In Jail, Pads and Tampons as Bargaining Chips
By ZOE GREENBERG APRIL 20, 2017
“Some women have reported no issues at all; they ask and get what they need,” said Kelsey De Avila, a jail services social worker with Brooklyn Defender Services who spends about three days a week on Rikers. “Others have to beg for it.”
BettyAnn Whaley, 56, who was released from Rikers last June and now lives in the North Bronx, said pads were accessible “seven out of 10 times,” though they were a flimsy version of what you might buy at a store. Tampons were harder to get.
“They were only given to certain housing units,” Ms. Whaley said in an interview after her release. And even then, she added, “they were only dispensed to certain individuals — you had to be sort of chummy-chummy in order to receive them.”
Others agreed that it isn’t an issue of supply. Chandra Bozelko, a writer and advocate who was incarcerated at a state prison in Connecticut, said menstrual supplies were indeed used as tools of control. Officers sometimes tried to teach women a lesson by limiting access, affecting self-esteem as well as basic hygiene.
“It turns you on yourself,” Ms. Bozelko said. “You start to hate your body.”
In both state and city facilities in New York, women recalled humiliating experiences related to getting what they needed.
Christine, 24, who requested that her surname not be used because she is incarcerated upstate, said she would never forget what happened to her at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a maximum-security women’s prison in Westchester County that serves as a reception center for newcomers. She was going to be transferred to another prison, so her father came to visit her. She had her period and had not been given any pads. After the visit, she was strip-searched as blood ran down her legs. The female correction officer was cruel, she said.
“She was telling me how disgusting I was, ‘It’s disgusting,’” she recalled. “I was so embarrassed.”
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