by Pamela Thompson

I grew up in Compton, California, a city where law enforcement was not on your side. I can remember times when our house would get shot up and my mother would call the police only to have to wait for hours on end, and sometimes they just didn’t come.

“Assata, Winnie and Harriet” – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 1859887, Clements Unit, 9601 Spur 591, Amarillo TX 79107
“Assata, Winnie and Harriet” – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 1859887, Clements Unit, 9601 Spur 591, Amarillo TX 79107

Growing up, our first interactions with police were often arrests for curfew violations. If the police found us out on the street after curfew, they’d lock us up and hold us through the night and not release us until the morning.

I grew up in Compton, California, a city where law enforcement was not on your side.

In the early ‘80s, the city of Compton had started putting up neighborhood watch signs on every block. A sign was placed in front of our house and my mother, being defiant, took it down.

The city workers brought another one. My mom did this two or three more times. She told them she was not a neighborhood watch and she didn’t want that sign in her yard. They told my mom she would be fined if she removed the sign again.

Back in 1984-85, the Compton Police Department and the sheriffs would harass gang members and provoke violence. The PD would arrest suspected gang members and then drop them off in a rival gang neighborhood.

This one night around 12 or 1 a.m., my brother was walking home and was stopped by the Lynwood Sheriff Department. He was harassed and called a ni**er. The officers told him that they should play Russian roulette with his head. It was a scare tactic and they ended up letting him go.

The next day, my mom took my brother to the police station to file a complaint. They had my brother identify the officers from a mug shot book. My mother didn’t stop there. She made police brutality picket signs and had us – her kids – protesting in front of City Hall. Over time, my mom lost all sense of respect for law enforcement. They were doing more harm than good in the community.

Back in 1984-85, the Compton Police Department and the sheriffs would harass gang members and provoke violence. The PD would arrest suspected gang members and then drop them off in a rival gang neighborhood.

There was domestic violence in our household – not a lot but enough to keep me away so I couldn’t see it or hear it. At the age of 13 I started hanging around gang members and they soon became my family. My parents worked a lot so there was little supervision.

At 17, I committed a few robberies. I got caught and was charged as an adult with two older co-defendants and not as a juvenile. I took a plea bargain of seven years.

When I was released from prison, it was a struggle to find a job. I did everything asked of me by my parole agent including attending job seminars.

I finally found a job as a receptionist at a paging service. I was out for a year and four months before an incident occurred where I was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to do bodily harm.

The charges sound worse than what they actually are. The “weapon” was a pager I held in my hand while arguing with someone at a phone booth outside a shopping mall about who was going to use the phone. The “assault” occurred when I hung up the phone during the middle of the other man’s call.

The man reported me to the police who searched my car when they stopped me and turned up a firearm. I never physically touched the man, nor did I threaten him – and he later testified to that. In fact, he had refused to testify in any way and had to be subpoenaed by the court to show up to speak against me.

I was out for a year and four months before an incident occurred where I was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to do bodily harm. The charges sound worse than what they actually are.

When I went to trial, I was made out to be this person that was a wanton to society and to the law. Race was an issue for my jury selection, but my objection to the jury selection was overruled by my lawyer.

Norwalk, where I was arrested, is one of the most prejudiced cities in Los Angeles County. I didn’t have a winning chance. I was guilty in their eyes the moment I was arrested.

I was sentenced to 33 to life under the Three Strikes law. Twenty years later, I am still in shock at the sentence I was given.

Norwalk, where I was arrested, is one of the most prejudiced cities in Los Angeles County. I didn’t have a winning chance. I was guilty in their eyes the moment I was arrested.

I am currently at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, where I have been incarcerated for 20 years, with no opportunity to go before the parole board until 2026. I will be over 50 years old and will have spent almost my full adult life behind bars for a conviction where no one was harmed or threatened.

I was sentenced to 33 to life under the Three Strikes law. Twenty years later, I am still in shock at the sentence I was given.

From the police to the courts, my brother has faced this same system of violence and injustice. This cycle of judicial brutality has to stop, but how does a minority like me, with no money and no means to do anything with, make a difference?

Send our sister some love and light: Pamela Thompson, W-34528, B514-20-3L, P.O. Box 1508, Chowchilla, CA 93610-1508.

Note: California Coalition for Women Prisoners based in San Francisco visits with Pamela Thompson and many other women at CCWF and California Institute for Women (CIW) who grew up inside Reagan’s “War on Drugs,” a war directed at the same Black and Brown communities that the U.S. government was at the time flooding with crack cocaine as part of the Iran-Contra Deal.

Areas of Los Angeles like South Central and Compton were targets in both the War on Drugs and the War on Gangs, and incarceration rates of women increased drastically during this time. Often, women’s experiences are less present in the stories of how this violence has decimated lives, families and communities.

From these women writing from inside, we learn of remarkable efforts by families to resist police violence and terror, confront criminalization, and refuse state efforts to turn communities against each other. These stories are critical to the histories emerging from Compton and other sites of ongoing struggle.

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