These courageous women have overcome the stress of their current conditions and the struggles in their own lives in order to stand up for their rights and those of the other female prisoners who were transferred to the New Jersey State Prison.
Lead Plaintiff Kathleen Jones on left with daughterKathleen Jones is a 39-year-old mother of four. When her husband was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and hospitalized, Kathleen was forced to leave her much- loved job as a Certified Nurse’s Aide to be by his side and to care for their children, resulting in insurmountable financial problems. In 2003 Kathleen was incarcerated on robbery charges. At Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, New Jersey ‘s only prison for women, Kathleen gained a sense of fulfillment from her work in the optical program, cleaning and fixing donated eye-glasses for the underprivileged in third – world countries. In the midst of her transfer to New Jersey State Prison in March 2007, Kathleen was stripsearched in front of male and female officers. When she asked one of the guards why there was a video camera, she was told, “for training purposes,” raising the horrifying possibility that the naked footage of Kathleen and the other women would be viewed by an untold number of prison guards. At Edna Mah a n she was provided free calls to her family and was able to visit frequently with her children through the facility’s program for mothers. Since her transfer, which Kathleen refers to as “the abduction,” she has had a distressing lack of contact with her childre n because there are no special visiting programs for children in the men’s State Prison. Like other women prisoners at New Jersey State Prison, Kathleen is barred from using the prison library and worries how she will carry out her challenge to her conviction. “I feel like all these months, since being here, I could have been studying case law,” she laments. Despite the hardship Kathleen has endured, she remains an up-beat, fearless, energetic and confident leader, qualities she attributes to her Christian faith.
Sylvia FlynnSylvia Flynn is a 65-year-old mother and cosmetologist who for years owned and ran her own salon, the Klip n’ Kurl, while living in Virginia . She was incarcerated in 2001 for killing her husband who for years abused her physically and emotionally. Since Sylvia began her sentence, she has maintained an exemplary disciplinary record. At the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, Sylvia participated in 22 certificate-granting programs. After completing a 5000-hour apprenticeship in upholstery, she worked as an upholsterer and taught upholstery to other women prisoners. She also worked as a hairdresser, her life-long passion and profession. Although Sylvia is a medium-security prisoner and has a flawless disciplinary record, she was transferred to the New Jersey State Prison, a men’s “supermax” prison in March 2007. At the men’s prison, Sylvia requested permission to continue teaching and working but was denied work both as an upholsterer and as a cosmetologist. She is now employed as a “wing barber” in the women’s unit of the prison. As a wing barber, Sylvia is only permitted to cut hair using electric clippers. Since the transfer, Sylvia has been in near constant confinement and isolation and has little physical and mental stimulation, all of which have rapidly caused her health to deteriorate. Recently the women’s cell windows were masked to stop the male prisoners from leering into the women’s cells. The darkness of her cell has had a devastating affect on Sylvia. In an interview she said, “You don’t know whether it’s night or day. I used to sit at the window and watch the stars and the moon. Now, it’s like I’m in a cave.”
Helen L. Ewell was widowed at a very early age after her first husband died of cancer. She was a foster and step mother during her short marriage of four years. She has two sons and three grandsons. Helen was determined to devote her life to caring for others by being a good mother and by choosing a profession where she could help people. She worked as a Certified Nurse’s Aide for twelve years and was on her way to becoming a Licensed Patient Nurse when she was incarcerated in 2003 for fatally injuring her boyfriend, who severely abused her physically and emotionally. While at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, Helen worked in the upholstery and sewing shop. She participated in several therapeutic groups, including a volunteer-facilitated domestic violence program. Helen benefited tremendously from this program and was beginning to come to terms with her years-long experience of domestic violence; however, in March 2007, she was transferred to the New Jersey State Prison where there is almost no rehabilitative programming for women’s needs. Helen spends up to twenty-two hours a day in her cell. In order to escape the long hours alone, she has taken a job as an unskilled pantry worker. Since being transferred to the State Prison, Helen has been extremely distressed by the isolation. In an interview she said that being at the State Prison is “like being in a cage. It seems like they’re keeping us away from each other. What’s the harmin letting us just talk to each other?”
Lakesha Jones is a 34-year-old medium-security prisoner who was transferred from Edna Mahan Correctional Facility to New Jersey State Prison in March 2007 after being confined in Edna Mahan since 2005. Lakesha suffers from panic attacks and asthma and uses an inhaler. Lakesha has been denied timely access to her inhaler and medications, and when she suffers attacks, both she and other prisoners cry out and bang on their cell walls for long periods of time before New Jersey State Prison officials respond. Lakesha is challenging her conviction for robbery and related charges but has been prevented from conducting legal research because she is denied access to the New Jersey State Prison law library, to which male prisoners have full access. Instead, Lakesha was instructed to use an ineffective paging system and must request specific statues and cases but is given no way to determine which of these she requires. Via the paging system, it took New Jersey State Prison officials two full days to provide Lakesha with a copy of the legaldefinition for the crime of robbery.
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