Public Secrets
By Sharon Daniel
Design by Erik Loyer


This project has been a collaboration with twenty amazing women who are incarcerated at Central California Women's Facility [CCWF], Justice Now Co-directors Cassandra Shaylor and Cynthia Chandler, and designer and programmer Erik Loyer. I am very grateful to them all for their generosity.

I had long intended to dedicate this project, on behalf of the women at CCWF and Justice Now, to their "JuJu", Judy Ricci, who died while the work was in progress. I will take the liberty now, confident that my collaborators will approve, of adding another name to this dedication and thus, honor the memory of two very special, though very different people - Judy Ricci [9/13/60 - 11/30/04] and Louis Daniel [12/10/29 - 12/12/06].

I heard about Judy before I met her at CCWF. Her name is mentioned by other incarcerated women with love, gratitude, and respect throughout "Public Secrets". You can hear her voice here as well: her frank account of her own life, stories about her peer counseling, and her blistering critique of the prison medical system. I had the pleasure of interviewing her twice at CCWF before her release in 2004 and her subsequent death.

Judy told me she was raised by her mother, because her father was in prison, "...she was still pregnant with me when he went, but she divorced him and she made it so that I couldn't see him or that he couldn't have contact with me. And I turned out just like him, which is so weird."

Like her father, Judy struggled with addiction. She also had Hep C, HIV and type 1 diabetes. In prison, she became a self-taught peer counselor and a tenacious advocate for women's health care: "...I was feeling very sorry for myself, because I am HIV and I do have hepatitis and I did come with a long time, and I really thought I was going to die in here... I was on a yard and I noticed that people were worse off than I was... I realized, most of these people can't read in here... I just started sharing information with other people and it blossomed into this huge thing."

After her release Judy worked as an advocate for women inside. I saw her once on the outside, at a party given in her honor. She died only a few months later.

Louis Daniel was my father. He died several weeks before the launch of this project. He grew up on a small farm in Texas. He was an honors student, the first generation of the family to attend university. He was an engineer, a devoted husband for 54 years, a loving and much loved father. He was a quiet, responsible man who led a quiet and responsible life. I never interviewed him (and now I wish I had) but he was interviewed once for the Garland Daily News in 1946. He was in High School, had just attended Boys' State and told the reporter, "It was swell!! I hope I learned something that will help me in school next year and if I didn't it was my own fault and not the fault of the teachers or leaders..." When I first read the clipping I had to smile -- it so perfectly depicted both the openness and sense of personal responsibility that my father carried throughout his life. He never blamed or judged, or punished. No one ever had to earn Louis Daniel's respect - he gave it. To him this was "only right."

My father struggled with type 1, juvenile onset, brittle diabetes from the age of 11. Diabetes is a disease that attacks every organ of the body. Over time it took my father's sight, hearing, mobility, manual dexterity, appetite, and energy. It damaged his nerves and cervical spine and robbed him of feeling in his feet and hands. He met these challenges like an engineer - inventing clever devices that allowed him to mow the lawn, cook breakfast, and repair old bicycles for poor children, long after he was declared legally blind.

On the surface it might seem that Judy and my father had nothing in common beyond a problem with their blood sugar. Judy Ricci lived at the margins - an addict and ex-convict. Louis Daniel lived at the center - a middle-class professional and model citizen. What they shared was the capacity for "ethical resistance."

In the introduction to Critical Resistance, philosopher David Hoy writes: "The ultimate resistance is in the face of death. Life can even be defined as the resistance to death. To find examples of ethical resistance, one need not look to experiences of limit situations, as Sartre did in imagining what it was like to be a resistance hero in wartime. A more mundane, less dramatic, but not less heroic example is the day-to-day resistance to decline and death of someone with a serious physical disability or illness, such as polio. This resistance is better described as ethical than as moral, for it shows up in the person's ethos, which in this case is the person's perseverance, despite infirmity, in meaningful activities..."

Judy's activism and advocacy for other women's medical care inside was a form of ethical resistance to her own HIV infection, her addiction disorder, and the mistreatment and neglect of women in the prison system. Judy's voice and her story are woven through this work. My father's is as well, though less directly - there is no audio clip of his voice in the database, but you will hear his voice in mine. I would not have come to this work if it were not for him. It is built on his ethos and I see it as an extension of his ethical resistance - his decision to take responsibility for what mattered in his world, his perseverance despite infirmity.

David Hoy goes on to say, "...ethical resistance must live with its embodied limitations, and in limit situations it may have to acknowledge its powerlessness vis-Ã -vis that which ultimately cannot be resisted." Ultimately, Judy Ricci and Louis Daniel could no longer resist. I want to thank them for their struggle and in my own way, carry it on.

This is for you.

Sharon Daniel
Berkeley, California