Thursday, October 25, 2007

Family Day at Two California Women's Prisons last Saturday, October 20

All that separated us from each other was bobbed wire which grabbed my coat and a litany of reasons why some of us are locked up and others remain outside. As Loco Bloco drummed we spread out along the fence and sang and chanted and yelled and waved at the women who were waving to us. Next time I’ll have to bring my binoculars so I can see their faces.

The longer we stayed the more pissed off the highway patrol officers in cars trailing us got. They blocked the entrance to some road and kept driving up and down the road barking at women who were pushing babies in strollers to move over. Safety monitors and mediators acknowledged them while the rest of us yelled louder: We’re the people too….”

We’d assembled at MacArthur BART at 10 a.m. At about 11ish people piled in cars and boarded a chartered bus. I saw people I hadn’t seen in years like Judy from Catholic Charities. I remember her organizing of the early marches and protest rallies at the women’s prisons. I never went, but I recall the push for compassionate release and Charisse Shumate’s death. I also recall the film festival at the Roxie Cinema where films that focused on women inside were shown. It hadn’t been years since I’d seen Ida McCray, but I recall hearing her speak just after her release at a Black August event Kiilu Nyasha organized. The next time was at a holiday party for children whose parents are incarcerated on the ArtShip in Jack London Square. The last time I saw Ms.Ida was at an event I hosted at the College of Alameda for Women's History Month on California's Incarcerated Women: Who Are They and Why Should We Care?

The Families with a Future event on the Artship was great. I enjoyed watching the children of incarcerated parents having so much fun making art, playing games and receiving presents. I don’t know where Families with a Future throws its holiday parties now that the Artship is gone.

McCray was there at the rally snapping photos of young mothers with their kids—most of the ladies employees of the same organization, the one Lateefah Simon started at the Center for Young Women’s Development. POV did a film called "Girl Trouble" that documents the wonderful work of these women, most formerly "troublesome" themselves for a variety of reasons, many beyond their control, at CYWD.

It’s criminal the ease with which mothers are losing their children to the foster care and adoption system. The risk is even higher for immigrant women. It was nice seeing the children playing in the fields among the trees, running along to road and smelling the flowers.

The contingent from Fresno and Southern California was awesome. There were lots of black and brown youth, the theme for the afternoon was umoja—unity, together we achieve more.

The incarceration of youth in CYA in Los Angeles and throughout the state is at a crisis level—the foster care system the conveyor belt for children aging out of one system into another. It was refreshing Friday to speak to California Assembly woman Karen Bass whose top priority is foster care reform. She is a recipient of the Sister’s of Fire Award this year. She also named October Maafa Awareness Month in the State of California, 47th Assembly District.

The most moving testimony was that of women who’d been inside the last time protesters descended on the two prisons. Both women had limited mobility, a casualty of war. On the way to the women’s prisons, one of the women in the car said, what saved her was white skin and a degenerative medical condition. she was allowed to serve her time on the outside. I wonder how one serves a 20 year sentence, a life sentence, more than one life sentence.

How does on survive when he sees no daylight for months or years, or maybe just one hour a week and that is not guaranteed.

We have a lot of work left to do.


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