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"It's Like I'm in a Cave"

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December 11, 2007

Sylvia Flynn is a 65-year-old mother, former business-owner and victim of domestic violence. Up until 2001, when she was jailed for killing the husband who physically and mentally abused her for years, she ran the Klip n’ Kurl salon in Virginia.

Since Sylvia began serving 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 she completed a 5,000-hour apprenticeship in upholstery, she worked as an upholsterer and taught upholstery to other women prisoners. She also worked as a hairdresser inside the prison, allowing her to use her wealth of skills as a cosmetologist while incarcerated.

In March 2007, Sylvia was transferred to the New Jersey State Prison, a men’s “supermax” prison, where she’s denied meaningful work opportunities either as an upholsterer or cosmetologist. Instead, she is now employed as a “wing barber” in the women’s unit of the prison, using crude tools such as a pair of toe nail clippers to cut hair. As a result of the transfer and complete deprivation of physical and mental stimulation, her health has deteriorated. In addition, the women’s cell windows were covered to stop the male prisoners from leering at the women, consigning the women to near-total darkness.

In an interview, Sylvia said of her cell: “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.”

Tomorrow, the ACLU of New Jersey, with the Women’s Committee of the NJ Prison Justice Coalition, will lead a rally at the New Jersey State Prison to protest the incarceration of women prisoners in a men’s facility. Join them to stand up for the rights of women prisoners in New Jersey.

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