Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

There are so many times I have not been treated like a woman in a women’s prison. Times when I have felt less than a woman. Times when my womanhood seemed more like a curse than a blessing.

I have been serving time for the past sixteen years of my life. Though it has actually sped by, some of the experiences I have had made it feel long and arduous. Nevertheless, I count this experience with joy because this entire ordeal has helped shape me into the woman I am today.

I spent one year in my city jail and was then transported here in 2006 to begin what seemed like a sentence that would last forever. Upon my arrival to Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, I felt relieved to be able to move about more. Also we used to be allowed to purchase items from certain vendors such as Victoria’s Secret, Garden of Fragrances, Sally’s Beauty Supply, Hanes, and Walkenhorst, to name a few. Boy were we in Heaven! We were able to feel like women and look somewhat like ourselves. 

As a woman, when we feel good about ourselves, we in turn want to do good. But sadly, the administration doesn’t want us to feel like the beautiful creatures that we are. We are made to feel like foreigners in our own bodies.

Our commissary run by Keefe Group sells a few feminine items. For example, they sell women’s Levi jeans, bras, panties and a very limited variety of makeup though none are geared toward African American women. Now they have begun to sell boxers for the gender sensitive. 

Overall, our products are becoming more male-orientated even though it is a women’s facility.

Even more disturbing is the way in which I have personally witnessed some women handled by male staff. 

I have never had such an encounter, but I have seen staff use excessive force, bordering on abuse, when women were fighting or causing a disturbance. Men are typically stronger than women, so there is no need for any man to apply that much force when restraining a woman. It’s particularly traumatizing when many of us, including myself, are victims of domestic violence.

I was once referred to as “the new bitch,” by a male correctional officer. When he discovered that I had heard what he said, he was embarrassed. I was angry, but I decided to forgive him. I did let him know though that I had heard him.

There have also been plenty of times when the building would run out of sanitary napkins. When I pressed the intercom button to ask what I should do, I was told,” I don’t know,” by a male staff member, who promptly disconnected the intercom communication between us. 

It can be tough being female at times. We endure a lot. Our bodies go through many changes. To be an incarcerated woman is a challenge in itself. Many of us are mothers who have left our children behind. 

Leaving children is incredibly stressful and sad. This creates a pain unlike any other I have ever known. And to be mistreated or demeaned on top of that is an extra burden imposed on an already broken soul. 

A mother eagle who has had to leave her young eaglets in the nest with their beaks up waiting to be fed. What else could be worse?

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Chanell Burnette

Chanell Burnette is a writer incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Virginia.