WASHINGTON—Pamela Smith brought her 24-year fight for justice to the nation’s capital with a weekend of events. “I was raped, assaulted and abused while incarcerated,” she told The Final Call. She wants her rapist brought to trial.
Ms. Smith spent the July 23 weekend conducting a press conference and taking her message around the city to call for justice to her case. “I took the messages out about the rape of female offenders and how Black mothers’ voices need to be heard,” said Ms. Smith.
She was arrested for credit card and check fraud. “I was guilty as charged but it didn’t say go to prison and be raped. It didn’t say I had to be violated with a glass saltshaker.”
Ms. Smith was incarcerated in 1994. While there she was approved to participate in a work release program at a low security facility. She was assigned to be a housekeeper at a drivers’ license facility for the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety in Tulsa. Her onsite supervisor was Donald Reed Cochran, Sr., a state drivers’ license examiner. After she started the job, her troubles began.
“They have been doing this to Black women since our ancestors were brought here,” Ms. Smith said. “The White man has always used and violated our bodies. The same thing is going on to this day in the prisons in Oklahoma and I know all over the country.”
She charged that Mr. Cochran repeatedly raped and sexually tortured her on the job site. He silenced her with threats of reporting her, which would have sent her out of the work program and into a higher security correctional facility with lost privileges.
For over two decades Ms. Smith tried to have her case litigated. Her list of allegations includes incidents of evidence destroyed, files tampered with, witness intimidation, and falsified legal notices, all of which ultimately led to a dismissed $5 million lawsuit she filed in a state court in 2019.
She has accused several state agencies of conspiracy to obstruct justice: the Department of Corrections, Department of Public Safety, the district attorney’s office, and the Attorney General’s office among them.
“[Oklahoma authorities] have to lie, cheat, obstruct justice, cover-up, abuse their power and conspire against me and my case to get away with all the corruption they have done against me,” Ms. Smith said.
“I keep fighting to expose the state of Oklahoma, so they have to keep lying, destroying evidence and misinforming law enforcement and Oklahoma taxpayers to hide their hands and keep from going to jail,” Ms. Smith continued.
“They know once the truth comes out, many of them and their buddies are going to be locked up and they don’t want that. They don’t want to answer for their wrongdoings. Accountability.”
Ms. Smith took her case to the U.S. Supreme Court as a voice for other female victims. In a rare move by reaching out to several legal entities outside of the state of Oklahoma, including a federal judge in New York City, she was able to finally get her writ submitted to the Supreme Court in Pamela Smith v. PacerMonitor, LLC, et al. However, the country’s highest court denied hearing the case.
“The condition of the world will not change unless we as Black men honor, respect and protect Black women,” Anthony Muhammad, Nation of Islam Mid-Atlantic Student Prison Reform Minister, told The Final Call. He helped arrange Ms. Smith’s trip to D.C. “This means supporting her in all of her fights,” said Student Min. Muhammad.
“This weekend was a good opportunity where we learned how to access places for public protest. If you petition and push you can get things done. I was able to get a permit for her rally at the Black Lives Matter Plaza. We then moved to the front gates of the White House,” he added.
D.C. resident Malcolm Harvey attended the rally and press conference for Ms. Smith at the White House. “It was very courageous of her to speak about what took place and then relive it. She committed to talking about this, so it doesn’t happen to anyone else. She wants justice for herself and other women.”
Human Rights Watch reported that at least 15 percent of the more than 200,000 women incarcerated in the U.S. have experienced sexual assault during their time behind bars.
These assaults occur primarily at the hands of male correctional officers who can perform strip searches at any time or watch as women shower and use the toilet. Further, experts suggest reported assaults remain much lower than actual incidents as many inmates opt for silence in fear of retaliation from guards and supervisors.
The report explains that some male corrections officers have also forced women inmates into degrading and dehumanizing sex acts. They allegedly threaten women with filing false reports to parole boards, plant contraband in their cells and even prohibit visits from children and family.
D.C. is just the first step of a tour to take Pamela Smith’s message around the country.
“I want to be the voice for the voiceless,” said Ms. Smith. “I want to represent women that people have wrote off in society. I want to take my message around the world. If the state officials think for one moment that I’m going to be quiet with all the abuse and neglect Black women suffer, think again,” she said.
“White women lie and get justice. Black women can tell the truth and get called liars. I’m fighting for justice for my sisters around the world.”—Nisa Islam Muhammad, staff writer