Posts Tagged ‘ prison abolition ’

Life on the inside: queer prisoners

Life in prison is hard. Separated from family and friends, prisoners spend a lot of time doing nothing but staring at the walls of their cell for a potentially long time, in harsh conditions. Most people I know can’t really imagine being incarcerated. Yet, the government itself thinks at least 33% of our population to deserve incarceration*, so it is very much a potential reality for a lot of people. But what is life like inside for LGBT prisoners?

Prisons are traditionally seen as a place to put the ‘bad people’; however practically speaking, prisons are a tool of the government to place people with difficult social problems (problematic drug users, etc.) out of sight, and thus out of mind, so the government doesn’t have to make any effort in sorting out the root causes of these problems. As a result, prisons are often places where racism, homophobia, sexism and other social ills abound, as social groups hit out at each other as a way of working through their dissatisfaction with their situation. For this reason, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are endemic in prisons.

This homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is perpetuated by the Home Office and the managers of prisons themselves. The Offender Policy and Rights Unit, the group which sets policy for ‘good practice’ in prisons, ignores this blatant discrimination within the system and has yet to produce any guidance on LGBT issues within prisons, or any guidance on how best to deal with the needs of LGBT prisoners. This is evident in some of the policies of UK prisons, where most trans prisoners are placed not by their current gender identity, but by their birth gender, and where LGBT prisoners are often placed in Vulnerable Prisoner Units (VPU’s) as a matter of course. VPU’s are a place where prisoners deemed vulnerable from attack in normal prisons, such as ex-gang members, or paedophiles, are usually kept to keep them separate from those who may do them harm. The existence of Vulnerable Prisoner units often doesn’t ameliorate the discrimination prisoners experience and their existence definitely should not provide a meaningful excuse for tackling homophobia, biphobia and transphobia within the wider prison.

If all the inmates in prisons were as pretty as these, I would probably be more enthusiastic about committing crimes

Life inside for LGBT prisoners can be tough, with LGBT prisoners often being the targets of verbal, physical and sexual assaults. Indeed, Human Rights Watch report that “sex slavery is common in prisons”, and LGBT people are more likely to be targeted – their non-normative sexuality or gender identity being presumed as ‘consent’ by their perpetrators. HIV rates on the inside are 15 times that of the outside world, and Hepatitis 20 times greater. Prison management often do not provide condoms to prisons; some prisons have a limited supply of condoms/dams that would effectively require a prisoner to ‘come out’ to staff to access. As such, all prisoners engaging in sexual activities, consensual or not, are put at risk.

When you look at it, it seems surprising that Stonewall, the LGB Equality Lobby, would award the HM Prisons service an award for equality and diversity, but, they did do just that. GALIPS, the LGBT Prison staff association won an award in 2008 and is on Stonewalls ‘Diversity Champions’ list.** This underpins the blind-sightedness of lobbying groups such as Stonewall, who clamour to praise an organisation for their LGBT rights record when that same organisation is at worst actively oppressing some of the vulnerable LGBT people, or at best deeply complicit in their oppression.

Jokes about "dropping the soap" may be funny, but represent a reality for some queer prisoners

However, its not all bad for LGBT prisoners, there are some organisations doing work to try and improve their situation. The most notable and progressive being the Bent Bars Project, an active but under-resourced collective of activists who aim to campaign and show solidarity with LGBTQ prisoners by  sharing resources, providing mutual support and drawing public attention to the struggles of queer and trans people behind bars. They also have a really amazing pen-pal scheme, which currently has about 600 people waiting to be fixed up with a pen pal on the outside. They are desperately in need of your support. Find out more about how to get involved here:

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Testimony from Yarl’s Wood.

Today I am fasting in solidarity with the 84 women from Yarls Wood detention centre who are hunger-striking over poor conditions. Below is the testimony of one of the women – Majirola Daniels – who came to Britain in 1987. What is remarkable is that she has been in the country longer than I have been alive, but suffers this treatment simply because she doesnt have the right papers. This is a disgrace.

Mojirola Daniels – Speaks Out

Full summary of the treatment I received at Yarl’s Wood Centre

I am one of the ladies on hunger strike at Yarl’s wood centre. On Monday 8th February 2010 around 11.45am GMT time, some group of women stood at the centre of a hall in the centre. We were protesting about the condition at the centre and the length of time we spend in here. An officer approached the group and informed us that an immigration official would like to see us all to discuss the issues we have raised.

The officer told us to follow him down the corridor to the immigration office. We proceed down to the end of the corridor. When we got to the very end, the officer asked that we should go inside the office 4 ladies at a time. They allowed 4 women to enter and told us that they will let 4 more in when those 4 inside gets out. One of the manager of the center (a lady manager called Viv Moore) came form the long corridor and asked us if we wanted to go back to our rooms. We told her we were just waiting to see the immigration. She said we are just wasting our time and that nothing is going to be achieved from our protest. She then asked the officers in the room to come with her and as soon as they got to the door, the last officer locked the door on us. They all stayed outside watching us through the door window.

We were singing and chanting for about one and a half hour since we have been locked up, some of the ladies went to the door and asked to go to the toilet. The officers including the manager Viv Moore told us that we are not allowed to leave where we are. Some of the ladies started getting sick and collapsing on the floor. There was one asthma lady, one sickle cell lady and two others who were choking on the floor. We were all hyperventilating and sweating. There was no door or window open and we were all complaining of lack of air. Around 2.00pm, some Chinese girls asked the officers to go to the toilet and they were told that no one is allowed to get out. The Chinese bend down at the corner and pee on the floor. Few minutes later others copied them and wee on the ground. The officers were all watching and still refused to open the door. Some people decided to call he emergency service for the ladies having breathing difficulty. The police and ambulance were asked for and they called us back to tell us they are outside of the center but are not allowed entry.

About an hour after the police called us back, some ladies realised that the window was only closed not locked. They opened the window and got out into the compound. Other ladies went through the window and joined them. More were trying to get out through the window but the officers had seen what was happening and had gone round the compound to meet them. They were carrying police guard shield and wearing heavy jacket. They crushed the ladies who were trying to get out with the guard shield and pushed them to the ground. Some women were crushed to the ground and beaten up. Two ladies were physically injured and bleeding. The windows were protected with the guard shield and the officers holding on to the guard shield. We were all hysterical and upset and were begging the officers not to hurt the women outside. The officers laughed at us as more officers joined them and formed a line to force the women outside in one small corner.

Some women needed to change their sanitary towel cause they were on their period but they had to throw bloodied towel next to where we were standing. We were all exhausted and demoralized by 5.00pm and we had no choice but to sit on the soiled floor. There was no chair or anything to lean on. There was a helicopter hovering above outside by this time but the women outside were not allowed to move from where they were being crushed. Some officers came outside to offer the officers chips and hot drinks. They were replaced by new officers every hour. Every next hour, new sets of officers comes to replace them from their position. The women locked up and the 19 women outside were not offered any food or drink. There was no heat in the small place where we were locked and we had to stand in the cold snow without sock and jacket and the officers will not allow them to have jacket. We tried to get them jackets and jumpers through the windows and the officers smashed the window on one of the ladies fingers. Her middle finger was damaged and her fingernail came off. There was blood everywhere and he officers still refused her medical treatment. We were not moved from where we have been detained until 7.30pm.

We were told to come out in pairs and we were searched with around a dozen officers watching us. We were offered food and medication after the search and then lead to our wings. We were about 70 which consist many Nigerians, Chinese, Jamaicans, Zimbabweans and some nationals I don’t remember. I have been traumatised and victimised because of this experience. I can never believe this can happen in the UK and I am still in shock.

Please publish and pass this story to who ever is interested.

You can use the personal information that I supply below.

Mojirola Daniels
Nigerian
Aged 45
Came to UK – December 1987
3 British children.

Get involved at http://noborders.org.uk/

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