Swept away

By Nell Bernstein

By Salon Staff
July 24, 2000 11:17PM (UTC)
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Nell Bernstein introduces us to a host of people she paints as victims of conspiracy laws. We then learn that while many of the women didn't actually handle drugs themselves, they made cash pickups, phone calls and otherwise facilitated the transactions.


Would Bernstein be so opposed to the conspiracy laws if these women were convicted of helping facilitate other crimes such as murder or extortion? I doubt it. The reason we should feel sorry for these women is that they were convicted of acts that have no business being crimes in the first place.

The men these women associated with were every bit as wrongfully prosecuted as the women. The misguided, and now in the face of all we know, evil prohibition of drugs is to blame, not conspiracy laws or poor choices in men.

-- Scott D. Cosenza


I was saddened, but not surprised, by the article by Nell Bernstein. Bernstein falls into the trap of pitying these women for being female. Not one of the cases she lists is that of an innocent victim according to the words of the convicted women themselves. Bernstein and the many other sympathetic writers like her might do some wising up should they spend a year or two living in the projects, or by crack alley. I have -- I was there. I was stupid enough to be in it, and lucky enough to have pulled out in time.

I knew, and these women knew, that we were committing crimes. We just expected to get away with it. Some of us got smart in time. Some of us got busted. Save your sympathy for those who deserve it. It's just too easy to cry "victim" after the arrest.

-- Kathleen Hosley


Photojournalist Jane Evelyn Atwood claims that women generally serve longer terms than men for the same crime. Is she talking about the U.S. criminal justice system? If so, on what does she base that claim? In the U.S., even when offense histories are the same and the seriousness of the crime is the same, women are more likely than men to be made eligible for early departure and more likely to be released early. They're also more likely to be given a lower bail, to be given the opportunity to plea bargain and to go free on probation. Women who are convicted of murder are far less likely than men convicted of murder to be sentenced to death row. And women who are sentenced to death row are much less likely to be executed.

In Atwood's world of female inmates, it seems all women -- even violent, abusive women with histories of violent offenses -- are innocent victims of male cruelty. For the sake of comparison, she should visit male prisons and write sympathetically about the conditions in those institutions. This is where males are raped, beaten and murdered. (Male inmates are more likely than female inmates to be murdered in prison.) Her photo journey idealizes women and demonizes men in a typically sexist manner characteristic of feminist ideologues.


-- Christopher Heard

Thank you for printing this article. I've been hoping to see just such an article ever since I first became aware of the huge sentences being served by young women as first-time offenders on drug conspiracy cases. These women all deserve to be released and go home to their families. I hope the president pardons more and more of them. Justice demands that he do just that.

-- Laura Whitehorn

Salon Staff

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