September 27th marked the second benefit dedicated to anarchist prisoners and in effort to illuminate the inhumane conditions of the prison system and forced labor therein. The focus for this night was Anastazia Schmid, who is serving a fifty-year sentence at the Indiana Women’s Prison, the first women's prison in America, for the murder of her abusive male partner.
A member of Evansville Letters to Prisoners visited with Anastazia and drew inspiration from her extensive work revealing the history of torture, sterilization and genital mutilation in the name of medical science carried out on prisoners at Indiana Women’s Prison, which she elaborates on in her zine "The Most Virtuous Vagina... Captive Patients: Female Slaves and Prisoners in 19th Century in America." Anastazia also authored the zine "Shackled Sex" on the restriction and shame enforced on any physical contact with other inmates, criminalizing affection and sexuality as blatant suppression of female identity and expression. Her research parallels Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici, a literary work examining female persecution from the standpoint that the witch trials, as Anastazia states, instigated "primal fear that led to silencing sexual genocide and captivation of women as modes for subjugation to ensure, and as a means to secure patriarchal authority, power and control, and to enslave the female body to birth and nurture the new labor force," a theme which resonated throughout the benefit.
Anastazia also founded The Monkey Project, a symbolic creation of hardship and hope for anyone suffering from loss, addiction, abuse or related to those suffering. The project started when Anastazia made a stuffed monkey tattooed with meaningful symbols as a source of comfort for a fellow inmate who was suffering from trauma and grief, and she now offers to make personalized monkeys for anyone who wants one.
The event kicked off by lighting a fire pit under a cauldron with seats surrounding for sharing stories and information. A banner hung over the back entrance signaling "No gods No masters Only witches and their Magik" on one side and the contact information for ACAB (a community dedicated to financial judgment-free assistance to those needing reproductive health procedures). These banners, as well as some of the literature available at the event, coincide with women reclaiming ownership over their bodies, lives, medical needs and abilities. Fundamental livelihoods like these were demonized and institutionalized by the witch trials, and it has since been instilled that women remain powerlessly under the public/state mandated reproductive and mental health laws.
Artwork presented consisted of hand drawn sketches of Annastazia and paintings of captive women, women enveloped in darkness and a woman pulling her insides out with a coat-hanger. Imagery that felt akin to all above mentioned.
One piece depicted a woman's experience in prison: "To boost morale to the male prisoners, a girl in my cell would flash her body through the bean box,* as [the men] were being marched down the halls."
*A "bean box" or "bean slot" is the slot through which food is passed to inmates.
Performers included Mark O'Cummings whose electronic noise set was hauntingly loud and perfectly disruptive. Projected against the wall behind Mark was the film Joan of Arc by Ingrid Bergman.
Second band was Boner City who are self-proclaimed (and seconded!) "punk, surf, rocknroll, queer af" with film The Devils projected behind them.
Last act was Carrick McDonald and his guitar echoing into the evening as we settled down and set off into directions with more information, comradeship and the itch that it's making an impact.