Riverwise Editorial Staff
Detroit community activist Siwatu-Salama Ra was unjustly convicted of felonious assault and felony firearm possession, and imprisoned earlier this year. This was the result of Siwatu’s attempting to defend her family from an attack by a neighbor who rammed her car into Siwatu’s car, where her two year-old daughter was in the front seat. The attacker then came dangerously close to running over Siwatu’s mother.
After several verbal requests for the driver to leave, Siwatu feared for her mother’s life and held up her unloaded and registered firearm. Despite her defensive posture throughout the ordeal, Siwatu was convicted in a jury trial and sentenced to a two-year prison term. Mandatory sentencing laws prevented the judge from any discretion in sentencing. The jury had not been instructed on how the mandatory sentencing laws would affect Siwatu’s case. Siwatu was six months pregnant at the time of the conviction.
Despite strong legal and medical arguments that Siwatu should be granted a temporary release to give birth to her son, those requests were denied. Siwatu gave birth to her son Zakai on May 21st while incarcerated. Zakai was removed from his mother’s arms 48 hours later and is now in the care of Siwatu’s husband and family. During limited visitations Siwatu has been denied the right to breastfeed her newborn child.
Since Siwatu’s unjust incarceration, the effort to bring attention to her case has manifested in several fundraisers and community events. The focus of these support efforts has been the writings of Siwatu and her unit mates, who have been raising awareness around prison conditions endured by incarcerated pregnant and postpartum women.
On August 18th poets convened at the Detroit Street Filling Station in Ann Arbor to feature poetry written by Siwatu and some of the 20 other pregnant and postpartum women at the Huron Valley Women’s Correctional Facility. Siwatu’s advocacy was also uplifted at this summer’s Detroit Kite Festival. Members of the Siwatu Freedom Team collaborated with her on a “Kites on Kites” project and flew kites featuring messages collected from inside Siwatu’s unit. Those dispatches expressed the hopes and struggles for imprisoned parenting rights and recognized the children whose physical and emotional well-being has been compromised in the process.
Siwatu’s legal team has filed an appeal brief and is preparing for an upcoming bond hearing. Riverwise is honored to present poetry from Siwatu and two of her unit mates in support of their continuing struggle to bring dignity and humanity to pregnant and postpartum women and parents who remain incarcerated.
I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
in the violence of a summer stream,
in the chill of a wintry light,
in the bitter dance of loneliness fading in space.
in the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face,
I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea.
Sometimes I turn and there’s someone there,
other times its only me.
I am hanging in the balance of reality of man
like every sparrow fallen,
like every grain of sand.
The hours are cruel
the minutes so punishing
trapped in this cell
stuck with my mind wondering
there is only so much you can think in a day
there is only so much words to put on paper to say
hoping to hear your name when the officer passes by,
when she walks right on by,
a little piece of your happiness dies.
No words today, maybe tomorrow sitting feeling lonely
time is all you can borrow.
Keep hope alive is my daily mantra
won’t go back to the old life, look where that’s gotcha.
One day at a time, keep moving forward,
be humble and kind, freedom to be adored.
by Jessica Ayeres
I had a dream that I was hugging Kalief
I started crying, heart tired and soul aching.
I told him I couldn’t do much longer, he held me
tighter and said that my pain was a blessing and
not to be confused.
He said Michael Brown said hold on because relief
was coming, just the other day Tamir was standing tall
and Eric was taking deep breaths of peace and that they
remembered their promises before birth.
So be EMPOWERED and do not feel defeated. Injustices
have always been used to awaken the powerful, how do
you think Trayvon found his throne?
Let the pain guide you and be grateful that you received
the wrongdoing and not the one who gave it.
Tell everyone to remember their promises before birth
that they can remember them in silence and through
their actions of kindness.
Be excited that our time is now.
by Siwatu-Salama Ra
For more frequent updates, or to donate or otherwise support the ‘Free Siwatu’ campaign, please visit www.freesiwatu.org.