On April 24, activists from the around the country converged on Washington for the 10th anniversary march of the FreeHer campaign, a national movement against the prison industrial complex, focused on the release of incarcerated women and girls. Despite campaign promises to free 100 women in his first 100 days in office, the Biden administration’s record on clemency is among the worst in US history, granting clemency only 29 times in nearly four years—with 16 of these given on the day of the FreeHer march alone. Activists also called attention to the epidemic of sexual violence and abuse against prisoners by correctional staff. Rattling the Bars reports from the streets in DC, speaking directly with organizers and movement activists about their demands for Biden and their broader vision for liberation.

Videographer: Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Cameron Granadino


Transcript

The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.

Speaker 1:

We vote clemency! We vote clemency! And we want it when?

Speaker 2:

Now.

Speaker 1:

We want it now. We want it when?

Speaker 2:

Now.

Speaker 1:

Send those messages to President Biden and say, don’t even look at us again until you’re willing to free these women. And we want everybody to please, when you leave here, take this message with you, hit your governor in the head with it. Hit the President in the head with it, that we vote clemency and we need you to get to work. Tenth anniversary March on Washington. Try to make President Biden understand that freedom must happen.

Pick up your pen. Commute the sentences of our mothers, our grandmothers, our sisters, our aunts and our wives. Enough is enough. Free Michelle West, 30 plus years in prison. Free Lazar Daz, 30 plus years in prison. Free our elders like Ms. Friend. Get these women out of these prisons. Now! We got rap with us releasing aging people in prison. We got legal services for prisoners with children. We got women, and men, and babies here from every single state around the country, and we are demanding enough is enough. President Biden, pick up that pen.

Speaker 2:

We’re building a family. This is a whole community that has been impacted by incarceration from different ways, whether we’ve been formerly incarcerated, or we had loved ones like our mothers incarcerated. And so it’s time that we come together in solidarity, and highlight the harm that the system has caused. And so we can’t do this alone, so we have to come together. And when we come together, that’s a movement.

Speaker 3:

One more time, we’re at Freedom Plaza in Washington D.C. At the Free Her March. I didn’t know what kind of impact it would have on me. We’ve got women that’s coming together to march to abolish the prison industrial complex as it relates to women. We’ve got families. We’ve got their children, we’ve got the grandparents. We’ve got the great-grandparents, generation upon generation. They want the end to the mass incarceration of women, but more importantly, they want to free her.

Speaker 4:

Mississippi, Mississippi, I need you to free her! Indiana, I need you to free her! Georgia, free her! D.C., free her! Alabama, free her!

Speaker 5:

We got Milwaukee in the building. Milwaukee in the building.

Speaker 6:

Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Speaker 5:

Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Speaker 3:

Where you from?

Speaker 7:

Washington D.C.

Speaker 3:

Okay. We are from Nation Capital. Why are you here?

Star:

I’m here to free Ms. West, Michelle West, and here to support the women that’s here.

Speaker 3:

Hi, what’s your name?

Star:

My name is Star. How you doing?

Speaker 3:

I’m good. Where you from?

Star:

The Bronx, New York.

Speaker 3:

Okay. We got the Bronx with us today. Why are you here today?

Star:

Because we’re here to petition the President, and everybody else on his team, to grant clemency to Michelle West, and all the other women who deserve it.

Speaker 8:

He told us when we was here four years ago that he was going to free a hundred women within the hundred days of him being in office. And he has not done any of what he said he was going to do. So we’re here today asking for him to free our women, and free them now.

Star:

We are tired of giving the Democrats what they want, and they don’t give us what we need.

Speaker 3:

So what do we want?

Star:

We want freedom for all women and girls. We want rehabilitation, and alternatives to incarceration.

Speaker 9:

We want Michelle West Free!

Miquelle West:

I’m Miquelle West, Michelle West’s daughter. My mom was incarcerated when I was ten years old for a drug conspiracy case. And she’s serving two life sentences and 15 years.

Speaker 9:

I represent the women that want to be free. Let our women be free. Let our women out of [inaudible 00:04:06].

Music:

Music

Group:

Cut it down!

Speaker 10:

[inaudible 00:04:36].

Group:

Cut it down!

Speaker 10:

[inaudible 00:04:39]

Speaker 11:

Stop criminalizing us for poverty, stop criminalizing us for how we cope from this trauma that has been put on us historically, and continues into this present day. Free my sisters.

Speaker 12:

The women get treated badly. The women get raped in jail. All kinds of things. I served federal time, and I know what it’s like to be in there. And I say free women today.

Speaker 13:

We told them to free those women, and they didn’t do it. They’re sending them to other prisons that, guess what? Also are raping our sisters inside of the federal system. So we’ve got a lot of work to do, people.

Speaker 14:

The response is to move all the women at once, all of a sudden to just throw them out into places all over the country with no preparation, no bathroom facilities. They’re being, as one of them said, the men who raped them, should, and are, going to prison. And the women are being punished now because they’re saying that the BOP, which can’t control their own staff, has to close the prison because they can’t manage it. And they take the women. I’ve been walking with different friends of mine who were in Dublin with me.

Speaker 3:

Right.

Speaker 14:

It was not a low-security place at that point. And we’re all having flashbacks of what it was to be transferred in that way, where you’re treated like a sack of laundry, except that you’re chained up. You’re chained at the waist. You can’t use the bathroom for hours, you get no food. They sat on a bus for five hours in the parking lot of the prison. And then at the end of five hours, they were taken back into the prison. They said, “Oh, we don’t know where to take you.” So the way that they’re being treated and then their families… Some people have children and their families are in the Bay Area. So the children were able to visit their moms in the prison, and now the moms have been sent like across country.

Speaker 15:

All this is the remedy for their abusive behavior. The remedy for their abusive behavior become more abusive.

Speaker 14:

Exactly. It’s true abuse, only this time, it’s like it’s standard operating procedures as opposed to rape, which is standard operating procedures, but it’s not written in the book.

Speaker 15:

We have to bring our women home, our children need them. Our black young men lead them. Black men need the nurturing, need the comfort, the caring, and the support that they need for mothers to structure them in the right way, so that we won’t be enslavery into the system. So thank you for everybody. As you see, we’re all out here making the cards.

Speaker 16:

Turn around.

Speaker 17:

They’re here on behalf of their mother. Why you bring the two?

Speaker 16:

Because that’s their mother.

Speaker 17:

Okay.

Speaker 16:

That needs to be released.

Speaker 17:

Okay. How long has she been locked up?

Speaker 16:

She’s been locked up right now for two years.

Speaker 17:

And why haven’t they released her yet?

Speaker 16:

They haven’t released her because they say she’s an activist. She was an activist.

Speaker 17:

What’s her name?

Speaker 16:

Brittany Martin.

Speaker 17:

Brittany Martin. So we got Brittany Martin as an activist and be held-

Speaker 16:

In Illinois.

Speaker 17:

In Illinois State Prison?

Speaker 13:

Yes. Yes, sir.

Speaker 17:

FCI?

Speaker 13:

IDOC.

Speaker 17:

Okay. So what do you want her to know about what’s going on here today?

Speaker 13:

Man, listen, it’s powerful out here, man. There’s people from everywhere and every place, and she is known. Her injustice is known.

Speaker 17:

What do you want to happen for your mother?

Speaker 18:

Bring her home.

Speaker 17:

Bring her home? Bring your mother home?

Speaker 18:

Yeah!

Speaker 17:

What’s your mother’s name?

Speaker 18:

Pretty mama.

Speaker 17:

Okay. And what y’all want? What y’all want?

Speaker 18:

Bring her home!

Speaker 17:

Bring her home. I talked to a friend of mine that was here, the first one. She said it was only maybe a hundred women. This is the indication that we’re building and mobilizing. So how do you feel about that?

Speaker 21:

I think it’s great. I think it’s fantastic. It’s something that’s needed. Women who are getting triple life sentences for things that are… It’s not reasonable. So I like it.

Speaker 20:

I am here because I believe that every woman deserves her peace and her freedom.

Speaker 21:

Who are these people up here that you see?

Speaker 20:

These are women incarcerated in the Georgia Penal system.

Speaker 21:

And how long-

Speaker 20:

They are lifers.

Speaker 21:

They’ve been in prison for a long time.

Speaker 20:

Yes. They’ve been in prison for a long time, and constantly denied parole. So we are here speaking on their behalf.

Speaker 22:

There’s a lot of women that I myself was actually incarcerated with. I’m from Augusta, Georgia, served 12 years out of 20 years of [inaudible 00:09:41] . I was released in 2016. So now I’m advocating for myself and other women. So let’s free them, free her.

Speaker 3:

Briefly tell our audience what happened with your daughter.

Speaker 22:

In February of 2018, she, along with her husband, was indicted on a federal drug indictment along with several others that was named on that indictment. At the beginning of the… there was no… Spock was not mentioned in any of the discoveries or anything, but once they got her to trial, they went ahead with the indictment. Matter of fact, there was three superseding indictments that was made. She ended up being on pretrial release from 2018 to 2021. At which time in July the 26th of 2021, she actually went to trial and was found guilty by a jury. Partly because of the attorney that she had, did not present any of the evidence or anything. Did not put on any type of defense. He just came to court against the federal government with a notepad and a pen.

Speaker 3:

Okay. We already know about… I was locked up. I did 48 years in prison. So I understand. We know about the public pretender. That’s what we call him in the prison system. But how much time did your daughter get?

Speaker 22:

She got 15 years mandatory. She had a mandatory minimum of 15 years.

Speaker 3:

Okay. She got a mandatory minimum of 15 years. Was this her first offense?

Speaker 22:

First offense, Sparkle Hobbs Bryant is a mother of two children. She’s never been in trouble. She was an upstanding citizen before the indictment. She’s been an upstanding system in the jail system as well as in the prison system. And we just want her to come home. This is her daughter who was 14 months old when she left her, and we’re tired of taking her to the prison to see her mother.

Speaker 23:

And not to mention, she’s also been in the military. She served in the Navy.

Speaker 24:

The power of women. They come from all over the country. New York, Nevada, Montana, Kansas to free her. This is the 10th anniversary of women prisoners coming out, organizing to free women prisoners. This is a monumental occasion. This is an example of power to the people. Free her.

Karen Elsima:

I’m Karen Elsima from Alaska. I’m formerly incarcerated. I left three kids at home who also had to live with my felonies. Today, after 13 years out, I have a daughter who also had to sign a seven-year deal, and now is about to celebrate two years in recovery, about to have a baby. But if someone hadn’t invested in me, my children, the restoration would not have been there. We’re still working on it.

Speaker 24:

Right.

Speaker 16:

But it’s just such an example of how many moms and kids and families need to have that restoration be invested in as a people.

Speaker 24:

And that’s one of the things that the Free Her movement is talking about. Invest in people, not in the expansion of prisons that’s going to house people, and dehumanize, and destroy families. Thank you, sis.

Speaker 25:

I think people are going to be more educated. We’re going to continue to come out and rally as needed, and continue to educate others about the movement. But it’s going to be a fight for a while, but we’re going to keep at it.

Speaker 26:

We demand that President Biden and state governors free our mothers. Free them for Mother’s Day. Free her!

Music:

Alleluia Music

Speaker 27:

Oh, that is, you see us out here. We’re out here. We’re stronger in numbers. Like Sashi said. We come together in solidarity. We collectively come up with strategies to free each one of them one by one. We’re trying to tear down the criminal justice system brick by brick, piece by piece. And we know what that looks like, and that’s why we’re out here.

Speaker 3:

And I heard the speaker say collectively, her colleagues, former sisters that was locked up with her, if you did them collectively, they did a thousand years. And I did 48 years before I got out. And I was in the room one time and I asked, had some college students in there. I had like 10 people. I told all the dudes that added up their numbers. So when I told them, I said I launched how many numbers. It was over 500 years in the room of time we had did. So with terms like that, what do you think about the clemency?

Speaker 27:

I think that everyone should get a second chance. And I see that society lately is not giving people a chance. I don’t feel that no one should be locked up for the rest of their life. And who is one person to take somebody’s freedom away, rather it be a six-man, jury, it be a judge or whomever it be? No one has that right. And we’re going to free them all. And they are coming home.

Speaker 28:

And we also want to highlight re-imagining communities. You know, the only reason why we are here is because women have never had a first chance to begin with, and they’ve never had resources. Look at this. This is a crowd of black people. Instead of talking about 500, a thousand, a thousand years, 2000 years, these are years that our family has been stripped away from our loved ones. And that’s not acceptable. So we need to begin to shift and call on not only the President Biden, but all of the governors. Each state, state by state, needs to provide resources to the people so that way we’re not even ending up on a prison bunk to begin with. Not our babies, not our mothers, not us, not none of us. We have the resources, we just have to use them. So, yes to clemency, but also yes to resources immediately. So we don’t have to use tools like clemency.

Speaker 7:

Yes.

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