The Lost Women by Michael Parenti

jail protest

Image by Michaelann Bewsee via Flickr

by Michael Parenti
Writer, Dandelion Salad
michaelparenti.org
December 25, 2015

For many poor women, welfare and family assistance was their primary means of escaping abusive mates. Such programs provided support for them and their children. Cutbacks in welfare have now caused a dramatic drop in the number who dare attempt to flee hurtful relationships. Low paying jobs, chronic unemployment, and poverty in general have left many impoverished women with few survival resources.

In desperate attempts at finding means of support and escaping their batterers, some women turn to drug dealing—which, in turn, helps explain the sharp increase in the female prison population. In recent years, the number of women in prison has climbed to over 200,000 with African-American women being hardest hit by the lock-’em-up craze.

Incarcerated women endure poor medical care, sexual harassment, forced strip searches, beatings, and repeated rape by male guards. The United States is one of the few countries that allow unaccompanied male staff to supervise female prisoners.

What kind of women end up in prison? Mostly young single mothers with few job skills, many having left home early because of sexual or physical abuse, many with a drug or alcohol addiction to ease the pain of their lives. Almost all have been living in or near poverty. Most of them are convicted of prostitution, shoplifting, petty drug dealing, or passing bad checks to feed themselves and their children.

It should come as no surprise that none of them are big-time narcotics traffickers, gangsters, crooked contractors, or financial embezzlers. The latter seldom see the inside of a penitentiary.

Few imprisoned women have committed an act of violence, though many have been victims of violence in their lives. Many are charged as accessories to crimes committed by boyfriends or ex-boyfriends who implicate them in order to get lighter sentences for themselves. Some women have been given life in prison without parole for conspiracy to distribute drugs, even though they played only tangential roles to the men involved.

Heavy sentences are also inflicted upon those who resort to self-defense. Often a woman’s choice is twenty years in prison for injuring or killing her domestic abuser or getting beaten to death herself. This war against women is part of the “war against crime.” We are supposed to feel more secure thanks to all these heartless measures.


Michael Parenti is an award winning, internationally known author. His most recent books are The Face of Imperialism (a critique of the U.S. global empire; 2011) and Waiting for Yesterday: Pages from a Street Kid’s Life (an ethnic memoir about his early life in Italian Harlem; 2013); and Profit Pathology and Other Indecencies. For further information about his work, visit his website: www.michaelparenti.org.

from the archives:

Chris Hedges Calls Out Corporate America for Their Complicity in Neoslavery + Quentin Tarantino, Cornel West, Victims’ Families Decry Police Violence

Abby Martin: Tortured and Enslaved: Enter the World’s Biggest Prison

Chris Hedges: How Prisons Ripoff and Exploit the Incarcerated, Part 1

Chris Hedges: How Prisons Rip Off and Exploit the Incarcerated, Part 2

How Is a Prison Like a War? by David Swanson + Chris Hedges: Poverty, Racism & Policing, Mass Incarceration, Resistance and Social Transformation

6 responses to “The Lost Women by Michael Parenti

  1. Pingback: Chris Hedges: The Prison-Industrial Complex | Dandelion Salad

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  4. I got radicalised by Canadian feminists; really and truthfully, the rights of women should be top of the agenda all over the world. Without that, we don’t have a prayer.

    • I agree about the rights of women worldwide, David.

      However, I cannot promote a video that glorifies women soldiers.

      • Thanks Lo, naturally I respect that.

        It’s a difficult call. I mean what do you do, if you are a woman who is under direct threat? When you know that brutally ignorant and fanatically determined, ideologically perverted, predatory misogynists intent on rape, torture and dismemberment are seeking you out ~ by design?

        Do you propose to talk to them nicely about forgiveness when they burst in upon you, or do you resort to more robust measures? I know what I would do if I was a woman under such incontrovertibly murderous threat.

        These extraordinarily brave Kurdish girls I alluded to are not aggressors, only defenders; they have decided to act from necessity, refusing to surrender to brute violence.

        None of this would be occurring, had the state perpetrators of this despicable villainy acted wisely, nobly and honourably in the very first instance. There is no responsibility without accountability.

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