by Mianta McKnight, Justice Now
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. I had just turned 17 when I went into the correctional system in 1995. In 2013, I came out as an adult and had to figure out what my life would look like. I had no life experience as an adult outside of incarceration.
I learned I was ineligible for a lot of resources. When I came home, I didn’t have a child or a drug or alcohol addiction, but in order to access the resources I needed I had to fabricate that I did. So many people are coming home from women’s prisons and the resources that they need are not available.
The vast majority of people held inside the women’s prisons are people of color. As I watch my folks come home, I realize that women and girls of color specifically are marginalized, ignored and forgotten.
Most people when they come home have an ideal plan of what their life is going to look like. When they hit a brick wall, it is hurtful, discouraging, frustrating and can derail some people. How can you expect people to come out and do better when none of the resources that can help them are available? We’re sent back into impoverished communities expecting to pick up the pieces and put our families back together.
We come home to attempting to adjust and fall back into our roles in our family. This is challenging oftentimes and not just hard on the person who is trying to integrate but also on the family members. Wraparound services for women and girls of color specifically would provide the opportunity to find sustainable, dignified and living wage employment. That’s a basic human right – and a necessity, especially here in the Bay Area.
How can you expect people to come out and do better when none of the resources that can help them are available?
But to keep a job, you need a roof over your head and a safe place to raise your family. Women experience tremendous trauma before and during incarceration, and need stable housing and access to mental health services. It is wrong to think that we’ll come home and be able to fall in line and everything will flow smoothly without support.
I am now a mother and feel the pressure to make sure my daughter has what she needs. She is dependent on me to “get it right”; there is no room for error. I strive daily to build a solid foundation for my family. I am resilient, determined and know I am not defined by my record. I was given a second chance at life and won’t waste it. I do need resources and seek them out.
In 2014 California voters passed Prop 47. This measure was designed to move resources from prisons back into services in the community. It also provided an opportunity for many Californians to have their felony sentences reclassified to misdemeanors. The state is currently implementing the law, and women like me are watching closely. We encourage you to do the same.
Prop 47 was designed to move resources from prisons back into services in the community.
In order for Prop 47 to succeed, the resources it creates must reach women, and specifically women and girls of color. So far, there are no gender-responsive services being offered. We are working hard to change that, and make sure California women get a fair chance to thrive after release. Thus far we are failing to do so effectively and consistently. Stay up to date on our work by following us on Facebook.
Mianta McKnight can be reached at Justice Now, 1322 Webster St., Oakland, CA, 94612, 510-839-7654.