Windows and Doors: The Illusion of Transparency

This is posted on the Blog for the new website for Who Speaks for Me?
April 22, 2017

The last time I was on suicide watch there was not one psychologist on the compound at the Federal Secure Female Facility Hazelton (Hazelton).  They had sent them all to the male prisons. There were three—maximum, medium, and a camp for men—that surrounded the women’s prison. Occasionally a psychologist would come to the female prison, which sat within this male complex, especially if someone was on suicide watch.  The women were left with unsupervised psyche interns who were so cruel. I had been put on suicide watch often for standing up for myself when being bullied by officers and/or inmates. I was put on suicide watch for being attacked twice. Then after suicide watch I would be put in the Segregated Housing Unit (SHU).

The last stay on suicide watch lasted three weeks. An officer had decided to destroy my cell—my area of the cell. And as he yelled and screamed and tossed my property into the main unit, I sat at the computer writing an email to the warden detailing what the officer was doing: grabbing his crotch and jutting his pelvis at me, calling me worthless, and telling me I was a nobody and no one cared about me.

Finally, I flipped.  I started yelling back, “I’m not even sure you need a G.E.D. to work as a CO.” The unit cracked up laughing (later they would turn on me and write up lies to support the officer) and I kept going, “My time is short. I’m going home and this is as good as it gets for you.” He threw a sweater I had been knitting out and started tearing other things I knitted apart. He reminded me of my mother.  Claudia used to destroy my toys and clothes when she was enraged with me.

It ended with me going to the cell as he started ripping my books.  You do not ever destroy my books.  I don’t give a damn who you are—never destroy my books, they are and always have been my friends. As I grabbed the book he shoved me and then he radioed the lieutenant and I heard over the loud speaker, “Nuevelle.  Nuevelle. Report to the lieutenant’s office immediately.”  I yelled, “Fuck!  Fuck! Fuck!” By the time I got to the lieutenant’s office I was a wreck.

Thus, I was sent to see the psychology intern.  She was this arrogant, snotty White woman.  I was shaking and having muscle spasms in my face.  Then I let it slip that the officer had pushed me.  “Okay. Well then you are going to have to go to the SHU if you are claiming you were attacked by an officer,” she joyfully explained. We walked back to the lieutenant’s office and she repeated what I said and the lieutenant looked at me and asked, “Is this true?” I answered, “Well everything except the part that he pushed me.  She’s making that up.”  I lied, because I just wanted to return to the unit because investigations can take months. Then I was accused of disassociating—which probably wasn’t too far off the mark of where I was headed—and I was taken to suicide watch.

There are windows all around and three rooms in the suicide watch area.  The middle room is where the inmate suicide watch workers sit.  Yeah, you read that right; inmates work the suicide watch area. The rooms to the left and right are the rooms for the inmates on watch.  There is a steel door that you are locked behind and another steel door inside the room that leads to the bathroom. The fluorescent lights are never turned off. It’s freezing cold. So cold my fingertips always turned blue.

When Dr. Benache was there and I had a break-down he would put on my paperwork that I could keep my underwear and socks and have two blankets and that the bathroom door was to always remain open because I would vomit often and he knew waiting to use the bathroom was a trigger for me. But I had to wear the Turtle Suit.  It’s a big quilted gown that is fastened with Velcro. Green Suicide Watch Gown I hate the sound of Velcro. Dr. Benache always knocked before he opened the steel door. He always came in and talked to me like a person. Then he left Hazelton and went to work at a male prison in Arizona. My depression and fear increased.

Dr. Benache was gone so they took my underwear and socks that last time on suicide watch.  They gave me two blankets because I was so skinny.  They locked the bathroom door. The interns, and occasionally a psychologist from one of the male prisons would come by once a day and yell through the steel door, “Are you feeling like you want to hurt yourself?” I would flip up my middle finger without even turning over on the mattress to look at which idiot was asking. I stopped eating. But the officers got little paper cups and would bring me water when they walked through.

Then the intern came with another intern and two lieutenants one day and took my cups of water.  The officers informed them, “She isn’t eating and we can’t come and watch her drink water and take the cup every time she is thirsty.  It’s easier to just give her a couple of cups and leave her alone.”  The psyche interns said, “No. She needs to learn to follow instructions.” They decided I needed permission to drink water. I needed permission to use the bathroom.

This little gnome of a lieutenant wanted to talk: “So Nuevelle” she snarked, “You not eating huh?” I walked over to the window that faced the suicide watch inmate. The officer yelled at the watcher, “Don’t look at her.” Then I began to sing that Alison Krauss’s song Down to the River to Pray.

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown
Good Lord, show me the way!

O sisters, let’s go down,
Let’s go down, come on down
O sisters, let’s go down
Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown
Good Lord, show me the way!

Over and over I sang these three verses loudly as an answer to each directive and question. My bedding was ripped apart and they left. Suicide watch made me unhinged and suicidal so I sang to ground myself.

The next day was punishment time. I asked to use the bathroom one shift and the White intern came with a lieutenant and an officer. They told me to put my hands through the slot and handcuffed me. I was told to walk to the back of the room, face the wall and wait.  Then an officer opened the steel door to the room, unlocked the bathroom door, walked out locked the door and told me to come back over.

There I stood, hands behind my back waiting to be un-cuffed so I could go pee.  So I spread my legs, and backed up to the door and pissed and watched as it slipped under the door and evidently onto their boots and shoes. “Did she just squat and pee on the floor?” The intern asked. Handcuffs off and I turned and said yeah I did assholes.”  See the thing about suicide watch is you can cuss and call them names and you cannot be written up because you are considered, “Mentally Unstable.” I was fine mentally (relatively speaking) before this degradation and humiliation but all that was lost what more did I have to lose. I wanted to piss on them because that is what they were doing to me.

I spent three weeks on suicide watch that time—my last time before coming home. I was moved to the SHU afterwards for another three weeks and then my email was reviewed and I was set free to go back to being locked up.

Nobody talks about what happens to women in solitary or on suicide watch in prison. Windows and Doors do not lead to transparency; they are just another way of isolating us, violating us, shaming us, silencing us.

Taylar Nuevelle
Survivor

Marvin Gaye and Me: I escaped Marvin was Murdered

marvin-gaye-pictureJust off of Lincoln Circle at 1310 East Capitol Street, NE, in Washington, D.C. sits the House of God The Holy Church of the Living God The Pillar and Ground of Truth The House of Prayer for All People. This is the church that Marvin Gaye’s father, Bishop Gay, originally started at 9th and O Streets NW. The Church is in a row house and has been there for the past 40 odd years. This is the church I grew up in. This is the church where I met God and the devil. This is the church that led to Marvin’s fate. This is the church, riddled with abusers, including the late Bishop Gay, which I escaped.

My therapist asked me last week, after I told her the story below, how I could attend any church after what I survived at The House of God. All I can say is that I am a woman of faith, but there were many years that I was agnostic and even atheist and then I began to practice other faiths, Orisha, Unitarian (they treated me as badly as the people at the House of God) and then I found my way back to the Episcopalians, a faith I practiced with much fear while in foster care—because I had been taught that anything other than being Hebrew Pentecostal was the work of the devil.

I vaguely remember seeing Marvin Gaye at the church at 9th and O Streets when I was four or five, but I did not know his music as we were forbidden to listen to it because we were told Marvin had gone to the devil’s side and was using his music to please sinners and not God. His father, Bishop Gaye, would come to D.C. over the course of marvin-sr_picturemy time as a member of the church and he stands out in my mind. While I do not remember the last time I saw Marvin, I do remember the last time I saw his father.

It was the summer before he killed Marvin. Bishop Gay showed up at 1310 East Capital Street, NE decked out in a white fur coat and rings on every finger—some with fat diamonds. I remember he sat down at the piano that was just to the right of the pew I was sitting in and played a song. I remember that we children had over heard the adults and later whispered “Bishop Gay is gay.” We knew exactly what we were saying. I was 13 and by then I had started sneaking with my friends and listening to Marvin’s music on the radio. Sexual Healing was very popular. I remember that we heard over that same radio the Sunday Marvin was killed.

The Sabbath (we attended church on Saturdays as we were Hebrew Pentecostal) after Marvin’s funeral, Bishop Solomon, the head of our church in D.C., stood up in the pulpit and said, “Listin’! Listin’ ta what our Chief Apostle is quoted in tha papa as sayin’, ‘Marvin gave his life to tha world.’ Sinners. They think that was a blessin’, but our Chief made it clear, Marvin gave his life to tha world, not God ‘n he goin’ ta hell.” Nobody talked about where Bishop Gay was going since he had killed his son.

I would not learn all the details until 25 years later when I began to research the history of the church. I realized Marvin and I grew up with abusive sociopaths for parents. Before I went into foster care my mother tried to kill me three times. How many times did Marvin’s dad try before he succeeded? In our church they would beat us—the children—some times in front of the congregation and at others times in the pews. When they preached, “Spare the rod, Spoil the child,” they meant it.

Last Sunday at the church I attend here in D.C., St. Margaret’s Episcopal, I was a lectern and was supposed to read from the book of Matthew. I was a little disappointed because I prefer reading the Old Testament—misplaced nostalgia—and the reading was from Isaiah 58. In my childhood church we did a call and response every week between the Bishop and the congregation at The House of God from Isaiah 58 and I know the entire chapter by heart. In the end the reader for the Old Testament did not make it to church and so the verger switched and allowed me to read it.

I had not rehearsed it at home and I grew up reciting the King James Version (KJV) and we use the Revised Standard Version (RSV). Yet, this was not my only stumbling block. As I sat in the pew waiting to read I remembered the last time I read Isaiah 58 aloud. I was 13 it was the summer before Marvin’s dad killed him. It was a day that changed me forever and gave me the strength to not become Marvin in the end.

The House of God is in session from sun up to sun down and there is a two-hour lunch break. I would eat and then go upstairs to the rooms above the temple, find a couch and read.

house-of-god-picture

This particular Sabbath I was reading a book called, “The Truth About Me & Bobby V.” I was not one for love stories, but the cover had a picture of a Black teenage girl on the back of a moped holding on to a boy. I had only seen Black people on the cover of, “Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry,” and “Let the Circle be Unbroken.” I was delighted to see a Black girl with long straightened hair and so I checked the book out from the library. Normally, I would read and make it down to the temple just before service. That week I got lost in the story—Bobby V was made up, she did not have a boyfriend but wanted to fit in—and was late. I came back to reality when I heard the dying voices of the opening hymn, “This is the church of the living God. Living God; Pillar and Ground of the truth. The House of Prayer for all people. Commandment keepers are we.”

There was no way to sneak in the church without my mother seeing me, as she was an usher that week. I walked in, ignored her and stood in a pew far to her right but in the back. The Bishop stoop up and called the first verse of Isaiah 58, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” My mother hissed, and I looked over at her and she mouthed, “Where were you? Whatchu been doin?” I answered with the congregation, “Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.” I smirked, turned away.

Then she was right next to me, the call and response continued as she grabbed my purse and found my transgression. In between the call and response she yelled as she held up the book, “Ain’t this somethin’? Nasty. The Truf ‘bout me ‘n Bobby V.” The congregation and Bishop continued and so did I. “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” I was not going to be shamed, but then Claudia, my mother, slapped me, hard in my face. And between the pause of the call and response of Isaiah 58, I screamed, “I am sick of this shit!” Wham! She slapped me again. I snatched my book, put it back in my purse and headed for the door and said it again, “I am sick of this shit!”

I ran into the vestibule and out the main door, down the stairs, I looked to my right, Lincoln Circle Park. I looked to my left just a long sidewalk and so I ran left. I could hear the congregation answering the Bishop in my mind, “And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” I ran in my light blue and white skirt and shirt—summer colors for the church—and I remembered Lot’s wife and I did not look back until I heard, “Cookie! Cookie!” I slowed, stopped and turned to look at her. There she was, my mother, breaking off a huge branch from the tree. I just watched. “Cookie,” she commanded, “Come back hea’!” I turned away from her and looked down the street and when my eyes met nothing, I knew there was not anything for me to run towards. I was 13 and so I walked back. There were many more beatings, black eyes, bloody lips and attempts to kill me by my mother before I was finally set free from her and that church.

Then, last Sunday, I sat in the pew and waited to go into the pulpit and read something that is forever linked with violence and death in my mind. When I looked out at the congregation I was not just making sure I was translating (that is reading what was in front of me) in my mind from the KJV version into the RSV, I was translating my abuse and rewriting the story into hope and healing. I was amazed at the power of the words and the challenge and I could see Cookie running because she knew that one day she would, “…be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” At 47 I stood as Taylar and read aloud for the first time in over 30 years the beginning of my survival. I was sick of that shit and I said it in The House of God. I wonder if Marvin had been so moved as a child if his life would not have ended at the hands of his abusive father.

The answer to the question of how I am able to attend church is this: I am a woman of Faith—many faiths—and the words in the Bible are like poetry to me. It was not “church” that harmed me, but people—my mother and other adults—who abused me and other children in our church, from the beginning of its creation, and Marvin Gaye was one of those children long before me. The church I attend now is made up of people who know that life is about creating a Just, Equal, and Inclusive world and this is how I turned that one day at age 13 into something that will now forever be a part of my healing, survival and living.

“What’s Going On?” Marvin sang, but nobody knew until it was too late.

Taylar Nuevelle
Survivor

 

I am Bresha Meadows, are you?

bresha-meadows-photo-1

Bresha Meadows killed her father in July of 2016, she was only 14 and she shot him with his own gun. The family of the man who was her father claims something is wrong with Bresha, and that her father had never harmed her or her family. I know he hurt her and her family, because I am Bresha. Growing up, I knew so many girls who are Bresha as well, we just did not value ourselves enough to take the necessary action to be free—we just went silent and our abusers went on to harm others. Bresha. Dear sweet Bresha. I believe you and telling would have never been enough, because our society does not value or believe children, especially little brown girls who whisper the truth when their fathers and/or mothers become their living nightmares.

My memory is my blessing and my curse. It is why I write dialogue so well, because memory will not free me. At age eight, I lost my tears in the middle of a beating, as my mother straddled me while several cousins and my siblings watched, including my stepsister.  My mother beat and slapped and punched me. I cried, “You hurtin’, me.” She did not hear me, because with each slap and punch and force of her body against my tiny frame on the floor beneath her she spat out words, “I can’t stand ya. You jus’ ain’t no good.” The crime? I had come home late with my stepsister from a puppet show at the library and made us late for church at the, “House of God, The Holy Church of the Living God”. Monique, my stepsister, was not to blame because it was I who had wanted to go see the show.

-“Ma, You hurtin’ me,” I screamed louder and felt tears slip inside my ears and down my neck.
-She stopped, “What? Whatchu say?”
-I struggled to lift my head and catch my breath, “You hurtin’ me Ma. It really hurt.”
-“It ‘sposed ta hurt,” she said.” Whatchu think?” Then laughter.

That beating has never ended. I feel it and the humiliation and shame right at this moment, because I saw her. I floated out and up and looked down on the little girl called “Cookie” and the woman named Claudia we called, “Ma”, and I watched my body go limp and all the fight and feeling leave me. I saw the pleasure in her eyes with each smack, punch and verbal insult. I came back inside of me as she pushed herself off of my body; I rolled over onto my stomach and pushed myself up. I straightened my church Whites—it had to be summer because we wore all white, or light blue or purple and white in the summer months for church—and walked to the bathroom. I threw-up in the toilet, bleached it as I had learned and then washed my face. I looked at myself and I was no longer a child that could feel. I whispered to the mirror, “She like it. She like it when I cry. I won’t cry. I won’t cry no mo’.” For 10 years I kept this promise, but I suffered.

At age nine almost 10, I started plotting to kill my mother and my stepfather, Warren Stanley Bouknight, Sr. It started when Claudia told me during a beating in which she could not make me cry or flinch or even blink. “If yo own mutha don’t love ya,” spittle hit my face as she stood close enough for me to smell her breath—the scent of coffee, poverty and hatred—she said, “No one will eva love ya. ‘N I don’t love ya.” She poked my chest with her forefinger as she finished and I stood motionless. I remember thinking that it would never get any better. Then my school assigned The Tell Tale Heart, by Edgar Allen Poe, (they made the “gifted” children read bizarre things and watch films like, “A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich”), and an idea began to form in my nine almost 10 year old brain. It festered.

One morning just before school, Marty, my older brother, by 11 months and 11 days (his birthday is 1/1/1969 and I am 12/12/ 1969), and I were poking fun at our neighbor Dee. We had been dancing and singing before we left for school; we were alone and felt free. Dee came over and told us to be quiet and she did not speak like any Black person we had ever met. After she left I sat down on the living room floor to put on my tights and Marty stood behind the beads that separated the hall from the living room that led to the front door. I was imitating Dee and he was cracking up. I barely had my tights up and standing when I noticed he and his belly had stopped moving and laughing. Then I saw Warren’s shadow. I froze. He pushed passed Marty and I remember the sound of the plastic beads clicking as he approached and removed his belt.

The belt was wide, leather and fastened with three metal prongs. Immediately, I put my left arm up to my face—I hated having bruising on my face, because it meant no school. I had not put on my sweater and so my arms were bare. He used the metal part of the belt and with each whip my skin was caught and ripped. I did not cry. I did not flinch. All I did was hold my breath and protect my face. I remember when he finished he went to the bedroom and I put on the rest of my clothes. I dialed zero for the operator and when she answered I hung up.

I was not angry at the beating as much as I was that he did it before school. We never got beatings before school. I was rattled. When Marty and I got to the bus stop our sister Sha Vette, the eldest, was still there as her bus was late and I lied and said, “Warren beat me ‘n I called tha operator ‘n tha police gonna come.” Then her bus arrived and she just stared at me like I was really crazy. There is so much more to this story, (“What Happens When You Tell” future blog), but in the end that night I decided to kill my mother and stepfather. I was not quite ten and I had watched my mother beat my brother Marty bloody. I had tasted my own blood pouring from my lips that met her fist and the back of her hands one too many times. I had watched Warren beat Marty and my mother. I had watched this man trap my mother standing in the bathtub and punch her head over and over against the tile, until blood spurted from her eyes, ears and nose. At age almost 10 the Tell Tale Heart spoke to me.

Here was the plan: I would slip into my mother and Warren’s bedroom after everyone was asleep, and stab them. Then I would drag them to the bathtub and cut up their bodies and set the house on fire. Just before the apartment burned down I would wake my siblings and we would get out. I had even thought about taking the knife with me and burying it before I set the house on fire and washing my hands clean. I was absolutely done. No one could save us as, no one cared. I was just a little brown girl who showed up to school and day camp often in long sleeved shirts on hot days and at times had what looked like bags under my eyes. I told once and only once during that time period and it did not end well for me—that is another longer story.

What stopped me? My mother used to always say, “You ‘n Marty keep not actin’ right n’ Ima put bof y’all away.” It was always Cookie and Marty, never Sha Vette and/or Duke (the youngest) or Monique. We didn’t know what “put away,” meant, but it sounded really bad. I took a steak knife from the drawer, tipped toed to the door of their room and this thought hit me, “If I turn tha knob they gonna hear me ‘n I’m gonna have ta kill ‘em bof. If I don’t they gonna put me away.” So, I tipped toed back to my bed. I slipped the knife under my pillow and had this thought, “If he come botha me tonight Ima kill him.” He did not come, but I am still Bresha Meadows. I just never knew me and my family mattered enough to take care of what the community should have done long before thoughts of murdering my mother and stepfather entered my little girl brain from too much trauma.

bresha-meadows-7-28-2016_in-front-of-judge

On January 19, 2017, the day before Bresha’s hearing for a bond consideration to get her out of the juvenile detention facility where she has been held since July of 2016 (“put away”), it was reported that, “Jonathan Meadows’ sister, Lena Cooper, became incensed at the possible move. ‘My niece needs help,’ she said.” ‘She shouldn’t be out walking around. I love her. But there is something wrong here. A child doesn’t just shoot her father. She has psychological problems.’” I wish I could have been there to look Lena Cooper in the face and say, “You’re damn right something is wrong and now he is gone. Had you done your job she would have far fewer psychological problems all of which have been inflicted by your brother. Why didn’t you get him help? Why didn’t you help Bresha?”

Bresha has been transferred to a treatment facility where she will have more freedom and this is what she told her mother’s sister when she found out, “I’ll be able to walk around outside. I’ll be able to lay in the grass.” Our “justice system” locked her up because she chose to survive and now all she craves is to be able to touch the grass knowing that she could be sent back for the next six years. This is the Trauma-to-Prison Pipeline right before our eyes and a little girl is asking for treatment not jail, because in the end her choice was freedom to live.

To this day, Claudia Anne Lowe Friend (aka Ma) will tell all who will listen that I am crazy. What she fails to acknowledge is that it started with the abuse and that she too is mentally ill. I wonder if Claudia is Bresha Meadows as well.

Asé
Taylar Nuevelle
Survivor, “By Grace there go I”

 

 

In Response to the Washington Post Article: In D.C., it’s about to be a crime for offenders to tamper with GPS tracking devices

Washington Post Article: In D.C., it’s about the be a crime for offenders to tamper with GPS tracking devices

I wrote this letter below last year and presented it in a live testimony to the DC City Council when Bowser tried to add the GPS “tampering” to her policing bill.  Although I was working for and representing University Legal Services (ULS) at the time, these are my words and my position has not changed. And I am appalled at the Council that they supported this emergency bill.

October 21, 2015
Council Member Kenyan R. McDuffie, Chairperson
Committee on the Judiciary
Council of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

Dear Council Member McDuffie:

Thank you for giving University Legal Services (ULS) the opportunity to testify today in regards to the various proposed Bills regarding making our City a safer place.

I am Taylar Nuevelle, and I spent four and half years in custody—First at CCA/CTF while I awaited sentencing and then I was shipped to a Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia and then transferred to a higher security prison in West Virginia. I also am a survivor of severe trauma and struggle with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I now work for University Legal Service (ULS), with their Jail and Prison Advocacy Project. ULS is a Protection and Advocacy Organization that works with individuals with mental health, intellectual disabilities and co-occurring substance abuse issues. JPAP specifically works with individuals releasing from the Jail, Prisons and Halfway houses in DC who struggle with severe and persistent mental health issues.

The Mayor’s proposed Public Safety and Criminal Code Revisions Amendment Act of 2015 will negatively impact returning citizens and this is a gross violation of individual rights and a complete waste of the city’s resources. We completely reject the mayor’s bill and its police state approach. While others will testify in detail about all aspects of the bill, I will highlight a couple of the bill’s problems that are of particular concern to our clients, who have serious and persistent mental illness, co-occurring substance use disorders and intellectual disabilities.

Title II of the mayor’s bill would allow a 72-hour hold for violating a stay away or tampering with a GPS device. I want to address the GPS device. DC has the most antiquated GPS devices and they are often faulty. This is not like charging a cell phone, because a cell phone is not physically attached to your leg.

gps-monitor-on-my-leg

This attachment that I have here with me today is what the device in the picture is attached to and is charged at night. The Mayor’s proposal to incarcerate citizens on release with the GPS tracker if they “tamper” with the device is tragically flawed. There were times when I thought I had charged the device and then it would begin to vibrate while I was out and send a signal to the agency that my device was low. However, I was unaware that it had failed to charge in the night. Imagine someone who is not as capable as I am. Someone with complex mental health issues or cognitive disabilities will struggle with this device. Many of our clients have trouble remembering to take their medication, not because they are non compliant, but because of their mental and developmental disabilities.

Yet, the Mayor wants to swoop in, arrest them for up to 72 hours for “tampering” with the device when there could be multiple reasons why the device is not charged, or sends wrong information about locations etc. While three days of incarceration may seem insignificant to someone with stable housing, a job and access to ongoing mental health, 72 hours of incarceration can ruin a returning citizen’s life. Three days could mean loss of employment and housing. Three days can mean serious deterioration in mental health because of lack of access to the proper medication. Let’s not forget that medications that are prescribed outside the jail are often not on the formulary and thus not available to those incarcerated—even for 72 hours.

Then there is Title III. This portion of the mayor’s bill would pay business owners and residents to place cameras everywhere. The people who are most likely to be affected are homeless people and as we know many of our returning citizens have no place to live. This portion of the proposed bill is a direct attack on homeless and/or people with mental illness. It is heartless and serves no purpose. All this will do is capture crimes of survival and the resources the mayor plans to dump into this project would be utilized much better through funding social service agencies instead of prosecution—which is just shy of persecution under this bill.

The Mayor and Chief Lanier continue to link the surge in violence in the city to returning citizens. These simplistic accusations paint all returning citizens with the same brush, casting us in a false light. When DC residents are released, 99% return home to our community with little more than a bus token, let alone the vital assistance they need. Instead of making such sweeping allegations, the Mayor and Chief Lanier would serve all DC residents by bridging the gap in services that come directly under the Mayor’s control: The Office on Returning Citizens Affairs (ORCA).

If the Mayor is truly committed to reducing recidivism, she must appoint new leadership at ORCA, develop an ambitious strategic plan, and commit sufficient resources to make the necessary changes. She must create an ORCA that will ultimately create opportunities for returning citizens to become emotionally, physically and financially whole and thus enable us to contribute positively to our families and communities.

Returning citizens need wrap-around services in place before they are released to the community –services that include housing, real employment training and job readiness opportunities and access to behavioral health services that address mental illness, trauma, and substance use issues. These needs are even more acute for DC’s citizens returning from far-flung federal prisons across the country, hundreds of miles from home and community resources they need to access.

We support a public health approach to violence prevention and intervention. ULS has been working to bring trauma informed practices to correctional settings and a step down unit to the jail. Returning citizens should leave the jail in better shape than when they entered, prepared to tackle the challenges of reentry. For that reason we also encourage DOC and the Council to end solitary confinement, particularly for individuals with mental illness and intellectual disabilities.

Paraphrasing the late amazing Justice Marshall, “When a person walks through the prison gate they do not give up their most basic Constitutional Rights.” If we don’t give up our basic constitutional rights while in prison, then surely once free we have protection of the constitution to its fullest.

Thank you.

Taylar Nuevelle
Benefits Specialist
University Legal Services
Jail and Prison Advocacy Project

Beholden and Betrayed: The Nightmare of Trauma In the Workplace at University Legal Services for Survivors of Trauma

I have chosen to keep this site strictly for the Who Speaks for Me? Project.  To find this article please follow this link on Medium.com https://medium.com/@taylarnuevelle/beholden-and-betrayed-the-nightmare-of-trauma-in-the-workplace-at-university-legal-services-for-883644c55c17#.pqv0ijmfb

 

 

Beholden and Betrayed: An Example of Why Justice-involved Women of Color Often Do Not Report Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace

I have chosen to keep this site strictly for the Who Speaks for Me Project? To find this article please follow this link on Medium.com https://medium.com/@taylarnuevelle/beholden-and-betrayed-an-example-of-why-justice-involved-women-of-color-often-do-not-report-2aaaa607b6b0#.jwm0a4m0i

Going Back To Jail: Tracing My Journey On The Trauma-to-Prison Pipeline

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I went back to jail last Thursday, on October 27, 2016. The night before the surrendering (and it was a self-surrender for me), I sat, going over my talk in my head, I threw-up in my mouth twice—this to me was a bad sign and the Program Director for the females who are incarcerated, JW, was obviously feeling my anxiety, because she emailed me way past working hours and asked if I was still going to be the guest speaker. I replied, “Yes,” but my soul was like, “Are you f***ing joking.

I kept thinking, “I do not want to be a fraud. I do not want the women to think I’m fake.” I also knew I would be meeting some people who held my life in their hands years ago and had abused their power by either abusing me or encouraging inmates to abuse me.

Sarah picked me up at 7:15; we got coffee and headed to CCA/CTF. I said on the drive, “I’m so nervous.” Sara looked at me and said, “You don’t seem nervous.” I looked at her and said, “Just wait for it.” I know myself well and calmness in the face of something that seemed impossible to me is not a good sign. My calmness can turn into a shit show and upgrade to a shit storm in seconds. Let me tell you, vomiting is a close friend of mine and it sounds like I’m possessed and then I often pass out.

As we looked for parking Sarah immediately noticed the swift change in me. I had only seen that parking lot from barred windows with me on the other side. I had only ever entered CCA/CTF in shackles and never from the front of the building.

We walked together towards the building. I never knew the building stood in such deep color. My Community Supervising Officer (aka CSO or PO) drove up as we walked to the building, stopped and told me, “You’re going to do great.” I nodded and said, “I just hope I don’t throw-up”. We walked in and before Sarah could even tell me I had to take off my boots, I saw Sgt. M-El. She was putting her belt back on after going through the metal detector. Huge smile and, “Ms. Nuevelle, what are you doing here?” Of course she knew I was coming. I am legendary at this place—I have a box of copies of each of my grievance against CCA/CTF in my apartment. Sgt. M-El walked back through the metal detector and wrapped me in her arms and said, “I’m so proud of you.”

Boots off, through the metal detector and more people who work for the DOC and CCA/CTF approaching me and smiling. I was holding up well. Cracked a few jokes especially when the GED Instructor said to me on the elevator, “I think I know you.” I nodded my head and smiled and said, “Yes. Mr. F. You know me. I’m Taylar Nuevelle. I was incarcerated here. I was your T.A.” Then I laughed, because I take a lot of pleasure in saying my name, “I’m Taylar Nuevelle.” I’m not, “Ms. Nuevelle.” Or, “Nuevelle” that was often said with contempt during my incarceration at CCA/CTF and the BOP.  I’m not inmate DCDC #293-799 or Bureau of Prisoner’s inmate #97159-016. Look at me. What do you see?

We were taken to the chapel. While we waited for the women and program staff, I did microphone checks and practiced with Sarah and my PO. Then I sat down where we had been instructed to sit. We were facing the chairs that would soon hold women all in a sea of dark blue uniforms and white tee shirts and blue “flight shoes”.

Sarah sat to my left and my PO to my right. I was silently berating myself for the coffee. When I looked to my far right and saw her. Officer S. She had been sitting and watching me. Seeing Officer S was a visceral experience for me and my PO leaned in and said, “What just happened?” Sarah leaned in and asked, “What’s going on?” I nodded to Officer S who responded by showing her teeth and laughing at me—a laugh that I will take with me to my grave. My upper lip trembled and Sarah whispered, “Yes.” My PO looked at me questioningly and Officer S got up, did that strut that I came to hate long ago, and left.

Then what I hate most about myself started happening, tears. I do not even know how they ended up on my cheeks. They were just there and I said, “I can’t do this.” Then I went on and explained how Officer S had laminated articles written about me before I was sent to CCA/CTF to await sentencing as well as those written after I was sentenced. She used to pass these articles around to inmates and new staff. At night or early in the morning, she would open my cell (I was always housed single cell at CCA/CTF per the psyche department’s orders) and shine her flashlight on me and say to whatever officer or inmate she had with her, “There she is that crazy stalkin’ bitch.” Officer S and her “cohorts” were a team of bullies and they tag teamed with one another to ensure I was constantly in a state of emotional hell. “I cannot do this.”

My PO leaned in and said, “Oh you can do this. You have to do this.  You get to stand up there and speak and show her how well you are doing and that you are so much better than what she did to you.” I wiped my tears and waited. Slowly the women and staff began to enter. I could feel the energy throughout the jail, I could hear the murmurs of staff and COs, “Did you know Nuevelle is here?” I could hear it I tell you and it kept getting louder. Then silence. The women were seeing me. I could see the women and then my heart cracked. It will never be whole.

Someone recently made a joke to me that DC is no longer “Chocolate City”. Yes it is. See Orange Is Not the New Black. Black has always been The Black in the jails and prisons in this country and nobody in DC is wearing Orange (or in most jails/prisons for that matter).

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This program was the closing event for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. My goal was to trace the trauma-to-prison pipeline for women and girls. I did this by sharing my own trauma, by focusing on the moment that I began to believe I was unworthy. The women who knew me from doing time together had never heard about my survival of childhood abuse or that I had survived domestic violence in my adulthood at the hands of my ex-husband, and each one of my female partners.

DC race demographics: 51% White and 49% Black. DC jail demographics: 90% Black. As I watched the women enter I started counting the number of White women. Of the 130+ women (CCA/CTF numbers are low as the Bail Reform Act in DC is really being enforced now and the city is offering alternatives to pre-trial detention) I could count on one hand the number of White women. I lost count after 20 of the number of women I had met in 2010 when I was “stepped-back” after I lost at trial, and only two of them were White.

After much thought I have realized that the moment I started my journey on the trauma-to-prison pipeline began at age nine in the middle of a beating from my mother. My earliest childhood memories are of violent beatings and vile words of hatred from my mother, aunt, uncles, stepfather and adults in the church I attended until high school.

When I was nine years old I could take a beating and not cry—I lost my tears when I was eight. And I could give looks that spoke of how I despised my mother and what she was doing. On this particular day, my mother looked at me and said slowly as she poked me in my chest, “If. Yo’. Own. Mutha. Don’t. Love You. No one. Will. Eva’. Love. You. And. I. Don’t. Love. You.” She does not love me to this day. I shared this story and skated through the husband and girlfriends, because at the heart of it all is that I have been trying to make someone prove Claudia Ann Lucinda Lowe Friend (a.k.a. Claudia Friend) wrong, someone to show her that I am lovable.

I sang the lines from Bonnie Raitt’s song, “I can’t make you love me if you don’t. I can’t make your heart feel something it won’t.” For my fellow justice involved women and me abuse has come to define our existence and need to be loved and too often because of this need we end up abused. However, I now know that I cannot make anyone abuse me (despite what Judge Russell Canan said at my sentencing) and I cannot make anyone love me. I wish I had someone long ago explain it to me in such simple terms.

I was not there just to speak to the women, but also the gatekeepers. As I shared my story, I looked over and saw Officer S. Her face was stuck in that smile, her eyes full of pain. Perhaps regret? I knew I had made my point. We women, be it that we are the incarcerated or those holding the keys, are more alike than we realize.dv-bracelet_csosa_10-27-2016

After the program ended, Director JW asked the women not to rush me and the two other speakers from local nonprofits. They wanted hugs, but hugs are not allowed. This was my promise, “I’m coming back to lead a program. You will see me again.” And they will.

The day before I went back to jail, I received a call from the DC DOC, “Ms. Nuevelle, you have been approved to volunteer at the jail. We just need you to do a drug screen.” Drugs are not my struggle, so I will be fine. I will go back and do the work because I need to reclaim me and show the world that we women who are justice involved are survivors and have stories to tell and a system to change.

I do not need to make anyone love me. I am Taylar Nuevelle and I am learning that I am powerful and lovable. I have already proved Claudia wrong because I am someone and I love me.

Now turn off OITNB and get up and become a positive in this movement of criminal justice reform for women.

Ashe,

Taylar Nuevelle