Zeitgeist: The spirit of the times. I love that word. It has a certain trill to it as I say it out loud. I first heard it in a Sociology class a number of years ago. It meant something different to me then. I had yet to experience a modern day witch hunt, no less be part of the witch hunt.
The spirit of times in Alaska is bent on serving up women a moral piece of the bureaucratic pie, dished out with a huge helping of federal funds, and a side of religion. What happened to the belief that America was built upon, that each man has the right to do what he wants to do with his own life as long as he does not interfere with his neighbour’s pursuit of happiness? Maybe I am held to a different standard because I am a woman, and an independent, forward-minded one at that.
The war on drugs has turned into the war on sex. Prostitution was a part of Alaska before it became a state. Independent-minded women came during the gold rush to acquire their share of riches.
American people are often as devoted to the idea of sin and punishment as they are to making money and spending it. Recently, fighting against sex work has become big business. How does this happen? Moving sex work indoors and organising it has only brought greater punishment. Usually when sex and money are entangled, politicians take a moral stand, and the situation will most likely get worse before it gets better.
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Recently created Alaskan laws have upped the consequences of sex work. Prostitution is now sex trafficking, and misdemeanours have turned felony. I cannot help but wonder, would this be happening if men were organising for safety and support, or would that just be called unionising.
Do I, as a woman, have the same rights as a man?
Often, even in jail, women are treated like second-class citizens. We, as women, have more hoops to jump through to be eligible for furlough. There are long wait lists for substance-abuse treatment and anger management classes that may be necessary before furlough eligibility. We are repeatedly denied mail if there isn't a full address on the envelope, if our child coloured a picture with crayons, if they use their nickname when they sign the letter and it doesn't match the name on the envelope.
In Alaskan prison, I earn about $0.45 an hour, approximately a third of my male counterparts. Often, we are meek and quiet, unlikely to make waves, more likely to go along with things because ramifications are, in themselves, a deterrent. Segregation. Loss of commissary. More mail issues.
The incarcerated men in Alaska had MP3 players, cable, additional educational opportunities, before incarcerated women. Why? Simply put, men are more vocal and organised in pursuit of their prisoner rights.
Sentencing can be ineffective, and it's a moment that defines every moment for the rest of your life. I was sentenced for sex trafficking. Five years. Flat. The zeitgeist in Alaska deems that prostitution is sex trafficking. If women are working together for safety and security, for screening and support, it is a crime.
I am caught in the middle, denied colourful pictures from my daughter, denied letters signed with her nickname. As I write this, with "good time credit," and the time I have already served, I have 29 months remaining on my sentence.
It is 2016 and Alaska has just begun the fight, backed with federal funds, against sex workers. Let's see what 2016 will bring to the fight.
This story by Amber Batts was originally published on Ravishly.com, a feminist news+culture website.More from Ravishly: