An open letter from Maria Butina to Angela Davis, edited for clarity
Dear Professor Davis,
My name is Maria Butina, I am a member of the Russian parliament. However, I am writing this open letter to you not as a state official, not even as a Russian citizen.
I am writing to you as a human being, as a woman, as a sister who has been through the same experience as you. I was an inmate in an American prison for 15 months and 10 days, and I promised to your black incarcerated sisters to write this letter personally to you.
I don’t want to talk about politics or political ideas. Even my case, believe or not, doesn’t matter right now. What really matters is the horrible conditions in which your black sisters are suffering right now in prisons and jails across the US.
I have been through the whole hell of the CCB (Central Cell Block) in Washington, DC – lines and lines of iron-cold and concrete cells where poor women scream in pain all night through, where we sang your black gospel songs together so the screaming wouldn’t hurt too much. You, Angela, know that they don’t even give women pads, so all the metal walls are covered with menstrual blood. You know, I am sure, that there is no drinking water in the cells and the most one can get for breakfast, lunch and dinner is a sandwich of baloney, two slices of cheese, two little cookies, and ketchup on the side. We had to share this “meal,” two of us, with my bunkie since they just forgot to give her one.
Angela, these women were constantly begging for help, but no one listens to their voices. They, you know Ms. Davis, are dreaming of plea bargains, since there is no other chance for them to get out. They agree to plead guilty to anything in these conditions, they would confess to anything, even crazy and notorious crimes. And the prosecutors are happy to take these “voluntary” pleas. They do not care who is really guilty and who is not. They just want to clean their beautiful, American-dream streets of those they don’t like. The poor black people. They don’t want to hear what led them to be homeless, begging for food and money on these streets. They don’t want to solve the problem. They are vacuum-cleaning the streets, throwing those in need in prison cells to work there for pennies. This is the America no one should see and no one should talk about. I promised my fellow inmates that I would to find you and shed light on what is going on. I promised that to your sisters who have become mine, too.
I am in the minority, well, basically, I am the only one here in Russia who knows for sure that BLM is real. Yes, it is. Yes, in modern America. This is not a political game, as many in the world and in my country, sadly, too, want to see it. Like, you know, Republicans’ and Democrats’ games. No. This is real and I have been talking about this everywhere I could – in the media, on social networks, on TV. Unfortunately, I could only do it in Russia, because in the US they literally shut my mouth so well, no one could hear the truth. Let me give you an example. Lesley Stahl came to do an interview with me in prison and later after my release in Moscow. On camera, I told her everything about the discrimination that I witnessed against black women in prison. But, guess what? They simply cut this part out of the 60 Minutes show. I tried to publish my book Prison Diary in the US where I wrote about the issue as well. Guess what? No one was interested in publishing it.
However, I will keep trying, Angela. I promised my sisters that I would put the truth out.
Black people in the US have nothing like equality, nothing like equal rights – they have lived in ghettos for years, so they are living in the same nightmare today. I won’t even use the word ghetto in quotes, because I really mean ghetto. These poor neighborhoods of, for example, the southeast of Washington, DC, are just like ghettos.
I have to confess, Angela, I have been on the other side. Me and my American boyfriend, as well as his white friends, laughed at black people, saying their poverty was the result of their laziness, and their inability to read fluently was linked to a lack of mental capacity to learn as well as white people.
I was wrong. And ending up in jail to see how wrong I had been was a blessing. God gave me a chance to see the truth. God gave me a chance to see with my own eyes what is going on behind those walls. God gave me the chance to become a famous person. God gave me a platform to speak publicly. And it would be a true crime for me to stay silent now.
You would probably ask me, Why now?
It has been exactly three years since I was released. As I mentioned earlier, I wrote a book in Russian in which I talked about all the hardships that black people are living through in prisons. I also wrote that, despite the hell around them, they always stayed so kind, generous and nice to me, saving their humanity through insanity. They, your black sisters, who were the majority in ADC, VA, where I served my time for the first ten months, knew that I was Russian but they couldn’t have cared less about this. They couldn’t have cared less what my crime was. They loved me, they helped me just as sisters do, as humans should. They taught me to pray when I forgot the words of prayer, they gave me clothes when I was freezing in a solitary cell, they gave me food when I hadn’t any money, they gave me water when I was dying of thirst. They changed me from a pure righty to a pure lefty, learning that a government’s responsibility is to help those in need. The market’s invisible hand does not work.
In merely a month, you have the midterms in the United States. I have been following the agenda very closely in the hope of seeing that one or other political party would pay attention to the US prisons but sadly I don’t hear any voices speaking about it. You are the hope for all of us. The hope for all these women in prison cells on their bunks.
Sadly, in the upcoming midterms, the candidates are focused on pure political populism – they are talking about more money for foreign military campaigns, toying with each other over political images, making tons of claims, empty promises and declarations, saying how they do care about minorities and races equally. But all this looks like vocal populism, Angela. Watching all this, I wonder how, let’s say, kissing someone’s shoes and kneeling down on camera near black people really helps even one little girl or boy living in a poor neighborhood ghetto without any real access to a good school, nutritious food, a good house, or a fair income for mom and dad?! They fail to address not just prison conditions; they stay totally silent as to what actually leads black people to have their families ruined when one of the parents goes to prison for years and years, and why then their kids are effectively destined to be locked up next?! They pretend not to know about “three hots and a cot,” as inmates around me used to say when they felt lucky… gosh, they really meant it – to be lucky to end up in jail – since they have never had a chance of making ends meet, of earning enough money to survive. This is the issue they really need to address – real inequality is when you have no chance of raising your kids, giving them a good education, finding a good job with a fair wage. They create a facade of fighting for racial rights but do nothing to really win the battle for equality.
Angela, you see that I am writing from the depth of my heart. I am addressing you, since you have become a symbol for millions of incarcerated females, whose lives have been ruined, who have been led to drugs, stealing and prostitution to survive. Please be our hope, please raise your voice again and again. There is just a month left before the midterms. Please push them to look into the unpleasant, disgusting darkness of prison cells and learn the real-life stories of the women there. Make them face this problem and change the country for the better.
I will be always at your service to help our minority sisters in need, as once they helped me to get through a nightmare.
I believe in light, but I also believe that in order to get there, we all need to go through the dark times of fighting.
Sorry for my language. English is not my native language, but these words are sincere.
My phone: +74956924501
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