Jail Term Spurs Woman To Aid Female Prisoners

December 12, 1990|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

TANEYTOWN - Yvonne Small stood up for one cause and was sent to prison, but that didn't stop her from coming out with a new one.

Small was sentenced in October to serve six to 12 months in jail for trespassing at a top-secret military installation during a peace vigil last Aug. 8.

After she was in jail for just 10 days, the Adams County judge who put her there decided to reduce her sentence. He released the 45-year-old director of the Peace Resource Center in Frederick on Nov. 28. She received a form letter -- without any explanation -- releasing her after having served 30 days in the Detention Center.

In an interview Tuesday, Small talked of the wonderful women she met in the prison and the "Alice in Wonderland" quality of incarceration.

But while there, she was troubled by what she perceived as the second-class status of the women. She took her concerns to the warden, and believes she may have left the place a little better than she found it.

Small; her husband, James; and Baltimore resident Richard Ochs were arrested after they blocked the entrance to Site R, an alternate military command center nestled in Pennsylvania's Raven Rock Mountain near the Mason-Dixon Line. The site would be used to direct military operations in the event of a nuclear disaster.

The men pleaded guilty to trespassing, and each was fined $100.

But Small told Adams Court of Common Pleas Judge Oscar F. Spicer that she could not pay a fine "in good conscience." He sent her to jail Oct. 29.

Small said jail was like a microcosm of society.

"All the problems that confront you in society -- racism, sexism, classism -- exist in jail," said Small. "If you are poor in prison, you're just as bad off as you are on the outside."

She said the most disorienting thing about jail was that a lot of the rules didn't make sense and were constantly changing.

"Sometimes it seemed the rules depended on which guards were on duty and what they were feeling," she said. "One day you could have sweat suits with pockets, and the next day you couldn't.

And while Small said she found the variable rules disturbing, she was even more concerned that women in the jail were not given the same privileges as men.

She said many other female inmates -- who ranged in number from three to eight during Small's stay -- were sent to jail because of drug- or alcohol-related crimes.

But, she said, they had no access to Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or religious services, spending the bulk of their days watching television, only able to go outside occasionally.

The 100 male inmates had access to all types of programs and were allowed outside on a regular basis, she said.

Small said she was shocked by the disparity and discussed it with her fellow inmates. They asked the warden to come in and listen to their concerns, and after he did, he suggested they compile a list of the changes.

Of all the inmates' suggestions, only one was denied, she said.

"Some of the women who had children had asked if they could wear street clothes when their children came to visit instead of the prison uniform," said Small. "The warden said that would not be allowed for security reasons."

One day, the warden allowed Small to go shopping with a guard to buy some of the arts and crafts inmates requested. The East Baltimore Street grandmother of two still wears an embroidered bracelet a fellow inmate made for her.

"The change in the inmates was amazing," said Small. "It was neat to see people producing something. Before they were given something to do, there were always a lot of complaints. After, there was still the same food, but not as many complaints about it."

Small said Thanksgiving Day in jail was difficult, but it was not the hardest day she spent there. While she was incarcerated, Small's 8-month-old grandson had a seizure that left him temporarily unable to move.

"That was the hardest thing. When I came back into cell block after finding out, the women saw I was crying and gathered around me and gave me hugs. Those women were from different backgrounds, but they had the same need to be loved and accepted."

Small, who has been arrested at Site R twice, said she did not know if she will block the entrance when a group marks the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Japan there next year.

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