† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
by Juvencia Townsend
(Courtesy of Victoria Law*:
“Juvencia originally wrote this letter to a local newspaper columnist. She never received a response.
The conditions that she describes are not limited to this one prison. They are also not limited to the state of Colorado. People inside women’s prisons across the country face similar issues.
Although the number of incarcerated women skyrocketed from 15,118 in 1980 to 112,797 in 2010, their issues, voices and experiences still remain largely overlooked in discussions about prisons and prison justice. This has not stopped women like Juvencia from speaking out and trying to find allies and advocates willing to help change conditions within.
While striving for a world without cages, we need to remember that there are currently over 200,000 women in jails and prisons nationwide. We need to acknowledge, recognize, publicize and support the actions that incarcerated women themselves are taking to resist and change the conditions that they endure. While their actions may not challenge the presumed need for incarceration nor directly tear down the prison walls, they do tear a hole in the continued invisibility of women behind prison walls. These women speak and act at a price, making continued outside support essential to ensuring that their well-being is not further jeopardized.”)
by Juvencia Townsend
Hello, my name is Juvencia Townsend and I am presently incarcerated at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. I’m writing you this letter in hopes of finding some real justice for myself and all of the other female inmates here at my facility. I’ve been here in prison since November 6, 1997, and during these 15+ years that I’ve spent in prison, I’ve heard and seen so much of us female inmates’ “constitutional rights” being violated and nothing is ever done about it except for when it’s an incident that has to be reported to the public and when that happens, the Department of Corrections will go public and say they have “zero tolerance” for officer misconduct on sexual misconduct, which is the furthest thing from the truth.
These correctional officers and DOC employees will do and say anything they want to us inmates here at DWCF even though it’s against DOC’s policies. These officers and employees will also go as far as lying about us inmates and falsifying DOC documents, which is also against DOC’s policies and they get away with that too because they will cover up for each other and make it look like we’re the bad guys after they done turned everything around on us. These DOC employees make a habit of making us female inmates out to be the bad guys because that’s what the Justice system said when they convicted us for the crimes we’ve committed and the laws we’ve broken when, in fact, we did nothing wrong but try to speak up about the wrong that these officers and employees are doing to us inmates. If an officer says that one of us inmates did something wrong, then we are automatically guilty or found guilty in our hearings if we are charged with a prison violation.
About 95% of the time, these officers abuse their authority and when we report them, basically nothing is ever done about it and if it is, it’s usually only done because it’s something that has to be answered either in writing or on the computer, so whoever is the answering party will do or say just enough to cover their ass when it comes to us female inmates versus the male inmates, we are often discriminated against mainly because the women don’t stick together and fight for their rights and/or fight for what’s right like the men do. The men always stick together and fight for their rights, even if it means rioting, but guess what? After a riot, the men are always heard and their demands are met most of the time.
The women here are afraid to speak out because they don’t want to be harassed, retaliated against or placed in the hole which usually happens. To be honest, some of these women don’t have a lot of time, and they’re always in and out of prison so they really don’t care what happens in here because all they can think about is getting out and getting high again. Me, I’ve been locked up since April 19, 1996, and I’ve spent and wasted too much time doing all the wrong things and now that I care about my future and the future of others that will come after me, I’m dedicated to help make a positive change within this facility. I will never turn my head again and pretend I don’t see or hear what’s going on around here because if I do, I’m just as much as a problem as these officers and DOC employees who are always violating our rights.
There are several issues that are really important to us female inmates here at this prison that continue to be on-going problems and are becoming even bigger problems:
- Medical care
- Proper ventilation
- Educational programs
- Freedom of speech
- Several Constitutional rights violations
There are basically the important issues that us women face every day. One of the bigger problems is government funding. Where is all the money that the state pays DOC to house us? Us female inmates certainly don’t get it because our facility is always cutting back on the necessities that us female inmates need. What happens if we run out of the state-issued supplies that we have to buy such as, toilet paper, sanitary napkins, and blankets to stay warm? And even if you’re indigent, you still have to pay for your “indigent” hygiene supplies, which is insane because they reason you’re indigent is because you have no money or very little money, but if you get paid $5 for working a prison job, then you’re not really considered indigent.
The kitchen runs out of food for us inmates and when that happens, us inmates have to settle for whatever the kitchen decides to give us in place of what was originally on the menu that meal. Not only that, but some of the kitchen staff be stealing food out of the kitchen and taking it home with them. Then, when it’s time to do an audit or inventory, the kitchen staff will write it off and say that us inmates who work in the kitchen are stealing it, which is virtually impossible to do since the women who work in the kitchen are patted down or strip searched after every shift. Again, where is the tax payer money really going? Wouldn’t you like to know?
Question: If one of us women were your mother, grandmother, wife, sister, would you like it if someone mistreated them or violated their rights just because they’re in the position to do so? We all know that we’re here because we broke the law, but please trust and believe me when I tell you that we (inmates) are reminded of that every day that we wake up here in prison away from our kids and family that we love so much. I know that it was the bad choices we made that put us here in the first place, but that doesn’t give these DOC employees the right to do, say or treat us any way they want. At the end of the day, we are still human beings and deserve to be treated as such: Need I say more?
This letter and the issues that I’ve mentioned in this letter are my reasons for contacting you in hopes of finding some real justice for those of us who are too scared to take a stand and speak up for what’s right. Will you be one of those people to turn your head and pretend you don’t see that there are laws being broken inside of a place that’s supposed to represent and uphold the law? The same laws that not only apply to us, but to these DOC officers and employees? Or will you be the voice that speaks loud and takes a stand for what’s right and help us inmates take back what little bit of pride and dignity that’s constantly being stripped away from us?
Denver Women’s Correctional Facility
Box 392005, Unit 2, 205B
Denver, CO 80239
*Victoria Law is a writer, photographer and mother. She is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women (first published by PM Press in 2009, with a new updated version released this month), the editor of the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison and a co-founder of Books Through Bars – NYC. Her latest book, just released this month, Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind (PM Press, 2012) addresses how social justice movements and communities can support the families in their midst. Learn more about upcoming book-release events here.