Showing posts with label prisons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label prisons. Show all posts

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A woman inprisoned

A woman who gives birth alone, and then abandons the baby is a woman who is out of options. A woman who does this on a plane, on her way to take up low-paying migrant work, is out of options and resources. Whatever your political analysis of the woman who gave birth in a plane last month, it does not take much empathy to understand that her situation was not one of her own choosing, and that what she did was an act of desperation and powerlessness.

I had wanted to write something, but hadn't known what to write. A polemic seems almost grotesque when you think what she has been through. But then I heard on National Radio, that she had been remanded in custody.*

She has been in prison for ten days now, and was arrested six days after she gave birth. I know I'm a radical when it comes to prison, and so what I have to say about how much people don't belong in prison sounds slightly hollow. But I don't understand what possible good comes from locking this woman up under any logic at all.

I believe that Karolaine Maika's situation, and her incarceration are a feminist issue, and that feminist solidarity is most important when it comes to women who are most marginalised by society. I would encourage feminists to to support Karolaine Maika in jail. The most simple thing you could do is write to her:

Karolaine Maika
C/O Auckland Region Womens Corrections Facility
Private Bag 76908
South Auckland Mail Centre
Manukau 2240

You can send phones cards and money to people in prison with your letter. Money goes into the prison account, and can be used to buy things from the prison shop once a week. Phone cards are useful as a way of contacting people outside of prison, and are sometimes used as trade for other items. If you send either of these things, then mention them in the letter to make sure they get to her (if you want to do more, then leave a comment on the thread - if there's one thing I'm not short on it's information on how to support people in prison).

Mostly when I talk about feminism I talk about collective resistance. But I think support plays an important role in feminism as well. It doesn't take much to write a letter.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reasonable opinions

Act's law and order spokesperson on double bunking in prisons:

"Who cares if inmates don't want to be 'cooped up' together for long periods of time? These criminals have lost the right to have their comforts considered," Mr Garrett said. [...]

The fact is: if you don't want to be assaulted - or worse - by a cellmate, avoid prison by not committing a crime,"
My view - that prison should be abolished - is incomprehensible. If any MP expressed that view it would be news for weeks, but none of them would, because no one would.

David Garret's view is acceptable enough that it is just quoted in a news story on double bunking, not the subject of a news story.

I keep writing things, and deleting them; they don't capture the gutteral scream of despair that I'm trying to convey. I find analysing public discourse on prisons so upsetting that I do it in very small doses.

So I will move to a slightly different angle. References, jokes, and evil press releases about prison rape, are not quarantined from the way we understand rape. They are part of that understanding, and reinforce it. I'm sure you could write a lot about that; I'm sure people have. All I want to say is that any expression that anyone, anywhere, ever, deserves to be raped reinforces the idea that some people are rapeable.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The wafer thin line

To follow on from my last post (and some comments on it at The Hand Mirror), I wanted to outline more what I meant by a wafer thin line between opposing prisons and supporting convictions in some cases (not actually deconstruct it yet, just draw where it might be).

As I think I've said before, I've believed in prison abolition for years. In my early 20s I read Jessica Mitford's Kind and Usual Punishment, and was utterly convinced by her argument about the impossibility of prison reform. As I became more of an activist my analysis developed, until I thought I was pretty solidly anti-prison.

Then I actually went to a prison (or four). Now my opposition to prisons is total and visceral. I can barely read stories about prison in the news. I struggle to concentrate as I follow state highway one past Arohata. I couldn't write a post about Brad Shipton not getting parole, because I couldn't say that I thought he should stay in prison.


Before, and still, prison abolition is not the total of my politics. The (in)justice system shapes the way we talk about and understand rape, and it has huge impact on women who have been raped (whether or not they make a complaint). I believe that this impact is almost all negative. I think that if I wished away the prison system by magic tomorrow, then what would be left would be better for rape survivors than what we have now.

I no longer feel any ambivalance about jail itself. I hate jail and don't want anyone to go there ever. But sometimes, although rarely, I think a conviction is important even though it might result in jail.

When? Here's my list:

  • Police Officers
  • Rapists who use a consent defence
  • Police officers who use a consent defence to rape (for the avoidance of doubt, as we used to write in agreement negotiations).
There are possibly other examples, mostly around provocation defences to murder.

I want to make clear that even though I support (I'm not even sure that's the word I'm looking for maybe, hope for, wish for, don't oppose would be better) convictions in those cases, that doesn't mean i support the sentances that sometimes follow.

I'm not going to make any grand conclusions about why. I want to explore that in more depth in the rest of the series. I just wanted to make clear that though the line may be wafer thin, what's on the other side of it is very small.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Oriwa Kemp

Nia Glassie's life and death should not be measured by the length of the prison sentences handed out to those against her. I've made that argument in general, and I make it now, in particular.

She doesn't come back, whether the collective jail time is the minimum of 42 years, or a much larger maximum, her life doesn't get any better.

I don't believe, I don't imagine anyone can believe, that the sentances will act as a deterrant. Whatever the cause of Nia Glassie's death it certainly wasn't

In 17 and a half years (a little less for time served) Michael and Wiremu Curtis will become eligible for parole, they won't even be forty yet. They'll get out. They will probably get partners, their partners may have kids. Prison, years of being controlled and brutalised, won't have made them any less violent and so they will probably beat up their partners, and their partners' kids.*

Murdering a child is horrific, I have actually been able to read very little about the case, because when I get to "clothes dryer" my brain turns off. But prison isn't a line that ends it all. It is part of a system that perpetuates it all.

None of that was what I meant to say, when I decided to write about the sentencing. What I wanted to write about was the sentences given to Oriwa Kemp.

Oriwa Kemp was 17 when she was in a relationship with Michael Curtis, and he was beating her up.

I started this series at least partly in response to feminists who get outraged at short jail terms. I wanted to explore what jail is and what it does, and why I think supporting it, even in that limited sense was not part of women's liberation.** I haven't really done that yet (although I hope to).

But Oriwa Kemp, who has already been in jail for over a year, and has more time to serve, who is in jail because of a relationship where she was being abused, her story should stand as a warning to any feminist who upholds the jail system.

* None of this is inevitable. I don't want to dismiss the possibility of change. But change is much more likely outside of prison as inside it.

** I also wanted to explore the wafer-thinness between my line of supporting convictions, and will hopefully still do that too.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Another clarification

One of the problems I've had in this series is that I don't really want to talk about 'crime' and clearly I have problems with the idea of 'criminals'. One of the basic ideas of this series is that violence against women is often used to support the existence of the prison and (in)justice system. I see resistance to both violence against women and the prison system as vitally important.

I think the abolishment of the prison system for the vast majority of what is currently classified as crime (particularly drug and property offences) is a relatively simple stance to uphold. I can defend my opposition by focusing on the problems with prison and the (in)justice system and no-one's going to say "what about the pot smokers?" or "what about the shop lifters?".

But I do think that 'what about the rapists?' is an important question. Both because of it's ideological role in upholding the prison system as it currently stands, and because it's something we need to answer.

So I'm mostly going writing about the offences that are already over represented in the discussion. I want to acknowledge that really explicitly, and make it clear taht my definition of "bad things people can do to each other" isn't particularly related to the government's definition of "crime" even though it may seem like it is because that overlap is what I'm discussing in this series.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

From our court reporter...

There are several staples to the way the media report on court. One of the most frequent is victims or family members commenting after sentencing. These stories usually involve the victims or family members talking about how the sentence is too short, or disappointing in some way. Sometimes they just involve talk about how the sentancing represents 'closure'.

This sort of media disturbs me. Because the suffering of the people quoted is real, and often horrific, and it feels intrusive even to comment on their way of coping. But the function of these stories is to reinforce one of the fundamental, but nonsensical, ideas behind our (in)justice system:

"The way we value someone's suffering is the length of time we incarcerate the person who inflicted it."

This statement is treated as obvious and self-evident, but it's not. In fact it makes no sense at all, except as a description of the way society works.

But people who are suffering turn to and reinforce this idea. Partly I think this is a result of it's hegemonic status. But more importantly I think that people who have suffered great loss turn to this idea, because they have nothing else.

Our understanding of violence between people is centred entirely on what to do with the perpetrator, not about supporting those who have suffered. The state justice system doesn't even dream of saying to people "What would make this easier? What can we do for you?"

So when people who have suffered from violence condemn the lightness of a sentence, that certainly reinforces ideas of prison I disagree with. But I would suggest that this has to be understood in a context where they're offered nothing else. That there is no other way that society recognises their experiences and suffering.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Prisons and women

In my previous post, I didn't deal with prisons as a feminist issue, or the effect of prisons on women. Prisons are a deeply gendered phenomenon, and their effect on men is fairly widely known (they go to prison). I think that aspect of the gendered nature of prisons makes it easy for feminists to put a 'someone else's problem' field around the issue. But I think this ignores some important aspects of women and the prison system.

Men who are in prison are a feminist issue, because of the impact their imprisonment has the lives of the women who love or need them. The vast majority of the work of having someone in prison, is done by women. Visiting, bringing children to visit, providing money and phone cards and the things that ease prison life, this is done by women. I'm not yet in a space where I can write about that with any kind of distance. I'm not sure I ever will be. It's over a year since I set foot near a prison and I still identify so strongly with the women that I queued behind and visited with. I think I'll have to let my previous post on this issue explain some of what I have to say for this.

Women in prison are also a feminist issue although they are a tiny minority of the prison population as a whole (although I think that percentage of prisoners who are women is increasing in many NZ and the US, and probably other countries with similar prison policies). Like the men in prison, women in prison are not just chosen as a random sampling of the female population, but tend to be poor, and non-white.

But prison is more gendered than that, and women in prison are not just the female version of men who are in prison. Women in prison are very likely to have been on the receiving end of violence against women, and on the receiving end of abuse, misogyny and control. There is often a path between women in prison's experience of abuse and being in prison.

Women also get considerable less support in prison than men (I wrote a post about this here which is based on my experiences of visiting at women's prisons). So the experience of being in prison is more isolating for women than it is for men, and women have less to call on when they get out of prison than men.

I might later try and write about the implications of being under complete control in prison for women who have been in abusive relationships (but I may not, because it is so far away from anything I know). But I think it's an important thing to think about, when conceptualising feminism and prisons.

So to ignore prisons as a feminist issue is to abandon the women who are in prison. Feminists who support the prison system (and I am planning to discuss the ways feminists uphold the prison system) abandon these women as collateral damage. I don't think that's acceptable.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Against the prison system

I feel like there's a stumbling block with prisons, that makes it very difficult to write about. Possibly it's a lack of imagination so that imagining what a word without prisons could look like seems ludicrous. I know that it's only possible because of the lack of knowledge about the reality of prisons. But whenver I've written anthing on prisons, no matter what I thought I was saying, the main response I've gotten has been 'but what about the murderers?'.

So I feel that in order to begin the series, in order to lay the foundation for an argument about justice which rejects the possibility of prisons I have to go over the arguments against prison. I will not be going over them in particular detail, there are heaps of sources on anti-prison work. Personally I was converted to the anti-prison cause in my early twenties after reading Jessica Mitford's Kind and Usual Punishment. Since then my opinion has been informed and reinforced by writing around, by and about, Black Panthers who went to jail, particularly. Finally, my own experience of the prison system which I wrote about briefly, only reinforced my views. I really don't recommend having your friends be arrested as a way to learn about prisons, but do recommend the other two routes if you want more detail about the arguments I lay out here.

A prisoner is under the control of the prison system, and the entire purpose of the prison system is to have that level of control. To talk about prisons, and the role in prisons in society, it's important to have the control reality of prisons explicit.

Control isn't the stated role of the prison (although it's central to their functioning); there are, theoretically, three different roles of a prison system, deterrence, rehabilitation, and punishment. I want to briefly look at these in turn to make it clear why I don't think there is anything in prison

Prison has no rehabilitive functions - none. If dehabilitative was a word it would describe prisons. There are many reasons for that, some of which get quite a lot of play in mainstream media, the lack of treatment for those who want, prison as a school of crime, the isolation of prison making people more like to comit crim etc. The point I want to make is that rehabilitation is incompatible with control. If the state wants people to refrain from acting in certain ways (and that's something that I find problematic, but I'll take it as a given for this paragraph) then giving those people no choice about how they act for a period of time is unhelpful. Taking total control of people's lives for a certain period of time is not going to induce them to behave the way you want to when that control is relinquished.

Prison is not a particularly effective deterrance. It's more effective deterrance than it is at rehabilitation (although objectively prison is more effective at teaching advance cake decorating skills than it is at 'rehabilitation'). I'll talk about some specific failures of prison as deterrance later on, but here I want to point out that there are still people manufacturing, transporting, selling and consuming drugs that have been made illegal where I'm writing from when I'm writing and where you're reading when you're reading. The threat of the justice system may work as a deterrance on some things some of the time, but almost by definition the crimes that are most often committed are the ones that prison is not working as a deterrance for.

On a more philosophical level if you believe that a major factor that stops people from stealing, killing people, drink driving or smoking pot is the threat of jail, then that's a particular view of human nature. If you locate the cause of what we define as crime somewhere other than inherent evilness, then prison as a deterrance looks a lot less important.

That leaves punishment. Prison is a punishment; I will not deny that. In fact I find it hard to write this, because I just want to type prison is horrific over and over again. The control and the punish aspects of prison work in perfect harmony. Although the effect is up for debate.

But who does it punish? Because even if you believe that total control is a suitable form of punishment (and I didn't before my friend's had gone to prison, and I sure as hell don't now), we all know that who gets punished is very selective. Poor-men and non-white-men are criminalised.

And while that's partly because of access to resources and discrimination on a case by case level it is also because justice systems are very selective about what they consider a crime. The way poor people steal are much more harshly dealt with than the way rich people steal.

Lots of people, many feminists (I would hope most, but that's probably a wee bit optimistic), agree with these points, but instead of arguing for prison abolition they argue for reform. I would ask people who recognise the problem in prison to really think what it is about prisons that they want saving?

Because there are ways that you can improve prisons, but they don't necessarily reform them. My suggestions for New Zealand prison would start by actually following the Correction department policy and procedures manual. I laugh hollowly whenever I read the families section (yes I have read the families section of the Corrections Department policy and procedures manual more than once, I never denied I had issues). Then there are more than a few improvements that you could make to the visiting system (starting with the Auckland region's booking system which is based on people who want to visit having communication with prisoners - something which is sometimes a little difficult for people in prison).

But most of the little things I want to change, the things that tore me apart and could have been different, are caused by the nature of prison itself, by control.

We've all read about the degredation and abuse that happens when people are under institutional control, in hospitals and rest homes. And in those cases the control is (supposed to be) incidental to the function of the institution. The problems that arise from control are fundamental to prison structures, and can't be reformed away. The effect of a system that is based on control is that every reform that is made will be made part of the system of control (to get more on this read Jessica Mitford on prisons, she demonstrates systematically how prison reform efforts have not created more humane prisons, but just increased the system of control over prisoners).

And that's my once over lightly against prisons. There's a lot it doesn't cover, it doesn't cover the role of prisons in society, or much about 'crime'. I'll write more about prisons, of course, that's the whole purpose of this series. I'll also address the issue of prison and rapists, and prison and abusive men more directly. But this is the place to talk about 'so what about the murderers'.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Two stories

I want to start with some of my recent stories that confuse me still.

2008 was not an easy year for me, and the week I was called for jury duty came pretty close to being its nadir. My only goal in going to court was not to get called. I've always wanted to be on a jury, and I kind do feel a duty to do so. But at that moment I was so exhausted, that I deliberately gave myself permission to try and get out of it. I wore a t-shirt that shouted my politics. I went into jury selection fairly sure I would be challenged in the unlikely event I was picked.

There was only one jury trial in the Wellington district court the week I was called, and I made it through the pre-ballot. It's strange for me, being at the district court alone. I associate the district court with being a group, sometimes stressed group, but a group where someone's always got some chocolate. That day it was just me and my knitting.

I began to get nervous as we packed into one of the smaller court rooms. What if I was called, what if they'd used up their challenge? I didn't have the concentration span to follow an episode of Buffy at that point, how was I going to follow a trial?

And then they read out the inditement.

I'm not going to post what I remember of the indictment, it was too graphic, too upsetting. The charge was illegal sexual connection with a woman with a significant impairment by a man who was caring for her, and in the inditement they described the sexual connection.

I watched the women before me head towards the jury box. A young girl with a university sweatshirt was challenged by the defence lawyer. A woman who had the same hair cut as my mother, and so many other middle-class liberal women of a certain age, was challenged by the defence lawyer. The jury that resulted was dominated by men, and the only women who weren't challenged by the defence looked very conservative. Because in the jury process looks are all the lawyers have to go on.

I gave myself permission; I practiced what I'd say to the judge if I was called. But I felt more and more guilty, as more women got challenged. I felt like if I could get through I should. Which was ridiculous, because if they got challenged byt he defence I would get challenged.*

What I wasn't thinking was prison. This is very unusual. District Courts make me think of prison, and there were prison guards next to the defendant Just a few days before I'd cried at the sight of prison guards, as they lead a prisoner through the hospital.

I've known where I stood on this for years. I still believed in prison abolition when Clint Rickards was found not guilty, even though the empty hole of disbelief at the verdict soon filled with rage. My rational argument for this gut reaction, has always been that women who go through the court system should be believed, even though the effect of that is jail, which helps no-one.


My flat has very thin walls. My next door neighbours are a couple and they're very loud. When I said to them "You know last Sunday night when you played your music at two in the morning and it kept me awake." They replied "Yes, the walls are very thin."

But sometimes I'd hear other things. I'm never quite sure what they are. But as I'm drifting off to sleep there's thudding and shrieking that makes me wonder what's going on. That sound like he could be abusing her. I didn't know what to do and I asked a friend who had worked for women's refuge if she had any ideas, and she said to call the police.

And I didn't know what to say, but I knew that I couldn't do that. That I'd go over there myself, in my pajamas to ask them what was going on, however dangerous and ineffectual that might be.


So I know some things for certain. And until now that has been enough for me, the boundary lines in my gut. But I think there is a lot more to say. For starters, because a lot of people don't draw their lines in the same place as me. I think it's important to articulate why I wouldn't call the police, and why prison isn't going to stop men abusing women. Then I want to go backwards, to the accepted ground of what protection orders and so on offer women (and don't offer women).

Because it's only by acknowledging the contradictions exist, that we can hope to resolve them

* When I read, later about hte information about potential jurors that the crown had access to, I could only imagine the file the crown had on me. I wonder if they would have challenged me. Because on any case but a rape case I'm the crown's nightmare juror, and that's reasonably easy to deduce from my police file (my known associates list would be full of people the police think are terrorists). But it'd be equally easy for the prosecution to see from my police file that I'm not very fond of rapists.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A new direction

So I haven't posted much. That much is obvious. I think of posts occasionally. My friend texted me 'if we can't trust celebrities to fight the class war, who can we trust?' and it'd make a great title for a post about the Screen Actors Guild negotiations.* I have ideas about the politics of Battlestar Galactica and The Wire that I'd like to write. I still have a draft somewhere about the evils of National's legislation to introduce mandatory standards testing. These ideas never make it onto the blog.

But a fear of being trivial had never stopped me before. This blog, after all, has more posts on 'Joss' than 'colonialism'. There must be other reasons I am not writing.

My posting slowed down considerably after the raids of October the 15th 2007. It's changed the focus of my politics, and I haven't quite known how to deal with that. One of the things I have managed to write about has been prison. Most of the posts I've started and not finished over the last year, have been around the parole of Brad Shipton, Bob Schollum and Peter McNamara. I am no longer satisfied with the pat answers I would have given 18 months ago. I would have said "I wanted Clint Rickards convicted" because I wanted Louise Nicholas to be believed, which isn't inconsistent with believing in the abolition of prisons. I maintained two sets of politics on parallel tracks, and wasn't particularly interested in exploring the blurry space between them. But now I want to write about that space constantly, it crowds out everything else I might be interested in. But I never start because the task seems too huge.

I also think there's an even deeper problem. After three years I've written out most of what I think. There are people who see the first role of their blogs as organising tools, or soapboxes. I've done both of these things, but I don't see that as the purpose of this blog. I write to explore and clarify what I think. And after 3 years I've done that with most blog-sized thoughts in my head. So I can't get in the habit of writing, because I don't have the right sized things to say.

I don't want to give up this space, so I've decided to try and experiment, which addresses both these problems. Starting tomorrow everyday for at least two weeks, I'm going to write a post about the intersection between my ideas about violence against women and the ideas about prison. I'll particularly be trying to write about what I don't know, and don't understand.

If this works, then I've got some other ideas that I might write about for a concentrated . I'll try and write out some of my ideas that are longer than a single blog post. And maybe in between these concentrated bursts I'll write that post about the Screen Actors Guild.

* I sometimes have some strange text message conversations. Particularly when I'm watching a new television show. You'd be amazed at how much political analysis of a TV you can get into 140 characters, or perhaps my messages don't make any sense.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Brad Shipton is a rapist

I find it hard to write about the parole report on Brad Shipton, or the media's coverage over the last few days.

"Should Brad Shipton be in jail?" "Do I want Brad Shipton to be in jail?" "Am I glad that he's going to remain in jail?" I can't answer those questions, haven't been able to months now. I keep on meaning to explore my ambivalance here, but I don't.

On top of that, I'm deeply suspicious of Brad Shipton's attitude towards the parole board. The way he treated women shows him to be a deeply manipulative person, who cares nothing about anyone else's feelings and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Bob Schollum was denied bail, at least in part, because the parole board decided that a rapist who claimed that rape was consensual, was a danger to rape again. To see Brad Shipton's contrition in front of the parole board as anything other than a cynical ploy to try and get released, requires far more faith in Brad Shipton's integrity than is warranted on the evidence.

But I still want to talk about the parole board decision (which is available in full here and worth reading, because the Sunday Star Times article on it bore almost no relationship to the report), because it reveals quite a bit about judicial thinking about rape.

Some of it is really good. The most quoted part of the report says:

He said he was sorry for what the victim went through and later went further and said that he had ruined her life. He acknowledged he should not have put her in that position and he should not have taken his colleague Mr Schollum along with him. He acknowledged that she was possibly intimidated by them. He confirmed that he did not ask the complainant if it was okay to have sex with her or for more than one person to have sex with her, and that wearing the police uniform was despicable. He said looking back on his whole life, which he has reflected on since being in prison, has been full of disgraceful, disgusting behaviour.

In the Board’s unanimous opinion, what he described of the event was, in our view, one of rape.
I think they have laid this out very clearly; that even in his own version of events, it is clear that not only did she not consent, but that there were so many factors that made it impossible for her to give meaningful consent anyway.

While I was impressed with the parole board's analysis, I think the analysis of the psychologist was deeply problematic:
Suffice to say that that report outlines the details of the offence and Mr Shipton’s infidelities and involvement in group sex. At the time of writing the report, the psychologist was told by Mr Shipton that he denied the offence and that he had not accepted the jury decision. He thought his behaviour was immoral and unacceptable but not illegal. He told the psychologist that he had a bad jury and biased Judge and that he was very bitter and angry following the Court decision. He was able to identify risks in the future such as a situation of indulging in promiscuous behaviour and not being faithful to his partner would be risky for him.
To me, what is so worrying about this, is that the psychologist appears to have accepted Brad Shipton's rationalisation that the problem was infidelity and group sex, and not lack of consent. But Brad Shipton clearly can't identify consent, so he's as much risk to a partner, as he is if he's having sex with other people. In fact, when asked in the dock, how he knew that the woman he raped consented he replied "the same way you know with your wife." That a psychologist report doesn't just not challenge, but goes along with, a moral view that condemns group sex and unfaithfulness, rather than centreing on consent, shows the very limited understanding our justice system has about rape.*

The report also indicates that Brad Shipton wasn't eligible for intervention programmes. I don't see prison as a way of eliminating rape, but it is clear that they're not even trying.

*Lets all curl up and die of not surprisedness

Monday, May 26, 2008

Abolishing prisons would also solve the problem of drugs in prison

From NZ Herald

Corrections Association president Mr Hanlon said the `P' could have been thrown over the prison wall, though it was more likely to have been smuggled in by a person.

"One way to help prevent it being smuggled in is to stop contact visits," he told The Sunday News.

"It sounds extreme but no contact, no pass-on contraband."
When I read this, I am back in the visiting rooms of Rimutaka, Arohata, A-CRAP and Auckland Region Women's Corrections facility. I could describe each of them to you now, and the pluses and minuses of the different visiting systems.* But most vividly I remember the contact. The joy in that first hug, and how much I tried to load into the last, the need to touch frequently in between to prove that we both existed.

I can't even begin to imagine what non-contact visits take away from prisoners. I don't think I can imagine what it would have taken from me.

This is not unionism. It's not any union's business to tell the boss how to do their job better - particularly this job. I'll support CANZ's claims for more pay and better staffing ratios. But the more they make the job of their union to make life worse for prisoners, the further they get from unionism that I can recognise, and the closer they get to the police association.

* Taking the best from each of them would be Rimutaka's processing of visitor approvals forms, the Wellington region's booking system, Auckland Women Region Corrections Facility's visiting hours, A-CRAP's visiting area (it had tables, and the guards didn't come around and give you stupid petty orders all the time), and Rimutaka's visiting room location (you could see Pukeko out the window sometimes). It's hard to figure out which guards were least likely to steal into visiting time with their own lateness and disorganisation (twice a visit started twenty minutes late, and you can be damned sure it still ended on time). I think it might have been Arohata. But it'd be by a slim margin.

I hate prisons so much.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tiny, tiny babies

I want to be really clear that I was relieved when I heard that Chris Kahui was found not guilty.* I've no idea who killed the Kahui twins,** it may have been Chris. But iff someone had gone to jail for their murder that wouldn't have made that person any less likely to be violent towards children in the future, and it won't stop another caregiver of a small child doing violence under stress. It might have served as punishment, but whoever killed two babies of their own family is punishing themselves already. All that's left is vengeance, and no-one has a right to claim vengeance in those babies names.

I do have a point I want to make, now that I've made it clear that I am not calling for a different verdict. From the very beginning, the defence painted Macsyna King as guilty, and they emphasised again and again what a bad mother she was. They talked of her going out with her sister, leaving Chris Kahui alone with the twins. This is from the summing up:

The twins were not victims of a one-off assault but had historic injuries, and it was "suspicious" their mother was not aware of these.

The Crown had accused Kahui's defence of blackening Ms King's reputation, but Mrs Smith said Ms King, through abandoning her other children and her drug use, had done that all by herself.
I don't think this defence would have been used or useful if the genders had been reversed. If hypothetical-Macsyna had been standing trial for their murder, then she would have not been able to use the fact that hypothetical-Chris had gone out partying all night, abandoned previous chidren and not noticed previous injuries to portray him as guilty. What is almost unforgivable in a mother, is almost acceptable in a father.

Note on Comments: I got linked to by a couple of obnoxious right-wing blogs so I've turned off the comments on this post.

* I want to remind people that Chris Kahui spent several months in jail, while he was unable to get bail. During this time he was in physical danger, and so was kept in segregation, which would have meant 23 hour lock-down. The prominence, and swiftness, of the 'not guilty' verdict, doesn't seem to have led to a discussion about how he has already been punished.

** That is, which person inflicted the injuries. Because capitalism and colonialism played a large part in those babies deaths.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Zoom out

Josie Bullock was working as a probation officer in a Maori-focused anti-violence programme. During the poroporoaki, she was asked to follow tikanga and sit behind the men. She refused to do so, and was given a formal warning for unprofessional conduct. She spoke about the incident to the media and was then dismissed.

Her case has come up for another round of media commentary, because the human rights tribunal has just found that she was discriminated against, and the warning was invalid, but offered no compensation.*

The media have quite loved this case, it's got many airings on Nine to Noon. Media and legal commentators get excited as discussing this as a case of conflicting rights, and attempting to cast the rights of Maori (who are invariably men) with the rights of women (who are equally invariably white).

There are other ways we could look at what happened. We could start with the prison system, where the programme was being run. A system that imprisons Maori at a rate far higher than Pakeha. Maori make up an even higher percentage of remand prisoners than they do sentenced prisoners, which shows that Maori are refused bail at a higher rate than Pakeha.

We could look at the women who support the men inside the prison system. We could look at how their work is rendered impossible and invisible. We could look at the effect that imprisonment has on those left outside.

We could look at the ways in which society condones and supports men's power over women, and men's violence against women.

For me, that means my starting point is that I'm fighting for a world without prisons, and without abusive men.

The effect of the media's narrow focus in cases like this, is to imply that there's a scarcity of rights and that if you want your rights you may need to trample over other people's.

It's vital that those of us who want more, those who are fighting for liberation rather than rights, reject this idea. Colonialism and misogyny are interlocking systems. We won't be able to dismantle one while the other remains in tact (and won't be able to dismantle either while capitalism is sitting there).

* This was a cowardly piece of shit ruling from the human rights commission. To state that an unfair warning wasn't the reason for dismissal, but the way someone dealt with the unfair warning was, is bosses nonsense, and shows the limits of legal redress.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Not lucky

Matthew Te Hira was arrested on Friday of last week. He was charged with drink driving and traffic offences. He'd fail to appear for sixteen months. He was remanded in prison. The day after he was arrested he was bashed so badly that he ended up on life support.

I can't really write about this sort of story yet. I can't stand anywhere else, but in the shoes of people who loved Matthew Te Hira.

So I just want to say one thing about the coverage. Beven Hanlon President of the Corrections Association of New Zealand said:

Although it's tough to say, it's lucky it's a prisoner and not a staff member
That's not unionism,or not unionism that's worth a damn. There's a history of this sort of union, tailors who went on strike to exclude women, and a whole raft of Jim Crow unions in the states. But unionism that says that your members are more important than other people, more worthy of life, that's the opposite of solidarity.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Friday Electoral Politics - Winston Peters hatred edition

Winston Peters in parliament yesterday:

What sort of message is sent to victims in this country when a political leader is happily hongi-ing with someone who is a beneficiary of the Bail Act in that he is out on bail although he faces very serious charges?

Tame Iti is not a beneficiary of the Bail Act. Valerie Morse, Emily Bailey, Omar Hamed and the 23 year-old Swiss musician, who were all released on bail from the same court-room, are not beneficiaries of the bail act. The other eleven people who were arrested on October 15, and are facing charges under the Arms Act were not beneficiaries of the Bail Act.

I lived, worked and worried through the 25 days from October 15 till November 8, when the police said they would no longer oppose bail. Bail is not too easy to get.

This is how Rick Barker replied:
The Rt Hon Winston Peters pointed out very clearly the contradiction of someone saying that he was going to be tough on crime, then being very familiar—hongi-ing—with someone who was out on bail. I think the public will make their own decisions about that. I just advise the member of what my grandmother said: “Show me who your friends are, and I’ll show you who you are.”
As someone who is friends with people who are out on bail 'although they face very serious charges' - I'm going to judge Rick Barker pretty harshly. I am proud of who my friends are, and who I am.


This seems to be as good a time as any to announce my voting rationale in the up-coming election. I will not vote for any of the parties currently in parliament (most will be self-explanatory - this is the reason I'm not voting Green - although I could pile on many more). I could not vote, but I kind of like it and I love ridiculously complex voting rationales. I also like people losing their jobs.

So my main aim for voting this year will be to try and contribute to Winston Peters losing his job. I will do this by making sure I vote in the party vote. The higher the total number of party votes, the higher the number that NZ First needs reach the threshold. Since Winston Peters lost Tauranga NZ First needs 5% to get into parliament.

I won't know which small party to vote for, until the party lists are announced. My preference would be something like the McGilligudy Serious Party, or even Natural Law. The problem of voting for anyone who I even vaguely agree with is that it might encourage them, and I think running for elections is a waste of time. So I'm hoping that a small third party with completely random policies that I don't find offensive, but I don't agree with enough to think that standing for election is a waste.

It may be a tall order.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Prisoner Objects

On Monday, The Dominion Post had an article about delays in court hearings. Here's the heading:

With the time from arrest to sentence[*] frequently stretching beyond two years, frustrated police say delays mean offenders disappear, witnesses' memories fade, and victims lose faith in the system.
There's something rather important missing from that list: the defendants.

Defendants are the people most likely to be effected by delays in court hearings. Some defendants lose their freedom entirely, as they're kept in jail from arrest to trial. But bail conditions can also severely restrict people's life. If you have to report to the police station several times a week, then that seriously limits what else you can do with your life (as well as making it hard to keep a job). Three of my friends aren't allowed to communicate with each other. If that doesn't seem like a big deal to you, then pick someone you love and imagine not being able to say a word to them for over a year (or write letters, or e-mails, or be in the same place).

It should be astonishing that those most likely to be effected are egregiously left out of a story like this (and the effect of delays on defendants isn't mentioned anywhere in teh article). But it's not, because the Dominion's Post crime stories are written from a certain angle, for a certain purpose.

I've always hated the Dominion Post's prison stories. They do an article every year where they check that people in prison aren't being given too nice a time on Christmas, and it's always awful.

But it wasn't until I knew people in prison, and these articles upset me, rather than just pissed me off, that I realised why the articles are so bad. Prisoners are objects, in the Dominion Post; they do not exist as people.

The prison system becomes a system for processing prisoner objects, and the experience of the prisoner object is irrelevant. So food in prison at Christmas is discussed from a nutritional point of view, rather than the point of view of someone actually eating the food. The fact that normally scheduled visits won't happen on Christmas day, because it's a public holiday, isn't mentioned at all.

The reason they do it, is because once you imagine people inside, rather than prisoner objects, the hell that is losing your freedom becomes real.

* In the world of the Dominion Post no-one is ever found not guilty, except Clint Rickards.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Xmas, prison is over

I didn't watch Outrageous Fortune when it was first on. I've been catching up on DVD ever since watching the second episode. Last night I watched the Christmas special, and so I've watched everything out on DVD.

But I almost couldn't watch it - because the first ten minutes are about Cheryl's boyfriend Wayne trying to get out on bail. Partly because it was wrong. They showed Wayne using a cellphone in front of a guard at court - it doesn't work like that. Plus, Wayne would be in Auckland Central Remand Prison and I know what visiting at A-CRAP is like(I even know the prison nickname) and it's not like that.

But actually I was just upset. One day I may be able to hear stories about bail and let them be stories, but at the moment they resonate like an electric shock and take me straight back there.

Now it doesn't take much. The media reports they have every year about how they spend $4 a day feeding prisoners, and that on Christmas Day prisoners will get a mince pie dusted with icing sugar. They don't tell you that there'll be no visits on Christmas Day, because it's a public holiday. Tuesday was a visiting day for my friends every prison they were in.

Or this post, that I got from debitage:

I sat outside that cheerily bedecked detention center on a bird shit stained bench while I told a five year old that neither Santa nor God nor any of the other deities in a child's pantheon could bring his daddy home from Christmas. Daddy will be spending his fourth Christmas in immigration detention, a sentence 400% percent longer than any he served for a criminal conviction.

The child bawled. His mom hugged him and whispered endearments to him in her native language, although the son is a bilingual U.S. citizen. But then she had to send the son away to play under an ailing tree, because I needed to interrogate her about horrors she and her husband had faced in their native country. Part of the joy of litigating an asylum claim is that you have to grill everyone involved until they have PTSD from reliving their experiences. But if I'm not ruthless, the judges and government attorneys will confuse and humiliate them. Even if I do prepare them, a little of that happens anyway.
I'm not sure that I want the day to come when I can read that without physical pain. I want to hold on to the vivid reality of the prison system, because it's going to keep on being real whether or not I ignore it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A question...

One of the things I haven't worked out about my politics is what I think about prison guards. At Arohata the guards were mostly older Maori and Pacific Island women. When I visited the guards told us that we weren't allowed to be hug our friends too much, because the guards had been told off by their bosses for being too lenient the day before.

Don't get my wrong guards, and the absolute power they have over prisoners, have driven me to exhaustion, and they can do far worse to those inside. But they are workers, and reasonably well unionised ones. So driving out to prison one day, the question became, would I support a corrections strike?

On one level the answer is of course, I support any strike, and I would. But after the last few weeks I immediately started thinking about the effects of a strike in the prisons. When they're short staffed in prison they respond by locking prisoners down for longer and cutting back on activities which increase the need for guards, like visits.

I know I absolutely would not support a strike which restricted visiting and increased lock-down, if my friends were in prison. Hell, I hated Labour Day while they were in jail, because we couldn't visit. Knowing that can I say that I'd support those tactics when it's not my friends being effected?

Ultimately it's not my call, I'm not a Corrections worker (and will never be a Corrections worker) - and I do believe workers have a right to choose their own tactics. But I think I could only get on the picket line if Corrections were disrupting the prison intake in some way, if the number of prisoners were reduced. If the only effect of a theoretical strike were to further reduce prisoners freedoms then I don't think I could support it, and I didn't think I'd ever say that about any industry.

This is a question that only really troubles those who automatically support workers struggles and also believe in prison abolition (Asher? Byron?). But I know there are at least a few readers of those blog who share these positions. What do you think?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The next visit...

The week after I first visited Rimutaka, I visited Arohata - the women's prison. I'd gone to the prison half a dozen times already, to drop off books, letters, newspapers and visitors forms; I knew the prisons were different. At Arohata they weren't set up for supporters. At Rimutaka there were signs, forms and boxes for anything we might want to do. At Arohata they weren't as rigid, but after a week they wouldn't let us drop any more newspapers off, because they'd never seen this number of newspapers.

I got to Arohata half an hour early - just like I did at Rimutaka. When I rang the bell they told me that visiting didn't begin for half an hour and I'd have to wait outside. About ten minutes later another woman came, she was Maori and there to visit her mother. She'd come down from Palmerston North and we talked a little bit as we waited. I leaned against the fence, and she sat on the grass. She was pregnant, and needed to pee. I wanted to fight for her to get in and get a proper seat, but I'd already spent long enough in the prison system to know that it would just make me tired and get us nowhere.

Theoretically women prisoners on remand have much more visiting time than male prisoners on remand. Visiting time was in two hour blocks, rather than one hour blocks. All visiting time is cut into by the slowness of the prison system, but at the men's prisons they at least seemed to be expecting visitors. At the women's prisons they didn't even realise we were coming, until visiting time began.

As I said, from 12pm Monday 15 October to 4.01pm Thursday 8 November my happiest hours were spent prison visiting. While I was visiting I knew that they were really there, and that they were still them and fears that I couldn't even acknowledge dissipated.

But visiting at Arohata made me so sad, sad and angry, because the other female prisoners didn't seem to get visitors. The woman I'd waited on the grass with was the only other visitor the day I was there, and when other friends had visited the day before, none of the other remand prisoners at Arohata had got visits.

There are fewer remand prisoners at Arohata than there are at Rimutaka (18 vs 81 in the 2003 prison census). There are only three women's prisons in the country, so women as far away as Gisborne would be held in Wellington. But even taking the numbers into account there were five times as many visitors over two days at Rimutaka, than two days at Arohata.

I don't think that I can extrapolate out total support from two days of visiting, but there's other evidence that implies this is a pattern. Three times as many women as men had custody of children immediately before they were locked up (35.5% vs. 12.1%). For men, almost 80% of the children were looked after by their partner or ex-partner. Whereas for women less than 25% of children were looked after by their partner or ex-partner (full figures here. Instead it's immediately family, larger whanau or CYFS.

Women do the work when men go to prison, and when women go to prison there isn't necessarily anyone to fill the gap.