Editorial: Torture in Prison: Prisoners' PerspectiveMany people were shocked that this country, that claims to be “liberating people from evil,” would do such horrible things at Abu Ghraib prison. Yet, the women striving to survive and live inside of Chowchilla, California’s prison walls were not so stunned by the news: “ … so what is new? They do this to us every day. I am strip-searched in a very humiliating way just coming to the visiting room and going back to my cell.”
Understanding the torture they themselves receive here, CCWP members on the inside explain some of the "how":
“It is so easy for (correctional officers) to have the mentality to dehumanize inmates. We are less than dirt to a lot of them. It is easy for them to express repressed rage, repressed bigotry against someone who’s vulnerable. It’s a power thing. It’s dehumanizing. We are less than human to them.”
—woman prisoner, CCWF
Organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and American Civil Liberties Union for years have exposed and denounced the torture that takes place in U.S. American prisons. Torture is not new to the women inside of the Central California Facility for Women (CCWF) and Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW). Everyday women meet with behavior that on the outside would be considered illegal. Women suffer abuses comparable to that uncovered in Abu Ghraib.
“Torture here is commonplace and daily. I came from an abusive relationship into much worse abuse here. It is so much worse partly because here there is no escape. If you try to stand up for yourself and fill out a 602 form complaining about anything, there is almost immediate retaliation. Humiliation is all pervasive. Some of the guards were re-assigned here from Corcoran in the wake of the infamous staging of human cockfights. Does anyone think that their assignment here is to our benefit? They can do even more damage here.” —LN, VSPW
At least three of the soldiers photographed torturing Iraqi prisoners of war were U.S. prison guards, and had a documented history of abuse. It makes little sense to say that only a "few bad apples" misbehaved.
“I strongly disagree with the portrayal of the military guards as 'bad apples'. Where were all the other guards when these pictures were being taken? Who was taking the pictures? At CCWF, the superior officers are supposed to visit every unit, every day. How can the superior officers not know what is going on? I was harassed because the guards were all related and cover up for each other. The guards were only C.O.s [correctional officers]. Captains are supposed to have more power, and where were they? The military has an even more extreme hierarchy than the prison guards in the US. Somebody in authority had to give them the go-ahead: ‘I don’t care what you do with them.’ The guards obviously feel that they can say, ‘I was just following orders.’” —YA, CCWF
Women prisoners in Georgia state prison and in Dublin federal prison have been able to testify in court cases that in prison one can be sexually abused by the same individuals who are supposed to protect you, and in Chowchilla prisons it is no different.
“The unmistakably sexual content of the abuse at Abu Ghraib is present here, too. For example, when we go the infirmary to see a doctor, there is no cell with a bathroom there. We have to use a toilet in full view of male guards. The male gynecologist makes derogatory comments about us to other male guards after a gyn exam.” —LN, VSPW
“A medicated prisoner was raped, but managed to snatch a piece of the condom with some pubic hair. Only with evidence like this is anything done at all. However, now she doesn’t go to get her treatment, because she is worried that when she is vulnerable, a buddy of his might get to her.” —YA, CCWF
How this amount of torture exists is answered by our sisters' lives inside of prison walls. Yet, the answer as to why this torture is happening is a bit more complicated and requires all of us educated by the U.S. American public educational system to toss out what we learned. There are both political and economic reasons why torture is used with any prisoner, including those domestically serving time in state and federal prisons here at home. The reasons are about control, power, and exploitation.
“The way I see it is that (the U.S.) is going over there with the attitude that we are there to protect them from terrorists. (Thus) we are going over there with the mentality that we are better than them. We are bringing with us a history of abuse of positions of power and a complete and total disregard for human rights. Not supervised by someone who cares about what they are doing. It is like a Nazi mentality. Genocide. Not physical genocide, but psychological genocide. It’s a control thing.”
—woman prisoner, CCWF
It has been widely publicized that this nation went overseas to Iraq not to end the violence that Iraqis received from their own government (Saddam Hussein was placed into power with the help of the United States, and committed many atrocities with U.S. provided weapons and U.S. government's agreement), but to assert its direct control of the region rich in oil.
What has not been widely publicized are the very devastatingly accurate realities of women prisoners in Iraq. All over the world these experiences are silenced. Yet it was the courageous act to tell the truth by Iraqi women prisoners that started the public's awareness of the tortures (the UK Guardian run an article about it). They were initially met with disbelief even from the group of Iraqi women lawyers who had been trying to gain access to Abu Ghraib.
“Of course the rape of women is not what is covered. That’s the kind of thing that the public will hear and be slapped with a reality check. You’ll never hear that stuff come out because it will get people thinking. If “our boys” are capable of that, what is the war really about? If they are lying about that, maybe they are lying about why we are over there.” —DZ, CCWP
The United States government, not the people who live here, is behaving like a tyrant both overseas and at home—and it has done so for quite a long time. Still, there are some who do not silence the incarcerated women’s struggles but instead leak out information. These people, commonly known as “whistleblowers”, are nurses, doctors, staff and members of the military who daringly expose the truth about U.S. prisons here and in Iraq. They are met with the suppression and violence themselves, though.
In a very real sense, the Abu Ghraib images hold up a mirror to the "evil" that our supposed democracy-upholding U.S. government spreads within U.S. prisons and worldwide. The United States refuses to be accountable to the United Nations or the Geneva Conventions on an international level, so is it any wonder that the Geneva Conventions are not applied to prisoners inside this country?
The Geneva Conventions, if applied here, would reveal the very real torture that our sisters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, neighbors face daily inside of U.S. prisons. Maybe then the whistleblowers, so necessary to exposing the truth, would be protected from attacks.
We living on the outside of prison walls, and with our own experiences of inequality, have the chance to look intimately at the ways that we carry on our every day lives. When we can look into ourselves, and see our humanity and our connection to all living, perhaps then we will not only demand justice but fight for it!
Last updated March 15, 2005 08:50 PM