Nov 15 2017

Help Criminalized Survivors of Violence For the Holidays!

Last week, I shared an article in Salon Magazine about the plight of incarcerated and criminalized people in women’s prisons. One finding was particularly striking to those who read and circulated the article:

“According to a recent study, 86 percent of women who have spent time in jail report that they had been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. As well, while women represented just 13 percent of the jail population between 2009 and 2011, they represented 67 percent of the victims of staff-on-inmate sexual victimization.”

No one who has any contact and/or experience with jails and prisons would be surprised that they are filled to the brim with victims/survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Those of you who know my work know that I have spent many years supporting criminalized survivors of violence through various organizations and interventions. Most recently, I co-founded Survived and Punished with several comrades.

Every Holiday Season, I partner with various groups to support their efforts to give gifts and necessities to the people they support. This year is no different. To kick off, I am partnering with STEPS TO END FAMILY VIOLENCE to help them ensure that some women jailed at Rikers Island receive holiday gifts.

The Criminalized Survivors Program at STEPS to End Family Violence supports survivors of intimate partner violence, and other forms gender-based violence, who have been criminalized for their efforts to survive or resist abusive partner behavior. Hundreds of women, as well as trans men and gender non-conforming people, are currently detained at the Rose M Singer Center at Rikers Island–all survivors of the trauma of racist state violence–and the majority identifying as survivors of some form of relational trauma. The Criminalized Survivors team at Rikers provides emotional support to survivors facing criminal charges that are directly connected to their survival, opportunities to connect with other survivors through dynamic group work, and robust legal advocacy and court support in collaboration with defense teams.

Every year, STEPS holds several events at the RMSC Visit House for participants in the program, where survivors can enjoy good food, music and dancing, an open mic, and more. The upcoming Holiday Family Reunification event on December 12 is an opportunity for survivors to spend a day with their children and other family members. The Criminalized Survivors team supports approximately 60 women (including trans women) and TGNC people per year who are detained at Rikers or facing charges in the community.

All donations of items to the wishlist will go directly to criminalized survivors.

Here’s how you can help STEPS and the criminalized survivors currently incarcerated at the Rose M Singer Center at Rikers Island for the holidays:

1. Donate items from the Amazon Wish List. Please make sure items arrive by December 10. Select Julia Shaw as the address to mail items.

2. STEPS will be providing food for STEPS to End Family Violence 31st Annual Family Reunification Celebration on Rikers Island on December 12. Cash donations are very welcome. Donations can be made HERE. Please select “STEPS to End Family Violence” under Gift Designation, and in the notes section to write “STEPS Rikers Family Reunification Event 2017.” Any contribution will go directly to purchasing food, supplies, and gifts for this event, and any extra funds would go directly to supporting other events and activities with STEPS participants at Rikers (such as the Mother’s Day event).

3. If you live in NYC and would like to drop off items directly to STEPS, you can do so. Here’s what they need:

“We are always in need of soft cover journals, soft cover fiction and non-fiction in English and Spanish, soft cover puzzle books, pajamas in all sizes (they have to have patterns and are not supposed to have colors that could be considered gang colors, like red, blue, green. Sometimes we can get PJs in and sometimes not), underwear and socks. We are also always in need of court clothes in all adult sizes–slacks, blouses, jackets. Anyone who wants to donate items is welcome to connect directly about drop off/pick up. Our building in East Harlem closes at 6pm every day, which can make drop off challenging, but we’re always happy to make arrangements to meet people off site if that’s easier.” You should contact Julia Shaw (jshaw@egscf.org) and/or Nancy Diaz (ndiaz@egscf.org) if you want to make a direct drop off of items.

If you are interested and able, please donate from the wish list and also make cash donations to support criminalized survivors of violence at Rikers Island. Thank you so much.

Jun 22 2017

Criminalizing Survivors of Violence: New Video Resources

I’m excited to share three new videos which are a collaboration between the Barnard Center for Research on Women and Survived & Punished (an organizing project that I co-founded). These very short videos tell part of the story of three criminalized survivors of violence. They are intended to provide a historical context for the criminalization of survival in the case of Joan Little, to highlight an example of a successful contemporary campaign to free a criminalized survivor in the case of Marissa Alexander and to introduce people to the case of a current criminalized survivor who needs community support and action in the case of Paris Knox.

I just got back from Detroit where I co-organized and participated in a national convening about the criminalization of survivors titled “No Perfect Victims.” I was overjoyed to finally meet Marissa Alexander in person. It was an amazing experience to see her free from prison and house arrest. She was grounded, smart and full of great ideas about how to support other women like her who were and continue to be punished for surviving. She has launched the Marissa Alexander Justice Project and I can’t wait to see what she does in the future.

Please watch the videos and share them with your networks. In particular, Paris Knox needs our support as she prepares to be retried. Paris Knox is a 38-year-old Black mother who, in 2007, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for killing her abusive ex-partner when he attacked her in her home in 2004. In early 2017, her conviction and 40-year sentence were vacated. Now, though presumed innocent and awaiting trial, her bail has been set at $500,000 with a $50,000 bond that she cannot afford. Today she remains in prison and separated from her mother, sister, and child, who is now 14 years old.

Like many other Black women, Paris is in prison for self-defense.

Expressing solidarity is an integral way to support survivors and reduce the isolation of prisons. Write Paris a letter of support and encouragement at the address below. For tips on letter writing to people in prison, check out the letter writing section in the #SurvivedAndPunished toolkit.

Paris Knox
Inmate No: 20170120230
P.O. Box 089002
Chicago, Illinois 60608

Criminalization of Survival and Defense Campaigns for Freedom:
From Joan Little to Marissa Alexander

In 1974, Joan Little was charged with first degree murder after she stabbed a prison guard who sexually assaulted her at Beaufort County jail. Joan’s case became a national cause for prison abolitionists, prisoners’ rights advocates, feminists, anti-violence activists, and people advocating against the death penalty and for racial justice. Protests in support of her case were widespread and global. After a five week trial, the jury, made up of both Black and white people, deliberated for less than 90 minutes before acquitting Little.

Joan Little was the first woman to be acquitted of murder on the grounds of of self-defense against sexual violence.

Marissa Alexander is a survivor of domestic violence who, in 2012, was sentenced to a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence for firing a single warning shot into the ceiling when her estranged abusive husband attacked her. Just over a year after Marissa was sentenced, George Zimmerman was on trial for the brutal, racist murder of Trayvon Marton and tried to invoke the stand-your-ground defense that Marissa was denied. After a one month trial, he was acquitted on self-defense. This put the workings of a racist criminal legal system on full display, and support for Marissa’s case surged.

Marissa’s supporters helped publicize her case, held protests and events, raised funds for her legal defense, and supported her through her probation. Eventually grassroots organizing and good legal defense led to Marissa’s case being overturned.

But State Attorney Angela Corey decided to retry her case, threatening Marissa with 60 years in prison for defending her life. In November 2014, Marissa accepted a plea deal for time served plus 65 more days in jail and 2 years of probation under house arrest. After serving a total of 5 years, Marissa Alexander was finally released on January 27, 2017.

I am grateful to Hope Dector, Dean Space, Cece McDonald and Lewis Wallace for their work in creating these terrific videos. Special thanks to all of the artists who contributed their work as well.

Jan 22 2017

#SurvivedAndPunished: A Week of Action

I’m a founding member of a formation called Survived and Punished. We came together in 2015 to leverage the work that our individual organizations are doing around the criminalization of survivors of violence in order to build collective power.

This week S & P is highlighting the cases of several women and gender non-confirming people who have been criminalized for survival and self-defense. The week of action kicked off with a focus on Bresha Meadows. The following video created by Love and Protect (one of the groups that is part of Survived and Punished) illustrates a solidarity action that was organized in support of Bresha in Chicago.

This week, my fellow Survived and Punished member Alisa Bierria and I co-wrote an op-ed (published In These Times) about the need to prioritize criminalized survivors in the Trump era even as we continue to fight for decarceration:

“On the eve of his inauguration, we think that it’s critical to ask what impact Trump will have on the criminal punishment system—and in particular, on criminalized survivors of violence like Bresha. We must carefully consider how to organize around prison and criminal legal issues in this new context. There will be a scramble to prioritize issues that need our attention and advocacy. It’s important that the experiences of criminalized survivors of domestic and sexual violence not be lost in the shuffle.”

Learn about the other criminalized survivors featured during this week of action here.