Thursday, February 27, 2014

March 2014 Program Highlights

WORTH Program

WORTH and Social Change partnered to bring eye glasses into the jail. Toni Dorenda, Director of WORTH, contacted the Sherriff to receive approval to bring glasses to WORTH’s Tuesday classes. Glasses help the participants see the curriculum and read the handouts during WORTH volunteer visits. Have you heard of "Orange is the New Black"-a new series that’s been stirring up the media? YWCA presents the first of a 2-part series about the show this month.

Social Change Program

Michelle Hurdle-Bradford, Director of Social Change, sponsored 10 pairs of glasses for the WORTH Program. Hurdle-Bradford visited the jail to teach incarcerated women about personal values, judgment, bullying and white privilege the day the glasses were distributed. “To see the smile on their faces when they could borrow a pair of glasses to see the curriculum was worth more than gold. The participants can not only listen to the training but they can read the handouts too.”

Sexual Assault Program 
From L-R, Auna, Amira, Erica at Women Trauma and Healing Day

On February 11th the SA Program attended Lobby Day in Olympia to advocate for survivors of sexual assault. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the SA Program will once again welcome renowned speaker Cory Jewel Jensen on April 1st and will be hosting an Art Show at YWCA on April 21st. Details of these events will be released later this month. Follow us on Facebook or call 360-906-9156 for more information. Finally, the SA Program continues to offer free groups and classes to the public including the Latina Women’s Group, Women’s Healing Group and the Where We Live series which focuses on awareness and prevention.

SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program

SafeChoice is happy to welcome Jennifer Anderson, the new Shelter Manager to the team. Jennifer has several years of supervisory experience with both Child Protective Services and Education Services District 112. In addition, members of the SafeChoice Program attended Lobby Day in Olympia on February 4th and advocated with the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) for the enhancement of protection orders by enforcing firearm prohibition for abusers, maintaining funding for domestic violence shelter and legal advocacy, and maintaining basic safety net programs which support survivors. WSCADV’s legislative agenda can be found through the public policy link on their website. SafeChoice is also implementing a new support group for shelter residents starting in March.

Y’s Care Children’s Program

Y’s Care recently offered a 3-week parenting class to guardians of Y’s Care children. The free class included meals and childcare. The Seeds of Empathy program is in its 3rd year and continues to be a great success. This wonderful program centers around a baby and parent who visit regularly, teaches preschoolers perspective on identifying and labeling feelings. Y’s Care loves community engagement and created aparticipatory experience for students by partnering with Tears of Joy Theater based in Portland.

Clark County CASA Program

CASA welcomes 23 new volunteer advocates to their team. With this influx of advocates, CASA is able to serve approximately 69 more children. Also, YWCA and CASA welcome Kelsey LeBrun Keswani as the new Director of CASA. Kelsey has over 13 years of experience working in the field of social services. She has a breadth of experience ranging from building a national program serving unaccompanied refugee minors to volunteering with the Peace Corps in the Ukraine.

Independent Living Skills 
ILS youth at Olympia

Youth in our Independent Living Skills Program visited Olympia on February 14 alongside the Mocking Bird Society to advocate for the rights of foster youth and teens. This year they focused on Extended Foster Care (SB 6101/HB 2335), Prudent parent Standard (SB 6479/ HB 2699) and Legal Representation for Foster Youth (SB 6126/HB 1285)

Seeing the Gray in Orange is the New Black

Praise for the groundbreaking show, while acknowledging the murkiness of portraying life in prison.

By: Emily Ostrowski

(Contains some spoilers for Season 1 of Orange is the New Black) 

Like many fans of Netflix sensation Orange is the New Black (OitNB), I was thrilled when they announced the show’s second season will be available to stream June 6th, 2014. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, a return date is in sight for the show that has become something of a cultural phenomenon, and because Netflix allows for every episode of the season to be available at once, it’s essentially redefined the concept of “binge-watching.” In fact, OitNB is the most watched original Netflix show, beating out House of Cards and the re-vamped fourth season of Arrested Development. It’s garnered critical praise, as well as a slew of award nominations, but perhaps more than anything OitNB has been lauded for what many see as its societal impact.

 For starters it stars a predominantly female cast, meaning it clearly passes the Bechdel Test (a test named after American cartoonist Alison Bechdel that requires any work of fiction to have at least two female characters interact with one another about something other than a man.) The show has also earned praise for its racial diversity, as well as its inclusion of numerous LGBT characters. The series’ main love triangle revolves around recently imprisoned main character Piper Chapman (Taylor Shilling), her fiancĂ© on the outside, Larry (Jason Biggs), and her former girlfriend and current fellow inmate, Alex (Laura Prepon). Piper’s feelings for Alex are shown to be every bit as legitimate as hers towards Larry, and while the show could have played their relationship as nothing more than a titillating distraction, throughout the course of the season Alex and Piper’s relationship became deeply rooted in sustained emotional connection and persevering attraction they feel towards one another. OitNB also prominently features openly transgender actress Laverne Cox, who has used her popularity on the show to become an outspoken advocate for transgender rights. 

Having said that, the show’s premise is based around the everyday lives of women in prison. In this particular area I fear I, like many viewers while good intentioned, don’t know much about prison life aside from what we’ve gleaned from previous media depictions. To learn more, I reached out to Michael Sutcliffe, a PhD student and activist who volunteers with YWCA’s WORTH Program. He shared his thoughts on the show, about what they’re getting right and, and unfortunately quite wrong about life in prison.

“There are some things about Orange is the New Black that I was pleased to see.” says Sutcliffe, “The writer and producers do seem to acknowledge the prison as both a manifestation and a producer of systemic racism, and they do try to demonstrate just how powerful the privileges of the main character are.”

Indeed Piper’s privileges are often plain to see in the show, such as the early preferential treatment she receives from her correctional officer, Mr. Healy, because she is a white, upper class, educated, and (he presumes) heterosexual woman. The show also notes how Piper is both uncomfortable with her privilege, while at other times seemingly unaware of it, which I believe is an honest and unflattering reflection of how privilege often works.

Sutcliffe also gives the show some credit for attempting to portray the different power dynamics and social structures of people imprisoned, but as he notes is the case with all TV, “They compress time so much that it seems like every day is a roller coaster of politics, gossip, and social maneuvering.”

There is also an inherent quirkiness to OitNB, that while undoubtedly makes the show more entertaining, also contributes to what Sutcliffe sees as the “quiet dulling of the emotions” in what are the more intense scenes of the show. He elaborates, “What I mean is that while they show the women being scared, angry, frustrated, and try to hint at desperation, they accompany the scenes with goofy or happy music that lightens the mood and makes light of the situations the women are in. There is no theme music in tense moments in (real-life) prison and the silence (as well as the extreme noise) can be a powerful component part of a moment.”  He references the early episodes where Piper was effectively “starved out” by the kitchen staff for unknowingly criticizing the cook’s food in front of her. In real life, this is undoubtedly a serious issue, but in the show, it was largely played for laughs.

This bothers Sutcliffe, in no small part because he believes OitNB sells itself as a type of docudrama, but by portraying those scenes the way the show does, it under-emphasizes the fear and legitimate threat of violence real prisoners often face. While I’m not sure if I completely agree that the show markets itself in such a way, I understand where the assertion is coming from. After all, the show is loosely based on the real-life incarceration of Piper Kerman, former inmate turned prison reform advocate, who wrote about her experiences in her memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison. For a casual viewer, knowing that the story is based on certain real-life events may make them susceptible to believing that the show’s portrayal of prison is a fairly accurate one.

All of this I suppose raises the question as to whether it is the show’s responsibility to portray prison life more realistically, or that of the viewer to be able to discern between entertainment and reality? Ultimately, I believe the answer lies, so often as it does, somewhere in the middle.

In an article for the Chicago Tribune former inmates were asked to weigh in on OitNB’s accuracy. Like Sutcliffe, the women had mixed reactions.

 One woman praised the show for enriching these characters by “having a great sense of humor” and portraying them as “amazingly inventive” in the ways in which they get through the day. She also had this to say:

“If this were a truly realistic portrayal, it would be depressing. It may be the show I want to see. But I’m not confident that a lot of other people would want to see it.”

A television show’s main job after all, is to attract viewers. It’s not the nicest truth, but it’s a truth, nonetheless, and despite OitNB’s flaws, I’m still happy it’s out there, and am not ashamed for finding it compelling.

Yet there was one criticism of Sutcliffe’s that resonated, not just about OitNB, but about the way in which we as a society tend to consume all media:

“I don’t think OitNB really shows people what prison is like. While it definitely has some good acting moments and some entertaining situations, I think OitNB has to be taken with a HUGE grain of salt, and we need to ask why/how we can use the ruination of people’s lives as entertainment while doing nothing to help them?”

In this digital age it’s easy to feel like because we watch a certain TV show or post a story on Facebook that we’re actively engaging in political and societal discourse. In reality many of us are failing to take any real steps to change the injustices we claim to care about, and I’m as guilty of this inaction as any.

 In an effort to change that, I invite all of you interested in learning more about our criminal justice system to take a look at YWCA’s WORTH Program, as well as the list below where Michael gives us a few of his recommendations for films and documentaries that give a more realistic portrayal of life in prison. Also keep an eye out for our next newsletter, in which Michael and I will have a more in-depth conversation on activism and the failures of our current prison system.

Additional Resources

 Michael especially enjoys Michelle Alexander on Mass Incarceration and The New Jim Crow as well as the NPR interview and review. He also suggests the feature documentaries "Visions of Abolition" and "It’s More Expensive to do Nothing" (link unavailable). Finally, Michael recommends this video interview with Dr Carl Hart about drug addiction, and a this post on the Prison Industrial Complex.

Breaking Free from a Cycle of Violence

By Sharon Svec

Abuse is never straight-forward. Tools like the power and control wheel show that abusers will often use multiple ways to gain power and control in a relationship. Breaking free from an abuser is a huge step, but at YWCA advocates do all they can to ensure that violence is not tolerated or perpetuated in the future. By providing education and solution-oriented support for survivors of domestic violence, YWCA helps break the cycle of violence.

The Strengthening Families, Ending Violence Project is one such support service offered by the SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program of YWCA Clark County. Through this project, advocates and shelter residents work together using an empowerment-driven model that supports the parent/child bond and ends the cycle of violence. The project is multi-faceted and has been funded through multiple sources including United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, the Looking Out Foundation, and Bank of America.

Three main aspects of the project include the children advocacy program, support groups and housing and transportation assistance. The support groups contain three additional components: DV 101 to help participants better understand the dynamics of domestic violence, a personal enhancement section to provide self-care practice, and a financial empowerment section to help residents transition out of the shelter into a financially stable environment.

Support group facilitators Ashmeeta Kumar, David Chapparo and Katheryn Manning will offer weekly sessions. The support groups will follow a cyclical curriculum based on the 60 day stay offered to shelter residents. Ashmeeta will facilitate DV 101, David will lead personal enhancement and Katheryn will address fiscal empowerment. The team leading the groups will consistently be evaluating the success of their efforts, and will make subtle adjustments to the curriculum to ensure residents are getting the most out of participation.

I recently talked with Katheryn to learn more about the fiscal empowerment section of the support groups, “I’m excited. I think that along with financial empowerment comes a lot of freedom. If you have that component, then it opens all kinds of doors for you. Being able to give financial tools that really work is very valuable.”

Utilizing a curriculum prepared by The Allstate Foundation and the National Network to End Domestic Violence, Katheryn will lead the group through the following five modules: Understanding Financial Abuse, Learning Financial Fundamentals, Mastering Credit Basics, Building Financial Foundations and Creating Budgeting Strategies. Participants will have an opportunity to implement concepts and practice new techniques with supporting activities and worksheets. Because every person’s situation is different, Katheryn believes it’s important to provide individualized support whenever possible.

Katheryn notes that at a time of transition, when everything seems up in the air, education and training like this can feel grounding and empowering. “The financial part is huge. Someone may have lost their job because of the DV. They may have had to leave their home; having to start over. It can be very overwhelming. So here you are in the shelter. You need to find shelter and take care of a lot of other things, and you need to do that in 60 days. So the empowerment part of that is to offer the encouragement that it can be done, to instill that sense of the ripple, and to be there to separate all that all out and make it manageable.”

Empowerment has always been a key part of YWCA’s mission, and by offering something more than temporary housing – by offering an entire program which empowers survivors in a variety of ways, SafeChoice embodies the mission of YWCA and models it for survivors. With funding from Bank of America, SafeChoice is able to extend that empowerment outside the doors of the shelter. Not only will survivors gain financial assistance because of grants from United Way, but they will know how to make the best use of that assistance and how to leverage it into financial independence.

Dr. Lee Faver Appointed to YWCA Clark County Board of Directors

WCA Clark County is pleased to welcome Dr. Lee Faver to the Board of Directors. Lee was sworn in January 22nd, 2014. YWCA’s diverse board currently seats 18 members who are charged with upholding the philosophical and legal obligations of the organization. As policymaker and visionary, board members are held to an ethical standard which recognizes the human dignity of all people and strives for an environment that is healthy and caring.

A licensed, board certified psychologist currently practicing at Orchards Family Medicine, Dr. Faver has a wealth of experience related to YWCA services. Related interests include treating trauma and psychological difficulties associated with family violence and abuse, serving sexual minorities, youth and LGBTQ populations, and providing training for staff answering a domestic violence hotline.

In addition to Dr. Lee Faver, board members include Anne Borus, Rev. Marva Edwards, Sherri Falkner, Angie Friauf, Don Gladson, Dena Horton, Greg Kimsey, Susan LaLone, Pam Loh Veljacic, Emily Oliva, Cathy Ramer, David K. Reiter, Leslie Runyan, Kayla Tiano Kelly Nolen, Kevin Weaver, and Megan Vaughn, who serves as the President.

To learn how you can join this team, and uphold a mission to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all, contact April at 360 696 0167.