Archive | June, 2011

Ashley Lucas to Give Keynote Performance at NWSA Conference in Atlanta on Nov. 12, 2011

25 Jun

The National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) has invited me to perform my one-woman play, Doin’ Time: Through the Visiting Glass, at the 2011 conference this November, and Jodie and I will both be at the conference to promote Razor Wire Women.  The two of us and Razor Wire Women itself have very special connections to the NWSA because this organization provided Jodie and me with the opportunity to guest edit the Summer 2008 special issue of the NWSA Journal (now known as Feminist Formations).  The submissions we received for that special issue became the basis for RWW, and now we have this extraordinary opportunity to tell members of the NWSA about our book at the conference.  A little more on the NWSA itself:

With nearly 2,500 members worldwide, NWSA leads the field of women’s studies in educational and social transformation. The conference theme will focus on feminist transformations—how much has feminist scholarship transformed the academy and society, and how much has feminism been transformed by the academy and society. You can learn more about the theme and the Call for Proposals at www.nwsa.org/conference.

We anticipate about 1,600 attendees and over 300 presentations, an extensive book exhibit and many exciting special events [at the 2011 conference].

Doin’ Time: Through the Vising Glass will be performed from 7 to 9 PM on Saturday, November 12, 2011. The event will take place in the downtown Sheraton Atlanta (165 Courtland Street, Atlanta, Georgia 30303) in the Grand Ballroom from 7-9 PM, and Jodie and I will both be on hand for a book signing of Razor Wire Women following the performance.  Jodie and I invite all Razor Wire Women contributors who  attend the conference to help us promote the book following the performance.  Please let us know if you plan to attend.

Here’s a little more information about the play:

Doin’ Time: Through the Visiting Glass

written and performed by Ashley Lucas

directed by Joseph Megel

Doin’ Time: Through the Visiting Glass examines the impact of incarceration on families.  Ashley Lucas, the child of an incarcerated father, conducted interviews in California, Texas, and New York with prisoners’ family members, former prisoners, and people who do work connected to prisons.  She also corresponded with over 400 prisoners from across the U.S.  Weaving together these interviews and letters with her personal experience as a prisoner’s child and creative writing, Lucas wrote a one-person show which she performs herself.  Doin’ Time uses monologues, voice overs, and video cto take the audience through a variety of perspectives on the families of the incarcerated.  Since 2004, Lucas has performed Doin’ Time both inside and outside prisons throughout the U.S. and in Ireland.  The play runs one hour and fifteen minutes and is always followed by an audience discussion.

From Jodie Lawston: Mary Thompson on “rehabilitation,” budget cuts and Three Strikes

20 Jun

With the ongoing “budget crisis” across the country, education and rehabilitative programs in prisons are disappearing.  This is particularly difficult for people in women’s prisons, as women’s prisons already had significantly fewer programs than men’s prisons.  Mary Thompson, a woman incarcerated in California who also took my writing workshop, writes of the struggles of being incarcerated with few arenas for rehabilitation:

Since education and substance abuse programs were cut to almost nothing in the prison system, the effects on inmates have been drastic.  My question to those in charge is how can you call the prison system, “California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation” when you cut all of the rehabilitation programs?  Without education and substance abuse programs many will fall back into the behavior that got them in prison in the first place.  Even the programs we have left are often cut or cancelled, due to lack of space.

Mary continues, reflecting on her own pathway and achievements despite the lack of support in the prison system:

Thank God for outside entities.  I have been able to further my education for these 16 plus years.  Presently, I am two courses away from a Doctorate in Christian Counseling.  But, it was not without great struggle and setbacks.

I have been incarcerated for over 16 years of a 25-life sentence for a theft charge.  It amazes me that the system would prefer to pay $50,000 a year to incarcerate me (and thousands more) for a crime that carried three years tops without the Three Strikes Law.  Not all of us are violent, predators, or someone to fear.  To look at my criminal life you would think, “Oh, she has a robbery on her record.”  No one knows that this charge took place 14 years prior to the nonviolent charge that struck me out—that I turned myself in—that I never physically hurt anyone—that my criminal history is much shorter than many who use prison as a revolving door year after year—that I am one of the most nonviolent people you will ever meet.  It seems no one realizes it would have been cheaper for the state of California to treat my drug addiction than to incarcerate me for life.  I have, however, graduated from the substance abuse program before its demise.  I went on to become a peer mentor in the program.  After taking several courses outside the institution, I became a Certified Drug Counselor.  I truly believe I could be of more use to society on the outside.  I would certainly be cheaper.

Thank you, Mary, for sharing your story and for voicing yourself!  We live in solidarity with you as we continue to raise awareness about all of the women inside, and the injustices that you face on a daily basis.

From Jodie Lawston: Letters from Jane Dorotik and Je’Anna Redwood

19 Jun

I received letters today from Jane Dorotik and Je’Anna Redwood, two of our contributors to Razor Wire Women.  Both Jane and Je’Anna are incarcerated in California and took my writing workshop a few years ago; out of this workshop emerged Je’Anna’s essay “The Voice of Silence,” which is chapter 2 of RWW, and Jane’s essay, “The Prison Mentality,” which is chapter 9 of RWW.  Both Je’Anna and Jane write that they are thrilled to be part of the book, emphasizing that they feel it is important that incarcerated women’s experiences be told to the world.  Additionally, Jane writes:

What a great book!  It is an honor to be part of it and I feel like it is so very valuable for the public to become informed about our prison system.  The book is filled with eye-opening revelations about incarcerated women and the struggles they endure.  I believe with publications such as Razor Wire Women, society will become informed and then become active in reversing this shameful trend.  The more we can inform the public about what goes on behind prison walls, the more likely it is that society will rise up and say, “No, this is shameful, we will not tolerate it.”  Thank you so much for such an important book.

Thank you, Jane and Je’Anna, for being a part of this project!

Renita Phifer: The Archbishop Visits

17 Jun

The following poem was written by RWW contributor Renita Phifer after Catholic Archbishop Timothy J. Dolan visited Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in 2009.

The Archbishop visits Bedford Hills Correctional Facility

Who am I
I’m told, I’m no one
My number defines me
And allows for their abusive
Actions.

Does the archbishop know
They can hit me, verbally abuse me,
Violate me without provocation
My number means my name is taken from me.
And without a name I’m removed
From humanity—
An inmate, convict, not a person
Yet when visitors come concrete
Is waxed!

C.O.’s paint on smiles and put on dress uniforms—
There’s a pretense of care Commissioner Fisher
Arrives and inmates become a part of humanity.

Let’s all sing cum ba ya, the Archbishop
Is here pull out the red carpet
–Symbolic—for their infamy—
As it symbolizes the bloodshed of
My peers beaten bloody by batons and
Subjection.

Does the Archbishop know about that, and
After his visit—I’m told I’m no one!

Ashley Lucas: Women Inside Bedford Hills Correctional Facility Respond to Razor Wire Women

16 Jun

Renita Phifer, one of RWW’s incarcerated contributors, shared our book with her peers in the women’s studies program at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York State.  The following is an excerpt from a letter she wrote to me on May 15, 2011:

Dear Ashley,

I hope this finds you and Jodie well.  As for me, I’m still floating on a spiritual high about being included in Razor Wire Women.  I’m enclosing a card that contains only a few names of the women who read and were touched.  Rev. B— also read Razor Wire Women and will have church members read/purchase/spread the word to other churches and family and coworkers.

The college in the prison will require permission to utilize the book.  However, the student volunteers who come to Bedford for seminars, etc. have committed to push for its usage on the outside.  J

Renita is a contributor to Just Detention International’s Advocacy Toolkit, and she has collaborated with people at Human Rights Watch, National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, Out of Time, and A Thousand Kites.  She knits scarves and hats for members of the U.S. military and is a tireless advocate for other women in prison.  Her letter continues:

… It’s my advocacy work that causes me to continuously be under attack by officers and administration, but I press on because it must be done!  In fact since receipt of the book I’ve received two bogus infractions charges for correspondence.  J  I will not be moved—as I’ve grown accustomed to being placed in segregation and keeplocked.  I’ve been removed from honor unit three times already, and it appears they seek to do it again.  Yet I fear them not, and will always find a way to give a voice to the voiceless.

In solidarity,
Renita Phifer

Renita’s letter included a card signed by a dozen other women at Bedford Hills.  These are some of their words:

Thank you for giving the graduating class of 2011 a chance of reading that wonderful book about our lives.

Bless you all for allowing our words to be heard.

When I read different things in the book, it touched my heart.  Thank you for giving me the chance.

Thank you for your great help to express our voice to help people to see us as human, as women fighting for our rights and our freedom.

I wish to humbly express my gratitude for giving voice to Ms. Phifer’s story/essay because it is an important situation that gets swept under the rug and hushed.  Ms. Phifer, and now you, Ashley, has only strengthened my resolve in this place.

After 15 years, one begins to wonder if one has the strength and courage needed to continue.  I continue to learn that I do.  Thank you.

To Renita/Ashley, I applaud you for your courage in speaking out about the injustice behind prison walls.  I offer my thanks, and I am particularly grateful for your insight of the important issues that have been silenced through the years for society to become finally aware of.  You are the voice for the voiceless.  Thank you.

I will always feel honored to have worked with you on this project.

-Renita

In response to this outpouring of warmth and generosity, I extend my deepest gratitude and admiration to Renita and the women of Bedford Hills.  It is because of your strength, your bravery, and your willingness to speak out that the scholars and activists who wish to advocate for women in prison are able to do our work.

Ashley Lucas: Reflections on the VIII Taller Internacional: Mujeres en el Siglo XXI, hosted by the Women’s Studies Department at the University of Havana, Cuba

15 Jun

When a colleague of Jodie’s told us about this conference sponsored by the University of Havana, we recognized an excellent opportunity to promote Razor Wire Women and to engage in international conversations about incarcerated women.  As it turned out, this was also the first opportunity we had to speak publicly about the book.  What more auspicious occasion could we have hoped for than an international conference to launch a year of speaking engagements?

Since the theme of the Havana conference was rather broad—loosely translated as “Women in the Twenty-First Century”—we were the only presenters whose work touched on incarceration.  We had adapted a good portion of the introduction of Razor Wire Women and combined it with an overview of the book.  Our presentation basically provided a rundown of the pertinent statistics on women’s incarceration in the U.S., along with the reasons why we feel it’s so important to bring the voices of prisoners, activists, scholars, and artists into the same conversation.  The audience for our panel consisted of about fifteen Cuban women—presumably scholars—who seemed both surprised and disconcerted by the content of our talk.  As we spoke, several of the spectators wore truly horrified looks.  This confused me as we talked, and I began to wonder if I was doing a bad job of translating myself into Spanish—something I’d decided to do off the cuff when I heard how much detail our appointed translator was losing as she restated Jodie’s opening remarks.  We came to believe that translation was not the source of our audience’s apparent shock.

We learned that the Cuban government provides absolutely no statistics and very little information about its prisons or those held within them.  Cubans do not even know how many prisons exist in their country, much less how many people are incarcerated on the island.  International human rights organizations have been unable to attain even the most basic data about, much less access to, Cuban prisons, and discussion of incarceration among Cubans appears to be a taboo subject because people have so little information and so much fear.

Only one woman in the audience asked us a question after our presentation.  She wanted to know the ages of girls in youth detention facilities in the U.S.  Jodie responded to her question, and we took our seats.  After our panel ended, two women who had heard our talk approached us in the hallway of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba (Havana’s most luxurious hotel), where the conference was taking place.  They asked us about the conditions women face in U.S. prisons, and as soon as we began to respond, they pulled out handheld voice recorders and taped our answers to their questions.  The whole situation felt very strange, but we didn’t say anything that wasn’t already in our book.  After they exhausted their questions, one woman thanked us and walked away without identifying herself.  The other told us she was studying journalism at the University of Havana.  We’ve since wondered if we appeared in any news reports at the university, but we have no way of finding out.

Our trip to Havana raised more questions for us than it did answers, but we are very grateful to have had the opportunity to speak about Razor Wire Women in a country where public conversations about women’s incarceration seldom take place.  Being in a place where censorship is common and where a book like Razor Wire Women could not have been published reminded us of the urgency of the work that razor wire women are doing all over the globe.  One of our book’s contributors, Ana Lucia Gelabert, was born in Cuba and now writes activist comics from inside a Texas prison.  We dedicate this trip and our talk at this conference to her life and work.

This is just the beginning!  Jodie recently spoke about the book on a radio show in California, and I gave a talk about the book at my home university (UNC Chapel Hill).  We’ll speak on a panel with RWW contributor Sara Warner at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education conference in Chicago in August, and later that same month we’ll be in Las Vegas promoting the book at the American Sociological Association conference and the Society for the Study of Social Problems conference.  Check out the “Appearances” tab on this website for a full listing of all the places that you can find RWW contributors speaking about the book.  We hope to see you in our travels!

Jodie Lawston discusses RWW on Blog Talk Radio

8 Jun

Check it out.

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