Radical media, politics and culture.

Prisons & Prisoners

Sexual Abuse

A far greater problem for women prisoners than male prisoners is the sexual
aggression of male corrections officers. In 1996, international human rights
group Human Rights Watch released All Too Familiar, a report documenting sexual
abuse of women prisoners throughout the United States. The report, reflecting
two-and-a-half years of research, found that sexual assaults, abuse and rape of
women prisoners by male correctional employees were common and that women who
complained incurred write-ups, loss of "good time" accrued toward an early
parole and/or prolonged periods in disciplinary segregation.1 In 1994, the
U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation of two women's prisons in
Michigan and found that "nearly every womaninterviewed reported various
sexually aggressive acts of guards."2 These instances included not only rape
and sexual assault, but the mistreatment of prisoners impregnated by guards,
abusive pat frisks and other body searches and violations of privacy, including
searches of the toilet and shower areas and surveillance during medical
appointments. One pregnant inmate was escorted by two male officers while in
labor. The two men handcuffed her to the bed in the delivery room and then
positioned themselves where they could view her genital area and make
derogatory comments throughout her delivery.3

The case of Heather Wells, an inmate at Washington Corrections Center for
Women, illustrates not only the prevalence of sexual assault but also the
prison system's treatment of mothers. In December 1996, Wells was raped and
impregnated by a guard in the prison laundry room. She charged the guard with
rape but, even after a paternity test proved her claim, the state of Washington
did not file charges. Instead, the guard was allowed to quit his job and move
out of state. Only weeks after the baby was born, she was taken from Wells and
placed in a foster home.4 This callousness in separating a mother and her
newborn infant is commonplace in most women's prisons, reflecting the attitude
that incarcerated women have forfeited their rights (and feelings) as mothers.5

Unlike the sexual predation in male prisons, the perpetrators in female
facilities are usually those in a position of authority, such as guards and
other prison staff. This makes it impossible for women prisoners to form
protective groups like their male counterparts. Guards hold the keys to their
cells and are authorized to watch inmates, conduct full-body frisks and strip
searches, and enter cells at any time. Thus, the direct approaches of male
groups such as the Angola Three or Gay Men Against Sexism, male inmate groups
that bypass the administration by physically protecting weaker prisoners from
sexual predators, do not work for women who wish to stop the sexual harassment
and rape in their facility.

In the case of Barrilee Bannister, sentenced under Oregon's mandatory
sentencing law, she and seventy-eight other women were sent to a privatized,
all-male prison in Arizona run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
Not only were they separated from family and friends, but from any outside
support that could have prevented their sexual abuse. Only weeks after the
women's arrival, some were visited by a captain, who shared marijuana with
them. He left it with them and then returned with other officers who announced
that they were searching the cell for contraband. However, they promised that
if the women performed a strip tease, they would not search the cell. "Two of
the girls started stripping and the rest of us got pulled into it," Bannister
recalled. "From that day on, the officers would bring marijuana in, or other
stuff we were not suppose[d] to have, and the prisoners would perform [strip]
dances." From there, the guards became more aggressive, raping several of the
women. Bannister reported that she was not given food for four days until she
agreed to perform oral sex on a guard.6

Once out of segregation, Bannister called outside friends and told them her
story. They, in turn, informed the media. The media attention led to the
return of some of the women to Oregon, where they filed a federal suit,
resulting in a public apology, a promise of stricter rules concerning sexual
abuse, and the reimbursement of attorney's fees.7 The negative publicity also
led to the suspension and dismissal of three dozen CCA staff members.8

Bannister's story is unusual only in that the women themselves were able to
organize and obtain sufficient outside support to stop their abuse. Women
inmates who have been assaulted by prison staff usually lack the outside
support services which male prisoners may turn to. For instance, male inmates
raped by other inmates can turn to outside groups such as Stop Prisoner Rape
(started by an ex-inmate who was himself raped in prison). Women raped by
prison staff, on the other hand, face not only administrative harassment and
retaliation for complaining but also a lack of support services outside the
reach of the prison administration. Dawn Amos, herself having experienced
sexual misconduct, stated that when two women were physically and sexually
abused, they were transferred to a facility in Denver while the offending
officer remained, unreprimanded, on the job. In her own case, the District
Attorney has yet to press charges against the offending officer. "Im still in
the middle of trying to find an attorney to take my case," she stated.9 This
absence of a support network, both inside and out, not only mirrors but
magnifies the general lack of support for rape victims.



Sexual Abuse

1 Human Rights Watch Women's Project. All Too Familiar: Sexual Abuse of
Women in U.S. State Prisons
. Washington, DC: Human Rights Watch, 1996.

2 Ibid. 236-7. Cites letter from Deval Patrick, assistant attorney general,
U.S. Department of Justice, to John Engler, governor, Michigan. 27 March 1995.

3 Ibid. 248-9.

4 Cook, Christopher D. Parenti, Christian. "Rape Camp USA: The Epidemic of
Sexual Assault in Women's Prisons." Disbarred: The Journal of the National
Lawyers Guild Prison Law Project
, #16. 1.

5 This attitude is reflected in the 1977 Los Angeles County Department of
Adoptions vs. Hutchinson
decision. The court terminated a woman's parental
rights six months before her release from prison on the flimsy reasoning that
she was not going to be released immediately. (See Joycelyn Pollock-Byrne's
Women, Prison, and Crime. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Co., 1990.
177. Cites Los Angeles County Department of Adoptions vs. Hutchinson, No. 2
Civil 48729.)

6 Letter from Barrilee Bannister. Dated 21 June 2001.

7 Ibid.

8 Thaxton, Rob. "Red, White and Blue Fascism." Chain Reaction #5. 6-7

9 Letter from Dawn Amos. Dated 28 September 2001.



While women prisoners face issues not pertinent to male prisoners, they also
share issues. However, these similarities are often neglected. One issue
commonly overlooked when defining the issues of women prisoners is education.
Studies of the impact of education have traditionally focused on male inmates.
While education is not a particularly masculine concern, the omission of women
in these studies indicates that researchers do not perceive this as an
important issue for women.

However, such is not the case. In the 1970s, inmates participating in the
Santa Cruz Women's Prison Project, the first program to ever offer university
courses in a women's prison, demonstrated their eagerness for higher education.
In 1972, when Karlene Faith, one of its teachers and coordinators, was
temporarily banned from the prison, inmates organized a work strike and a
sit-in before the warden's office. Similarly, when the project was barred in
1973, the students circulated petitions, held work strikes and met with the
administration to protest the project's removal.1

In 1981, the administration at Bedford Hills finally agreed to observe
Powell v. Ward and set up a $125,000 "settlement fund" to be spent by the
prisoners for improvements at the prison.2 Inmates spent all of this fund on
educational tools: expansion of the library collection, books on
African-American history, the hiring of an educational consultant, computers
for business classes, and Spanish vocational classes.3 That the inmates chose
to spend exclusively on books and other educational materials shows that women,
like men, are often eager to learn.

More than a decade later, when the cuts in federal and state funding ended
prison college programs, the inmates at Bedford Hills worked with the prison
administration and representatives from various colleges and universities
throughout New York State to restore higher education programs. In 1996, they
succeeded in implementing College Bound, an undergraduate college program aimed
toward a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. Nearly thirty-three percent of
Bedford's inmates pay the equivalent of one month's wages to participate in
either the college or pre-college program.4 This fact alone should disprove
the unspoken notion that education is not an issue for incarcerated women.

Professor Michelle Fine, with the aid of eight Bedford inmates, conducted
interviews with College Bound participants, their children and correctional
staff. While her study focused mainly on the effect of education on
recidivism, she also observed that graduates have gone on to develop,
facilitate and evaluate prison programs addressing issues such as anger
management, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, sexual abuse,
parenting support and prenatal care.5 They have also gone on to help their
fellow inmates with their education. Martina Leonard, the executive assistant
to the president of Marymount Manhattan College, one of the colleges offering
courses to the College Bound program, recounted that former students
transferred to another New York State prison became "leadersTheyre tutors and
mentors to other students and they feel that just having that college program
at Bedford Hills has really allowed them to begin tohelp other people."6
Thus, the impact of higher education transforms womens self-perception from
passive objects and victims into active agents of both self-and social change.

Ironically, Fine observes that for many women, "prison has become a place for
intellectual, emotional and social growthA space free of male-violence, drugs
and overwhelming responsibilities, college-in-prison carves out a space which
nurtures a kind of growth and maturity that would perhaps not have been
realized on the outside."5 While Fine does not delve deeply into this issue,
it does suggest that women often are unable to focus on learning with the
myriad of responsibilities and distractions of the outside world. Most of the
women who attended the College Bound program from 1997 to 2000 came with past
histories of academic failure : Upon entering Bedford Hills, forty-three
percent had neither a high school diploma or GED ; twenty-one percent had a GED
and twenty-two percent a high school diploma ; and only fourteen percent had
some college credit.7

Other women have found ways to circumvent the 1994 Violent Crime Control and
Law Enforcement Act's prohibition of federal financing of prisoners' education.
Dawn Amos, for example, applied for and was awarded scholarships for college
courses despite her status as a prisoner.8

At the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, Ohio, a woman who had
participated in the facilitys Tapestry Therapeutic Community, a residential
drug and alcohol treatment program within the prison, recognized the need for
education. "Many of the women here have not had a chance to get their
education ; due to their drug addiction," she wrote. "In fact, some of us can
barley [sic] read." She proposed the idea of a book club "to instill the
importance of Education, and the joy of reading, and sharing with others" to
the Tapestry staff and, once her idea was approved, solicited book donations
from various books-to-prisoners programs.9 The books she requested from Books
Through Bars in New York City were surprising choices : feminist studies,
radical political analyses of the Israel/Palestine conflict, a political
biography and The Canterbury Tales.10 Thus, women find ways to further their
education despite the lack of governmental and institutional funding.




1 For a detailed account of the Santa Cruz Women's Prison Project, see Faith's
Unruly Women.

2 Powell v. Ward affirmed an inmate's right to due process during disciplinary

3 Diaz-Cotto, 351-2.

4 Fine, Michelle. Torre, Maria Elena. "The Impact of College Education on
Inmates in the New York State Region." Testimony to the New York State
Democratic Task Force on Criminal Justice Reform. Public Hearings. State Office
Building. Brooklyn, New York: 4 December 2000. 2.

5 Fine, Michelle et al. "Changing Minds : The Impact of College in a Maximum
Security Prison." Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
September 2001. http://www.changingminds.ws/04_results/07.html

6 Ibid. 20.

7 Fine, Michelle et al. "Changing Minds."
http://www.changingminds.ws/02_executivesummary/04 .html

8 Letter from Dawn Amos. Dated 7 April 2001.

9 Letter from Ohio Reformatory for Women to Books Through BarsNew York City.
Undated. Although there are various programs which send free books to
prisoners throughout the United States and Canada, only one exists specifically
for women. The other programs receive requests mostly from men, lending to the
belief that women prisoners neither organize nor network.

10 Letter from Ohio Reformatory for Women to Books Through BarsNew York City.
Dated 17 January 2002.


Prison Labor

With the explosion of critical literature about the prison-industrial
complex in the mid-1990s came a rising outcry about the use of prisoner labor.
Women prisoners, however, were once again overlooked by both academics and
activists in this debate.

When asked, women in prison state that there are very few job opportunities
available to them and that almost none of these jobs are for outside
corporations. They believe that male prisoners have access to better jobs and
better wages, in some cases actually receiving minimum wage for their efforts.
While in reality, male inmates often receive little, if any, pay for their
work, they often have a greater variety of jobs to choose from.

One of the common threads among women prisoners is that if they do work, the do
so at jobs considered "feminine," such as cooking, cleaning, clerking or
teaching. Male prisoners also do this type of work but, for the most part,
mens prisons have more job choice. In Oregon, where Measure Seventeen
mandates that all prisoners work, male inmates have access to jobs which
provide them with skills such as small engine repair, cabinetry, welding,
furniture making, plumbing and computer programming.1 They also have the
opportunity of working for the clothing manufacturer Prison Blues, which,
although eighty percent of an inmates earnings are withheld for incarceration
costs, victim restitution, family support and taxes, pays a starting wage of
$6.60 per hour. These jobs are so desirable among the (male) prisoner
population at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution that there is a three
year waiting list for an interview.2 Women prisoners, however, have been
excluded from this opportunity.

However, Barrilee Bannister observes that "most [of these] jobs are not
available to women prisoners."3 Bannister herself has not been assigned a job
because of her "attitude problem."4 The women who do have jobs do kitchen
work, cleaning and being orderlies.5 They are paid eight to eighty-four
dollars per month for their work, but the prices in commissary do not reflect
these wages. For instance, less than a months supply of toothpaste, soap,
shampoo and deodorant costs ten dollars.6 Thus, those making the minimum
salary often cannot afford to buy all of these items.

In the womens section of Canon City, Colorado, inmates fare little better.
All prisoners are required to either work or attend school. Until February
2002, the daily pay rates ranged from sixty-three cents to $2.53 for jobs such
as kitchen, laundry, housekeeping, maintenance, library, secretary and GED
teacher.7 Dawn Amos earned sixty-three cents for each of the four days she
worked scrubbing and buffing the floors. However, the prison administration
lowered inmate wages in March 2002. "I guess we were over budget or
something," Amos speculates. "Im sure thats a lie too cause the cops didnt
get a pay cut."8 As in Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, the prices in
Canon Citys canteen do not reflect the womens income and purchasing power.
One generic Tylenol costs forty cents; a stick of generic deodorant costs
ninety-six cents; the cheapest soap available can be the equivalent of a days
earningssixty-three cents. Specific feminine items, such as tampons, cost
$3.60 and must be saved for, even by those with the highest wage. There are no
free items: "[They] dont give indigent people things cause technically there
arent any indigent inmates thats why they pay us."9

Unlike women on the outside, the women at Canon City have virtually no job
mobility. Amos states that "if you want to leave a job for another one, it
doesnt mean you can, it all depends on if your boss wants to let you go or
not."10 Thus, efficiency on one job can work against the ability to transfer
to another.

Most women, unlike Amos, are unable to get a job. Kebby Warner in Michigan is
still on the waiting list. Although there are ninety-six women on her unit,
there are only fifteen jobs available to them. And, despite the lack of jobs
at Scott Correctional Facility, the parole board holds lack of employment
against applicants. Once an inmate is placed on a job, she must work at least
ninety days. If she is fired or quits before then, she is forced to stay in
her cell for thirty days and risks being ticketed for "Disobeying a Direct
Order" or "Out of Place."11 The hourly pay scale on her unit ranges from
seventy-four cents to $2.08. Those who work in food service earn even less:
seventeen and a half cents to thirty-two and a half cents per hours.12 Unlike
Amos and Bannister, Warner does not receive money from family on the outside.
Thus, to mail a letter, she irons other inmates clothes in exchange for
stamp(s).13 Other women who lack both jobs and outside support are given seven
dollars each month, which the prison takes out of any future funds they might

Not only do women have fewer job opportunities and little pay, they also
risk injury. At Dwight Correctional Center in Illinois, the average monthly
pay is fifteen to twenty dollars for forty hours of work per week.15 Women
working as seamstresses are paid "literally pennies by the piecework." Because
they are paid by the piece and the supervising staff is paid in proportion to
their workers output, "women rushing to make the cut-off day have injured
themselves on sewing machinessewing their fingers."16 Similar to the plight
of undocumented (female) workers in sweatshops, the inhumane conditions of
women prisons "industry" have garnered no attention or outcry from outside
groups and organizations.

Women are seldom offered what they perceive as the better, corporation-run
jobs. The Central California Womens Facility (CCWF) is one of the few
exceptions. Inmates work assembly-line jobs for Joint Venture Electronics.
They are paid $5.75 an hour for putting together electronics. However, after
the CDCs deductions for taxes, room and board, victim restitution, savings for
release and family support, they are credited only $1.15 to $2.30 to their
inmate account. Still, compared to a daily sixty-three cents or a monthly
eight to eighty-four dollars, their paycheck is considered high. One worker
stated that her electronics job was "a very good work opportunity." The other
workers also praised the program.17 The women were interviewed, however, at
the assembly line, presumably within earshot of the prison guards. What they
would have said about the program without fear of write-ups, pay docks or being
fired may have been different.

Work programs for women such as Joint Venture Electronics are still
relatively few. Because it is the best paying job at CCWF, Joint Venture has
the ability to refuse to hire women with disabilities.18 These programs not
only garner profits for corporations who save money on overhead, taxes,
vacation, sick leave, workers compensation and unemployment, but they also
keep prisoners from other, less desirable activities, such as organizing
against and/or disrupting the day-to-day operations of the prison.

Why have those studying and organizing around prison labor neglected the
female prison population? Perhaps it is because women prisoners themselves do
not list work as a priority. According to Juanita Diaz-Cotto and Chino Hardin,
former prisoner turned activist, womens first priority is release from
prison.19 Sexual abuse, inadequate medical care, education and separation from
children are also far more pressing issues than the lack of job opportunities
or minimum wage. This is not to say that women have never protested prison
laborin 1975, inmates at the North Carolina Correctional Center for Women
staged a five-day demonstration, specifically citing "oppressive working
atmospheres" as one of their concerns.20 And, just as outside workers have
used sabotage to express their dissatisfaction with labor conditions, women
prisoners can sometimes use their jobs to defy their captors. When Barrilee
Bannister was a cook in the kitchen of Oregon Womens Correctional Center, she
not only spit in the officers food but also showed her contempt for those
incarcerated for crimes against children by placing bugs in their food.21

Just as traditional womens work has been devalued and ignored by labor
groups and activists on the outside, when these same jobs are hidden behind
prison walls, they are even more easily overlooked and dismissed.



Prison Labor

1 Letter from Barrilee Bannister. Postmarked 4 April 2002.

2 Prison Blues. http://www.prisonblues.com

3 Letter from Barrilee Bannister. Undated.

4 Letter from Barrilee Bannister. Dated 2 March 2001.

5 Letter from Barrilee Bannister. Undated.

6 Letter from Barrilee Bannister. Dated 12 May 2001.

7 Letter from Dawn Amos. Dated 15 July 2001.

8 Letter from Dawn Amos. Dated 15 March 2002.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Letter from Kebby Warner. Dated 29 April 2002.

12 Attachment A to Policy Directive 05.02.110. Michigan Department of
Corrections. 16 July 2001.

13 Letter from Kebby Warner to Anthony Rayson. Dated 7 March 2002.

14 Letter from Kebby Warner. Dated 29 April 2002.

15 Letter from Dwight Correctional Center. Dated 2 January 2002.

16 Letter from Dwight Correctional Center. Dated 20 March 2002.

17 "Inside Jobs." http://www.newsport.sfsu.edu/s00/prisons/correctio ns1.html

18 Letter from CCWF. Dated 22 April 2002.

19 "Fighting Homophobia in the Prison-Industrial Complex." From Cell Blocks
to City Blocks: Building a Movement in Search of Freedom
. Conference at SUNY
Binghamton. Workshop presented 17 March 2002. Juanita Diaz-Cotto and Chino

20 Kurshan, Nancy. "Women and Imprisonment in the United States: History and
Current Reality." Monkeywrench Press. 25.

21 Letter from Barrilee Bannister. Postmarked May 2002.


Grievances, Lawsuits and the Power of the Media

Womens struggles to change their conditions often lie in filing grievances and
lawsuits rather than physically challenging or confronting prison officials.
In 1995, women at Central California Womens Facility at Chowchilla and at the
California Institution for Women at Frontera filed Shumate v. Wilson, a
class-action suit against the state demanding an immediate improvement to the
life-threatening medical care given to all women prisoners of the state.1 On
27 March 1996, seven women prisoners in Michigan filed a class-action lawsuit
on behalf of all women incarcerated in Michigan, charging the state's
Department of Corrections with sexual assault, sexual harassment, violations of
privacy, and physical threats and assaults.2 That both suits included women
prisoners throughout their respective states in their charges and demands
dismisses the assumption that there is no sense of solidarity among the
relatively few women prisoners.

Anarchist Black Crescent, Turkey writes


(Statement of Anarchist Black Crescent-Ankara)

On 1st of December 2001 in the meeting -- organized by (Usak) Labor Platform -- named "Meeting Against Economic Crisis" M. Ozgur Kucuktekin, S. Serkan Kazak and Onur Ayaz were taken by the police with the claim of distributing a leaflet titled as "No To War and Capitalism!" and signed as Usak Anarsist Otonomu (Usak Anarchist Autonomy). Later Rahmi Tiril and A. Serkan Tomar were also brought to Usak Security and after spending two days under psychological and physical torture 5 anarchists were forced to sign the testimonies written by the cops including the claim of 'illegal terror organization'.

Anonymous Comrade writes, "Here's an update from the New York Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition":

June 30, 2002

1. We are still waiting for a response in the US Court of Appeals to both
sides' appeals of federal Judge William Yohn's December 2001 ruling, in
which he set aside Mumia's death sentence -- though he gave the state of
Pennsylvania the option of conducting a new hearing at which Mumia could be
sentenced to death again. If that hearing is not held, and Yohn's decision
is upheld, then Mumia would serve life in prison without parole.

The latest trial of Usak anarchists was held in Izmir
SSC (State Security Court) today. According to the
initial information, the next trial will be held on
25th of July. As u may have known all of the five
anarchists were released in the previous trial. This
time the attorney has changed his report and claimed
the anarchists according to another "Article #". It
seems that the court is observing the "attitude" of
Turkish anarchists. In this case an international
campaign needs to be necessary. We'll inform u later


Anarsist Kara Ay - Ankara

Anarchist Black Crescent - Ankara



Dear Friends,

Leonard Peltier's next interim parole hearing has been scheduled for July
1st, 2002. Letters of support are urgently needed.

Anonymous Comrade writes "just got this in e-mail list that deals w/prison/justice issues, thought i'd pass along


Hi Everyone:

I publish a literary journal of writing by prisoners...twice a year and am
having trouble this issue securing aprinter. my previous printer dumped us
because they don't want to be associatyed with prisoners....and i've been
turned down by several printers because of their fears and prejudice against
prisoners. can anyone recommend an alternative printer....i don't care
where they are....who you think MIGHT not reject us?

manuscript is ready to go.....thanks for any help.



DaaaihLoong writes "Three-year-old Michael regularly visits his mother in prison. He
plays with her on the floor, gets reassuring hugs while sitting on
her lap and kisses her goodbye when it's time to leave. But if the
California Department of Corrections gets its way, Michael will be
able to visit his mother only through a glass partition and talk to
her over a telephone--no touching, no kisses.


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