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For my final project in YMEJ, I have been thinking a lot about movement. While movement, and the ability to move, is a fundamental human right codified and enshrined in a variety of seminal human rights documents, the reality of who has the privilege and positionality to move is often quite different. As I continue to ruminate on this over the course of this class, I feel inspired by this time lapse video capturing the Millions March protest emergent out of the recent unjust trials here in the United States. Watching the masses move in solidarity offers a visual dimension of hope that makes movement seem powerfully accessible.
Where there is an issue, diverse actors are affected. How is the voice of the community valued? How do we consider and support members of family and friends? How can we value narratives behind the stigma?
The following powerful testimony is in the voice of a woman who regularly visits her husband in jail. Her narrative denounces the unfairness of policies; specifically, policies that generate structural violence that are deeply rooted in state institutions. When an institution is mostly responsible for stigma and stereotypes, what are the strategies to advocate for human rights and human dignity?
She exposes her feelings in terms of what it means to be a wife, what it means to love, what it means to love a criminal. She stands up and voices her concerns; how many families are experiencing stigmas because a family member is in jail? What kind of support can they find?
The Lover and the Guilty
“Pilot-apartments” are set up in some jails so that prisoners can meet their family with intimacy… There must be only few in only two or three jails. The Centrale of Poissy is one of them, and I am interested because I am married since 1989 to a “perpète” (nick name for life-sentenced).
This project is justified by longer sentences with security measures. We do not question the heaviness of punishment, which becomes more and more heavy. All prisoners do not have access to family visit units (FVU) given the small number of units (two or three for three hundred prisoners in Poissy), where access is very rare for the largest number to benefit. Normal parloirs (visiting hours), will whereas, be very rigorously monitored with punishment for “indecent behavior”. Only a few privileged have regular access to FVU, from which is fostered shenanigans, haggling, and jealousy.
Where the shoe pinches for us, Parloirs’ women, is that softening the punishment seems so good to take … The leftist project now gained to security, and especially the arrival of a hyper-repressive right wing, however, should make us think, think to be wary. We are forced to cut us in two: the lover and the guilty.
We should now rightly fear the scarcity, or even the end, of conditional releases. By way of “half-liberty”, what it offers families is a half-detention. Opinions of Parloirs’ women are never asked: That’s why I give mine.
DUZSKA MAKSYMOWITZ, (translated into English) In Mazoyer, F. (2003). La fin de la vie privée. In Manière de voir 71. Le Monde Diplomatique, October-November 2003, p.45
Duzska Maksymowitz was married for twelve years to a “perpète” now free; she is the author of “Femme de Parloir”, L’esprit frappeur (editor), Paris, 2000.
Through her writing, Duzska Maksymowitz is an activist for women’s dignity and women’s rights. She voices the taboo of loving a prisoner. She voices the taboo of being a family member of a criminal; she voices the concerns, the challenge and the experiences that women, wives, mothers, sisters, or children are facing when a close person, family member, friend or lover is imprisoned.