A powerful new video has been produced by the Essie Justice Group, a San Francisco-based organization dedicated to supporting women with incarcerated loved ones. The #StandWithHer project highlights the disproportionate impact that mass incarceration (and mandatory minimums which feeds cyclically into incarceration rates) has on women.
When we talk about the impact on the family members left behind when someone enters the penal system, we’re usually speaking in abstractions; the lives we envision are based on some cookie cutter image garnered from snippets of pop culture. But this video, and the #standwithher project, puts real faces to those abstractions, lends voice to their stories.
These women have been made to feel invisible, stigmatized by a society that, more often than not, blames them for their situation. Why does that matter? Because isolation and stigmatization lead to perpetuating cycles of poverty and despair. Beyond the social stigma, visitors are often treated as prisoners themselves, humiliated for their efforts to help connect prisoners with the outside world (a critical element in the rehabilitation process).
Many are under the misapprehension that being imprisoned is a “free ride” for those involved; nothing could be further from the truth. While obviously the state pays for the basics of room and board, families are forced to bear other costs themselves. A simple weekend visit can cost a family thousands. Maintaining the most basic of communication through emails and phone calls quickly adds up. That’s not to mention the fact that many of the most basic personal hygiene products have to be purchased (this has become an increasingly serious issue in women’s prisons, where menstrual products beyond an unhygienic maximum of five per week are only available at a cost); funds to purchase those items come from loved ones outside.
What makes this movement so important, is that it does not simply call on us to reform our penal system (which though the structural dimensions to America’s culture of mass incarceration are a central feature of their mission), but to effect meaningful change designed to ensure that those left behind aren’t also punished by the system. I urge you to take a moment to watch and share this video, to help raise the profile of these women so that the we, as a society, can better understand the challenges they face, how we can support them, and how we can create a better future for future generations of women.