The Fire Inside
by California Coalition for Women Prisoners

 community  personal-narrative  poetry

The Fire Inside - A Compilation of Pieces from Women Prisoners Published in The Fire Inside Newsletter

The Fire Inside, the newsletter of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), has published writings of women prisoners on a quarterly basis since June 1996. The newsletter was begun as a joint effort of women on the inside and women outside working together to overcome the stark division which prison walls create. Through their articles, poetry and drawings, women on the inside have eloquently expressed their views on a wide range of subjects, including abominable health care conditions, battering and sexual abuse, motherhood, lesbianism, the drug war and resistance to the prison system. Their voices have become the basis for building awareness of women prisoners in the community and have provided a catalyst for advocacy work. The newsletter has become a forum for sharing thoughts, stories and resistance among prisoners. It has also enabled the experiences and ideas of women on the inside to become an integral part of activist work on the outside.

We dedicate these selections to all the women prisoners and former prisoners who keep struggling every day to create a human and hopeful space, rising above this punishing system.

A Fight Against Bitterness Issue #2 - September 1996

Charisse Shumate was a founding member of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, a lead plaintiff in a groundbreaking lawsuit about health care conditions for women prisoners, and a regular columnist for The Fire Inside. She lived with sickle cell disease, hepatitis C and cancer and died in August 2001 having suffered years of medical abuse in the California prison system.

By Charisse Shumate, CCWF

Thank you so very much for the newsletter and your friendship, love and support. My health seems to be on a downhill stroke. I don’t fear death- it’s being locked away without anyone you love to look at or talk to. There’s so much I wanted to say to so many of my family and true friends. Now it’s like I know deep inside that I will never be able to.

There are a few good staff here who have not forgotten that we are human, who know and see the truth. But I have seen those who try to speak out or make a change get treated just like an inmate, and there are free world staff who are sometimes talked to and treated as if they did not go home at night. The prison system needs a lot of weeding out of the bad apples, just like the White House. But who has the heart? It’s time to not give up making a change. So many paroled but never tell the truth, good or bad. I fight not to become bitter and I want you to know that.

When times that I could not hear my mother’s voice or be a voice to my one and only son, it’s people like you who have helped me to believe that I am not lost, forgotten or a walking dead. Thank you. I am sorry that this is how I had to meet great, caring people like you. But I still thank God each day and night.

I don’t believe I will be alive without a hematologist. Thank you for all you have done in my behalf. Please, if I should die let it be known always that sickle cell inmates need a hematologist. If not, you have given them a death sentence. There is another sickle cell lifer who is young. I call her my kid. But I am scared for her. Because she has not been real sick or needed a blood transfusion, they don’t try to give her any help, and because she has seen what I have went through since 1992 at CCWF, she is scared to even let them know when she is sick.

How can they keep up the lies and the cover-up? They say on the copy of my write-up for the parole board that my institutional adjustment in 1994 was above average even without proper medical care, no family support or contact like I could have had if I had been granted my transfer to Illinois. I did not ask for a compassionate release. I don’t think I was to be given anything special. If my mother or son dies, I won’t be part of their funeral, because I can’t even live in the closest prison to where they are. So much pain, but I still want to be a positive role model inmate, not to give up…

My pain I am trying to deal with. God only knows what our new hospital doctors will do. I am scared of being locked away in the treatment center. I have something bad going on inside of my body, but I don’t them to lock me away, because that’s what they will do. It will kill my will. I visited there. They can no longer but canteen items. They are locked in their rooms. I don’t know how much longer I can hold onto my Women’s Action Council chairperson job with my health the way it is. I have one more year, but I don’t think I can do it. Thank you. I really needed to let you know some of what I feel now.

Victim Rape Issue #8 - June 1998

By Patricia Elaine Mason, CCWF

Flowers die, the wind blows the petals
I die and the seasons remain placid
I think about a slave ship
and I must be the only passenger
Invisible chains
Waves of anguish hit, my body crumbling
By battery and cancer
Dust on a forgotten slate of statistics
Tears, snowflakes in dark morbid
concrete. Man made mansions of pain.
Prison variations of pleasure
the ill wind on the masts of my life.

I do not want to die in a sea of strangers
I’m supposed to be free
Malcolm X, Mandela, Huey P. Newton
I’m too poor to even fight for causes
The battle of skid row and
the war of confinement
Dust on life’s structure
and no one even knows me.

Statistics? America?
I’m the victim, the ugly blotch on society

They Said Nothing Was Wrong Issue #1 - June 1996

Linda Field wrote this description of another prisoner’s suffering at the hands of the prison medical system for the very first issue of The Fire Inside. Over the years, women prisoners have consistently identified health care conditions as their number one concern inside. Their brave reports of medical malpractice have become the basis for lawsuits, legislative hearings, TV stories and persistent joint efforts to create change.

By Linda Field, CCWF

Her name was Anna, Anna Bells to me, Gator to most. She didn’t have much book learning, she was illiterate. Annie took a remedial reading class as long as she could. She would come back to our room and read a children’s book, so proud to be able to make out a few more words.

Annie loved the yard. She would work in the plumbing shop all day, come in for count and work in the yard all evening. People would just stop in front of unit 507 and just gaze at all the beautiful flowers she had lovingly raised from seed. Our yard was a showplace. She was so full of life and joy. Her blonde hair would fly behind her as she’d race the wind. That was my Annie. But all things must change, not always for the best. Annie grew quiet. She no longer had energy. The medical staff said nothing was wrong. She hurt. She bled too much and too often. She kept asking for a Pap smear. They didn’t giver her one. She couldn’t eat, kept losing weight. They did nothing. After months, the doctors decided to give Annie her Pap smear. All of a sudden, she was sent out to a cancer clinic for laser treatments. She laughed about her little tattoo dots, the marks showing where to aim the laser. They said she’d be fine. Then they kept her overnight for several days, putting radioactive pellets inside her. She came back weaker, with huge blisters from her buttocks to her ankles. She quietly cried. She had implants several times in the month of April, 1994. Still, she was forced to work.

The garden grew weeds. She tried to keep up but could not. She grew too weak to attend her reading class. She no longer picked up her children’s book. She no longer slept.

Nights were the hardest for Annie. She tried not to moan aloud, she didn’t want to bother anyone. The sheet metal we call a bed cut into her thinning body. Cold would seep into her bones. Still, she worked. Nothing was wrong they said. “Get away from the MTA office,” the medical staff would yell.

We asked if Annie could take a shower in the middle of the night to ease the pain. “It is not permitted”, we were told. Many times she would just stand, holding onto the metal poles, crying, afraid or unable to move. The housing staff would call the MTA to help her. There was nothing they could do. Aspirin, motrin, that was it. The pain became unbearable. By October, Annie was swelling. First her ankles and lower legs. Still her had to work. She no longer had the strength to go to the dining room. We stole food for her that she could barely eat. We begged for medical help. They said she couldn’t die from swelling. “Get out!”, they’d yell at her. They said there was nothing wrong with her.

Still Annie was forced to work. They would not reassign her. The garden turned brown and died as if it wept for its tender. Annie paled and swelled more. She couldn’t get her shoes on. She couldn’t eat, she vomited. Day after day, Annie would lie in front of the medical clinic on the ground, sobbing for help. They said that she was fine and get away before they wrote her up. She couldn’t work anymore. Finally, the doctors decided something was wrong. They admitted her into the treatment center where she was placed in room and forgotten. Forgotten by the medical department, but not by the inmates here at the Central California Women’s Facility.

Annie died in December of 1994. She didn’t want any special treatment, she didn’t want anything fancy. She was used to a lot less. All Annie wanted was to be treated like a human being. Would anyone allow their animal to go through what she went through? The animals have the SPCA, who did Annie have? Who cared about her? I did. I loved Annie. She was my best friend, my roommate. I swore that I would never watch another person die like she did. I promised her I would tell her story. Please, remember Anna Jackson. She was a mother, a daughter, a friend. Don’t let her suffering be for nothing. Don’t ever let this great state of California kill another woman like her again. I have her name on the inside of my locker. I read it every day. I will remember her. Make my last memory of her racing through the wind and winning, not laying in front of an MTA’s clinic, sobbing. Let her live through us, the women left doing time in CCWF, with a medical department that treats us as humans.

Parole- a Time for Hope, but Pitfalls Wait Issue #18 - Summer 2001

California is notorious for its high rate of recidivism especially among people on parole. The system provides no transition services or any other type of support which would help prisoners reenter society after years of prison. Because of the crying need CCWP is in the process of developing a program to empower former women prisoners to fight for the resources they need to stay out of prison and become advocates on their own behalf. In this article one woman nervously anticipates her release.

By N. Duran, VSPW

I have a few months ‘till I parole. I am excited about it but also a little scared.

You get $200 when you leave here. If you don’t have family send you clothes, you have to pay for the one change of clothes out of that money. It costs probably at least $50 to get from here to Oakland.

And then what? You have to find the parole office in Oakland, report there, and then the welfare office to sing up for aid. You know that aid won’t start for awhile. Most women are anxious to be re-united with their children, but how can you even think of getting them out of the system under these conditions?

Housing in Oakland is hard to find. I have been writing to various agencies to help me find something, but so far they have not yet responded. So if you are forced to sleep under a bridge and a policeman approached you, you can be in violation of parole. Any contact with police, even if you don’t do anything wrong, can be a violation of parole and a reason to be sent back to prison. Many women are in here not because they did anything wrong, but because they were found in violation of their parole. That is not right. It is also not right to allow hearsay as evidence. Even when no charges are filed, because there is not evidence, just someone’s accusation is enough to violate you.

Many women do have additional crimes for which they are convicted while they are on parole. When you come to a city without any resources you do what you have to. It’s not hard to understand.

They don’t provide any way for you to take care of yourself in here. A lot of women in here have only known abuse: to abuse others or to be abused. The prison doesn’t provide anything that would help them learn anything different. I was molested when I was five years old by a 19-year-old. How could he be allowed to do that? By 12, I was sexually active. But how can a 12-year-old give consent? It’s not right. I grew up very spoiled and selfish, which is what for me here.

I have changed a lot in my 4 years here. But none of that was because of what the prison did. By living so close with other women I learned that people are as they are, not as I would want them to be. It’s no good telling one that she should take a shower. She’ll do it when she is ready. What you can do is not get upset about it. I don’t get in fights anymore and others don’t hit me.

I changed through my relations with other women, to accept them as they are, to consider their wishes. You don’t always get your way and, who knows, you might even like somebody else’s way if you try it.

I look forward to getting out, getting to know my daughter again. She will be 9 when I get out. I intend to work hard and stay out of trouble. I’d like to work with CCWP. So many things are not right. Things must change drastically.

Reflections on New Found Freedom Issue #18- Summer 2001

Political prisoner Linda Evans was granted a commutation of her sentence by President Clinton in the last days of his administration. She had served over 15 years in prison for her activities against the U.S. government in support of social justice .

By Linda Evans, recently released political prisoner

While I was inside prison, I dreamed that freedom would bring a profound joy that knew no bounds.

Holding my mother in my arms or just looking at her across a room after spending an entire day quietly reading together. Making love with my partner Eve for the first time ever, knowing the softness and passion of her touch. Walking through the indescribable majesty of the redwood forests, talking to tress that are thousands of years old. Watching the constantly changing ocean waves as they roll into infinity. Savoring the amazing tastes of a leaf of organic lettuce, a homegrown tomato, fresh-brewed (not instant!) coffee.

Certainly these experiences have brought me tremendous joy. But I have been surprised to feel so divided, so melancholy at times, and so full of grief. I was a political prisoner for nearly 16 years, locked up for fighting to change this government that is so racist, so corrupt, so thoroughly evil. Coming out onto the streets after so long, I see that the conditions of life for almost everyone are far worse than ever before. The gap between those that have anything at all and those that have nothing, has widened into an unbridgeable chasm. So many people live on the streets with only a shopping cart and a tarp to cover them (if they’re lucky or resourceful). The reason I became a revolutionary in the first place, pledging my life to the fight for liberation, was to change these conditions-and yet our society has deteriorated unimaginably while I was inside. I think about the other political prisoners still inside, especially my comrade-sister Marilyn Buck-it’s nearly unbearable to me that I am free and they are not. I think of all my friends in prison at FCI-Dublin, especially the lifers who were dearest to me, and I grieve that they can’t feel the winds of freedom on their faces, unite once and for all with their children and families, make love and walk through the woods or their neighborhoods once again. Of course I am joyful to be free-but I am haunted and infuriated by the injustices of our whole society, and the prison system in particular. I won’t forget my sisters and brothers inside, and I won’t give up until we win the changes we all desperately need.

I am a Battered Woman Issue #21 - Summer 2002

By Debi Zuver, VSPW

I am a battered woman.
I am your mother, your daughter, your sister, aunt, friend.
I am beaten but not broken, condemned but not damned and I will not sway on my hopes, goals, plans and dreams for the future.
Tomorrow is on its way, and I’ll be part of it because of my strength today.

Fighting Abuse and the Criminal Injustice System Issue #5

CCWP has been working with Theresa Cruz and her family to win her release since 1997. Her case provides a window on the intersection between domestic violence and state-sponsored violence in abused women’s lives. It also illustrates shows how the consciousness can be transformed through their direct experience with the criminal injustice system.

by Theresa Cruz, CIW

My name is Theresa Cruz, and I am a battered woman serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole after seven years. I was convicted of attempted murder: my child’s father was shot in the legs five times by another male. He is not dead, crippled or maimed. His life continued and resumed to normal. I was not the perpetrator, but I am responsible for him being shot.

How long will society continue to ignore the incarceration of individuals that made decisions under duress as a result of domestic violence? Don’t misunderstand me. I accept ownership for my participation in a dysfunctional relationship, but like community property, I am only entitled to half.

Domestic violence first came into my life like an undetected disease. It started out slowly. The objective was control over the body and the mind. The end result was total control of one individual by another. When the objective was not met, or fell short of being met, the result was out of control behaviors.

Living in a domestic violence situation is one of the most painful situations one could live in. He beat me and stalked me. I moved five times in three years. He left cards in my mailbox signed “Black Friday the 13th,” signed “Your Ex - Carlos.” His final threat was to take my child. For five straight years I sustained a lot of abuse, but this final threat pushed me over the edge. I had never been separated from my children, and I cannot even begin to describe the feeling and fear I felt. In reality it was a syndrome that built and built and then exploded. When it came to my children, I lost control of my mind and let my emotions take control. After he was shot the domestic court found him for what he truly was and refused to take custody away from me. I was out on bail for two years and was no threat to society but still had to answer for a crime I had committed.

In April 1995 my children went to Sacramento, California, to testify for a proposed law, AB231, today known as Penal Code Section 4801.* My children took police reports of various break-ins, photographs of various beatings and the original cards he’d leave in our mailbox. My children testified about the incidents that led up to my crime. In October 1995, Governor Pete Wilson signed the bill and it went into effect January 1, 1996. My case was a major factor in achieving the passage for this bill, but to this day I have been given no consideration under the new law.

On May 22, 1996, I went for my first consideration hearing for parole. I was commended for my G.E.D., my 18-month Vocational Data Processing Course, and all of my achievements. The parole board did state that my case was a very sad example of domestic violence, how it can get out of control and how this was a tragedy for me and my children. The records prove he stalked me and abused me. At the end I was denied parole and told to return in two years (May 1998).

I am not looking for excuses or for anyone to condone what has happened, for nothing justifies violence. I am asking for mercy, forgiveness and compassion. My children were ages 4 months, 6 1/2, 9 and 10 years old when I came to prison. If looking into your own children’s eyes every weekend and seeing the pain in their eyes and having to say good-bye over and over again for six years isn’t punishment, then I don’t know what is. To hear my child say “If I would have never been born, you wouldn’t be in prison, Mama” is a guilt that I can’t describe. To see the hurt and guilt and resentment he carries towards his father is a pain that can’t be described.


*4801 states that the Board of Prison Terms (parole board) can consider “evidence of the effects of physical, emotional or mental state abuse upon the beliefs, perception or behavior of victims of domestic violence where it appears that the criminal behavior was a result of that victimization” when commuting or paroling women being held for violenct crimes performed in retaliation for spousal abuse.

Life Without Children Issue #14 - May 2000

Over 80% of incarcerated women are mothers. Separation from their children is an overwhelming concern for them. Instead of trying to promote family bonds during incarceration, prisons make it almost impossible for women to maintain connection with their children once they are inside.

By Linda Field, CCWF

I came to prison when Sara was seven. She was too young to understand 25 to life meant that she’d grow up without a mother. Her brother and sister, who were 15 and 12, didn’t truly understand.

Sara’s first visit was traumatic. She spent the whole day begging me to allow her to stay with me. She promised to be good, never leave my room, and never bother the guards. She couldn’t understand why I didn’t want her. She sobbed, clinging to me when it was time to leave. Her little arms reached out to me over her grandfather’s shoulder, her hands rapidly opened and closed, begging me.

I kept telling her I loved her. She was finally out of sight, the dam I had erected broke and I let the flood free. I cried for my children and myself.

I cried for every mother and child who went through this. Why didn’t the courts understand? They passed a verdict not only on me but my children. My children were abused by their father, orphaned by me, and abandoned by the judicial court system.

After 13 years of heartache, we now have a governor who doesn’t want to hear any circumstances of why a murder was committed. He believes we should rot in prison. While I cannot justify my actions, no one is beating my children anymore.

The state finally decided family living unit visits were no longer acceptable for lifers, further punishing my children. No longer could we have visits in a little apartment in prison which allowed a pretense of normality. During those visits mothers could rock their children, cook for them, and talk for endless hours. No more can we maintain a thread of parentship with children or grandchildren. Instead visits are conducted in a visiting room with cameras and guards who look at mother-child relationship as abnormal. We cannot talk about important things because “Big Brother” is watching.

The playroom in visiting has few toys, only foam-type blocks. There are no strollers, high chairs, no outside toys or activities. The few board games are geared for older children and adults.

Our children deserve better. Punish us but not our children. It is time for the state to re-evaluate their treatment of our children.

A Woman’s Story Issue #11 - June 1999

Danielle Metz’s story exemplifies the impact of the government’s drug war on women of color and their communities. Women are often faced with drug conspiracy charges simply because of their associations with men. Because they don’t have information to give the government, the women commonly end up with longer sentences than the men they were involved with.

by Danielle Metz, F.C.I., Dublin, Ca.

When I look in the mirror I do not see a criminal, a murderer, or a threat to society. But when the judge in New Orleans sentenced me five years ago, he said that I had forfeited my right to live in a humane society. Sometimes in the middle of the night I awaken to those very words.

At the age of 26, mother of two small children, I was sentenced along with my husband to three life sentences plus 20 years. It was my first offense and my first involvement with the law.

Our charge was conspiracy to distribute five kilograms of cocaine - cocaine that was never seen, never produced, never confiscated from any of the nine defendants in our case. No substantial evidence was presented at our trial, only hearsay. The government constructed their case on the testimony of people who were already in prison. Each of them received generous reductions in their sentences. Some are now free.

Before our trial, I had no idea what conspiracy was. At the time of my arrest, the agents told me I was not the one they were after. They told me I would go free if I “cooperated.” I just wouldn’t “cooperate” enough. I didn’t know enough to buy my freedom if I had been willing to.

I am now 31 years old, still in prison fighting for my freedom. I was the first woman in New Orleans ever to be sentenced to this type of time for drugs. This used to be shocking, unheard of, but now it’s becoming a fact of everyday life. I am sure almost everyone has heard of the nightmare of Kemba Smith. Well, there are about 15,000 similar nightmares that go unheard of—women locked up for 15, 20, 30 years or life, because of their relationship to a man. Kemba is fortunate because she has parents who are go-getters, dedicated to her freedom. Most of the women in prison don’t have anywhere near that kind of support. Most of us don’t even have any legal help.

The hardest part of all is the separation from my children. We need each other terribly. My heart aches to know that all the love I pour out to them may not be enough to convince them that I haven’t left them out of not caring for them. It’s a tragedy shared by women, children, families and communities across this country. The laws and the “legal” process that took me away from what the judge called “a humane society” are doing lasting damage to the humanity of that society.

Inhumanity of Central California Women Facility Is in Full Effect Issue #9

Women of color make up a disproportionate majority of the women’s prison population in the United States. Cynthia Russow’s analysis links the current prison system with the history of slavery and racism in this country. Her call for a unified effort to fight this system has been reflected in the development of dozens of prisoner rights and prison abolitionist organizations over the past decade.

by Cynthia Russaw, CCWF

Inhumane, lacking pity or compassion, cruel, without emotional warmth, not suited for human beings. Sexism, brutality, deadly disease, corrupt staff, unsafe living quarters, unlawful influence by staff, unsafe food and drinking water, slave labor, threats against inmates, lack of adequate education, falsification of rule violations and little or no medical services.

Yes, CCWF’s inhumanity is in full effect! It is a present day slavery. The rationale may be to make society safe under the disguise of the Right Wing’s law and order. But, the truth is the enslavement of minorities and third-world citizens. Rehabilitation is a code word for turning inmates into animals, treating us inhumanely before we are released from prison, if ever we are released. We can get lost in the system forever until we are searched for by someone from the “free” world.

It does not come as a surprise to learn that prisons are the number one growth industry in the United States of America. The prison industry is a lucrative business reminiscent of days when our beloved ancestors were held in chattel bondage. I contend that the crime bill and imprisonment of inmates in CCWF is no more than the process of legally perpetuating inhumanity, backed up by the United States Constitution.

Upon release the State Prison System refuses to give any means of financial support, causing many to participate in unscrupulous activity. Then we are systematically re-imprisoned. We are faced with the same forced labor and the same brutal treatment given to the chattel slave.

The prison guard, street cop, F.B.I., judges and Congress from the big house to the White House are all advocates of this complex conspiracy. Billions have been earmarked to keep the present day slave imprisoned.

Understand that none of the monies are for vocational or educational programs. They pretend to educate inmates. However, they try to keep us ignorant because they realize that education is knowledge. Knowledge is the beginning of freedom.

There are presently over one million people locked behind the institution walls-duly convicted. In essence, there are over one million slaves. The entire prison system is overcrowded, but so are county jails. That doesn’t stop the haul.

More and more correctional officers are being hired who are equipped with sadistic mentalities and licentious demeanors. They are hired to keep the prison system running smoothly and trouble-free. They organize like a paramilitary composed of racist whites armed with slave-controlling apparatus. They use guns, night sticks, shackles, mace, full riot gear and fists, all of which can be used on the slave at the pleasure of the overseer.

Because of the racism that bubbles from beneath the surface of this nation’s psyche, the whole criminal network including cops, courts and the United States government will remain corrupt. The system will do anything to the prisoners to keep them stigmatized, socialized and brainwashed into believing that they are inferior in order to keep them “penally sub-servient.”

We must unite against this inhumane war against us. Universal law dictates that a closed fist (symbol of unity) is stronger than an open hand (symbol of division). We must strive to understand the necessity to be a united front.

Together we will win from the inside.

To My—, With Love Issue #21- Summer 2002

Charisse Shumate wrote this narrative poem to Mary Shields, another prisoner at CCWF. Both Charisse and Mary are survivors of domestic violence and after Charisse’s death in August 2001, Mary sent this poem to “Our Voices Within”, an event which celebrated the strength of incarcerated survivors,

By Charisse Shumate

If I gather up all my wishes for you and put them in a pretty basket, your multi-colored bouquet would look like this… you’d have peace from every conflict you encounter in life, all the love you need, and perfect health to enjoy the journey of life.

Our basket would be filled with dreams come true, goals met, and satisfaction with your achievements. There would be many friendships to enhance your feelings of community and belonging. A variety of meaningful relationships give life spice and balance, so I’d fill your basket with the kind of friends you can call on, go places with and care for.

There would be prayers for your freedom from everything that binds you and solutions to any problems you may have in life. In this pretty basket of wishes, you would have everything you need and want, and every situation and circumstance you encounter would enhance your potential or happiness. May the time you’ve invested in others translate into the kind of love and appreciation for yourself that you so deserve.

You are worthy. You are beautiful. You are loved. As I stir through the memories of what we’ve shared through the years as lovers, I want you to know that I have a bouquet of wishes for you- I wish you love, I wish you happiness, and I hope that your every dream is coming true.

Clandestine Kisses Issue #18 - Summer 2001

By Marilyn Buck, FCI Dublin

bloom on lips
which have already spoken
stolen clandestine kisses

a prisoner kisses
she is defiant
she breaks the rules
she traffics in contraband women’s kisses

a crime wave of kisses
bitter sweet sensuality
flouting women-hating satraps
in their prison fiefdoms
that love
can not be arrested

Lesbian Issue # 18, Summer 2001

By Anna Bell, CCWF


Easy to say
but hard to live by.
Is it confusion or just an illusion?
or is it convenience…
For me it is a lifestyle
for others a pastime.
But the bad part -
prison/CCWF is not the place to get

Message to Critical Resistance by Women Political Prisoners, Special Issue - November 1998

This message was written by political prisoners as a statement of solidarity to the first Critical Resistance conference held in Fall 1998 in Berkeley, California. The conference was a groundbreaking national effort to bring together groups and individuals to fight the prison industrial complex and it laid the basis for the formation of the prison abolitionist organization, Critical Resistance. All the prisoners who wrote the statement have since been released except for Marilyn Buck who is still at FCI Dublin and Silvia Baraldini who has been extradited to Italy where she is living under house arrest.


By Dylcia Pagan, Alicia Rodriguez, Ida Luz Rodriguez, Alejandrina Torres, Carmen Valentin (Puerto Rican Prisoners of War); Marilyn Buck, Linda Evans, Laura Whitehorn (North American anti-imperialist political prisoners); Susan Crane (Prince of Peace Plowshares prisoner of conscience); and Silvia Baraldini (Italian national).

What does this conference mean to us inside - the political prisoners and Prisoners of War? Simply spoken, your activism and commitment give us hope. Over 1000 people coming together marks a real advance in the development of the prison movement: a chance to consolidate and unify, build ways to communicate between different communities, to strategize and act together to win desperately-needed changes for all prisoners. It’s appropriate and significant that your discussions come in the midst of action: last weekend’s massive student walkout demanded “money for Schools, not Jails” and October’s state-wide caravan will demand prison medical care and an end to police murder and brutality against California’s prisoners.

Our own dedication to the struggle to win change continues in you. While you participate in these workshops, remember that the political prisoners and POWs should be sitting next to you - and we would be, if only we were free. In fact, many of our comrades - former POWs and political prisoners, stand in your midst today. Like you, most of us were and are prison activists: volunteer teachers, active with prison religious communities, leaders of prison strikes and walkouts, jailhouse lawyers, founders of AIDS education groups and other programs that benefit our fellow prisoners.

The US government has tried to disappear us, denying that we are in prison because of our political beliefs and motivations. When you embrace us as an integral part of building critical resistance, you give us strength, and you expose one more of this government’s lies. Most of us have been in prison well over a decade now - many of us, locked away from our families and our communities for 20 or even 30 years. We are in prison precisely because we acted to make REAL our collective vision of a better society - to win liberation for Puerto Rico and other colonized nations, to fight white supremacy and stop US imperialism’s dominion over the world, to end militarism and nuclear catastrophe.

We respect and welcome this conference because you are showing your determination to resist this government’s program of repression and imprisonment. We urge you to act also as part of the campaigns to free the POWs and political prisoners, so we can once again join our efforts with yours in building resistance. The determination and knowledge you take with you from this conference will multiply only if you take action, to make justice a reality now.

Free All Prisoners of War and Political Prisoners! Abolish the Death Penalty and Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal! Shut the Prisons Down!