime, and Victimization (Northeastern) is an incredibly important contribution to the debate. (It was even reviewed, by your friendly neighborhood blogger, no less, in the Lawston-and-Lucas-edited issue of NWSA Journal that became, after much labor, Razor Wire Women.) Her most recent book is Women’s Lives. Her work is devoted to showing the complexity of the paths by which women become subject to the criminal-justice system: being physically forced to participate in illegal activity; killing an abuser/stalker/potential murderer after repeated refusals by local police to enforce restraining orders; etc. The stories she tells almost always belie the extremely simple terms by which we then refer to these women: murderers, inmates, trash. Ferraro’s work reveals such women as neither angels nor demons, but people.
(Tongue-in-cheek aside: If Ferraro ever wishes to study male antisocial behavior, she could do worse than turn her keen sociologist’s attention to the law enforcement professionals and legislature of the state where she lives and teaches. Their bizarre and aggressive behavior shows a much more profound resistance to explanation than most acts committed by women in prison.)
(Second tongue-in-cheek aside: I bet Kathleen Ferraro hears that joke a lot.)
I didn’t learn of this story until I was doing some other research for this blog. But a Mother Jones reporter posted the following to his blog in November, 2010:
A prisoner at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute at Norfolk recently wrote to me to report the existence of a “sex for information’’ ring run by guards within the prison. He says the existence of this hitherto unknown operation is responsible for the state’s high number of prison suicides. The inmate suicide rate in Massachusetts is four times the national average, with eight suicides this year alone–including one in June at MCI-Norfolk, the state’s largest medium-security prison, which also had two high-profile suicides last year. The prisoner, who says he has become the advocate for others too frightened of retaliation to talk, himself fears retaliation from within the prison.
Go read the whole piece–it’s disturbing, but, being thinly sourced and inconclusive, it also raises more questions than answers. Hopefully MoJo (or someone else) will do some follow-up. If anyone has any information they might contact the MoJo reporter, James Ridgeway.
Western Michigan University sociologist Angela Moe contributes a harrowing chapter to Razor Wire Women on women’s mental-health care in jail; the title, If I Wasn’t Suicidal, That’ll Drive You to It–a quote from one of her research subjects–tells the story. Much of her other work focuses on the ways women are victimized by patriarchal battering, law enforcement, the health-care complex, the corrections industry, and by the complex interplay between all three. This article, “Like a Prison!”, extends her critique by comparing the experiences of homeless shelter users to those of the imprisoned. (Having worked for a year at a major Midwestern homeless shelter, I certainly think this comparison deserves to be made!)
Her more recent work examines US cultural assumptions surrounding belly-dancing. (No one survives Michigan winters without an excellent indoor exercise routine of some kind.) Her forthcoming Beyond the Belly(Dance): The Transformative Effects of an Ancient Art will use ethnographic research “to attest to the multidimensional, interconnected and holistic benefits of this dance form.” More of the valuable eclecticism that characterizes RWW contributors.