Tenacious: Art & Writings by Women in Prison

#28 Mother’s Day 2013

As the title says, this zine is written entirely by women in prison. It is also written for women in prison; the proceeds from selling copies to the general public make it possible for incarcerated women to receive free copies.

We have other editions of Tenacious, but I read our copy for Mother’s Day 2013. The stories and poems vary on their exact topic, but they all focus on a sort of theme of motherhood and women’s health in the prison system. One woman tells the story of her pregnancy and birth in prison – how she was driven to a hospital in chains, gave birth, and only had a few hours to hold her son before being given off to whomever was going to care for him outside (she never said if it was her husband or a foster family or what). After that brief moment with her newborn, she was “black-boxed,” had chains all around her body and was immediately placed in the general population of the prison.

They also write about other problems within the prison system. The Prison Rape Elimination Act, which was created to protect the women from sexual misconduct from other inmates as well as prison staff, has been mutated. Women cannot even give each other a high five without being reprimanded. As for protection from staff, one prison has created a new rule in an effort to protect its staff and its own image. Any inmate found making a “false” claim against an officer is immediately sent to “administrative segregation,” and of course, anything that makes the prison or its employees look bad is officially called a false report. The “new and improved” healthcare system for prisoners also gets a review from an inmate who had to visit the nurse – and pay $5 for each visit – four times just to get a prescription refilled. Her friend went nearly three weeks on a broken foot because no medical professional was willing to take the time to take her seriously and treat the foot.

Overall, this is an amazing zine. It really opens your eyes to the daily struggles of a woman in prison and how messed up  the system is that is supposed to work so well and protect those who need it.

-Tori McManus

My Feminist Friends

REVIEW #1:

“My Feminist Friends” contains the transcripts of  interviews between the author, Kate, and several of her feminist friends. She asks them questions about  when they became feminists, how this decision, or in some cases realization, has affected their daily lives, and what research they are doing in their particular field. I was struck most by one woman’s research into a medication that would increase a woman’s sex drive. She admits that this was probably her least feminist research, believing that the issue was more psychosocial than physical. In her words, the women who think they need this drug really just need “a babysitter, a more attentive partner, a glass of wine, and a vibrator.”

REVIEW #2:

“My Feminist Friends” is the kind of zine you can tell was put together in a hurry.  The cover image is kind of campy and the text contains numerous corrections.   But wait, there’s more!  Don’t let this little zine’s cosmetic issues deter you.  It’s actually a very entertaining and informative read.  The premise is simple enough.  The author, Kate, interviews her feminist friends about their feminism, how they found it, and what they’re doing with it.  It’s always nice to be reminded that feminists come in many different varieties.   As Kate’s feminist friend Dawn concludes a particularly memorable monologue about the women in her life, “they are everything all at once, and there is no simple set of rules defining who they are or how they live.  I think we need to see that reflected back at us, so we know we aren’t alone.”  I think so too.

Truckface #14

Zine by lb.

This little perzine is packed with stories from a year in the life of Ms. B, an androgynous looking teacher at a public high school in urban Chicago.  Her personality is quirky and eccentric, but the writing is immediately engaging, probably because of the combination of honesty and wit that pervades the zine.  I was impressed by how gracefully the author mentioned her short haircut and the students’ confusion without focusing heavily on her sexuality, which the students also seemed to look past once they recognized their teacher’s wisdom and insight.

Ms. B. introduces herself by telling of the stresses associated with the beginning of her second year at the high school. The weight Ms. B. places on selecting an outfit for the first day of school (finally deciding on a lilac sweater that “boldly scream[s] do not ask me questions about my gender!”) reminds us that age and authority don’t always free us from insecurities. She shares with the reader anecdotes from the year about many students’ personal or behavior problems and a few solutions.  Especially poignant and hilarious is the letter written to the makers of Orbit gum in which Ms. B. details her attempts to help a student.  Ms. B. tells of how she gave a bulimic girl a piece of gum to cover up the stench of stomach bile during their conversation, and finishes the letter by asking the company for free gum.  There are many more amusing stories about reading in class, violence in the school community, and enthusiastic student projects against discrimination.  It is an especially touching moment when a student warms up to Ms. B. over a shared affinity for ACDC. After a stimulating class debate about rape in a book they had read, students literally groan in disappointment when the bell rings.  Ms. B. seems proud, and rightfully so, of the mutual respect that developed over the year and created a positive environment for a struggling group of kids, and the students are proud of their accomplishments in her class.  By the end of the year, it is clear that the students have begun to accept Ms. B. and learn from her class, while she learns how to work with the problems that the students face and manages teach them.

Reviewed by Amelia.

Raise Some Hell: A Feminist Child Rearing Zine for Everyone

This multi-media zine (full of poems, images, articles, stories, and songs), made by the CRAP! Collective (Child Rearing Against Patriarchy) confronts the issues and hardships of feminist mothers as well as offers suggestions of how to raise your children in a feminist world. Although I did not know this before, tensions exist between feminists without children and feminist mothers. This zine tries to unite the two groups of women saying that feminists can be mothers, and mothers can be feminists. It also asks the radical world to respect women of all types, for their choices on abortion or having a baby. This zine also included important facts about children’s television. Many of the characters on the television are male, and when females do have leads they are portrayed simply as kind, caring, passive, spoilt, and immature.

The parts of this zine that I find to be the most interesting, however, are CRAP! Collective’s views on raising children. They discussed a view I believe to be very important, which is to raise children in awareness of the social issues that are present in our society today; issues that we fight for in order to better our own future and the very future of these children. Rather than raising children in ignorance to try and protect them, we should raise them to understand these issues and understand that we have a right to fight for what we believe them. All of this encourages children to think, question and learn.

-Mila Monroe

For My Sisters and the Burden We Share

This is the first zine I read from zinelibrary.info, which has free zines that you can print out yourself.  It was published by the Kids-A-Part Program, a program which provides education, advocacy, and direct service for children and families affected by a parent’s incarceration.  This zine compiles stories from mothers who are incarcerated.  The mothers write about how they miss their children, how they wish they could’ve done things differently, and sometimes how nothing will ever change for them.  Some will get out soon, and some won’t get out for a long time.  They all write with regret, more than a tinge of bitterness, and the feeling that their heart has been ripped out.  Reading this zine was very emotional and touching.  One woman writes about how she was dealing drugs because she wanted her kids to have all these nice things like new Jordans or a cute outfit.  She has since realized that people matter more than things, and her children would rather have their mother with them than all of the new shoes in the world.  The imagery of the mom putting her kids into a friend’s car, buckling them into their car seats, and kissing them goodbye as they asked why she wasn’t coming with them, and then having her friend drive away so her children wouldn’t see her get arrested, was heartbreaking.

I am a huge advocate of prison reform, so this zine especially spoke to me.  The stories demonstrated the unconditional love of a mother, and many of the women were incarcerated for things they did because they wanted to improve the lives of their children.  Although they did break the law, many were misguided; and perhaps had no other option, or felt like they had no other option, in their environment.  I feel that the best solution to this problem is not to incarcerate people like this.  These stories reinforced my belief in the need for change in our prison system and our society.

One thing that I thought was creative and unique, but also made it somewhat difficult to read at times, was the fact that some of the entries were written in “spiral” form, when the words are written around the border of a page or around an object so you have to continuously turn the paper to read the sentences.  Kinda made me dizzy.  I did like, however, that all of the entries, although centered on the common theme of incarceration, were very different in content and presentation, which allowed the creativity and personalities of the women to shine through.  However, because of the content material of this zine, after finishing it, I was not inspired or uplifted, as some endings of zines with darker themes may end, but I was left with a hollow feeling for these poor mothers and their children who also have to suffer for a crime they did not commit.

-Sentaniz Palmer