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Notes From the Unrepenitentiary: Whose Security?
by Marilyn Buck
Two children, both with mothers imprisoned at FCI Dublin, died within a two-week period. Both children were adolescent boys, aged 13 and 9, repectively. One of the children ran away from his abusive father's home. He froze to death sleeping in a church bus he'd found for shelter. The other child committed suicide. I can't tell you why. The bottom line is: these children didn't have their mothers home with them. Criminal "justice" in Amerika deemed that society was better off punishing these women. I don't think their children thought so.
These women are far from home. They seldom, if ever, saw their boys, who needed help, support and solace. Such is the situation of Federal prisoners all over the U.S., like state prisoners who are "housed" outside their home states; the same is true for prisoners in Pelican Bay, CA, or Attica and Clinton, NY.
Too many children are suffering grievously the loss of one or both parents to U.S. prison systems. We prisoners know that being an offender of the law doesn't make one a bad parent. Many are imprisoned precisely because they were trying to obtain economic stability _ and advancement for their families. But imprisonment does create a bad situation for the children _ left with relatives, or bounced around in foster care or situations where they are unwanted, resented and, of course, abused.
Here, many women work very hard to parent longdistance. For more than a decade the parent program here at FCI Dublin was excellent, and dynamic; it reinforced those women who were already good, skilled parents prior to their imprisonment by introducing new ideas and tactics to maintain close ties; it encouraged and taught skills to other women who, for whatever reason, had been less motivated parents. But this program has been cut back. The children's center in the visiting room has been dark most of time this year. No children are allowed to play with the toys, draw, and play with their mothers. There are fewer prisoner volunteers who have completed the parenting program to staff the center because there are fewer programs. This is a major loss for many who do get to see their children weekly, monthly or even less. One more way to weaken the bonds and active contact.
Most women work hard to keep the bonds as strong as possible, and even harder to help their children grow up educated with the skills to negotiate this increasingly difficult society. They do not want their children out in the streets, on the corners, using alcohol or drugs. They know where that leads. There are already too many mothers and daughter here! (And the sons?)
Women are creative in maintaining the connections to their children: craftwork, cards and, of course, the telephone. Some women even call their children every day to help them with their homework. Others call to make sure the children get off to school on time or get home on time. They share the details of their children's lives.
Unfortunately, these attempts at parenting longdistance are being sharply curtailed. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has decided that all general population Federal prisoners (those in maximum security prisons and units are already seriously cut off) will, as of April 2001, be allowed only 300 minutes of phone time each month. (that may sound like a lot to many who do not have such telephone privileges; yet, many state prisoners are at this moment fighting for those privileges!) The policy memo states that 300 minutes (the equivalent of 20 15minute phone calls /month) is an "... adequate opportunity for inmates to maintain community ties, in conjunction with visiting and written correspondence." If one calls for less than 15 minutes, then perhaps one might be able to make one call per day. Let's hope that all the children are in one place at one time.
Write letters? We received 5 envelopes this month. Of course we will be saving money by not using the phone so we can buy more envelopes and stamps from the commissary! Somehow in this hightech world where life can get outofcontrol in a hurry 5 days or so lagtime seems somewhat unjust. More punishment for the family and community. Guess they don't have First Amendment rights to communicate with us prisoners directly.
Most women are not in prison because they were rich. Some have outside support; others work at UNICOR (Federal Prison Industries, part of the exploitation of the prisonindustrial complex) so they can pay their own way and lessen the burden on those who are caring for their children. But many women cannot even do that. They are deportable _ foreign nationals, not allowed to work for the UNICOR slave wages. They didn't come to the U.S. because they were rich. Most saw economic enterprise as a way to better their children's and families' chances in life, as well as their own. The standard of living in their own countries are depressed because U.S and European corporations and governments have pillaged those economies to extravagantly enhance their own profits and standard of living! It's true that these women don't use the phone so much. But they would if they had the funds. I see women who will call for 3 minutes to just say hello and tell each of their children they are loved. They cry at having so little time, and so many years before they will be reunited.
Many more will be crying soon after being arbitrarily cut off. So will the children who will feel resentment, anger and perhaps even abandonment. How are they supposed to understand that the prison says mom can't call very often?
To communicate with the world should not be a prohibited nor criminal act, but the U.S. government and the BOP certainly act as though it is: "This limitation is needed to maintain the security and good order of Bureau institutions and to protect the public by increasing the Bureau's ability to minimize inmate abuses of the telephone for illegal or disruptive purposes." Strange... Last year the BOP instituted a highlymonitored phone system using the very same pretext! Every word is already recorded. Isn't that sufficient? In the name of security we are being further punished. Our children, families and communities are being punished, too; and they are made less secure.
Will this increased insecurity lead to the loss of more children?
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