Tune into Arts in the Valley this Saturday, February 23rd at 8 pm, and Sunday, February 24th at 2 pm. Arts in the Valley host Kim McMillon will interview Colby, a volunteer with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, who helped organize the Chowchilla Freedom Rally on Saturday, January 26 to call attention to overcrowding in the Central California Women’s Facility. Mary, a former inmate at CCWP, will also be interviewed.
The information below, and the photos from the rally were taken from journalist Wanda Sabir’s blog, http://wandasabir.blogspot.com/2013/02/chowchilla-freedom-rally-it-just-aint.html.
Click onto the link to listen to the interview on overcrowding in the Central California Women’s Prison in Chowchilla: prison overcrowding
Women, incarcerated as young as 16 serving life without the possibility of parole sent statements to be read, while youth advocates and recently released women spoke about what it was like for the families and loved ones of incarcerated mothers, sisters, wives, daughters.
What made the Freedom Rally so powerful was the shared support – men, women, children, some too young to stand on their own – Tulare County residents, school teachers, students, plus buses and carloads from throughout California – Youth Justice Coalition traveling from LA on a bus without a toilet. Debbie Reyes, California Prison Moratorium Project, Krys, survivor of Valley State Prison, Oday Guerro, Dream Team, Primero de Mayo Comite spoke followed by Thao Ngyuen of “Thao and the Get Down, Stay Down” (“We the Commons”), who shared a lovely song with us, composed for a woman behind the walls we stood in front of.
At one point in the song, the chorus which we all sang sounded like a bird call. Julio Marquez and Leslie Mendoza, youth organizers from Youth Justice Coalition, spoke, followed by an impassioned high school teacher with a law degree, Ralph Avitia, Fresno Brown Berets, California Prison Moratorium Project. Cerrita Wilson, advocate against injustice everywhere, and Alisha Murdock, peer mentor in Project WHAT, whose mother spent time behind the walls of CCWF, spoke about what changed in her life when she lost her mother to prison for four years. Her mother needed a treatment program, not prison, she stated.
As we stood close together, ignoring the police patrolling the street in front of the prison, solidarity statements were also shared by Critical Resistance, Occupy 4 Prisoners, represented by Kevin Cooper, Global Women’s Strike and Melvin Dickson for the Black Panther Party.
When Samantha Rogers read a statement from an 81-year-old woman transferred to CCWF, I just had to shake my head after I realized I hadn’t heard Samantha wrong – 81 one years old in prison?! When she visited a doctor, he said: “You’re old. You’re going to die anyway. You don’t need any tests.” That day, those at risk were paired with those with minimal risk – no strikes with one-two strikes – the goal Manuel La Fontaine, All of Us or None, stated to the Peace Keepers during their briefing was to make sure that everyone left at the end of the day. Bright pink armbands on to indicate their status, they kept us out of the street and interceded with the police when needed to keep the march safe and without incident. When night fell and the Liberation Brass Orchestra had played their last tune outside VSP again, Manuel was standing in the street directing foot traffic.