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Evie Litwork is a formerly incarcerated, aging, New York, Jewish, lesbian, feminist and child of two holocaust survivors. She has been to prison twice, both while in her 60s.

Evie Litwork is a formerly incarcerated, aging, New York, Jewish, lesbian, feminist and child of two holocaust survivors. She has been to prison twice, both while in her 60s.


Before I went to prison, my mother, who is about four feet nine came into my room with her little walker and looked at me very seriously and said, I have something to tell you. And I stood up and she said “Prison is going to be harder for you than the concentration camp was for me.” I said “mom, you were in Auschwitz, that’s crazy.” And she said, “but I was 12 years old, you’re 60.” It wasn’t until I got to solitary confinement during my second incarceration that I remembered her words. And what she said is “I was a child. I didn’t know what was going on. You’re an old women. You’ve had a whole life. You’re going to spend every day remembering your entire life. And that’s what’s going to make it hard.”

My name is Evie Litwork and I am a formerly incarcerated aging, New York, Jewish, lesbian, feminist. I have been in prison twice. The first time, I was 60 years old, and I was convicted of tax evasion and mail fraud. I was released when my case was overturned as two of the tax evasion and mail fraud. I was released when my case was overturned as two of the tax charges were deemed legally insufficient. I then went to prison a second time at age 63 when one of the tax evasion charges was retired. Prior to both trials. I was offered plea bargains with no jail time, but I was innocent so I fought the charges


The moment you enter prison, you know you’ve left the free world. You are taken into a very cold and dingy room with an officer, where you have to strip naked and you have to pee in front of this officer which is very humiliating. Then she asks you to lift up your breasts so she can check to see whether there’s any paraphernalia, you’ve brought in. And then she asks you to bend over and cough so she can check your anus and your vagina and to see if you’ve brought in pills or drugs. Nothing is more humiliating.

Within seconds you realize that everything that you knew in your life, you have to put aside. You have to find a set of coping skills so that you show absolutely no feelings. In other words, most of our lives in the free world we’re encouraged to speak. We are encouraged to show everything. In less than 10 seconds, you come to understand that you cannot cry in front of this women, you cannot show a feeling. You have to have a facial expression that’s absolutely blank. Otherwise you’re not going to survive prison. Prison guards and fellow prisoners will crucify you if you show any kind of weakness.


Sexual violence is so prevalent in prison that it hits every single one of us. The guards walk over to you and they say, “Do you want to see your kids? I want to see you.” “You want visitation from your mother. I want to see you.” There’s no such thing as consensual sex in prison. But women are afraid of reporting this because the guards can retaliate. They can make you disappear very easily in the system. They can put you in solitary. They can limit your phone, email or any privileges. They control your ability to remain in contact with everybody that you know


There’s no medical care in prison to speak of. We have no doctors, no nurses. We have that’s called a physician’s assistant and the physician’s assistant sees as many as 1100 women. No matter how you come, with cancer, a headache, a broken foot, or cyst, this man said the same thing to every woman “you’re fat, take a walk on the track, drink more water.” So a woman came in serious pain and the pain was clear to everybody and he gave her the fat speech. Two weeks later she died. Her gallbladder had burst. Many people die in prison that no one knows about. Its not reported on.

One of the women I walked around the track with was a woman who came to prison in 2012. She informed the doctor that she had the breasts cancer gene and had a mammography and found a lump. Her mom and her sister both had double mastectomies. They didn’t do anything until a year and a half later. When they finally did a mammography, they found that now both breasts had masses in them. It took them two years to open her up, and by at this time, instead of her having the option of a mastectomy, they informed her that the cancer had spread all over her body and that basically she was going to die. I was insane for this.


Between the woman who had died because the physician’s assistant wouldn’t take a blood test and my friend who was now facing death. I wrote an article. I sent an email to my friend who immediately posted it on my website. They have four officers assigned to read your emails all day. Within one hour of me sending the email and the article being posted. I was arrested, shackled and thrown into solitary.

Now, to understand what solitary is like you have to imagine yourself sitting on your toilet, closing the door of the bathroom, no cellphone, television, books, no magazine, nothing. And you have to ask yourself the question “how long do you think you could sit on the toilet in your own bathroom, and for how long do you think you could survive?” When I ask “could you sit for 24 hours?” nobody answers.

In solitary, you are locked in the cell for 23 hours near 60 other women who are screaming “get me the fuck out of here” at the top of their lungs. You are listening to women lose their minds. And they are in there because they stole an apple, because they were hungry or because they had an extra paperclip. They were not in there because they were fighting. They were not in there they are terrorist. they were in there because they had something extra that they shouldn’t have had.

We are destroying lives. We need for the american public to say “we cant’t tolerate this inhumanity.” If you’re gonna put people away, put them away humanely. The best thing to do is to put every senator through the experience of solitary for a week. That will eliminate solitary confinement.


I was in Alderson Federal Prison for about 9 months. In front of us is where the officer sits. There’s also a red phone. It doesn’t rings unless one of the two things are happening: someone’s getting punished or someone having an immediate release. So every time the red phone rings people yell out the words “immediate release” cause to survive in prison you have to have hope. Even if it only happens once in two years. Everybody’s hopeful for it. But it ends up usually being someone who’s being sent into solitary.

One day the red phone rang, and an officer yelled out “Litwork”. I couldn’t imagine why the officer would be calling my name. As we walked into er office she said “You’re being released immediately. You fucked up my dinner.” She told me to sit in front of her office. Where I was located was between two different sleeping units and all the women were in the windows trying to figure out what was going on with me. When she told me to sit down, I started to sob uncontrollably. Probably because I had to be this person I was not and just knowing that I was walking out of the prison withing an hour was so overwhelming that i couldn’t stop crying. I could hear voices at the window saying “Evie?” “Why’s she crying?” I looked up and gave them a thumbs up. I said “I’m leaving”. And they went nuts. 150 women on one side, 150 women on another side are screaming “immediate release”. Because whatever happened to me impacted them. We survive together.


It permanently damaged me. I may look normal, but I am physically, emotionally and mentally not the same person and I will never recover for the rest of my life. Now I cannot be in any space where there are a lot of people. I have triggers three years after being in prison. I have to take my dog, Ali, everywhere with me, even on the subway, because when I cry or get upset she licks my face. That is what calms me down. And without her, I’m nervous on the bus, on the subway, in my place.

Even the sound of keys, because the guards had heavy keys, clanging together are very difficult. And when I saw a police woman in my building a few weeks ago when I got off the elevator, I thought “she’s there for me.” You can’t get this fear that they’re gonna come get you, out of your system. Prison’s create a medical health situation which is unhealthy and it’s a disaster. I will never be the same as I was before prison.

Now I will end with something that I say to my audiences. My whole family are Holocaust survivors. People often says “Why didn’t the German people do anything? Why didn’t they say no?” and I ask my audience “would you have said anything?” and they say “yes”. And I say “No you wouldn’t because your’re living a mile away from Rikers Island. It’s been open for 20 years. You’re living a mile away just like the German’s were.”

We’re no better than the people who allowed the Jewels to walk into the gas chambers. We’re no better. We talk. We raise money for causes. What we’re doing is not working. Each individual has to help one individual survive.