June Newsletter 2019
The June newsletter features our congratulations to IAHR Board Member, Diamonté Brown, on her recent election as president of the Baltimore Teachers Union. MarQui Clardi, Sr. continues his monthly letter series from prison. In his letter, MarQui describes what it is like when there is a general lockdown. Additionally, you will find a Washington Post article on the continued problems in the distribution of sanitary napkins in the Maryland Women’s Prison. The article features Kim Haven, IAHR’s Maryland Legislative Liaison. Finally, we bid farewell to Sarah Vanags, IAHR’s communication director and welcome Geneva Blackmer who will be taking over that position.
Congratulations to Diamonté Brown
Letter from MarQui
Washington Post: A new law promised Maryland’s female inmates free tampons. They’re still paying.
Farewell to Sarah Vanags and Welcome to Geneva Blackmer
Congratulations to Diamonté Brown
IAHR salutes IAHR Board Member Diamonté Brown for being elected President of the Baltimore Teachers Union. Diamonté led an insurgent slate that overcame many obstacles to win a narrow victory. As of this writing, the results are being challenged by the incumbents and it is possible the national Teachers’ Union will order another election.
According to the Baltimore Sun, “Brown, 37, and her slate represent a changing of the guard. Some said English’s style wasn’t suited to today’s political climate, in which teachers across the nation are rising up, saying they’re sick of a system that’s left them feeling unheard and undervalued. Brown’s victory signals the end of what critics call a business-as-usual teachers union and a generational shift in leadership. The Union We Deserve candidates promised to be more accountable to members and to prioritize fighting for social justice and racial equity.”
Diamonté pledged that her union salary will never exceed that top paid teachers receive. She also said that “My mission in life is to make Baltimore a better place for low-income people.”
IAHR wishes much success to Diamonté and her new slate of officers.
Hello Rabbi Feinberg,
I hope all is well. I'm sending another note for the IAHR website. This past week there was a gang fight in my housing unit, so the administration has locked us down. I figure this is an ideal experience to write about and give your readers a glimpse into institutional lockdowns. As usual, I hope it's enlightening and inspires people to take action for positive change. Thank you again for this opportunity. I hope to hear from you soon!!
Lockdown essay 6/8/2019
It's been over 72 hours since I've showered, since I've breathed fresh air, since the sun's rays have touched my skin, and since I've been able to call or email my family. My complete range of motion has been limited to the confines of my prison cell for over 72 hours. My skin and hair are starting to itch, my back aches from laying in my bunk so much, I have no appetite since I'm not expelling any energy, and I'm so bored I often catch myself staring blankly around the cell, sort of "stuck" in thoughts about absolutely nothing. Any semblance of control over my mobility, hygiene, and social life I may have held 72 hours ago has been completely stripped away from me.
What frustrates me is that this punishment to which I'm being subjected is due to no fault of my own. It's the result of a gang fight that occurred in my housing unit a few days ago, during which weapons were used. Even though the fight was caught on camera, all the offenders involved were identified and taken to segregation, and all of the weapons used were recovered, my entire housing unit has been placed on lockdown. This sort of mass punishment happens all the time in prison. All it takes is for a handful of offenders to get into a serious altercation, and the whole unit - or sometimes the entire institution - gets locked down. This is another form of segregation that usually goes unnoticed. Just like the offenders in the actual Segregation Housing Unit, we're locked in our cells 24 hours a day, unable to enjoy most of the rights and privileges we'd normally be entitled to in general population.
As part of this lockdown, the C/O's have been going cell-to-cell, ostensibly searching for more weapons. I've been incarcerated long enough to know that no weapons will be found. Sure, some inmates have them, but they've likely found or created hiding spots that the officers would never even think to look. I suspect the officers know this as well. However, this lockdown isn't truly about finding weapons. My cell was searched a couple hours prior to me writing this essay, and if the real motive of this lockdown wasn't known before, it was crystal clear afterward.
As the C/O's entered my cell, the first thing they did was make my cellmate and me both strip naked, lift our arms, feet, and genitals, then bend over and cough while holding our buttocks open. Oh, the humiliation! Afterward, we were told to remove all the linen from our beds and take our mattresses and pillows out to the hallway to be x-ray scanned. This took a few minutes, and while we waited, the officers were conducting their search of my cell. Neither my cellmate nor I have any contraband, so I figured I had nothing to worry about. I just wanted the officers to quickly finish their search and clear my cell so I could go about my day in peace. How naive of me to think my sense of peace actually mattered to these people.
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June 5 at 7:00 AM
Female inmates in Maryland are still paying for tampons, sometimes at high prices, despite a law requiring free access to feminine hygiene products in the state’s prison system.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed legislation last year to ensure a free supply for female prisoners beginning in October 2018. But months later, inmates at the women’s prison say they still must buy the products they need.
An inmate recently paid $5.69 for a box of 18 supersize tampons, according to a commissary receipt reviewed by The Washington Post. Online retailers sell boxes with twice as many tampons for the same price or less.
The lawmaker behind the measure, Sen. Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery), said she is shocked and disappointed that women are still paying out-of-pocket.
“This is about fundamental human dignity and access to a basic necessity,” Lee said this week. “We thought it was common sense.”
Lee urged the Hogan administration to move quickly to implement the policy as the General Assembly intended.
Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Robert L. Green visited the women’s prison in Jessup for the first time Tuesday and in an interview afterward confirmed the policy was not being followed consistently throughout the system, including at Jessup.
“I’m taking immediate steps to make sure we are meeting the law. It will be done. This is going to be fixed,” Green, who has been in his job for a few weeks, said after visiting the prison that houses 700 women. “We’re going to make sure they know they have a choice — and at no cost.”
Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said the governor “strongly supports Secretary Green’s efforts” to make sure the law is being fully implemented. That it was not already “is clearly cause for concern, and we are looking into it,” he said.
The state measure, passed unanimously, reflects a national effort to increase access to menstrual products inside and outside the prison system for women and girls who are poor.
When Congress passed legislation in December to overhaul the criminal justice system, it included a requirement that federal prisons provide free tampons and sanitary pads to inmates in the U.S. system. The effort, pressed by Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), was framed as a civil rights issue for incarcerated women.
Criminal justice advocate Kimberly Haven (and IAHR’s Legislative Liaison), a former inmate, was one of the leaders of the Maryland legislative effort.
Requiring inmates to pay for tampons, she said, means some women without financial support have to rely on the free, less absorbent sanitary pads handed out each month. Inmate wages, she said, do not begin to cover the cost of tampons.
“Do I buy soap, shampoo and toothpaste or do I spring for a $5.69 box of tampons? It’s a choice that women should not have to make,” Haven said.
“The state has the obligation to make these products available, on demand, and a woman should have the right to choose a product that’s right for her,” Haven said.
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Sarah Vanags, who has been IAHR’s communications director, recently resigned her position. Sarah reports that she enjoyed her work at IAHR very much. She received a full-time job offer that she could not turn down. We wish Sarah much success and fulfillment in her new position.
IAHR is happy to announce the appointment of Geneva Blackmer to replace Sarah Vanags. Geneva will be IAHR’s new communications director. Geneva has a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in Religion, Art History, Religious and Non-Profit leadership. She has served as the administrative director of the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada. She also has worked as a Library Assistant in the Kansas City Public Library.