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.

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