Since the publication of Lilith’s feature story on Jewish women prisoners at New York State’s Bedford Hills Correctional Facility [“Jewish Women in Jail, ” Lilith #5], there have been events of note in the lives of some of the women we talked with.
Karen Ramos, 36, sentenced to 15-years-to-life, received clemency from Governor Hugh Carey, and was released in February. She has moved into her own apartment in New York City. When she first came home from jail and lived with her parents, her mother couldn’t understand why she wanted to keep her bedroom door shut. “Just to read the newspaper, or take a nap, and know that no one is watching you is wonderful,” said Ramos.
While appreciative of the support the LILITH article gave her case, Ramos expressed dismay in a recent interview that the piece had called attention to conflicts between the black women at Bedford (the majority of the prison population) and the white, Jewish women. “My best friends at Bedford were two of the black women who were active with me in CALD (the Committee Against Life for Drugs),” she said.
Ramos is now working for the two lawyers who were instrumental in freeing her and who had been in touch with her throughout her three years at Bedford. “They’re my heroes, of course,” said Ramos. She and the attorneys are involved with helping other prisoners sentenced on drug charges.
Ramos reported that recent changes in the New York State drug laws will lead to some prisoners’ being resentenced and given reduced terms. The new laws, however, do not affect the 158 prisoners serving life terms for drugs; their only recourse is clemency from the Governor. To join the public pressure for clemency, write to:
Governor Hugh L. Carey
Albany, NY 12224
Madeline Pinetta, 36, who was serving a 25-years-to-life term on drug charges, received clemency a few months after Ramos and was released at the end of May.
Harriet Schwartz, referred to as “Marge” in LILITH’s feature, is circulating a petition in the hopes of receiving clemency. She is in the sixth year of a 15-years-to-life term. For copies of the petition and/or to learn more about the case, write to her c/o LILITH and we will forward the letter.
Two days before Passover was celebrated by Jews everywhere else, the Jewish women at Bedford held their seder. Each prisoner was allowed outside guests, in addition to their chaplain, Rabbi Rone, and volunteers from Mt. Kisco’s Cong. Bet Torah who visit the women regularly, and their spouses. Rabbi Rone also invited LILITH editors Aviva Cantor and Susan Weidman Schneider to the seder.
About 50 people attended, including a babe-in-arms, the grandchild of one of the prisoners. The atmosphere was lively and festive, and the meal, catered and served by the volunteers, traditional.
The hagadah, however, was not the standard version but a feminist ceremony written by Cantor, and conducted by Rabbi Rone. He said:
“It’s very difficult to speak about freedom in a prison setting, but the use of the feminist hagadah made this Passover especially meaningful for the women.”
LILITH’s notice requesting contributions for subscriptions to jailed women has brought donations from Isabel Auerbach, Batya Bauman, Michael Berkowitz Jeanne E. Brodsky, Beryl Chassin, Karen Cook, Allan Kaplan, Janet Kelman, Celia Klein, Joan Leven-thal, Louise E. Rothstein, Jean Stern, Janice Stiers, Gloria Ulmer, Gail Whitty and Jill Yolen. Much thanks to all of the above.