The Shawnee Unit

The HSU was shut down in 1988, and the new Shawnee Unit was opened in Marianna, Florida. The Shawnee Unit despite its inhumanities and the implicit power games committed against the women within had to cope with not being classified as a control unit because it does not use the same physical brutality as men’s control units (Baraldini). Women’s struggle to gain recognition as equal participants in the struggle to close control units has deeper implications. Women’s resistance has been diminished, and the brutality of psychological methods of control and behavior modification has been overlooked.

Political prisoners and Prisoners of War have spent the majority of their time in the various control units, distancing them from their movements, indirectly playing into the principle objective of the government: isolation. Isolation is used here to mean the turning of political prisoners into symbols to be remembered as historical leftovers of a more militant past, while ignoring them as continuing participants in today’s progressive movements (Churchill & Wall).

The Shawnee Unit had the same security mission of the HSU: to control, isolate, and neutralize women who, for varying reasons, pose either a political, escape, or disruption threat. Neutralization insures that the women imprisoned within will never leave the prison with the full capacity to function (Korn). The illusion that Shawnee is not a designated or manipulated environment is carefully controlled by the BOP. They do not want to see this unit closed down as was the case with HSU.

It is designed to deflect any concern from the outside about human rights abuses – it is meant to appear comfortable and attractive. This appearance is a lie (O’Meveney). The women of Shawnee live in a psychologically assaultive environment that aims at destabilizing women’s personal and social identities. This is true of the prison system as a whole; but in Shawnee it has been elevated to a primary weapon, implemented through a physical layout and day-to-day regimen that produce inwardness and self-containment. Women are under constant video surveillance, there is no privacy whatsoever.

Lockdown is not needed because there is nowhere to go, and individuals can be observed and controlled better while having the illusion of mobility (Baraldini). The women who are classified as political prisoners are told that this will be their world for the rest of their lives. Shawnee is like being in a suffocating cocoon, where all forms of visual stimulation and communication are replaced by at television. Women in prison are at the very bottom, the misogyny and contempt for women in the society as a whole are compounded by the way the prison system is organized to exploit and utilize women’s oppression.

(Korn)The BOP characterizes some women as “dangerous” and “terrorist” going beyond the acceptable bounds of acceptable female behavior in the US, making them the target of particularized repression, scorn and hatred. To be classified maximum security is to be seen as less than human, by definition not eligible for “rehabilitation” (Baraldini). We survived relatively intact only because we knew what the Justice Department was trying to do to us, and that knowledge enabled us to hold onto our political commitments and identities with strength.

When we were enraged and tempted to live out the stereotypical behavior that they expected (i. e. to be violent) we had a collective of each other. The unity of the political prisoners and some of the social prisoners allowed us to laugh, to find humanity in each other, and to carry on. Despite the most extreme efforts of the BOP, they did not win. We never lost memory or reality of ourselves or of our political opposition to US imperialism. Susan Rosenberg The development and investment into control units is indicative of a new and intensified phase of experimentation.

No state would spend millions upon millions of dollars annually simply to control several hundred prisoners. This is illogical, it does not make economic or political sense. There are much less expensive and easier ways to attain this goal, if it was indeed the only goal (Korn). The State has a vested interest in neutralizing these women, in destroying that which they find so repugnant: their political ideologies and beliefs. Despite the hell of these conditions, these women refuse to submit to the State, they refuse to surrender their belief in social justice, the one thing that the State can not take from them.

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