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Susan Rosenberg speaks on campus

Mills College Weekly

A breathless audience listened as former political prisoner and
activist Susan Rosenberg spoke passionately about her incarceration
in the Lexington women’s high security prison facility in
Lexington, KY.

An introductory video provided background on Rosenberg, who had
been part of a communist organization, and was held at the
Lexington facility until then President Bill Clinton freed her on
his last day in office.

The video illustrated the difficult conditions under which the
women were held: isolation in an underground chamber was only one
of the means employed to coerce the women to surrender their
political loyalties and give up the names of others in their

Sensory deprivation distanced prisoners from “the rhythms that
people need to live: desire, sunlight, moonlight, outside air-the
things that regular people take for granted,” said Rosenberg.

She added that systematic attacks on self-esteem undermined the
prisoners’ “power of self-determination, control over all aspects
of your life, sense of purpose, sense of being, relationship to the
outside, commitments and responsibilities to your family, your
obligation to your own past and history as a person.”

According to Rosenberg, her most profound fear was “the fear of
losing my own memory, of losing the memory of who I was,” she

Rosenberg’s fight against the system did not end with her
release. While the focus of her lecture was the inhumanity that
occurs in prisons, she was also critical of the media censorship
that exists in America.

“The level of misinformation about what is really going on is
really important,” she said, using the recent Haitian civil unrest
and subsequent news coverage as an example of misleading

“People get used to statistics-they’re important sometimes, but
these statistics are people,” she said.

Hosted by the Mills White Anti-Racist Women as well as the
Women’s Leadership Institute in conjunction with their credo of
“security, peace and justice,” Rosenberg expressed her joy at
speaking to the Mills audience and pointed out the importance of
talking about racism and activism, subjects not encouraged by
mainstream America.

When asked for her solution to the problem of incarceration,
Rosenberg replied, “That question pre-supposes that prison does
what it is supposed to do; prison doesn’t stop crime. I don’t think
we need them-the issue for me is not that it is idealist. We need
to be able to think about society that doesn’t need prison. A
literal restructuring from the ground up is what is needed, a
society that loves its people. Yeah, you bet I’m an idealist,” she