11 Ways You Can Actually Help Women In Prison, Because 'Orange Is The New Black' Hints At A Troubling Reality
Season 6 of Orange Is The New Black is upon us, and by now, faithful viewers know to expect the horrors the show's characters endure on a day-to-day basis in a women's prison, though that doesn't make them any less disturbing. Between abusive prison guards, fighting among inmates, and worries about their friends and family back home, OITNB's prisoners also have to find ways to take basic care of their bodies and minds while on the inside, and that's the unfortunate reality for millions of women. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to actually help women in prison if the series moves you in any way. You just need to know where to look.
Litchfield may be a fictional institution, but its inmates' struggles mirror the daily lives of real women behind bars. Scarcity of tampons and other hygienic products, poorly funded libraries, pregnancy-related issues, and lack of support regarding their cases, families, and re-entry to public life are just a few of the problems that can plague inmates across the country. And that's not to mention the ways women of color, LGBTQ inmates, and inmates with disabilities are faced with unique obstacles, and are often inherently at a disadvantage within the system itself.
So, if you're rightfully horrified by the dramatized events unfolding as you marathon Orange Is The New Black, then maybe it's time to take action. There are many nonprofits and other organizations actively working to better the lives of women in prison, and whether you'd like to donate your time, money, or actual products, there's likely an option for you.
Support Reproductive Rights & Pregnant Inmates
According to its website, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) actively works to secure inmates' rights to abortion, appropriate medical care, and a healthy labor and childbirth. While the organization's website doesn't allow you to designate your donation toward a specific cause, you can donate general funds to it here.
If you're looking to get super hands-on in giving pregnant inmates a smooth and healthy birth experience, there's actually a national prison doula training event this October, put on by the Minnesota Doula Project. The group itself focuses on correctional facilities throughout Minnesota, but welcomes trainees from across the U.S. and Canada.
Help Wrongfully Convicted Women Receive Legal Assistance
Northwestern University's legal department operates a program dealing entirely with wrongfully convicted men and women in prison, and its Women's Project highlights the ways women in particular are often at a disadvantage when investigated and questioned in court. You can find information on volunteering and donating here.
Donate Books or Hold Your Own Book Drive
There are numerous organizations that work to gather reading material for women in prison. Chicago Books to Women in Prison is an organization that even takes book requests directly from the women it serves. Its website offers info on how to donate books, including an Amazon wishlist outlining current requests from inmates, and even help with hosting your own book drive and volunteering.
The Women's Prison Book Project is a similar organization based in Minneapolis, working specifically with female inmates to deliver book requests and collect general donations to distribute. Find info on how to volunteer, and to donate money and books here. It also provides a list of requested but rarely provided books that you're able to choose from.
Support Black Women & Their Communities
Color of Change is an organization that works to remedy the injustices that black men and women face everywhere, including in the criminal justice system. They aim to increase accountability of those in power, and change the system as a whole. You can donate to their causes here. The National Black Women's Justice Institute deals specifically with black women and their families, reducing discrimination against them in the system and improving their opportunities when they're released. Find more info on how to donate here.
And of course, the NAACP works to create a more fair criminal justice system for black people, and "eliminate harsh and unfair sentencing practices that are responsible for mass incarceration and racial disparities in the prison system," according to its site. You can donate here.
Help Provide Bail Throughout Holidays
The National Bail Out organization spearheads initiatives like Black Mama's Bail Out Day, which helps to release mothers who cannot afford bail from local jails on Mother's Day. They're also affiliated with the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, working to highlight the "unjust practices of money bail." They aim to collect bail for people in local facilities so they can spend holidays with their families and work on their court cases from home, according to the site. You can donate to the cause here.
Donate Feminine Hygiene Products
According to the Huffington Post, the Federal Bureau of Prisons mandated that women in its facilities would receive free pads and tampons. But because most women are housed in state and local facilities, fewer than 10 percent of female inmates were actually able to benefit from the announcement.
Groups like the Maryland-based Reproductive Justice Inside accept donations of pads and money to purchase feminine products for inmates — and you can also research what similar causes you can work with within your own community.
Advocate For Inmates With Disabilities and Mental Illnesses
The National Disability Rights Network works to improve the criminal justice system as it relates to all people with disabilities, including women, and children in the juvenile system. It accepts donations on its site. The AVID (Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities) Prison Project also advocates for inmates with disabilities throughout the country, and you can donate to its partner organizations like Disability Rights Washington.
The Treatment Advocacy Center works with inmates dealing with mental illnesses within the system, and the National Alliance for Mental Illness also works to reduce the number of inmates with mental illnesses and usher people toward treatment. Both organizations have links to donate on their sites.
Become a Pen Pal or Support A Writing Workshop
Black & Pink, an advocacy group for LGBTQ inmates, has a pen pal program that can connect you with an inmate on the inside to correspond with. There are also other groups like Human Writes, which specializes in pen pals for death row inmates, and even a simple Google search yields endless lists of incarcerated men and women looking for someone to write to.
Voices From Inside also facilitates writing groups for currently and formerly imprisoned women, according to its site, and hosts writing workshops and public readings. Its site has a volunteer application, as well as a way to easily donate to the cause.
Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop is another group with a similar goal, working specifically with incarcerated youth in the D.C. area, and helping them to better themselves through creative expression and mentoring. You can make a donation, donate books, and more on the organization's website.
Support Causes That Assist LGBTQ Inmates
Some groups work in the realms already mentioned, but specifically advocating for and assisting the LGBTQ community. The Transgender Law Center aims to target abuse of trans and gender non-conforming inmates in prisons and other kinds of detention centers, and accepts donations.
Black & Pink, linked above, creates newsletters and workshops for LGBTQ inmates in addition to its pen pal initiative.
Help Provide Yoga Classes To Inmates
Organizations like the Prison Yoga Project aim to provide yoga classes to inmates of all kinds, with some specializing in women inmates, in order to help them practice mindfulness and physical health during their sentences. You can train to become a yoga instructor within their program, or send a monetary donation.
Become Involved With Women-Led Organizations
The Young Women's Freedom Center is an organization run entirely by formerly incarcerated or otherwise system-involved women who work together to support one another, advocate for those still being held in juvenile centers, and assist with creating successful life upon release. You can donate to their work here.
This list's suggestions are far from the only ways you can help female inmates. For every nationally recognized group doing great work, there's likely a local affiliate or smaller organization in your own city that has a similar goal, and if there's not, take the initiative to start one yourself. Vote for politicians who share your beliefs in prison reform and inmate treatment, and search for related causes you're passionate about. The options are out there — let these women know they're not alone.