Gultan Kisanak writes: “Being a female political prisoner”
“Being a female political prisoner” is a rather broad subject, which is why I will approach the issue as “incarceration and the right to healthcare.” However, a brief analysis on the topic of incarceration and women will make the topic easier to understand.
I want to start by looking for an answer to the question, “what are the true crimes of incarcerated women?” Because this is the root of the problem. What does it mean to be a female political prisoner? Why is it considered criminal for women to engage in politics?
Historically, prisons have always been the realm for the self-realization of a regime’s power. In a society without hierarchical power relations, there are no prisons. With regard to women, prisons are the places victims of the patriarchal system are shut up in. I will not get into the details here, however, in the given patriarchal system those who hold power (people of the dominant gender, class, race, or ethnicity) determine the rules while those without power are expected to obey. Those who do not live by these rules or who consciously oppose them are imprisoned, subjected to inequality, pressure, and exploitation so that the hierarchical system can be maintained. Female political prisoners are among the group of people who consciously protest the patriarchal system. The modern legal system does not exist in a society in which gender, race, or class issues have been entirely resolved and in which inequalities have been eradicated. However, the wording of the constitutions, which form the basis of the legal system, is based on equality and tries to strike a balance with the freedom of advice and non-violent action. However, in a country like ours where authoritarian repressive powers are in question, the possibility of exercising these rights is also eliminated. The regime’s unlimited power descends upon society with all its might. What is called the "state of rights" turns into a "state of laws" or even a "state of decrees.” The law, which has become an extension of political power, becomes a means of limiting society instead of limiting power.
In this system based on male domination, women are naturally the ones who are restricted. This is why women are not spared from being questioned even if they are the ones who have been killed. Questions such as “was the woman perhaps dressed provocatively, did she lead someone on, why was she outside at night?” go on without an end in sight. Women who want to do politics and participate in the administration also get their fair share from the anger of the authoritarian regime. As a result of this general political trend, prisons are full of female dissidents from all social segments and all age groups. The most basic rights — the right to freedom of thought (press release, political rally speeches, social media posts, news/articles, etc.), the right to organize (political party work, public meetings, associations, platforms, public assembly, etc.), the right to action (protest, demonstration, rally, march, etc.) — have been abolished by the government. Although these rights are still granted to all citizens under the current Constitution and laws, the actual exercise of these rights by dissidents is considered a "terrorist crime.” Morning and evening, state affiliated media qualifies the entire opposition as “enemies of the state” through different discourses. At this point, of the country is a “terrorist/enemy.”
“THE RESULT OF DISOBEDIENCE IN THE PUBLIC SPACE IS IMPRISONMENT”
Returning to the question, “what are the true crimes of incarcerated women?” we can say that women are the perpetrators of disobedience to the oppressive/authoritarian regime. The meaning of the phrase "obey and relax" is the principle of "if you do not obey, you will be punished.” Women who oppose the prison of the family (home) face the power's imposition of " obey and relax" when they go out into the public arena. The result of disobedience in the public space is imprisonment. Women who want to be political subjects are being squeezed into a place between a "family prison" or a "state prison." However, women's quest for freedom pushes against the walls of all prisons and all the boundaries drawn by male domination. Women no longer fit within four walls. Prisons are an area of necessity. Life in prison is a set of rules that conflict with most fundamental rights and freedoms. Those who set the rules have also left room for "prerogative" to the implementers of those rules. Many rules are indefinite, open to the interpretation of the practitioner, and can be used against people. The "law of impunity," which is an extension of the notion of the sacred state, is the main ground that encourages this arbitrariness. Women generally experience this arbitrariness and unlawfulness faced by all prisoners with unique aspects due to their gender identity. Women, who try to bring life into existence in areas monitored by cameras 24 hours a day, naturally learn to approach with caution. Inside the prison, which is surrounded by concrete walls and iron gates, there is an inner prison built with cameras. When the listening and recording of telephone and visit calls are considered; it is clear to see that their personal living spaces are destroyed. Prisons consist of cells within cells of physical barriers, regulations, technological forces, cameras, and listening devices. Like matryoshkas, prisons within prisons…
The despotic man’s imposition of "you cannot leave the house without my permission" and the despotic power’s imposition of “you cannot have a political view outside the boundaries I have drawn" are the products of the same mentality. The closure serves the purpose of "domestication.” The creature called man has domesticated animals, whose byproducts and power he wants to benefit from, by "enclosing" them and putting them to his service. Man has also turned the bread and body of the woman he has “tamed” into a field of exploitation by confining her to the house and taking away her personal rights. Prisons of the patriarchal system await women who become gender conscious, pursue their rights, demand for freedom, and escape from the home prison. After the prison of the home, female political prisoners are again putting up a fight for a free life this time against the prison of the system.
In addition to these ideological functions, prisons are places that lead to the deterioration of the mental and physical health of the person. In fact, I think the most general definition of "torture" is all kinds of external struggles and practices that cause deterioration in the physical and mental health of the person. Social isolation, constant monitoring/control; these are a source of anxiety, fear, and inner tension. Taking away the possibilities of productivity/creativity and having to repeat a monotonous life every day is a way of life that hinders personal development and even regresses it. If I mention a few prohibitions, I think the extent of the limitation becomes clearer. For example, in the F-type prison, colored pencils are prohibited. However, if the administration has opened a painting course, if you can attend that course, you can use colored pencils in your workshop, you cannot take the pencils to your cell. Books are given through control and in a certain number, and anything you write does not just leave like that. You cannot give the book you read to someone else in prison. You cannot access the resources you want to do research, you cannot access an article about current academic studies, because computer printout materials are prohibited. However, printed works as books are accepted to the prison. The damage caused by physical conditions on human health, as well as ill-treatment and torture are issues that need to be examined on their own. Despite all the efforts of non-governmental organizations working on human rights, very few of the problems experienced in prisons are reflected to the public.
“WHAT HAPPENS HERE, STAYS HERE”
Prisons are the private spheres of the powers/state. What happens here, stays here. Besides the "impunity" policy, prisons are similar to the way women who are unable to make a decision to leave or to ask for a restraining order endure male violence in the home. The prisoner, who will be faced with the same officials the next day, learns that especially if she does not have the means to receive strong family / lawyer / public support, any efforts will be in vain, and she starts to become accustomed to many practices. Political prisoners are constantly targeted for raising their voices to seek justice and to object to wrongdoing.
HEALTH PROBLEMS IN PRISON
Actually, “being a female political prisoner” is a very broad title. I had initially wanted to write more about access to health services. However, without explaining the general context, the prison/health relationship would not be clear enough. The general problems in the health system in Turkey are known. Prisoners, on the other hand, face additional problems in accessing health care due to their position in the prison system. It is not possible for me to give a detailed explanation in this article, but; I would like to explain this issue in detail, since facing emergency health problems carries the risk of death for those left alone in the cell. The first step of health services in prisons starts in the infirmary. Although the practice of each prison is different, there is usually a primary care physician and two to three healthcare workers in the infirmary once a week or at most two days a week. Infirmaries are usually unequipped, just used as a room for hospital referrals. When prisoners get sick, they have to wait for the day when there is a doctor in the infirmary. Making an appointment with the hospital, the gendarmerie's ring vehicle, the staff arrangements; It is not easy for prisoners to reach the hospital even if there is no intention to cause them harm. When there is a health problem that requires immediate intervention, prisoners face a risk to their life. If the guards believe the situation is urgent, the emergency room is notified. Since incoming paramedics cannot enter the prison, the sick person is taken all the way to the exit of the prison. Since it is forbidden to take the prisoners to the hospital by ambulance, the patient is taken to the hospital by the gendarmerie by ring vehicle after the paramedics provide first aid services. It often takes a long time for the gendarmerie to arrange vehicles and personnel. Since prisons are usually outside the city, it takes a few hours to get to the hospital. Even if there is no ill intent or negligence, this procedure itself is such a serious obstacle to the right to health that it can have fatal consequences. The situation is even worse for those held in solitary confinement. If a person who has a sudden and serious health problem, they have to reach and press the call button. The call button in the cell being broken or closed, etc. are also ordinary possibilities. If the button is not working, you must be able to knock hard on the door and make your voice heard. If you are unable to do these, you have no chance to report your health problem to the officials until the guard comes and opens the door for any occasion (bread, food distribution, count, etc.). I think the public is familiar with sentences like "He was found dead in his cell, the autopsy revealed that the cause of death was a heart attack.” For this reason, keeping sick prisoners and people with chronic diseases alone in a cell is a major health problem that can result in death or disability.
The "single ring" vehicles used for going to and from the hospital are a complete human trap. The circumference of each seat in the ring vehicle is closed with iron plates, and single-person cabins are used. You have no chance to extend your foot even ten centimeters, or move your arm left and right. The prisoners are taken to the hospital in handcuffs in this iron box. Prisoners do not have the right to choose a doctor, or even to request that the treatment be followed up by the same doctor. As such, there is often a different physician each time during the ongoing treatment process. So much so that the doctor who performs the examination and the doctor who checks the results of the examination and prescribes medication can be different. For this reason, it is not possible to receive uninterrupted health care services. Examination without removing the handcuffs, late and incomplete arrival of drugs; There is also no possibility of supplementing the treatment with proper care and nutrition. If they are not in a solitary cell, the sick prisoners are cared for by their friends. The food provided is not enough for a healthy and balanced diet. Buying additional food from the canteen is a big problem both for economic reasons and for finding suitable foods.
Prisoners who do not speak Turkish, and the number of such people has increased considerably after the war in Syria, cannot explain their health problems and go back to prison without understanding what the doctor is saying. It is forbidden for prisoners to accompany each other or act as interpreters. Even the most severe cases are not allowed to be accompanied by friends.
WHAT DO FEMALE PRISONERS EXPERIENCE?
In addition to these general problems in accessing health services, female prisoners also face specific problems regarding gynecological examination and treatment. Routine breast cancer or cervical cancer screening, etc. is not done. Female prisoners go to the hospital only after they start to have serious health problems in these matters. Access to feminine hygiene products that should be used regularly is also a serious problem for economic reasons. However, these products related to women's health should be given free of charge.
The problems of children who have to live in prison with their mothers is another issue that needs to be addressed. Physical conditions, a social environment consisting solely of adults, prohibitions/restrictions prevent children's physical, emotional, and personal development. Children who deserve to be as free as birds grow up with prohibitions and deprivation. Children who do not have the opportunity to play with their peers are not given a large part of the toys brought from outside on the grounds of prohibition. Appropriate and adequate food/supply is not provided to children. In the F-type triple cell, either the mother or the child lies on the floor as a cradle for the child is not given. Together with children, women prisoners raise their hopes for freedom, peace, and democracy; they continue to fight for a better future for all children. In prison, love, hope, solidarity, and resistance are the cure for troubles and healing for diseases.
* This letter was written for the Turkish Medical Association’s Society and the Doctor Journal.
* Subheadings have been added by Gercek News.