by Ayelet Waldman
Among the myriad things I'm working on right now (the aforementioned novel, a law-based TV pilot, a musical, a follow up to Bad Mother, a desperate attempt to lose 15 pounds), is a book in the Voice of Witness series. Founded by Dave Eggers (in his spare time, when he's not founding a nation-wide nonprofit tutoring, writing, and publishing organization for children in economically disadvantaged communities, founding schools and community centers in the Sudan, and writing some of the best novels I've ever read in my life), the series uses the medium of oral history to depict human rights crises around the globe. The volume I'm co-editing, with Robin Levi of Justice Now, a human rights organization for women in prison, and Rebecca Silbert, a former Federal Public Defender, is a collection of narratives from imprisoned and formerly imprisoned women across the U.S. who have suffered violations of their human rights.
It's hardly news to the readers of this blog that the United States has among the highest incarceration rates of any country in the world, and that people in prison in this country are routinely subjected to physical, sexual and mental abuse. While abuse in male prisons is well-documented, women in prison suffer in relative anonymity. This disparity is problematic since, because women's prisons are generally more geographically isolated and thus less subject to outside oversight, women in prison are in many cases more vulnerable to rights violations. Worse, because of their histories of sexual and physical abuse, women in prison are both more likely to suffer serious health consequences and less likely to complain of abuses within the system. They are also predominantly incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.