Select Committee on Incarcerated Women | Oct 2019
October 16th 2019, I helped set up and document the Select Committee on Incarcerated Women for Assembly Member Kamlager. To me, it was almost like an oral version of musical Chicago.
The first panel consisted women who are former inmates to share their stories:
One woman shot a guy to protect her brother;
One was trapped in an abusive relationship, and to protect her son, she killed her child's father;
One whose mother was a rape survivor was an illegal immigrant herself, and later got into an abusive relationship. Forced by her boyfriend, she committed several crimes and got arrested, facing the risk of deportation;
One whose mother was murdered when she was 3 was adopted at 5. Growing up in an inharmonious adopted family, she started to commit crimes and first went to the juvenile system, and later was put into jail for more serious crimes.
"I've tried every system in the US," she said jokingly.
Someone pointed out that 95% of female criminals are victims of domestic violence;
Someone said they never got to talk to the judge nor had a representation in court;
Someone said she could only see her 5-month-old son once a year;
Someone said her daughter was molested when she was inside the jail;
Someone said her request for sunscreen was declined and she got severe sunburn;
Someone said she was discriminated and bullied for her gender non-conforming style;
Someone said there was forced sex between officers and female inmates.
"The justice system is not just," one said.
"It's about civil right," one said, "it's about human rights."
After the former inmates shared their stories, the second panel was law prosecutors.
Some of them said, "We wouldn't have known these problems if you don't tell us. That's why we are having this conversation. We want to know the problems."
Some said they have worked for 30 years and had their own traumas.
Some said, "I, on behalf of law prosecutors, apologize to you all for the unfair treatment you've received."
Some said, "this system is flawed in many ways, but we are trying to fix it. We are making progress."
Lastly, it was the bill comments.
One audience held the mic and looked straight into the Assembly member's eyes and asked, "why did you pass a law that would allow gender non-conforming inmates to pick the gender of the cell? Do you know many male prisoners pretend they identify as female just to get into women's cell and do bad things? Why did you allow this to happen?"
The Assembly member said:
"My priority is to support the progressive bills. Only after we implement the bill can we know the problems it has and then we can work on fixing it. But I wouldn't know the problems it could have at the time. But no matter what, I won't stand in the way of progress."
After the committee was over, my co-worker asked me what I think.
"Mind-blowing," I answered.
I said I come from China. Such open conversation among legislative officials, constituents, law prosecutors was something I've never seen before.