healthcare, law, politics, rants, YouTube

Women behind bars are having a bloody awful time handling their periods…

Last week, I wrote a post about how adorable YouTuber, Mama Doctor Jones, who is an OB-GYN and mom to four, did a video about a woman who had a baby while she was incarcerated. I was really moved by Mama Doctor Jones’ reaction video to Jessica Kent’s story. Next thing I knew, I was on Jessica Kent’s YouTube channel, which is full of interesting videos about her time in prison. Jessica Kent is tiny, well-spoken, and apparently sober, having spent much of her youth in trouble with the law.

I haven’t yet familiarized myself with all of Jessica’s story, but I have watched a bunch of her videos. As I listen to how this fiery young woman wound up on the wrong side of the law, I can’t help but wonder what might have happened to her if she’d never gotten arrested. She’s very bright and articulate, and I think she’s determined to go far. Jessica has obviously embraced the power of the Internet, and has a presence all over social media. She’s pursuing a college degree, but I wonder if she’s already making a lot of money creating videos for YouTube.

Last night, I watched a video by Jessica Kent that made me very angry. It was about how she and her fellow female inmates in Arkansas were forced to make tampons out of the maxi pads doled out to them. Jessica explains that female prisoners in Arkansas are not given tampons and, in fact, can only get really poor quality maxi pads– and just two per day at that. Jessica says the pads are state issued, and she’s never seen the type of pads the state issues for sale outside of the prison walls. Because the pads are so poorly made, they have to be turned into tampons, which last longer than the pads do. So Jessica made a video to demonstrate how to make the tampons.

This is absolutely infuriating!

More than once, Jessica implores her viewers not to try to make these “tampons” at home, since the pad she’s using is not really the type she would have used in prison. Apparently, the pads we can get at the store are too “cottony” and “powdery”. In any case, I can’t imagine why someone would want to make a tampon like this if they weren’t incarcerated and forced to do so.

Jessica says that not all states have this draconian limit on feminine hygiene supplies in their prisons. For instance, when she was incarcerated in her home state of New York, Jessica had no problem getting all she needed for that little feminine monthly chore. New York, of course, is a blue state, and human rights are apparently more valued up north.

For some reason, the powers that be running the prisons in Arkansas think that two maxi pads per day are all a female prison inmate needs when she’s menstruating. I think about my own menstrual habits and realize how disgusting and unhygienic that is. As a woman, and a person with a public health educational background, it amazes me that prison officials in Arkansas are allowed to get away with this practice. At the very least, it seems like it would be a serious health risk to everyone who is incarcerated. Many diseases, some of which cannot be cured, are spread via blood exposure. Plus, it’s just so nasty!

I read in another article that, in some prisons, women who can’t get proper feminine hygiene supplies will pass up visits with family or their attorneys when they have their periods. They have to wait until they can get their laundry done, before they’re not sitting in their own blood. Kimberly Haven, the author of that article, writes that before and after each visit, inmates are strip searched, and have to squat and cough. The whole process is so demoralizing and horrifying that a lot of female inmates would prefer to skip it, even though attorneys and family members are powerful advocates for the inmates.

In another article, I read about how, in Connecticut, two female cellmates would have to share five state issued maxi pads among themselves. Every woman is different, of course, so there’s no way to tell how long a period is going to be and how often feminine hygiene products need to be changed. But the inmates in Connecticut also had to learn how to stretch their products out, sometimes by reusing them. The inmates in Connecticut could purchase supplies from the commissary, but for those who don’t have money, that $2.63 cost might mean one less phone call home or not being able to pay for a visit to the prison doctor. Also, realize that prison jobs often pay very little– like 20 or 30 cents an hour. It takes a long time to make enough money to buy the proper supplies if there’s no one on the outside helping.

I have stated before in this blog that I’m not a big fan of incarceration, but I especially dislike inhumane treatment toward people who are incarcerated. Yes, it’s true that the best thing for anyone to do is to avoid going to prison in the first place, but people who are locked up are not going to improve their behavior if they’re treated cruelly. Forcing women to handle their body functions in this way is demeaning and cruel, and it doesn’t deter crime. Prison is supposed to be unpleasant– it shouldn’t be dangerous and unhealthy.

According to my reading:

In 2017, then-Sen. Kamala Harris and her colleagues Sens. Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Richard Durbin introduced a bill to provide free menstrual products to incarcerated people in federal women’s prisons. The Federal Bureau of Prisons issued a guidance memo, separate from Harris’ bill, mandating that menstrual products be available to all incarcerated people in federal correctional facilities at no cost shortly after. In 2018, Congress passed the First Step Act, a more general justice reform effort that included access to menstrual products. 

So… if you’re a woman who goes to a federal lockup, or a prison in a blue state, you’re more likely to be able to take care of these basic body function needs. But there’s no legislation in most states that require state prisons to accommodate menstrual periods. Frankly, I think that’s a sin, and I would love to see some high profile lawsuits happen that force states to do a better job in this area. In a wealthy country like the United States, this unsanitary practice should be outlawed. We’re supposed to be “better” than this… although I think many Americans are fooling themselves thinking that the United States is a civilized country. When we have female prisoners who are sitting in their own menstrual blood every month for want of adequate feminine hygiene supplies, we’ve lost the right to refer to ourselves as “civilized”.

It’s also unfair that prisons don’t automatically take care of this issue, since this is not a problem that male prisoners have to face. In fact, men don’t even need toilet paper as much as women do, but according to Jessica’s videos, women in Arkansas prisons only get two rolls a week. That’s really not much, especially when it’s that time of the month. But a lot of men involved with making laws don’t want to hear about this problem. It’s too “gross” for them. The first paragraph of an article in the Public Health Post opens with:

When Arizona’s all-male House of Representatives heard House Bill 2222 on feminine hygiene products, Representative Jay Lawrence said “I’m almost sorry I heard the bill…I didn’t expect to hear about pads and tampons and the problems of periods.” Introduced by Rep. Athena Salman, Arizona House Bill 2222 allocates funds to provide women in state prisons with unlimited and free access to feminine hygiene products. Access to sanitary menstrual products is considered a basic human right in European prisons. Not so in the US.

Wow, Jay… you’ve shown us just who you are with your lack of compassion or comprehension of how necessary it is for you, and your male colleagues, to hear a bill about providing necessary supplies for women who menstruate. I wonder if Jay Lawrence can even fathom how humiliating and shaming it is for a woman to have to deal with this problem when she can’t get the supplies she needs. Does he have any women in his life that he loves? What an asshole.

Aside from how gross, messy, and unsanitary this problem is, the practice of turning pads into tampons could potentially be unsafe or even deadly. Consider that the inmates probably don’t have the cleanest surfaces for improvising these products and they may not be able to keep themselves optimally clean. Then they’re sticking the tampons into their body orifices, where the improvised tampon might abrade the skin or otherwise introduce pathogens into the body. An inmate could potentially get very sick or even wind up with toxic shock syndrome doing this. Toxic shock syndrome can lead to sepsis, which can cause a person to lose limbs or even their lives.

A tampon did this to Lauren Wasser.

Model Lauren Wasser, who was not incarcerated when she left a tampon in too long and got toxic shock syndrome, lost BOTH of her legs to the sickness. She very nearly died.

I know a lot of people don’t care about the plight of prisoners. Personally, I still see them as human beings who are entitled to decent, respectful, and humane care when they are incarcerated. And part of being humane is making it possible for people in custody to be able to take care of private, personal body functions like menstrual periods. I know I would support legislation requiring that clean and hygienic feminine hygiene products be made available to women in prisons. I hope others can see how important this is.

And… once again… I am so glad menopause is around the corner.

politics, Trump

Elizabeth Warren has left the race and Alex P. Keaton now disgusts me.

I was genuinely sad to see that Elizabeth Warren gave up her run for president. I don’t get excited about too many politicians, but I did like her very much. For some reason, I found her refreshing, and I was surprised to see that she didn’t do better in the polls. I guess some people still aren’t prepared to accept a woman as President of the United States.

That being said, I’m not surprised that she dropped out of the running, nor am I totally surprised that Joe Biden has suddenly experienced a “miraculous” comeback. I have a feeling that he’s going to get the Democratic nomination. I guess I wouldn’t mind Biden running against Trump or even being president. I plan to vote blue regardless. This is the first time I’ve ever said that. In the past, I voted for a range of candidates from different parties and often voted third party. This year, I’m voting straight blue because I genuinely believe the Republican Party has completely gone off the rails. It’s definitely not the GOP of my father’s generation. It will be a long time before I will forgive the Republican Party for foisting Trump on the world. I think Trump is a woman hating disaster, and I don’t understand how decent people can continue to support him.

Lately, I’ve been binge watching Family Ties, a sitcom that was very popular when I was growing up. It’s not the first time I’ve binged on that show, although for the first time, I’ve had a really visceral reaction to Michael J. Fox’s character, Alex P. Keaton. I used to laugh at his conservative jokes. This time, I found them offensive, which is pretty weird. I guess back in the 80s, the sexist comments made by Alex Keaton were easier overlooked because they seemed far-fetched and out of touch with reality. In 2020, those comments hit closer to home, because there are a lot of people in the United States who embrace the racist, sexist, homophobic agenda promoted by Donald Trump.

It also occurred to me as I was watching Family Ties that Donald Trump never gets mentioned, even though he was definitely out there and in the media during that time. I’m not sure if Alex Keaton would like Trump. It seems like he would, except there were many times on that show that Alex showed himself to be, deep down, sensitive and caring. Trump is not sensitive or caring. Alex was also a “genius”, while Trump is a massive boob and many of his most vocal followers aren’t very bright, either. I would hope Alex P. Keaton could see through Trump and endorse someone better. But then I listen to what he says and notice who he admires– Richard Nixon– and realize that Alex P. Keaton, who used to be a “cute” character, laughably out of touch with reality, would probably admire Trump on some level. At least superficially.

He’s not so cute anymore, is he?

Last night, a long time friend of mine– someone I’ve known for about 30 years, who was one of my best friends– gloated about Elizabeth Warren’s decision to drop out of the race. I had a visceral reaction to my friend’s gloating, too. I usually don’t comment on other people’s political bullshit, but this time I felt compelled to type a response. I expressed sadness that Elizabeth Warren didn’t make the cut and added, “At least she’s not a rapist.”

My friend wrote that his candidate isn’t one, either. His candidate is Donald Trump and yes, there’s ample substantiation that he sexually assaults women and more than a couple of women have accused him of rape. There’s a lot of credible evidence that they’re telling the truth, and the accusations go back for over thirty years. Why people whom I know have good hearts continue to cheerlead for Trump, I’ll never know. My issue with him is not that he’s supposedly a Republican; it’s that he treats other people with contempt and derision, especially women. I’m tired of tolerating it. I’m tired of seeing and hearing Trump on a daily basis. I want him out of my life.

I have to admit, I came very close to disassociating with my long time friend over this… I really did. I have some friends who have completely cut ties with Trump supporters. I don’t want to do that myself, because I know a lot of them truly aren’t bad people. I also feel like people should be allowed to vote their consciences, even if I vehemently disagree with their choices. I’d like to continue feeling that way, even though I will never understand how anyone with a functioning brain can’t see how horrible Trump is. He’s a whole different level of horrible. He’s not your garden variety conservative. It’s like seeing someone cheer on a notorious criminal when I see someone gloat on Trump’s behalf, as if he’s never done anything to merit any of the criticism he gets.

In the end, I decided to unfollow my dear friend, instead. He did send me a private message to smooth my ruffled feathers. I appreciated that, although I know he still likes Trump, for whatever reason. I guess the worst part of it is that his like-minded friends who don’t know me were also jumping on the bandwagon, cheering that Elizabeth Warren gave up her fight… cheering on four more years of Trump’s insanity. Naturally, they’re mostly white people from rural areas who, for whatever reason, are scared to death to take a good look at the person whose policies they’re embracing.

I find it very depressing to consider that Trump will probably win the next election… Maybe, in a way, it’s kind of like what I wrote in my last post, about how Larry Nassar’s crimes against women were ignored and dismissed by so many people for so long. He’d become so emboldened toward his controversial treatment toward athletes– and he’d been falsely built up for so long as a “great” doctor, when he was anything but. In a weird way, it reminded me of how people ignored and denied the Holocaust– turning a blind eye to the obvious abuses and pretending like nothing ever happened. And then, it all came crashing down and Larry Nassar finally went to prison.

I feel like Trump supporters, like Nassar’s supporters, are kind of akin to Holocaust deniers. They ignore the obvious, turn a blind eye, and ignore suffering while they continue to prop up an obvious criminal. But maybe someday, Trump will finally be completely exposed for who and what he really is… and I wonder if my Trump supporting friends will still be gloating then. And sadly, I also wonder if our friendships or even family relationships will survive.

I never used to care about politics. I care too much about them now. Maybe that’s one good thing Trump did. He definitely pulled me out of complacency, at least for awhile. I think if he wins again, though, I might just go back to not caring. Trying to reason with Trump supporters is like throwing a cup of water at a raging inferno. It’s a waste of time and energy and ultimately futile.