Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 22.2 (2001) 63-86
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Mothers, Daughters, and Deities
Judy Lucero's Gynocritical Prison Poetics and Materialist Chicana Politics
B. V. Olguín
So much work remains to be done around prisons in general - pending revolutionary change, we have to raise the demand that prisons in their present form be abolished. As an inevitable by-product of a male-oriented society and consequently still male-oriented movement - which women are however increasingly contesting - sufficient attention has not been devoted to women in prison.
Angela Davis, "Letter to Ericka Huggins"
The work of mestiza consciousness is to break down the subject-object duality that keeps her a prisoner and to show in the flesh and through the images in her work how duality is transcended. The answer to the problem between the white race and the colored, between males and females, lies in healing the split that originates in the very foundation of our lives, our culture, our languages, our thoughts. A massive uprooting of dualistic thinking in the individual and collective consciousness is the beginning of a long struggle, but one that could, in our best hopes, bring us to the end of rape, of violence, of war.
Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza Consciousness
Prisons, Power, And Chicana Poetry
In the introduction to the 1996 watershed study The Real War on Crime, Steven Donziger notes that the draconian 1994 National Crime Bill and attendant prison construction boom have effectively created a new industry in the United States that conveniently fills the economic void resulting from the decline of the military industrial complex after the end of the Cold War. 1 This new industry, which he dubs the "Prison Industrial Complex," is built atop a [End Page 63] new domestic enemy - criminals. The Prison Project, a Washington dc, prison reform research center, confirms that this criminalized domestic population is disproportionately comprised of racial minorities, especially African Americans, who have the highest incarceration rate in the country. According to Prison Project Director Marc Mauer, one in four black men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four will be caught in the criminal justice web of prison, jail, probation, or parole at least once in his lifetime. 2
The U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics similarly reports that the disparities in incarceration rates are even more acute for women. It notes that while women currently make up only 6.3 percent of the U.S. population under correctional supervision, their rate of incarceration is growing almost twice as fast as the incarceration rate for men. 3 In her research on Chicana and other women prisoners in California, Yvette Flores-Ortiz suggests that this disparity in incarceration rates for women may in part be attributable to the claim frequently made by women prisoners that they were incarcerated for crimes that were coerced, or even committed, by their male partners, for whom they "took the fall" under the mistaken belief that a woman would get a more lenient sentence. 4 Surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice also reveal that prior to their own imprisonment, the majority of these women prisoners had been victims of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, or coerced drug abuse involving older men; in other words, crimes committed against them by men presaged these women's incarceration. 5 Even more troubling, some researchers have estimated that as many as one in sixteen women are pregnant upon entering prison, while the U.S. Department of Justice adds that over 78 percent of the roughly one million women under correctional supervision in jail, prison, probation, or parole are mothers. 6
Judy A. Lucero was one of them. Renowned as a prisoner who earned the endearing prison epithet "soft touch" for frequently having gone into debt to lend money to her friends, Lucero also typified other characteristics of women prisoners in the U.S.: She was a lumpenproletariat Chicana introduced to drugs at the age of eleven...