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.

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healthcare, law, true crime, YouTube

Mama Doctor Jones posted a video that made me cry…

A few weeks ago, I somehow discovered Dr. Danielle Jones, an OB-GYN from Texas who has a super cool YouTube channel. I really appreciated her video about the abortion ban in Texas, and why it will put so many women at risk. I shared that video multiple times, and it’s important enough that I’m going to share it again.

I read yesterday that Dr. Jones and her family are moving to New Zealand. I can hardly blame them! Texas is becoming a true hellhole for women.

Yesterday, as our bathrooms were getting repairs, I found myself watching more of her videos. I initially really tried to resist the lure of Mama Doctor Jones, but she’s adorable, funny, and warm. Hell, I haven’t seen a doctor in about eleven years, but if I found one like her, I might make a change. She really seems personable. That impression was especially strong when I watched a video she made, reacting to a video done by a woman who was forced to give birth while she was in prison.

This video broke my heart.

A few months ago, Mama Doctor Jones shared a reaction video she produced after a bunch of her followers sent her a video made by Jessica Kent, a popular YouTuber. I watched this video yesterday, not expecting that I would end it feeling so emotional. I’ve never made it a secret that I am generally uncomfortable with the way many people tend to view prison inmates as “less than human”. This video, which isn’t even the original, really drives home that point. Yes, prisoners deserve punishment, but not at the expense of decency and humanity.

This is the original video.

In October 2011, Ms. Kent, who is originally from New York, was arrested in Fort Smith, Arkansas for drug and gun charges. When I heard she had lived in Fort Smith, I was immediately interested. Bill and Ex lived in Fort Smith at the time of their divorce. It was the location of a lot of trauma for Bill, too.

Anyway, Jessica was high at the time of her arrest, and had no idea that she was pregnant by her then Laotian drug dealing boyfriend. But she was feeling sick and it wasn’t getting better, so she visited medical staff at the jail. Since she was detoxing from hard drugs that she was using intravenously, Jessica thought that was the issue. She was wrong. A very busy nurse, who had a lot of other inmates waiting to be seen, bluntly broke the news to Jessica that she was expecting. She was sent back to her cell.

Two hours later, Jessica was loudly told she had to be moved from her cell because she was pregnant. Dr. Jones is shocked by that treatment, correctly pointing out that Jessica’s pregnancy would put her at risk in a prison environment. It’s also no one else’s business. Jessica then explains why it was dangerous for the guard to let people she was pregnant. During her three month stay at the county jail, Jessica was not given any prenatal vitamins, nor was she taken to a doctor. It wasn’t until the guards realized she wasn’t going anywhere that they needed to have her examined.

Jessica explains that she realizes that she broke the law and deserved to be punished, but the doctors’ visits were completely humiliating. She was dressed in her orange garb, completely shackled and cuffed, and forced to sit in the waiting room of a free clinic with everyone staring at her, whispering, and taking pictures. And while I don’t necessarily think that someone in jail should necessarily expect private accommodations in medical facilities, I do think this scenario is a reminder to people that inmates are human beings. If you wouldn’t point, whisper, and take photos of a regular person, you shouldn’t do it to an inmate, either. Besides being tacky and rude, it’s also potentially dangerous. Jessica says the nurses also had no respect for her privacy, and were not respecting her patient’s rights.

When she was six months pregnant, Jessica was sent to prison. She was taken in a van, completely shackled. And even though her condition made her need to pee every twenty minutes or so, she was not allowed to use the bathroom. I wonder how she managed to deal with that. Poor thing… and yes I say that, even though I know she broke the law and was being punished.

At the prison, Jessica was required to squat and cough. But she was six months pregnant, so it was physically impossible for her. The guards screamed at her, then made her sit on the floor cross-legged for six hours. I have never been pregnant myself, but I can imagine how difficult it must have been for her to move at that stage of her pregnancy. I can’t believe the guards wouldn’t understand that. But maybe a lot of them are not much better people than some of the folks they’re guarding. I understand the need for strict security, but it disturbs me that the guards seem to lose their humanity and common sense. At least in some places…

Jessica was repeatedly told she would lose custody of her baby forever. She was totally despondent and upset hearing that. Even if it was true, and in her case, it wasn’t, that kind of stress, along with all of the other stresses of being locked up, could not have been good for the baby. Jessica was so freaked out about the prospect of losing her baby that she tried to deny being in labor. She wasn’t ready to lose her child.

Another inmate noticed Jessica’s condition, so she alerted the guards, who made her walk to the infirmary in full blown labor. When she gets to the door, she had to be buzzed through three doors. She’s in agony, but the nurses told her they had to wait until “shift change” before she could go to the hospital. It makes me wonder what happens in that prison facility when someone is having a life threatening emergency.

Jessica was bleeding, so the nurses put her in a wheelchair with a pad on it. She sat alone in that chair for about three hours, bleeding. It was her first baby, so she was terrified and in extreme agony. The ambulance shows up, takes her to the hospital, and was fortunately sent with a somewhat kind correctional officer. But the nurses at the hospital were rude and condescending to Jessica. They didn’t speak directly to Jessica; they only spoke to the guard. Then, when the baby was born, Jessica didn’t want to look at her, because she was afraid she would fall in love with her and that would break her heart.

The correctional officer, much to her credit, ordered her to look at the baby. Jessica looked at the baby and fell in love with her… and, in fact, I think that may have saved Jessica’s life. I think it gave her a reason to straighten out her life. That baby girl gave Jessica some hope. This was the bittersweet point in the story at which I got really choked up. It also made me feel sad that I never got to experience that for myself.

A couple of hours later, a guard noticed that Jessica’s leg wasn’t chained to the bed. The guard stated it was “policy” as she chained Jessica, even though Jessica couldn’t walk anyway. A doctor told the guard that it would do Jessica some good to be able to walk, but the guard restated that chaining her was “policy”. They completely ignored Jessica’s rights as a patient, which she maintained, even though she was incarcerated. Jessica was not allowed out of the bed unless she was going to the bathroom. And given the atmosphere, Jessica was actually afraid to ask to use the toilet.

A doctor later tried to give Jessica some Percocet for her pain. Jessica asked for ibuprofen and strong coffee, because she thought she was going to get just 24 hours to see her baby. But the doctor very kindly told Jessica she was going to give her another 24 hours to bond with her daughter. That time passed very quickly. Two big guards showed up to take Jessica back to prison. Naturally, the “mama bear” instincts came out… the guards basically threatened her and Jessica came to her senses. And Jessica said to the baby, “I’ll be back for you…”

Heartbreaking… and again, perhaps the point at which, deep down, she decided she needed to get straight. It must have seemed like an insurmountable challenge, and yet she still managed to do it. I am very impressed by Jessica’s fortitude. So many other people would never have been able to make that climb.

When it came time for Jessica’s release, the guards handled her roughly and took her back to the prison. Her milk came in, which was physically very painful, and she became despondent. But Jessica was smart enough not to express the suicidal thoughts that were in her head, because she knew it would mean being stripped, put in a “pickle” suit, and thrown into a dark, horrible cell, where she would sit for 72 hours, alone, but observed. Jessica had to wrap tight ACE bandages around her breasts to make the milk go away.

Jessica didn’t see her baby for six months. The foster baby kindly sent photos of the baby, but they were sent back, since inmates were only permitted to have five photos in their possession.

Much to her credit, Jessica worked very hard to keep the promise she made to her baby, once she got out of prison. It took a couple of years, but Jessica eventually did succeed in getting full custody of her daughter, Micah. She is now a very popular YouTuber. I haven’t had a chance to watch a lot of her videos yet, since I only discovered her yesterday, but I think she’s going to be yet another YouTube personality I follow. I’m impressed by how bright and articulate she is, and how she’s managed to turn her life around, against all odds. I’m also interested in prison reform and true crime.

Isn’t it interesting how one thing leads to another? I only recently discovered Mama Doctor Jones, and now I’ve discovered Jessica Kent through Mama Doctor Jones and her followers. I enjoyed hearing what an actual doctor has to say about Jessica’s case. I, myself, have had just one encounter with an OB-GYN and it was a horrific nightmare. What would have happened if I’d had a compassionate doctor like Dr. Jones when I had my first “female” exam? Anyway… I appreciated watching this video. I also enjoyed watching Dr. Jones’s video about giving birth to her fourth baby, which really gave an interesting perspective of her experience as a patient.

Also worth watching…

YouTube is an amazing vehicle. So many talented people, who otherwise never would have had a chance to blossom, now have this incredible medium in which to get their voices heard. If I weren’t so camera shy, maybe I would try it myself. But I don’t like feeling like I have to be camera ready, so I stick to blogging… and sometimes I think I don’t come across in my blog the way I really am.

Any readers who know me offline can tell me what they think about that. I probably come off as dumber in person. 😉 You can take that as you wish.

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book reviews

Repost of my review of Escape from Camp 14…

Here’s a repost of a book review I wrote for Epinions.com on July 12, 2012, and reposted on Blogspot version of this blog. It appears as/is.

From October 28, 2014:

I went through a phase a few years ago and read a bunch of books about North Korea.  This morning, I read an article on CNN written by Shin Dong-hyuk, the only known person to grow up in and escape a North Korean prison camp.  He has been labeled “human scum” by North Korea’s leaders.  They claim that his description of what life is like in a North Korean prison camp is a pack of lies. 

I found Escape from Camp 14, Shin Dong-hyuk’s book, extremely fascinating.  Aside from having an amazing story to tell, Shin Dong-hyuk is a talented artist.  You can see some of his drawings on the CNN article, though I must warn that they are basically artistic depictions of how prisoners are treated in North Korea.  Some people may find them disturbing.  I did find them a bit graphic, yet I also marveled at Shin Dong-hyuk’s talents and I’m glad he is now free to share them with the rest of the world. 

From 2012:

For the past few years, I’ve been fascinated with stories about North Korea, one of the world’s most opaque countries. That’s why I felt compelled to read journalist Blaine Harden’s new book, Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West(2012). This book is the true story of a young man named Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born and raised in Camp 14, an oppressive North Korean political prison and later managed to escape. Though I had a feeling that parts of Escape from Camp 14 would probably depress me, I figured that ultimately the story would end on a somewhat triumphant note. And again, I think oppressive regimes are oddly fascinating.

Who is Shin Dong-hyuk and why was he raised in prison?

Shin Dong-hyuk was born in 1982, the second son of parents who had somehow managed to be allowed to get married. Shin’s parents didn’t marry because they loved each other. They married because they were being rewarded for doing something good. Sex between inmates at Camp 14 was forbidden, except between married couples. After their wedding, the happy couple was allowed five nights together; then they were separated and Shin’s father was allowed to visit periodically. Shin’s older brother was born in 1974 and by the time Shin was old enough to remember much, he had already been sent to live in a boy’s dormitory. When Shin was still a very young boy, he too was sent to live in a dorm. It wasn’t too big of a deal, though, since Shin didn’t have much of a bond with his mother, anyway. They were too busy working to form a bond.

In North Korea, people who commit crimes against the state are severely punished. So are their families. A person who gets caught doing something illegal will go to prison and so will his or her parents, siblings, and any children. The whole family pays for one person’s actions; consequently, there’s a lot of peer pressure to be on one’s best behavior. Shin was born in the prison and never knew any other life, mainly because two uncles tried to escape North Korea back in 1951. Shin’s childhood was spent working, starving, and being beaten and indoctrinated. He spent those years fearing for his life; for the punishment for disobedience was being shot on the spot. When Shin accidentally broke a sewing machine, he paid for it by sacrificing part of a finger. 

When Shin was 13, his mother and brother attempted to escape Camp 14. Shin overheard their plans. Like any good North Korean prisoner, Shin felt compelled to alert the authorities. Not alerting the authorities of an escape attempt meant being shot. The guards were able to stop the escape attempt and Shin was rewarded by being tortured and interrogated. Then, he and his father were forced to watch as his mother and brother were executed. He was not sad to see them die. He thought they were selfish for putting him in the position to have to tell on them.

It took Shin months to recover from the injuries he suffered while he was being tortured. During that time, he met a man who told him about life outside of the camp. Shin was fascinated that there was a world beyond the electrified fence. But he also knew that the fence was deadly and would kill him if he tried to flee. And if he was caught even thinking about escaping, he would be shot. 

Years later, Shin met another man who told him more about the world outside the fence. Shin found himself obsessed with the notion of escaping. With his new friend’s help, Shin hatched an escape plan and successfully escaped the political prison in 2005. Harden relates Shin’s amazing story of breaking out of the North Korean camp and eventually making it to South Korea, then the United States.

My thoughts  

Whenever I start to feel badly about my own life, all I have to do is remember what Shin Dong-hyuk has already endured in his 30 years on the planet. He grew up starving, friendless, and without much of a family, imprisoned for crimes he had nothing to do with. Against all odds, he broke free to go to a new country that for most of his life, he had no idea even existed. Adjusting to that new life in rich, opulent South Korea was extremely difficult. And then when he went to the United States to tell other people about his life in Camp 14, he had a hard time adjusting… and relating to other people. 

Harden’s done a great job with Shin’s story, maintaining an objective yet compassionate tone as he describes the atrocities Shin and other prisoners endured. It makes any problems I face seem trivial. This book took a long time to read and was, at times, a bit depressing. It’s not pleasant to read about innocent people being starved, beaten, and brainwashed. However, I have to admire Shin’s courage for escaping, even as he experienced guilt knowing that his father would certainly be punished for his escape… and the man who came with him on his break for freedom ultimately ended up being killed by the electric fence. Shin used the man’s body to insulate him against the electricity– without that dead body, Shin never would have made it to freedom. He’s paid a price, though, through constant nagging guilt. At this writing, Shin Dong-hyuk is the only person known to have managed to escape prison and defect from North Korea.

At the end of this book, Harden includes drawings Shin did that depict the horrors of Camp 14. I found the crude drawings haunting and horrifying. There are also photos.

Overall

I would definitely recommend Escape from Camp 14 to anyone who is interested in North Korea or likes true stories about overcoming adversity. This is not a happy book, but I found it fascinating to read and I definitely rooted for Shin Dong-hyuk.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: My review of They Always Call Us Ladies by Jean Harris…

This will be the last repost of today, an as/is Epinions book review I wrote of They Always Call Us Ladies, by Jean Harris. It was written in October 2005. The paragraph immediately below is an introduction I wrote when I reposted this review on my original blog, on January 21, 2015.

Here’s yet another interesting review of a book written by a woman who committed murder.  In this case, the perpetrator was Jean Harris, former head of The Madeira School in McClean, Virginia.  She shot her lover, Dr. Herman Turnover, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, dead when she found out he was being unfaithful to her.  Well educated and well employed, Jean Harris was the last person anyone would have ever expected would end up behind bars.  In 1992, Harris was released from prison on compassionate grounds.  She died of natural causes in an assisted living center on December 23, 2012.  She was 89 years old.

A very unlikely voice from behind bars…

Jean Harris, author of the 1988 book They Always Call Us Ladies is probably the last person anyone would have ever guessed would have ever spent time in prison. Harris, who is a graduate of Smith College, had spent her whole life educating people, even working as the headmistress of the exclusive and very expensive Madeira School for girls in toney Great Falls, Virginia. But in March of 1980, the 15 year relationship she had with Dr. Herman Tarnower, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, came to an end. She fell into despair and decided to visit Dr. Tarnower in New York. Unfortunately, she brought a gun with her, allegedly planning to kill herself that night. She ended up killing her lover instead and wound up sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. 

Much has come to light about Jean Harris’s case. In fact, just last week, my husband Bill and I caught a special on Court TV about Jean Harris. She is now out of prison, having been released in 1993 after thirteen years behind bars. Her book, They Always Call Us Ladies, was written four years prior to her release from behind the walls of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Bedford Hills, New York. As I read this book, I got the feeling that Jean Harris was trying to make the best of her situation, as hard as it was for her. In many ways, They Always Call Us Ladies is an eye-opening book. In other ways, it leaves some questions unanswered.  

I don’t remember exactly when or where it was that I picked up Jean Harris’s book. I do remember that I got it at a second hand bookstore, probably about ten or eleven years ago. I was lured by the subtitle: Stories From Prison. I didn’t even have an idea who Jean Harris was when I purchased this book. I suppose I was looking for lurid details. At the time, I lacked an appreciation for books that weren’t long on action. I remember trying to read They Always Call Us Ladies and setting it aside after only a few pages or so. I was disappointed because I felt like I didn’t get what I had been looking for.  

I picked up Jean Harris’s book again last week after I saw the special about her on television. This time, when I started reading it, I was able to keep going. And now, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Jean Harris, the convicted murderer.  They Always Call Us Ladies is a remarkable book that goes far beyond just “prison stories”. Jean Harris also tries to educate her audience about the history of her prison and the importance of prison reform. Clearly intelligent and articulate, Harris offers readers some valuable insight into what it’s like to be in prison and puts a human face on the ladies with whom she did time. She points out that no one is ever called a “girl” in her prison; instead, they are all called ladies. But despite the overtures of gentility, prison life is hard and Jean Harris effectively drives home that point. 

At the time Jean Harris wrote They Always Call Us Ladies, she was more than halfway to her first opportunity for parole. She focused a lot of time and energy toward helping the other inmates, especially those with children who were born in prison. The fact that she actively spent much of her time helping and getting to know her fellow inmates is clearly evident as she relates more stories about the “ladies” around her than herself. It’s not surprising that Harris is empathetic to the other ladies. She explains how and why some of the other prisoners ended up in prison and why a few of them came back again and again. They were simply unequipped for life on the outside of the prison’s walls. At the same time, Harris injects her own opinions about what she sees. Although she is sometimes disapproving toward the lifestyles of the ladies with whom she is serving time, she is always supportive of them as human beings. I got the feeling that she took a fond motherly or grandmotherly interest in the other prisoners and they, in return, took a similar interest in her. 

One thing that did strike me about They Always Call Us Ladies was that, although Harris makes it clear that her life was hard, I got the feeling that the prison she was in was very progressive. The prison had a children’s center, where new moms could keep their babies for a year. If the mother was going to be paroled within eighteen months of giving birth, officials would allow the mothers to keep the child until the mom got out. Harris explains that Bedford Hills was the only American prison that was allowing new mothers to keep their babies at all. She then points out that in Europe, prisons are much more accommodating. I got the feeling that she much preferred the European way of doing things. It’s not that I blame her for liking the European way better, but I did notice that Harris doesn’t really explain the differences between the European and American cultures. Just as some people view imprisonment as strictly punishment, other people see it as a chance for rehabilitation. I got the impression that Harris is more for rehabilitation than punishment and evidently that’s the way the Europeans feel about prisons, too. 

Another thing that stuck out at me as I read They Always Call Us Ladies is that it must have been a HUGE culture shock for Jean Harris to be in prison. She is nothing like the other ladies she writes about and, I suspect, that Jean Harris never had much of a criminal mind. In fact, I think it was a tragic turn of events that led her to prison in the first place. Because she is so much a fish out of water, she gives her readers a rare and different glimpse of life on the inside of a prison. She doesn’t seem like she belongs there.  

Jean Harris does include some examples of dialogs she heard in prison, even writing them in dialect. She explains the racism that she witnessed in prison, mostly directed at her fellow inmates. She comes across as almost detached. I had heard on a few occasions that homosexuality is rampant in prisons and Jean Harris doesn’t dispute this fact; in fact, she offers statistics on homosexuality in prisons. She also doesn’t give any indication as to whether or not she engaged in homosexual conduct. She seems especially detached from this issue as it personally pertains to her, even though she addresses it regarding other prisoners. 

Harris’s memoir does include some foul language, but it’s used in the context of quoting other people. She never uses it herself and doesn’t condone its use in other people. In fact, in one passage, she writes disapprovingly that those who must use the word “sh*t” in place of every noun have a serious deficiency in their vocabularies. As I read They Always Call Us Ladies, I was continually reminded that Jean Harris is first and foremost a teacher, not because she actually wrote those words, but because of her actions and her writing style. I do believe that Harris must have been a great asset to her students, despite the fact that she later wound up in prison. 

My comments on They Always Call Us Ladies so far have been overwhelmingly positive. For the most part, I did really enjoy reading this book, even though it’s been sitting on my shelf unread for years. Despite my positive comments, however, this is not a perfect book. For one thing, Harris writes a lot about legislation circa 1988. For an historical point of view, this is a good thing. I get the feeling, though, that Harris didn’t mean for her book to be read years down the line; she meant for it to be read when it was hot off the presses. Consequently, her references to “now” and 1988 drive home just how dated this book is. For another thing, anyone who is looking for information about what got Harris put in prison will be disappointed.  For that story, you’d have to read one of her other books. 

Because she doesn’t really discuss her crime, I almost got the feeling that she didn’t think she belonged in prison. I got the feeling that even though she was in prison, she wasn’t of it. And while at times her writing drifts very slightly into self pity, she never really gave me the impression that she felt like she deserved to be in prison, even though she did kill a man. Again, I don’t believe that Jean Harris initially set out to kill Tarnower. That doesn’t change the fact that she did kill him. Yet, there are times in this book that she seems to take a detached, almost superior position over the inmates about whom she writes. On the other hand, I have no idea what prison must have been like for Jean Harris. Maybe taking this position offers her a defense mechanism– a way to protect herself from the reality of her situation. The last, but not necessarily negative, comment I want to make is that this book is challenging reading. Even though I enjoyed reading They Always Call Us Ladies, I didn’t find it the kind of book that I could finish in a matter of hours.

They Always Call Us Ladies appears to be out of print. If my review has enticed you to seek it out, be warned that you may have some trouble finding it. Nevertheless, I will recommend it to a wide audience because I think it is an impressive and enlightening book. If you have any interest in prison reform or history and want to read an eloquent, true account from someone who’s seen prison firsthand, I definitely would encourage you to read this book if you get the chance.  

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celebrities, law, true crime

Bill Cosby has been sprung from the joint…

Last night, I was startled by a headline about the man who was once called “America’s Dad”. Bill Cosby, who has spent the best part of the last three years in a Pennsylvania prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004, was released from the joint on a technicality. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Cosby’s 2018 conviction for sexual assault, for which Cosby was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in a maximum security prison. As of September, Cosby would have served the minimum time of three years.

He’s out of the jug.

Cosby was released because of a “non-prosecution agreement” he had with a previous prosecutor who had decided not to prosecute Cosby for sexual assault. The agreement meant that Cosby should not have been charged. Although more than sixty women have come forward to allege that Cosby had also victimized them, the statute of limitations has passed, making any future prosecution unlikely. According to The New York Times:

In their 79-page opinion, the judges wrote that a previous prosecutor’s statement that Mr. Cosby would not face charges, which paved the way for Mr. Cosby to testify in a civil trial, meant that he should not have been charged in the case. It was a 6-to-1 ruling, with two of the judges in the majority dissenting on the remedy, which barred a retrial.

In 2005, Cosby was investigated following allegations from Andrea Constand that he had given her drugs and sexually assaulted her. Former Montgomery County district attorney, Bruce L. Castor, had stated in a press release, at the time, that he had found “insufficient evidence” to criminally prosecute Cosby. Ms. Constand then brought a civil suit against Cosby, which they settled in 2006. Cosby eventually paid Constand $3.38 million. In the course of that civil suit, Cosby made incriminating statements against himself, based on assurances by Castor that he would not be held criminally liable.

In December 2015, Bruce L. Castor’s successors reopened the criminal case against Cosby, just days before the 12 year statute of limitations would have expired. Over 60 women had come forward to accuse Cosby of sexually assaulting them– the case was gathering steam just as the #MeToo movement was heating up, which no doubt increased pressure for Cosby to be convicted.

Cosby had admitted during the 2006 civil suit that he had given “quaaludes to women he was pursuing for sex”. That evidence was used in the criminal case against him in 2015, but because he’d had that agreement with Castor, he never should have been charged. Consequently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that “…in light of these circumstances, the subsequent decision by successor D. A.s to prosecute Cosby violated Cosby’s due process rights.” 

Although I know a lot of people are disappointed that Cosby was released, personally, I don’t have much of a problem with it. Cosby is almost 84 years old, essentially blind, and extremely unlikely to repeat his crime. I doubt any women will be visiting him in an attempt to bolster their careers. I also doubt any women with sense would accept drinks or pills from Mr. Cosby. Any women that would do that should have their heads examined.

Cosby definitely should have been prosecuted years ago, but he wasn’t. And it does sound like his rights to due process were violated. Since I would hope for fairness and due process if I, or someone I love, was ever accused of a crime, I expect proper due process for other people. That includes people who are clearly guilty, which I believe wholeheartedly that Cosby is.

We should all remember that the fact that Cosby was released from prison on a technicality doesn’t make him any less culpable in his crimes against women. His reputation and career are now pretty much ruined. Hopefully, he’ll go home and live out his remaining years quietly with his faithful wife, Camille. Unfortunately, I don’t think Cosby will keep quiet. He’s always fancied himself someone with something to say, and I suspect being released from prison will embolden him. In fact, after being released, Cosby “called in to local Philadelphia radio station WDAS-FM, where he said the audience needed ‘clarity, they need guidance.'”

“Because this is not just a Black thing,” Cosby said. “This is for all the people who have been imprisoned wrongfully regardless of race, color, or creed. Because I met them in there. People who talked about what happened and what they did. And I know there are many liars out there.”

Camille Cosby, made some shameful comparisons of Cosby’s case to that of Emmett Till’s. Emmett Till was a black fourteen year old boy who was lynched in 1955 after being accused of “leering” at a white woman. Mrs. Cosby also blamed the media for “demonizing” Bill Cosby– although Cosby had no issues using the media to promote his long and successful career. It just doesn’t wash… but at least now that Cosby’s been released, some of the accusations of racism regarding his case might be put to rest.

As for Bruce L. Castor, he’s gone on to bigger things. This year, he served as a lawyer for Trump during his second impeachment trial. Castor says that he feels “exonerated” by the ruling allowing Cosby his freedom. According to The New York Times, Castor said:

“I was right back in 2005 and I’m right in 2021… I’m proud of our Supreme Court for having the courage to make an unpopular decision.”

Except Cosby actually admitted to drugging women he was pursuing for sex. Castor didn’t find sufficient evidence in 2005 to prosecute “America’s Dad”, but clearly Cosby was guilty. I don’t quite understand why Castor would congratulate himself for not finding evidence against Cosby in 2005, when it’s quite clear that Cosby had a long standing habit of sexually assaulting women and getting away with it.

I do think it’s good that Cosby went to prison. I’m sure that experience was very humiliating and educational for him, although upon his release from the joint, Cosby is claiming that a lot of people who have been imprisoned are innocent and have been victimized by “liars”. That may be true. There may be people in prison who don’t belong there. However, I don’t believe Cosby is among the innocent people who were falsely imprisoned. He openly admitted to drugging women he was pursuing for sex. Cosby’s release is strictly because court officials screwed up– not because someone “lied”.

I think Andrea Constand should be commended for bravely coming forward and doing her part to stop Cosby from hurting other women. If Cosby were younger and still posed a serious threat to women, I might be much more outraged that he’s been released from prison. But I honestly don’t think he will continue his habit of drugging and raping women. As a general rule, I think prison should be for people who are violent and pose a threat to others. That’s just my personal opinion.

I know a lot of people think Cosby should continue to rot in prison to serve as an “example” to others. But in my experience, people who are narcissistic criminals aren’t influenced by what happens to others. They think they’re above it, and they don’t ever expect to get caught. Cosby got away with his crimes for years. Why shouldn’t he have believed that he’d continue to get away with what he was doing? He didn’t learn from watching O.J. Simpson go to prison, did he? I notice we *finally* don’t hear much from O.J. anymore.

And look at Trump. Trump openly admitted to assaulting women and countless women have accused him of assaulting them, including a teenaged girl. Yet he was the president, and many people still want him to lead the country, despite his dismal record and obviously terrible leadership. Unfortunately, Americans are often hesitant to punish powerful, charismatic men. The proof of that is in the Jello Pudding Pop…

Anyway… while I empathize with everyone who is disappointed that Cosby is out of prison now, I don’t see how being outraged about this will make things better. What’s done is done. Cosby can’t be prosecuted again for this crime. That’s a feature of our legal system. So my being outraged about Cosby’s release will do nothing more than raise my blood pressure. Given the state of the world today, and the rising numbers of people getting sick with new variants of COVID-19, I figure I have bigger fish to fry. So since I can’t do anything about this, I wish Mr. Cosby luck, and I hope he stays out of trouble. He would do well to STFU and be grateful, too… maybe show some humility. I don’t think he will, though. His kind never does.

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