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Washington Women in Prison

by V.M.

This has been called "The Year of the Woman" in the field of politics, but apparently those politics extend only as far as the media. Certainly there is no evidence of discrimination or abuse coming to a halt within the confines we live in here.

Since the beginning of the year, and the "christening" of the female superintendent we now have "in power" here, our hopes that there would finally be some recognition of the obstacles we face here, have all but been systematically murdered.

For years we have had to deal with receiving the "trickle down" from the monies allocated to the men's institutions regarding funding for the programs we need. It has always been a battle for us to receive any type of educational or vocational training beyond a GED, and now with the new administrative take over we've been forced to endure, a new policy has gone into effect stating that once a GED has been acquired by an inmate, her educational needs are secondary to working in an assigned institutional job. These "jobs" consist of janitorial, gardening and kitchen work. We here at WCCW are wondering how many employers would jump at the chance to hire a female offender with a resume that consists of picking up cigarette butts or washing pots and pans.

It is common knowledge, at least to us here, that society has not evolved beyond the stigma attached to female offenders. The majority of the women that are placed in prison have low, if any, self esteem. Most also, though not unintelligent, are severely limited in resources available to them, have depended mainly upon the men that ultimately led to their incarceration. And still more have been mentally, physically and emotionally abused to the point of having no willpower left to draw from.

Not all, but several of us here, have the desire to acquire the skills and education necessary to break the pattern our lives have been in, yet upon coming to prison, rather than having these things made available to us, we have obstacles thrown in our paths every step of the way.

Society constantly screams about the recidivism rate and the cost of incarceration, yet not a thing is done to provide us with the opportunity to change. For some reason unknown to me, no one has figured out that if you take a person and thrown them into a man's version of hell for an indefinite period of time, and then release them back into society, that person has no alternative but to go back to the only thing they know, be it drugs, robbery, prostitution, or any number of activities frowned on by society, yet for us, is a matter of survival.

Aside from the fact that our educational/vocational "privileges" have been deemed a luxury, to add further insult to injury, the ONLY women's support group in the institution for battered women, has also been canceled. This despite the fact that the majority of the population here are the victims of abuse. We are wondering if it stems from the new bill before the legislature that would give battered women with extenuating circumstances a chance at time reductions, or if it's merely the administration's desire to ensure that we have no resources available to us.

Combine that with all the things that we have had taken from us that were labelled as "security issues" to justify their actions, yet are still available in the men's institutions, and you have the ingredients for blatant discrimination.

The women here, though apparently forgotten and shunned by society and its advocates, are your mothers, sisters, aunts, and in many cases, the bearers of the generations to come. This seems to be of no concern to the majority out there, but maybe the next time one of you pick up a newspaper and read about an ex offender reoffending, you'll think about the reason behind the actions. [V.M. is a prisoner at the Washington Corrections Center for Women at Gig Harbor, WA.]

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