ZINE SPOTLIGHT: Tenacious: Art and Writing from Women in Prison (Issue #27)
RELEASE: December 2012
ORIGIN: New York City, USA
EDITOR: Vikki Law
DESCRIPTION FROM VIKKI:
Issue #27 includes:
- a colorful Spruce Tree Dryad by a woman incarcerated in Alaska
- a letter about ongoing conditions in Denver Women’s Correctional Facility
- how prison staff react to holiday spirit
- "It Doesn’t Matter If It’s Election Time": a response to Marianne Brown’s piece by a woman incarcerated in Colorado
- letters from CeCe McDonald
- mental health care in women’s prisons
- living with HIV in a women’s prison
HOW TO ORDER TENACIOUS
SNAIL MAIL ONLY (for now)! To get a copy, send $3 in well-concealed cash or a check made out to V. Law to:
PO Box 20388
New York, NY 10009
Here is all of Vikki’s contact info.
Be sure to indicate which issue you want (if not #27 or #28) and (if possible) provide an email address so that Vikki can contact you with any questions/requests.
READ AN EXCERPT FROM TENACIOUS #27 ONLINE
With Vikki’s permission, POCZP has made it possible for you to read an excerpt from issue #27 online, entitled “Mental Health Care in Prison” by Jane Dorotik, along with info about WORTH.
Jane is presently incarcerated in Corona, CA. You can write her at the following address (please tell her you found her info through Tenacious & POC Zine Project):
California Institution for Women, MB 114L
16756 Chino-Corona Road
Corona, CA 92880
COMMUNITY: Please consider purchasing multiple copies of Tenacious to support the series, Vikki’s important work helping to empower women who are incarcerated and activism through materiality.
Q&A WITH VIKKI LAW, EDITOR OF TENACIOUS
By POCZP founder Daniela Capistrano (@dcap)
Recorded on June 16, 2013 at ABC Nio Rio in NYC (part 1 of 4)
FIRST INSTALLMENT: THE MAKING OF TENACIOUS
DANIELA: Tell me about Tenacious issue #27. What is it about, why did you make it and did you have any support through the process?
VIKKI: I’ve been doing Tenacious since 2003 (click here for an interview with Vikki from 2009). It actually wasn’t my idea to start Tenacious, which is a zine of art and writings by and from women in prison about their experiences both in prison and if they continue writing after they get out of prison. It was actually the idea of several women incarcerated in Oregon who were reading zines and magazines written by men in prison , and were seeing that their experiences were not being reflected in men prisoner writings.
They said they weren’t seeing things about dealing with their kids, or child custody issues, or maintaining contact with family, or pervasive sexual harassment they get from staff members inside prisons, so they wanted a publication that spoke about their issues and also spoke to other women so they knew they weren’t suffering these things by themselves.
Being in prison, they didn’t have access to things like stamps, postage - you know - photocopying, access to even the ability to write to other people freely. So they were looking for somebody on the other side and they asked me if I would be the outside person.
DANIELA: How did Tenacious go from an idea to an independent publication/zine?
I just started putting together Tenacious and putting it out. Originally it was me and several other young women who were also interested in supporting women in prison, getting their ideas and voices out. But because zine-making can sometimes be a very solitary experience, and working with people in prison can sometimes be this long extended process in which you don’t feel like you are making much of a difference because you can’t see anything tangible happening, or coming out of it, the other people slowly dropped out … it is work to sit there and try to figure out how to re-type stuff, or write back and forth with somebody in prison about their piece and how they might possibly make it stronger, because it’s not as well articulated as it could be…
So right now I am the only person editing Tenacious. And so for the Winter 2012 issue, which is issue #27, I just put out a call for submissions from women in prison - whether it be cisgendered women or transwomen.
DANIELA: How does putting out a call for Tenacious work? How do women in prison find out about this opportunity and how do you collect their stories from the outside?
VIKKI: I put out a call through the network of women in prison I already knew from having done support work in the past. I originally (in the early days of Tenacious) also put out a call through publications that sent free copies to women in prison.
off our backs used to send free copies to women in prison (ceased publishing in 2008). There was also a journal called Sojourner: The Women’s Forum that closed sometime in the early 2000s that not only sent free copies to women in prison, but also had an actual page or two where women in prison could write in and talk about their experiences. It was the women in prison column. So when they folded, they sent out letters to all of their women in prison readers and said “we’re really sorry, we’re closing, here are some other alternatives for free publications so you can have something to read and keep up” and they were willing to list Tenacious as one of the publications you could get free copies of and write for.
Calls for submissions have also been through word of mouth over the years. I’ve seen the people who’ve written for Tenacious shift, and you can kind of trace it to where people are sharing Tenacious in their prisons. So when I first started, I got a lot of writing and art from people incarcerated in Oregon Women’s Prison, because that is where the women were sharing copies of Tenacious.
As they were released, other women who were in other prisons started sharing it. So, for one issue, I might get 50% of my submissions from a women’s prison in Colorado, and that’s because women get copies and share them around with their friends and are like “hey!”
DANIELA: Tell me a little more about Tenacious #27, which we’re featuring as a preview in the first installment for our readers.
Issue #27 is a variety of different writings from women in prison. There’s writings from people in Colorado, Indiana - in there’s a piece by CeCe McDonald, who is an African American transwoman incarcerated in a men’s prison in Minnesota, for defending herself against an attack on the street. There’s a couple of pieces of artwork by a transwoman named Nicky Riley, who has been incarcerated in Texas for several years. There’s a piece on lack of mental health care in California women’s prisons.
DANIELA: Can you share some info about the history of health care and mental health care in CA?
Several years ago, people incarcerated in CA actually sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The Supreme Court actually ruled that the lack of health care in California violated the 8th amendment against cruel and unusual punishment and put the entire prison system under what’s called a federal receivership, in which there’s someone who actually overseas how health care is run. So, basically, CDR can no longer neglect people to the extent that they have…but that doesn’t mean it’s gotten extraordinarily better, it just means that now there’s some federal oversight.
So one woman actually writes in issue #27 about how mental health care in prison is still really inadequate, especially since there’s so many people who enter prison with mental health issues.
DANIELA: Do you do “themed” issues of Tenacious and how do you convey that information? What’s your process like?
In my call for submissions, there’s a list of experiences and ideas of what I’m looking for, so it’s not just “anything you’ve written off the top of your head!” So, specifically, “how does this relate to your experience in prison?”
One of the other goals of Tenacious is not just that women inside are able to read about other peoples’ experiences, but that people on the outside who may never have been incarcerated are able to read about experiences inside women’s prisons.
When they read, I hope they go “Wait! I never really thought about the fact that when we vote for or support things like mandatory sentencing laws, or Stop and Frisk, or are against the decriminalization of marijuana, etc. that we’re basically sentencing people to not only lose their liberty but to experience all these other atrocious aspects of prison.”
DANIELA: We’ll cover this more in the next installment, but how is your call for submissions for Tenacious #29 going?
For the upcoming issue I’ve actually gotten 4-6 pieces by women incarcerated in the women’s prison in Rhode Island, which I’ve sent one person there copies of Tenacious. Apparently she’s been sharing them around, so now I’m getting pieces from the women in Rhode Island even though I don’t have a prior relationship with any of them.
So, you can kind of trace where people are sharing copies and passing them along as something like “hey you should read this.” Also ,I don’t know if they’re encouraging their friends to write or if the women are reading Tenacious and thinking “you know, it’s not an intimidating thing to write something and send it in.”
COMMUNITY: Stay tuned for three more installments from this interview with Vikki Law that will share more issues of Tenacious.
ABOUT VIKKI LAW
Victoria Law is a writer, photographer, and mother. After a brief stint as a teenage armed robber, she became involved in prisoner support. In 1996, she helped start Books Through Bars-New York City, a group that sends free books to prisoners nationwide. In 2000, she began concentrating on the needs and actions of women in prison, drawing attention to their issues by writing articles and giving public presentations.
Since 2002, she has worked with women incarcerated nationwide to produce Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison and has facilitated having incarcerated women’s writings published in larger publications, such as Clamor magazine, the website “Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance” and the upcoming anthology Interrupted Lives. In 1995, she became involved with ABC No Rio, a collectively run arts center on New York’s Lower East Side, serving as Board Treasurer from 1997 to 2002.
In 1997, she organized a group of activist photographers to transform one of No Rio’s upstairs tenement apartments into a black-and-white photo darkroom for community use. Since then, she has remained actively involved in coordinating (and sometimes co-teaching) free photography classes for neighborhood youth. In addition, she has participated in and curated numerous exhibitions at No Rio’s gallery, many with themes addressing social and political issues such as incarceration, grassroots efforts to rebuild New Orleans, Zapatista organizing, police brutality, and squatting.
In 2003, she collaborated with China Martens to create “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind,” a workshop addressing the specific (and often unacknowledged) needs of parents and children in radical movements; and has co-facilitated discussions in Baltimore, New York City, Providence, Montreal, Minneapolis, Detroit, and Boston. With Jessica Mills and China Martens, she is compiling a handbook for allies of radical parents by the same name.
Vikki is a great example of a woman of color who makes zines and other intersectional materiality.
Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities (buy here)
Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women 2nd ed. (buy here)
Som praise for Resistance Behind Bars
"An important contribution to the growing movement to end prisons as we know them."—Michelle Alexander, civil rights lawyer, advocate, legal scholar and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
"Law’s important book illuminates these under reported stories of individual and collective organizing by women in prison and encourages all of us to work in solidarity across prison walls to create a world that no longer includes the prison industrial complex.”—Angela Y. Davis, author of Abolition Democracy: Beyond Prison, Torture, and Empire and Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness, UC Santa Cruz
"Written in regular English, rather than academese, this is an impressive work of research and reportage."—Mumia Abu-Jamal, political prisoner and author of Live From Death Row
WATCH VIKKI TALK ABOUT GENDER AND THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
Watch part 2 of this video here.
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