Tag Archives: Prison

This Streetwear Brand Helps Queer And Trans People In Prison

Arianna Gil, an anti-capitalist anarchist, is liberating incarcerated queer people of color… by designing t-shirts.

In October of 2016, she and her feminist collective Brujas launched a streetwear line that rages against the prison-industrial system.

The black and white collection is emblazoned with slogans such as “Correction: Fire to the Prisons” and “Prisons are obsolete – Give em hell – Negotiations from the door of a cell.”

Designs include a line drawing of a prison on fire and a stenciled “1971,” in reference to the 1971 Attica Prison Uprising.

Brujas, which is a “staunchly anti-capitalist counter-cultural group,” made a strange choice by fighting capitalism with more capitalism.

If they are fighting for the freedom of incarcerated black and brown bodies, why not protest? write letters to politicians? organize strikes? Why create clothing that arguably capitalizes on incarceration?

Gil has the answer. She describes herself as a scammer and a hustler – a Robin Hood of sorts. She says,

There is no ethical consumption under capitalism, so Brujas might as well use its relative amount of power to subversive ends.”

All profits from the collection go directly to queer and transgender people of color incarcerated in New York state. Brujas, operating under the organization Freedom2Live, sends money for inmates’ commissaries, financially assists inmates’ family members, and gives people money when they’re released. These are all things that many nonprofit organizations hesitate to do because of strict regulations and oversight. Brujas returns autonomy to the incarcerated.

So who are the Brujas? Isabelle Natasia, a “co-conspirator,” says, “Mad Brujas are queer and nonbinary. That’s the untold story. We’re all freaks and we’re really pro-deviance.” Officially, they define themselves as “radical cohort made up of community organizers, skaters, musicians, healers, and hustlers.” They run headfirst into political issues and they fight hard for justice.

What’s next for the collective? They plan to keep working on and expanding the collection while keeping an eye out for copycats. Major corporations have stolen the Brujas’ designs in the past without giving credit or donating to affiliated nonprofits. Gil says, “With 1971, I’m waiting to see all the knockoffs.”

Their Kickstarter raised over $22,000. Learn more here.

Why Do Lesbians And Bisexuals Receive Harsher Prison Sentences?

New research reveals that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are both more likely to be incarcerated, and more likely to be sexually harassed and assaulted in U.S. prisons.

Lesbian and bisexual women are eight times more likely than heterosexual women to be incarcerated. According to Reuters, “the proportion of women in prisons identifying as lesbian and bisexual (36%)  is eight times greater than the 3.4 percent of U.S. women overall who identify as lesbian or bisexual.” The number was so high that it shocked the study’s author, Ilan Meyer, who checked the figure three times.

While the incarceration rate is 612 per 100,000 for the general U.S. population (men and women), the incarceration rate for lesbian, gay and bisexual people is 1,882 per 100,000. That is more than three times higher.

In the study, “sexual minorities” are defined as LGBT people or people who reported having a same-sex sexual experience prior to being incarcerated. 9.3 percent of all men in prison and 42.1 percent of all women in prison (long-term, high-security facilities) are sexual minorities. In jails (short-term, low-security facilities), 6.2 percent of men are sexuality minorities, as are 35.7 percent of women.

When one looks at the rates of sexual harassment in prisons and jails, the results are just as grim. 5% of sexual minorities have been victimized by prison or jail staff, and 12% reported that they’ve been victimized by an inmate.

Prison staff treats sexual minorities more harshly than heterosexual inmates – sexual minorities are “more likely to experience solitary confinement and to report psychological distress.”

And not all sentences are delivered equally. Lesbian and bisexual women are sentenced to longer periods of time than heterosexual women imprisoned or jailed for the same crime.

The study demonstrates how much work is left to be done not just on an activist and legislative level to protect sexual minorities, but also in research. The community needs researchers to do intersectional analyses of how race, class and mental health, coupled with sexual minority status, influence an inmate’s experiences with the legal system.

Researchers need to ask why sexual minorities are receiving such harsh treatment. Is it because every single judge in America is consciously homophobic? (Which is unlikely.) Is it because sexual minorities are more likely to be poor due to lack of antidiscriminatory employment protections, and therefore more likely to live in low-income neighborhoods that are heavily policed?

Only further research will tell. Read more about the study here.

Four Lesbians Wrongly Convicted of Child Abuse, Have Finally Been Exonerated

Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez were convicted in the late 1990s of gang-raping two little girls who were Ramirez’s nieces.


They had recently come out as lesbians and prosecutors used their sexuality as a motive.

The women refused plea deals and took the rare step of testifying in their defence to say they had done no wrong.

After years of fighting to clear their names, the state’s highest court exonerated them.

Texan judge David Newell wrote.

These four women have unquestionably established that they are innocent of these charges. Those defendants have won the right to proclaim to the citizens of Texas that they did not commit a crime. That they are innocent. That they deserve to be exonerated.”

The ruling overturns their convictions, prevents further prosecutions and paves the way for the women to potentially seek millions of dollars in compensation from the state

Cassandra told The Guardian after learning the news earlier this week.

It means everything to me, to my family. I have a son and a daughter and I do not want them living with the fact that I had been charged with a crime I did not commit, especially one such as child molestation.

I have so much to be thankful for already because I have my children back in my life, I have a beautiful family that has always been supportive. I’m thankful [for] every day that I’m given because I was taken from them for 14 years so when I got this news this morning it’s like ‘wow, this year we’re going to have a beautiful Thanksgiving because we have so much more to be thankful for.”

The arrests came after Elizabeths nieces’, who were just seven and nine at the time, accused the four women of rape while they were staying at their Aunt’s apartment for a week.

Elizabeth, who was five months pregnant at the time of her arrest, had enlisted her friends to help look after the girls that week as they all worked long, alternating shifts and she wanted someone to be at the house to look after them at all times. It was around this time Elizabeth had been rejecting advances from her niece’s father, Javier Limon, the ex-partner of Elizabeth’s sister, Rosemary.

The children told Javier’s mother, Serafina, of the alleged abuse who then alerted authorities.

When the case went to trial the girls testified “after several carefree days at Elizabeth’s apartment, her aunt called her into the bedroom one afternoon and began shouting at her. The women had been drinking tequila and were topless,” the elder of the sisters said.

“There were ‘liquids and powders and different things.’ There were syringes and vials of white powder. The women held her down and started kissing her and putting cold ‘liquid stuff’ inside her, and then they inserted a tampon into her vagina, she testified. Aunt Liz produced a gun. Her father Javier called, and as the older daughter assured him that everything at Aunt Liz’s house was going just fine, her aunt held the gun to her head,” The Texas Observer reported.

Elizabeth’s trial was separate from her friends and held a full year before in 1997. The jury found her guilty and she was sentenced to 37 and a half years in prison. Elizabeth had to give up her son who was just two years old at the time.

When Cassandra, who was a mother to two young kids at the time, Kristie and Anna were tried a year later, they received 15 years in prison a piece.

Despite efforts over the years to appeal the case, and letters sent to various Innocence projects around the country and even to Oprah, no one was willing to re-examine the evidence and take it back to court. That is until Canadian man, Darrell Otto, took an interest in the case.

Darrell began corresponding with Elizabeth when he found some inconsistencies in her case, he then contacted the National Centre for Reason and Justice and his claims ended up in the hands of journalist, Debbie Nathan who often looks into cases for the organisation.

Debbie looked through the notes from the physical examination conducted by Dr. Nancy Kellogg at the time and saw she had written, “this could be satanic-related”, noting that was probably the last time a physician had labelled anything as ‘satanic’.

Also in the notes were descriptions of scars on the girls’ hymens, something Debbie said, “good pediatrician’s knew had been discredited” by the time the trial took place in 1997.

Debbie brought the case to the Innocence Project of Texas where lawyer Mike Ware agreed to represent the women.

The case caught the eye of Michelle Mondo, a journalist for the San-Antonio Express News. The coverage prompted the first break through in the case – Stephanie Limon, the younger of Elizabeth’s nieces’ decided to recant her accusation.

I remember everything [Javier] coached me to say, as well as my grandmother. I’m sorry it has taken this long for me to know what truly happened,” “You must understand I was threatened, and I was told that if I did tell the truth that I would end up in prison, taken away, and even get my ass beat.

I will make things right, and I am sorry for everything I put you through. I was only 7, and I was scared.”

As evidence mounted supporting the women’s innocence, Elizabeth, Cassandra and Kristie were granted bail in 2013, and Anna was paroled in 2012.

On the exoneration, lawyer Mike Ware said,

It couldn’t be more clear that they are acknowledging and declaring that these women are factually and legally innocent and that’s obviously what we have been fighting and struggling for.”


‘Southwest Of Salem’ Tells The Story Of 4 Hispanic Lesbians Long Fight For Justice

Southwest of Salem, a new documentary feature released at the end of this month, follows the awful miscarriage of justice suffered by four lesbians over the last 24 years. The film, by Deborah S. Esquenazi, who became interested in the case and is convinced of the women’s innocence, follows the four women during their trials, their conviction, their parole, and their ongoing fight for exoneration.

Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Anna Vasquez and Cassandra Rivera, all of whom were 19 and 20 years old at the time and lived in Texas, were accused of gang raping Elizabeth’s nieces, then aged 7 and 9.

What transpired next was basically nothing short of a witch-hunt. The case became widely known as ‘The San Antonio four’ and the state of Texas offered the four women a chance to be put on probation for 10 years and avoid prison. The young women, convinced justice would prevail as they were innocent, refused to admit guilt to anything and the case went to trial.

Justice failed them entirely and in 1998 the four women were convicted of aggravated sexual assault and indecency with a child.  Elizabeth was sentenced to 37.5 years in prison and her friends got 15 years each.

During the late 90’s the United States was emerging from a bizarre period of mass hysteria in which many day care workers, nannies and babysitters all over the country were being accused of performing satanic ritual abuse on the children they cared for. The paediatrician who examined the girls, Nancy Kellogg, whose testimony sealed the women’s fate, said she found healed scarring in their vaginas, which she examined two months after the alleged attacks happened, and said it possibly indicated molestation. She also said that there appeared to be “signs of satanic-related sexual abuse.”

According to journalist Michelle Mondo, who wrote an article about the case in 2010, Kellogg said she based her notes on her “research and experience in this area,” and published studies she could not name.

The four women were never directly accused of ritual abuse, but because of Dr. Kellogg’s testimony, the prosecutors depicted the working-class Latinas as living sordid lives of debauchery. The filmmakers and the women conclude they were accused and convicted of sexual child abuse, and suspected of being in a satanic cult for one simple reason: They were lesbians. The film portrays the deeply ingrained cultural and systemic prejudices that resulted in the convictions of these Mexican-American women. They were from Texas, a very conservative state, and didn’t have the resources to use expensive attorneys. They were simply vulnerable to racial and homophobic prejudice by the authorities and could do little to protect themselves against it.

It also emerged in court that Elizabeth’s brother in law, Javier Limon, had a crush on Elizabeth and often made sexual advances to her. It is believed that because she rejected his advances and the fact Elizabeth was a lesbian, he encouraged his children to make these allegations against the women in an act of sick revenge. Even though the love letters he sent Elizabeth were mentioned in court and witnesses came forwards stating that Limon had been crushing on Elizabeth since she was a teenager, Limon denied everything and the courts believed him, not Elizabeth.

During the time of the allegations, and a fact not known to the public or the court, Anna and Cassie were partners, and they were raising Cassie’s two young children together. They used to spend time at Elizabeth’s house because they had been kicked out of their own homes by their mothers upon learning that they were lesbians.

It was this deep cultural prejudice and intolerance that allowed people to think the worst of them. In 2010, 15 years into the women’s nightmare, Stephanie Limon, one of the girls that accused the women, by then a young mother of 25, recanted her testimony in front of Director Esquenazi’s cameras and two lawyers from The Innocence Project of Texas.  This led to Anna getting parole in 2012. She was desperate to help her friends get out of prison as well and eventually helped them to get released on bond in 2013.

The women have never been exonerated and are still fighting for their exoneration to this day. Mike Ware, lawyer for the Texas Innocence Project, who has helped the women file their appeal, anticipates that the San Antonio Four will be vindicated and all the charges dismissed.

Still, he worries that there are two other possible outcomes: the court may find there is not enough evidence for actual innocence, and order a new trial, or they will be denied and have to return to prison to serve the remainder of their sentences. No charges have been filed against Limon despite the fact one of his daughters admitted she had lied.

The film will hit the wider screens later in the year.


Quiz | Which OITNB Character Would Make Your Perfect soulmate — er, cellmate?

So, season 3 of Orange Is the New Black premieres June 12 on Netflix – and yes Ruby Rose will be there causing trouble between Alex and Piper, Big Boo is set for more orgasmic storylines, and Black Cindy is set to shine.

However, have you ever wondered which character on the show could have been your soulmate — er, cellmate – in an alternate world?

More: Spoiler Alert | More ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Season 3 News

Take this quiz and find out – before season 3 premieres June 12 on Netflix.