New Mexico is currently ranked 50th among the U.S. states in child well-being, or obversely, we rank first in child-suffering. In a rational political environment those responsible for such a disgraceful result would be impeached for dereliction of duty. But in the unsustainable political climate in which we are quasi-functioning, our governor is poised to be on the national ticket for one of the reigning corporate goon squads.
The best we can say about our state's ignominious ranking is that none of the hundred or so attendees at The State of Female Justice in New Mexico panel on Sunday, November 17th, presented by One Billion Rising for Justice Santa Fe, the New Mexico Women and Girls Network, and the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, can reasonably have any illusions about the efficacy of working for reforms within the current system. In fact, panelist Corrine Sanchez of Tewa Women United characterized that system as: “An industrial non-profit complex in which our funding sources are invested in our culture of violence.”
Emblematic of that violence, Bette Fleishman (New Mexico Women’s Justice Project) told us that New Mexico's women's prison population is the fastest-growing in the nation. The current women's prison is privately operated by a for-profit corporation—Corrections Corporation of America—where 77% of the 510 women currently incarcerated there have been placed on strong psychiatric meds, to control them as a captive slave labor pool for others' profit. But even on its own oppressive terms CCA is failing: Due to the low quality of the cheapest possible meds, side effects are rampant, some of the medicated women are acting out, and they're ending up in solitary. A bad metric.
Bette's current priority—she makes the 170 mile round trip drive from Rio Rancho to the prison in Grants weekly—is “to identify who shouldn't be there, who should be returned to the community?” She exerts herself in full knowledge that an additional facility with the capacity to imprison 850 more female prisoners in NM is in the planning stages. Whose daughters will fill those cells, do we think? Shall we tell Guadalupe Angeles, the soft-spoken Mexican immigrant who courageously stood at the podium and told us her story of privation and struggle, to hide her daughters from the state? That the state is planning, no, banking on, incarcerating them and other girls just like them?
In truth,I would not even be writing this post if Cecile Lipworth, Managing Director of Campaigns and Development for (Eve Ensler's) VDAY and lead organizer of the event on the 17th as well as the upcoming one next Valentine's Day, had not assured me that at the core of these efforts there will be serious political demands made to Power. I understood from her assurances that these are not meant to be exclusively feel good events, though it does feel good, really good, to forge friendships and community in political struggle for justice. (There was not a woman on that podium who I would not dearly love to interview for this blog.)
The panel discussion, which was filmed and will be available on the One Billion Rising's website after Thanksgiving according to Cecile, has inspired in me a series of questions:
How in good conscience can we Rise, Release and Dance—the tag line of One Billion Rising 2014—knowing that 850 of the daughters of Tewa Women, Adelante, El Valle Women's Collaborative, Esperanza Shelter, Young Women United, and Solace Center have already been slotted to people Power and Greed's new state-of the-art plantation? How exactly will shaking our booties at the Roundhouse this Valentine's Day forcefully give the lie to the “inevitability” of our daughters', sisters', mothers' fates in the narrative the prison-profiteers (and those in the Roundhouse and elsewhere who love them) have already written for certain New Mexicans?
In other words, and building on the real success of the Respect Albuquerque Women's electoral victory, can we Rise, Release and Dance our way into shutting this new prison down even before it's operative? And if we agree that preventing 850 of our sisters from being snatched into the modern-day State slavery apparatus is a worthy goal, what kind of a network would we have to build to get that accomplished?