Women and Political Prisoners

I live in a safe world, a just world, a good world. That is what I have believed until recently. That is what I still desperately want to believe. The truth is harsh and cruel; it offers no solace, and destroys my faith in my country and the people governing it. The United States with its flags, its pride, its democracy, hides a great deal behind its stars and stripes. The US imprisons those who are not of the right skin color, class or political belief. Punishment is political.

But, the imprisonment of individuals based upon their political ideologies, beliefs, and willingness to challenge the oppressive hegemony of the US deserve a separate distinction. It is the US' official stance that it does not have political crime or political prisoners. The US has a great deal of stake in denying certain individuals this right. For the voices of those who claim political prisoner status dare to oppose the almighty power of the US, who has knowingly raped, pillaged, and destroyed people, nations, and all that happens to get in its path.

These people oppose the US' imperialistic policies and the degradation and mistreatment of minorities; they defend basic human rights, and the US will not stand for this. They wish these people to be forgotten, and all too often they are. It is a right of this country that people have freedom of speech, yet they are silenced. It is a right to a fair and impartial trial by a fair and impartial judge, but they have been denied this.

Slowly and torturously the US prison system is trying to destroy these people's very essence – to institutionalize them so that when they leave they will not be able to function in society, let alone oppose it. It is an outrage. This is happening today. George Orwell back in the 1930's wrote the science fiction novel 1984, but science fiction is becoming reality. Big Brother is watching. Big Brother just happens to go by names such as COINTELPRO, the US Patriot Act, the FBI, CIA, the US government.

Americans have become less resistant to giving up more and more of their rights for the protection that the US government claims to provide against the all elusive terrorism. By its own definition the US government is a terrorist, a terrorist of the worst kind with unlimited power and unlimited funds. If we as Americans lose our voice, our power to speak out against US policies where does that leave us? The criminal 'justice' system has grown exponentially, and continues to expand. Both Bushes have pledged to work towards putting more people in prisons for progressively less 'criminal' crimes.

We are waging war on our citizens, on our freedom of speech, on our right to dissent. The US is forcing its ideals, its views, its dominant beliefs on its citizens, imprisoning those who dare to question, who dare to raise their voices and challenge the government. These individuals have openly spoken out against the hegemonic power and have suffered the consequences: they have been framed, imprisoned under false pretenses, and assassinated with the intention of silencing them forever.

These people continue to speak from prison, from the belly of the beast, from the depths of hell, from prisons and control units. US politics, especially revolutionary politics, is gendered male. The existence of women political prisoners in the US is further obscured by their male counterparts. But, these women are not anomalies, they carry on the legacy of revolutionary women who have dared to raise their voices against the relations of power in the US, thus revealing the vastly disproportionate relations of power present in the US (Carlen).

The US government explicitly denies the existence of its political prisoners, yet goes to great lengths to constitute them as such, speaks to the dissonance that is inherent in relations of power. Recognizing the existence of political prisoner in the US disrupts the fundamental myths of American democracy; exposing the state's practices in relation to political prisoners undermines its legitimacy as a democracy where freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, prevails. The existence of women political prisoners undermines gendered, racialized, and individualized notions of revolutionary struggle (Mazzone).

Political prisoners and women political prisoners are not islands must be looked at in the context of prisons in the US as well as political prisoners. We want to believe that those in prison deserve to be there, that they have committed crimes that justify the treatment and conditions in which they now reside. But this is not the case; there is very little justice present in the US criminal justice system of today. On the first day of spring, March 1973, before the sun had risen the splintering of the front door into the room where I spelt jerked me out of sleep.

I was arrested, a . 357 revolver pressed to my left temple. Not a nice way to wake up. Referred to in the local newspaper as the "quartermaster of the Black Liberation Army," I was thrown into solitary confinement in San Francisco County Jail. I remained there for several weeks before I was released into "general population" … I had crossed over – from being a white, middle-class, anti-imperialist activist who supported political prisoners and prison reform to being a political prisoner and target of deliberate dehumanization and punishment.