My Story: Explaining How the Prison System Is Hurting Menstruating Women

By Saniya Ghanoui —

KH discusses some of the challenges women face when they begin their menstrual cycle in prison. Many avoid visitation during their period due to the lack of menstrual hygiene products provided.


OBOS Today: So, what was your, what was it like, um, when you were in jail, and you had toxic shock? Did you have it while you were in jail or was it one of those things? 

KH: I didn’t know that I had it until I came home and went and saw my doctor. But what I saw was that our systems have weaponized menstrual hygiene products and women have to do, you know, we have to beg, we have to borrow, we have to trade favors for just the basic products that we need and the problem with that, of course there’s so many problems with that, but that, when someone is in a state or jurisdictions care, custody, and control they’re required to provide the most basic of needs and they don’t and so that’s why women have to go to the measures that they do.

So, I knew that women, I knew women who would turn down visits with their family. I knew women who would turn down visits with their attorneys, the very people that were trying to get them out of prison, and they would say don’t come see me because they were on their period because what happens is you’re not allowed to take anything up with you to either one of these visits. And then you have your visit and when you’re done you get strip searched. I mean you are butterball naked; you have to squat cough spread your butt cheeks. And so naturally if you’ve got a pad because that’s all that was ever made available, you know that pad then becomes something that is exposed to air and has to be disposed of, they don’t give you a fresh one. there’s no disposal no sanitary disposal of a used sanitary pad and there’s no way to sanitize your hands so you’re touching doorknobs, and so the cross contamination is just unbelievable right.  

But then when you’re not given a fresh pad to leave visiting with. Now you have to walk back to your housing unit, or your job assignment, and you run the risk of bleeding through your clothes and then, when you have laundry, you have one laundry day unless you know the laundry clerk. You have to wash it in the shower which pisses off everybody because nobody wants you washing out your clothes in the shower that they have to use; the janitor sink, your toilet, there’s no way to dry it so you’re having to hang up cloths so it’s just easier for people. I’ve heard mothers call their daughter, children and say don’t come see mommy today just because of that, and women would have to make their own. That’s what I had to do. That’s how I got toxic shock, so I would get these subpar state issued pads and I would rip them open to make my own tampon and actually, I did a, when we were doing the campaign, I actually made a video that’s on YouTube on what we had to do, and you could see the little fiber I don’t know every time I tell the story I do this with the fibers. The fibers are flying out, which means those fibers that are doing this are the ones that are going up in in a woman’s body.