Sisters Uncut Reclaim Holloway Prison: Addressing the legacy of state violence
Photo: Bex Wade
"Abolitionist feminism is a response to the carceral feminism of the past. This project will help to create greater insight, and hopefully more action against the prison industrial complex." Angela Davis speaking about the reclamation of Holloway Women’s Prison, 2017
Sisters Uncut reclaimed the now-closed Visitors Centre of Holloway Women’s Prison on the 27th of May. Eight Sisters entered the building via an open window, while 150 protesters rallied outside in solidarity. After a ten hour standoff with 70 police officers - mostly male and mostly white - we secured the building just after midnight on Sunday 28th. Peaceful protesters were kettled and denied access to food, water and toilet facilities. The officers hit their batons against the windows and flashed lights into the building, preventing the Sisters inside from sleeping. This is a well known torture technique. Women and non-binary people putting on a community festival and creating a safe social space were met with brutal state violence.
Since Monday we have been holding workshops ranging from self-care, Know Your Rights and local community campaigns like Reclaim Holloway, Haringey Housing Action and Take Back The City, as well as two free daily meals. The space is open to all self identifying women and non-binary people. Our intention has been to create a welcoming, gentle and safe environment, countering the history of violence experienced by the women and non-binary people who lost their lives and years at the hands of the state.
Sarah Reed, a black woman who was found dead in her Holloway Prison cell in 2016, was a survivor. She was beaten by the Met police after being incarcerated for protecting herself against sexual assault. Whilst in prison she was denied access to vital medication. Sarah Reed never made it out of prison alive. Her story is not an isolated case; the criminal justice systems routinely fails to protect and serve justice to vulnerable women.
Holloway was closed in 2016, as a result 600 women have been moved to overcrowded HMP Downview and HMP Bronzefield in Surrey, separating them from their friends, family and support networks. The government’s investment in nine new mega prisons to be built in England and Wales demonstrates their flagrant disregard for the social problems faced by vulnerable women and non-binary people. 1 in 3 women and 60% of BME women leave prison homeless. 81% of these women and non-binary people are convicted for nonviolent crimes, 46% report experience of domestic violence and 53% report having experienced abuse as a child. The real figures are undoubtedly much higher. The state is clearly failing vulnerable women and non-binary people, we demand support not sentences.
Rather than criminalising vulnerability, we need a long term secure funding plan for survivors of domestic violence. Since 2010, ideological Tory cuts have plunged domestic violence services into a state of crisis.
Women and ex-offenders in North East London do not have access to specialist services and support. There are only 27 refuge spaces in Islington borough; survivors need spaces to heal and seek safety from domestic violence. They do not need to be priced out of their own communities by the inevitable rent increases caused by a luxury development. There are 20,000 households on the housing waiting list in Islington.
4 in 5 BME women were turned away from refuges last year, while women and non-binary people without recourse to public funds are left destitute. How can they leave when they have nowhere to go? Life saving public services are in crisis. In reclaiming Holloway prison we are standing in solidarity with the local community, the women and non binary people who were forced here at the hands of the state and the thousands of survivors of domestic violence who cannot vote.
Written by Hatel, Mick, Rosa and Katerina from North London Sisters Uncut.
Sisters Uncut is a feminist direct action group protesting cuts to domestic violence services.
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