From DC Project Connect
A local chapter of the oldest Black sorority in our country, Psi Epsilon Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority, Inc. organized a social justice forum for residents of the Fairview on Thursday, May 6, 2021. The event was entitled, “A Closer Look at the Health and Wellness of Incarcerated Women.” The shared content was intended for a broad audience to raise awareness about the effects of incarceration on women’s health, but primarily the event catered to the residents of the Fairview Residential Reentry Center.
Two U.S. Congressional Legislators, Hon. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Hon. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) spoke to the residents about their work in criminal justice reform. They empathically acknowledged the need for legislation regarding the overcrowding conditions in prisons. They also noted that prisons are not designed for women. They each indicated that one of their goals was to repeal harsh mandatory minimum practices. Both congressional leaders noted that community investments and crime prevention programs are necessary and needed to ensure that persons who have served their debt to society have reentry services and opportunities to restructure and recreate their lives.
To respond to Fairview resident and audience inquiries about health and wellness matters, in the second phase of this Zoom-based session, the AKAs also organized a distinguished panel which included representatives from: The States Attorney Office (Prince Georges County); Department of Corrections (Prince Georges County); Chairman of Board, the Fairview RRC (D.C.); Legal Empowerment Director, Life After Release (D.C.); and Executive Director, Maryland Justice Project.
However, some of the most insightful comments on the topics of health and wellness came from two women who were former Fairview residents. One of these women noted that the processed food served to prison residents often contributed to ill-health, e.g., obesity and diabetes. The other individual said she was usually spent 23 hours in lock down with only one hour out for social engagement. Her time in confinement largely offered little opportunity to read and sparse training or educational programs. She concluded that such conditions are a true waste to human dignity.
Much wisdom and insight were provided during this powerhouse event and the AKAs finished the program with a call for action. Some of the takeaways included requests for local and national efforts to: (1) provide gynecological health care products and services for women, as there has been gender specific neglect in this area; (2) women could benefit from trauma related care, pre-and post-imprisonment; and (3) women need competent and comprehensive pre-release planning with case managers and professionals that can positively assist health care outcomes. Kudos to the AKAs, the Fairview staff, residents, and speakers for providing this educational civic engagement.