‘It is powerful to suddenly have a voice’: reframing women in criminal justice

Someone’s Daughter, curated by Jennie Ricketts and presented with The View magazine, is a new photography exhibition highlighting how female prisoners are seen and understood, with the ultimate aim of reimagining the justice system. The show is appearing at Photo London alongside an online benefit auction hosted by Artsy.

By photographing women who have been stigmatised by the law, the courts and the media in the administration of justice, and displaying them alongside professionals working in the criminal justice space, the exhibition seeks to change how formerly incarcerated women are perceived and ultimately the way justice is served.

Lady Hale retired in January 2020 as president of the supreme court of the United Kingdom, the apex court for England, Wallis, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

“When I was in the court of appeal, we held that the human rights of children had to be taken into account in sentencing their parents. But does that happen? I congratulate the View for giving these women a voice – helping us all to understand them and what has happened to them and how the system could do better by them if only the will were there.”

Emily Duffy was given an eight-year prison sentence for conspiracy to supply class A drugs in 2015. She served four years of that sentence in prison and is on licence in the community for the remaining four years. Prior to this, she had never been in trouble with the police, had finished school with all her GCSEs at grades A to C, and then went on to college, where she obtained a BTec National Diploma. She grew up with a loving, supportive family and a close group of friends.

Carolina Mazzolari, an Italian artist based in London, has been collaborating with prisoners for more than five years. Her practice involves textile manipulation, printing, painting, photography, video and performance. Some of the prisoners she has worked with have become permanent remote workers within her studio, and although she cannot have live interactions with them, she feels they exchange craftsmanship and much more through the invisible channel of thought. From them, she has learned how important it is to have a thoughtful door open on to the outside world. “It is powerful to suddenly have a voice when you think you cannot be heard.”

Ivana Bacik grew up in in the suburbs of Dublin and lives in Portobello with her young family. She is a lawyer who has taught law for many years at Trinity College Dublin, and was recently elected to Ireland’s parliament for Dublin south. As a student activist, she was taken to court and threatened with prison for providing information on abortion – in a case that paved the way for repeal of the eighth amendment and legalisation of abortion in Ireland. She was first elected to serve in 2007. An experienced legislator, she has seen more of her opposition bills become law than any other senator. Her reforming legislation has tackled issues such as working conditions for freelancers, secular marriage, women’s health rights and LGBT equality.

Samantha Prescott received a nine-year prison sentence for drugs offences. She served four and a half years in prison and the remainder on licence in the community. She explains her experience: “The irony was, it changed my life for the better! Sure, it was hard, and people thought the worst of me, they thought I was a snitch! I was even accused of sleeping with the officers which couldn’t have been further from the truth.

“I chose to rise above this and knew that I wanted to change my life and make it different for the better. So that’s exactly what I did. I used my time to gain as many qualifications as I could and went on to receive a placement with an organisation where I was able to help others. It also brought me and my family closer and it changed my mindset.

“I hope that someday I will be able to use what I went through to continue to help those who may find themselves in similar situations [to mine]”.

Bianca Jagger is a Council of Europe goodwill ambassador, founder and chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, member of the Executive Director’s Leadership Council of Amnesty International US, and a trustee of the Amazon Charitable Trust.

Jen Reid is an activist at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement. After a bronze statue of Bristol-born merchant and slave trader Edward Colston was torn down by protesters and thrown in the nearby harbour, a statue by Marc Quinn was added to the empty plinth titled ‘A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020’. It depicts Jen raising her arm in a Black Power salute, and for a lot longer than the 24 hours it stood, raised conversations and maintained momentum for the BLM movement globally. Jen was the focus of a Channel 4 editorial piece alongside her husband, Al, who was also involved in the toppling of the Colston statue. Using her newfound platform, Jen is interested in exploring a range of themes including issues of race and ethnicity. Together with her husband, she launched the Bristol Eighteen – a fundraising clothing company advocating for better teaching of Black history in schools across the UK.

Sue Wheatcroft comments on the journey that led her to prison and the reforms she would suggest from first-hand experience.

“At the age of 18, I chased an abusive boyfriend into the street with a kitchen knife. After months of physical and mental abuse, I finally cracked. For this, I was given a conditional discharge. My next offence was 36 years later, when a kitchen knife was found in the back of my car. I kept it there so that I could cut up food for my seriously disabled wife when calling for a takeaway to eat in the car. For this, I was given a 12-month prison sentence.

“The judge said that, because of my first offence, I had a propensity for knives, so I was dangerous. I also had a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder and I believe this added to the judges sentencing decision … I wasn’t dangerous, I was ill.”

So, how can the CJS be improved? “Education, training, awareness of the disadvantages people face would be a good start, and the involvement of those with lived experiences in this, is imperative … Perhaps we should stop putting all the blame on ‘the system’ and concentrate on the providers, those who deal with those at risk.”

Josie Bevan is a former prisoner’s wife and a campaigner for prison reform. She tells compelling, humorous and unexpected stories from prison, and is an award-winning writer, blogger and presenter. In a previous life, Josie was a film script reader and storyteller before retraining as a nutritionist. When her husband was sent to prison for nine years, she began to document her new world. “Prison changed my life” will be written on her tombstone.

Lady Edwina Grosvenor is a philanthropist passionate about prison reform. Since graduating in 2005 from Northumbria University, where she studied criminology and sociology, work has taken her across the UK and around the world, visiting different models of criminal justice and witnessing at first hand the best and worst examples of prison practice. From visiting children in Nepali prisons to people on death row in US high-security institutions, Edwina has made it her mission to act as a witness to prisons. For her, “There’s always something profound to learn from visiting a prison anywhere on this earth”. Edwina is the founder of One Small Thing, an organisation that aims to redesign the justice system for women and their children, educate on the impact of trauma, and push for a more compassionate approach.

Clare Barstow spent 27 years in prison for murder but maintained her innocence throughout. While serving her term, she set up six prison magazines and wrote plays that toured the country and were performed internationally. Since leaving prison, she has worked on several publications, spoken in prisons and at conferences about her experience, curated two art exhibitions and exhibited in others. She has also had three short plays performed and acted in several collaborations.

Mahogany L Browne is the executive director of JustMedia, a media literacy initiative designed to support the groundwork of criminal justice leaders and community members. This position is informed by her career as a writer, organiser and educator. Browne’s latest project is a poetry collection responding to the impact of mass incarceration on women and children: I Remember Death by Its Proximity to What I Love.

Mary Margaret McCabe writes on topics in contemporary ethics and medicine. She has held teaching and advisory positions at a variety of educational institutions including at Cambridge University, King’s College London and University College London

The Someone’s Daughter project, for her, is rich in memory of her mother to whose model she aspires: “As my mother’s daughter, I learned the importance of listening to others and of seeing that everyone has something to say, and has a voice to be heard. She believed that everyone, no matter who, no matter where they are or what they have done, has a right to our respectful attention just because they are human beings. This does not mean we agree with what they think nor condone what they do, but it does mean that they count.”

Karen Thomas spent 34 and a half years in prison, then landed in New York City, where she works as a residential aide in the Women’s Prison Association shelter and helps other disfranchised women. She creates fabric wall hangings, called Yearnscapes, which have been exhibited, among others, in a solo show at the WOW cafe in New York City’s East Village.

Sara Kirkpatrick doesn’t want to be grateful; she wants to be equal. She is the CEO of Welsh Women’s Aid, a specialist practitioner working directly with perpetrators, a social work guest lecturer, refuge worker, outreach worker, probation service officer and charity trustee. 'For over 30 years I have worked to reduce the harms resulting from abuse – challenged those who think it is legitimate to abuse. But the work keeps coming. Without social change, without a recognition that attitudes and values that legitimise the oppression of some for the benefit of others, nothing will truly change. We must go beyond repairing the damage, be bold about our expectations and demand change.”

Kate Morrissey knows that leaving the past behind is harder than it sounds. In 2005, she was a heroin and crack addict and her life had spiralled into chaos. She was remanded in prison after the courts lost patience with her and her 33 criminal convictions. Since her release, Kate has worked hard to change her life – she detoxed from drugs, went to university, and got a job. The aim of imprisonment is rehabilitation, but she found that even when she achieved it, the world wasn’t ready to accept her. Every time she tried to move on, her past was brought up. Vandag, 16 years later, she is a senior manager in the NHS providing opportunities for people with lived experience of the criminal justice system to return to working in the NHS.

She is determined that women (and men) leaving prison today are given the opportunities to move on in their lives and to become part of civil society.

“Prison and any other engagement with the criminal justice system should be an opportunity to truly turn lives around, not an opportunity to continue punishing individuals for the rest of their lives. When people do rehabilitate, they should be supported [en] given opportunities to move on with their lives. They are, na alles, all Someone’s Daughter.”

Shivalee Patel is an advocate and activist based in London. She has been seeking freedom in many forms for the last 10 jare. Her activism spans veganism, Black Lives Matter advocacy and social justice. She studied environmental management and worked in a social justice charity that sought to free enslaved workers at the bottom of the textile supply chain. Her fight for freedom became an internal battle when she realised she had mental ill health due to toxic experiences and assault in childhood. Her ultimate goal is to help all human beings feel freedom and empowerment. Her journey continues and she will never stop dreaming of a world where freedom and personal empowerment is at the core of our communities.

Lady Helena Kennedy QC is one of the UK’s most distinguished lawyers. She has practised at the bar for 40 years in the field of criminal law and has conducted many of the leading cases. She sits on Unesco’s high-level expert panel on media freedom. She has been a member of the House of Lords for more than 20 jare, where she sat on the Joint Committee of Human Rights and chaired the European Union Justice Committee. She now sits on the Justice and Home Affairs Committee.

Whitney Clarke, a London-based admin and communications officer in the justice sector, is also an advisory board member for a social justice charity. Since she was 17, she has advocated for young people and campaigned for reform of the system for young people. Her passion for making a difference stemmed from her experience in foster care, multiple school exclusions and battles with mental ill health. She witnessed at first hand how these systems can fail young people and aims to foster change. She was imprisoned for more than 10 convictions and served time in 2018, which led her to vow to change her life. She recently became one of the co-chairs for King’s Health Partners for the Institute of Women and Children’s Health and has been appointed an advisory group member for the World Congress for Justice with Children.

Bidisha is a journalist, broadcaster and artist working in film and photography. Her latest publication is an essay called The Future of Serious Art and her latest film series, Aurora, launched in 2020. Bidisha specialises in international human rights, social justice and the arts and offers political analysis, arts critique and cultural diplomacy tying these interests together.

Right Rev Rachel Treweek, the Bishop of Gloucester, sê: “On the day of my announcement as bishop of Gloucester in March 2015, I visited HMP Eastwood Park, and not long after that I encountered the work of the Women’s Centre in Gloucester run by the Nelson Trust. I’m honoured to say that I am now their president.

“We know that the majority of female offenders have experienced some sort of abuse, and about one-third spent time in local authority care as a child. Prison is often not the most appropriate or effective place for these issues to be addressed, particularly when children are separated from mothers, homes are lost, and repeat offending and short sentences do nothing for the wellbeing of local communities.

“Over the past six years I have sought to campaign against the vast majority of female offenders being given a prison sentence, and I have been an advocate of properly funded women’s centres and community provision which provides holistic, trauma-informed rehabilitation.

Caitlin Davies is a London-born novelist, nonfiction writer and journalist. She is the author of Bad Girls: A History of Rebels and Renegades, the first full history of Holloway prison, Europe’s most infamous female jail. She was the only journalist granted access to Holloway’s archives when the prison closed in 2016. Caitlin started her career as a human rights reporter and newspaper editor in Botswana, during which she was twice arrested and put on trial. She was a founding member and trustee of Women Against Rape in Maun. Bad Girls explores how prison has been used to control, silence, and punish women for more than 150 jare, and was nominated for the Orwell prize for political writing.

Chasjit Verma was born in Bradford on 27 Maart 1979.“I went to India to stay with my nan shortly after birth as my mum was unwell, but returned to the UK after the birth of my sibling. I had a very happy colourful childhood full of laughter and love. We were taught how to be respectful and have empathy from a young age’; I am grateful for those qualities as they have got me through my life so far.

“I fell in love with my childhood sweetheart and dedicated my life to him and gave birth to two amazing children. Even though we are no longer together, the children were our driving force though the hard times we have faced. I always aim to look at life with a positive perspective and believe everything happens for a reason, so I try to enjoy the ride called life.”

Nikki Durkan is an actor who has worked with Clean Break, a women’s theatre company which helps women in prison. Through theatre workshops and mental health support workshops, in prisons and the wider community, Clean Break works to support and stand by women who have been failed by the criminal justice system.

In Maart 2020, she set up a food bank in east London during lockdownserving the east London area, which she hopes to expand in the near future. Sy het gese: “Getting stuck in the criminal justice system is a cycle destined to repeat, but it needs to be broken. The View magazine is working to make sure this cycle is broken. Their work is incredibly important and I’m very grateful to be involved.”

Acclaimed actor Harriet Walter has a rich body of work spanning film, theatre and television, and is a patron of the Clean Break theatre company.

“Theatre is the opposite of prison. It focuses on the individual, whereas prison tries to eliminate individuality. Theatre allows all of us to speak and be heard. Prison tries to silence us. Theatre is about imagining yourself into someone else’s shoes. It promotes empathy and I was surprised to find that quality had been kept alive among many female prisoners despite their circumstances.

“Imprisoning women does more damage to the family around them than does imprisoning men. It is still the case that women are the main care-givers in the family, and when they go to prison, the entire family structure suffers.”

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