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It's been three years that i've been going into burnaby correctional facility for women, visiting with joint effort monday nights, driving or sometimes walking through the gates and noticing that they've repaired the sign that used to read burn by correctional facility for women. the train runs by on an embankment above, beyond that is the fraser river and it is quite a pleasant walk if you want to explore the wooded trails around the area. one of our friends inside was allowed a temporary absence daily for a short while to go jogging along the river with one of the the staff. you pass the open living unit and approach the secure unit. there maybe red tulip petals to eat or cottonwood fluff balls or just the orange reflections of lamp lights in the puddles. once another friend of ours, inside, was assessing us. "you'd never make it." she says to me. "i can tell by your eyes." "what happens if you don't make it?" i ask, knowing you don't get expelled from prison. "you get sent down to seg." but that was a few years ago now. the place has less of the oppressive feel of our educational institutions and more of a specific feel of it's own. as we check our materials for our workshops or gear for a show, as we pass through the four centrally monitored and locked doors you wonder who will be there. what will be the news, who will be in seg, how the community will have shifted since last time, where it will be.
it is quite amazing to see the women's community inside the prison. how people share traditional teachings and songs, talk about the goings on outside, catch up with those who have just come back in, tell old stories, play jokes, analyse relationships inside, outside, politicize their experiences inside and out, compare institutions, compare guards, compare weeks, compare years. i remember a professor once told us something about his perspective from the front of the class, that we were all in his view, that we were under surveillance, and he made the comparison with the structure of a prison that all institutions were set up in the same way. he was referring to the writer foucault. i pointed out that we could all see him from twelve different perspectives and he could be sure that sometimes some of us would get together maybe even by accident and compare our perspectives, make stories of what we saw, enlarge and humourize, build on the other's story or analysis. sometimes it would make us a little angry. this is one of the keys to unsettling oppressive power. the prison institution knows it and tries to separate people and break down the flow of communication and creativity.
another key to unsettling oppressive power is to break the isolation between groups. this is joint effort's mandate: to link the women's community inside with the women's community outside. we bring women in for workshops, for performances and just bring ourselves in as supporters. we also have been doing film nights at the blinding light and have held forums and workshops to raise awareness of conditions of women inside prisons in canada. there is an assumption that prisoners in canada have fair treatment, but women prisoners especially have no real health care, have less educational and training opportunities, even less now with the cut backs, and though you can't get an asprin, almost every person is on paxil or some other anti-depressant. this goes along with the general assumption that if women break the law, deviate from the norm in any way, they must be crazy. a woman who would probably have been in icu in a hospital was brought into the prison and died there the same night a couple of months ago. this was just after some of the most obvious provincial cuts to the institution and with all the changes, the uncertainty as to where women are going when the prison closes, and this woman's death people were understandably shaken. it is really important that we don't let these changes progress unnoticed as they have historically in other totalitarian regimes. it is really important that we see this as part of the continued history of genocide on this land. to talk about the changes to women's incarceration on provincial and federal levels we are having a forum at video in friday february 20th at 7pm called to the max.
February 10, 2003