By Eryn Mathewson
Several weeks ago, I had the honor of hearing Mu Sochua talk about her advocacy of women’s rights and empowerment in Cambodia.
As she recounted the journey that brought her from Cambodia to San Francisco - awaiting a prison sentence for challenging government corruption – I was amazed. Her courage and commitment to ensuring that women’s rights are respected in parliament and asserted by the grassroots – was inspiring. I also found Sochua’s perspective on prison surprising. She would rather go to prison for six months than pay a $4100 fine.
Paying the fine could signify that Sochua shouldn’t have challenged the prime minister for slander or his dictatorial practices. Going to prison sends the message that her commitment to practicing human rights is stronger than her fear of prisons. Prison time could actually also help her build solidarity with more women in the movement. Sochua’s sentence and experience in prison will be different from that of someone in the US who goes to prison after being convicted of a crime. For most convicted criminals, a prison record can severely limit life’s opportunities.
Over two thirds of people who serve time, are rearrested within three years. Even if they stay out of prison, the experience is regrettably life changing. The mental health of many ex-offenders often suffers, as does their ability to function normally ”on the outside.”
Sochua plans to continue to campaign for women’s rights when she gets out. I hope prison will not damage Sochua’s well-being and work. I am struck by how the crime committed (or not), class, occupation and politics can affect one’s prison experience. Poor people and people of color tend to experience the worst.
Sochua’s social and political notoriety have allowed her to use prison as a tool to pursue a necessary agenda. I deeply appreciate her willingness to do so. It can’t be easy. I just wish prisons were not so detrimental to the majority of people imprisoned in the US and worldwide.
- Former Board Member and Cambodian Crusader Bids for Re-election
- Mu Sochua Profile in The New York Times
- Mu Sochua: You Can’t Fight Injustice Halfway
Eryn Mathewson is part of the Finance and Administration Team at the Global Fund for Women