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Speech delivered for Mianta by Julia Arroyo of the Young Women’s Freedom Center at the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March Aug. 19, 2017, in San Jose, Calif.: My name is Mianta McKnight. I am the Community Engagement Director at Justice Now. As a person who came home from a women’s prison after serving 18 years and one day on a 15 to life sentence, I realized exactly how important transitional resources and assistance are.
In one voice, rising from the cells of long term solitary confinement, echoed in the dormitories and cell blocks from Virginia to Oregon, we prisoners across the United States vow to finally end slavery in 2016. On Sept. 9 of 2016, we will begin an action to shut down prisons all across this country. We will not only demand the end to prison slavery, we will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves.
Erika Rocha was 35 years old and one day away from her Youth Parole Hearing on April 15, 2016, when she committed suicide at the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona. Since her death, the suicide crisis at CIW has only worsened. On June 1, yet another young woman of color died at CIW. Her name is Shaylene Graves and she was 27 years old and six weeks away from returning home to her loving son, family and friends.
On Nov. 11, an imprisoned person at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) faced extreme violence at the hands of prison guards. Stacy Rojas and three others were detained, physically abused, sexually harassed, strip searched in the presence of male guards, and kept without water, food or restrooms for 11 hours. Requests to speak with members of the prison’s Investigative Services Unit have so far been ignored.
Too often, organizing work done by incarcerated women goes wholly unrecognized. In her book, “Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women,” Victoria Law focuses on the many forms of activism happening inside of women’s prisons, most of which never reach the dominant media. In the following interview, Law shares ways in which individual acts of resistance are building toward a transformational new reality.
The issue of “gender responsiveness” as an excuse to open more prisons has been rearing its ugly head lately with the expansion of CDCR’s supposed “reentry hubs” and “community based facilities,” totaling 4,090 new beds altogether. Yet one woman in the new Female Community Reentry Facility (FCRF) in McFarland recently called Justice Now, saying she feels like “they were sold a dream.”
Marissa Alexander did not get a chance to see her youngest daughter take her first step, to hear her say her first word or blow out the candles on her first birthday cake. These and many more memories that mothers are excited to photograph or catch on film weren’t possible for Alexander because she was living behind bars – all because she fired a warning shot in the air, harming no one, to ward off Rico Gray.
Should the Commission grant this request for a hearing, we will provide the Commission with testimony from prisoners, as well as oral presentations by family members of prisoners, advocates and lawyers. We would ask that the Commission recommend to the United States government and the state of California that they immediately take all measures necessary to address grave violations of human rights in the prison system.
The CDCr are masters at pulling the wool over the eyes of the California taxpayers, activist organizations, civil and human rights organizations, religious institutions, prisoners, men and women, and state and federal courts. Their blatant disregard for the truth is rooted in their drive to build the California sector of the prison industrial slave complex.