A horrifying scheme described as modern-day eugenics has come to light, thanks to the bravery of a victim-turned-whistleblower. Kelli Dillon was given a 15-year prison sentence after killing her abusive husband in self-defense; while in prison, Dillon says she was lied to about a medical condition and was then forcibly sterilized without her knowledge or consent.
Scott Hechinger, a Brooklyn public defender, tweeted about Dillon’s experience. In 2001, while imprisoned at Central California Women’s Prison, the world’s largest women’s prison, Dillon was told she needed surgery to remove an ovarian cyst. Five years later, Dillon began to experience symptoms of menopause at age 24, and it was only then that she discovered she had been given a hysterectomy without her knowledge or consent. She quickly sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) but lost.
Instead of giving up, Dillon worked with a team of filmmakers who followed her for seven years to tell both Dillon’s story and the stories of other women who suffered the same injustice.
The documentary, “Belly of the Beast,” was released late last year, and the statistics noted by the filmmakers are disturbing. Women are currently the fastest-growing prison population, and the vast majority of these inmates are already mothers in their childbearing years. The majority are Black, and most are incarcerated for non-violent offenses. Sadly, 92% of these women have been victims of violence and abuse in their lifetimes.
In California, over 1,000 female prisoners were forcibly sterilized, most of them Black. Many of these women were falsely told they had cervical cancer or had hysterectomies unknowingly performed on them after they gave birth. Erika Cohn, director and executive producer of the documentary, found out about these atrocities through Cynthia Chandler, the attorney who represented Dillon and helped her pass SB1135, a bill that bans sterilization in prison for birth control purposes.
For Cohn, the information was particularly disturbing as a Jewish woman. “To me, that really screamed eugenics,” she told the Business Insider. “When I learned about this different kind of genocide that was happening through imprisonment, that was happening through forced sterilizations behind bars, I knew that I wanted to get involved.”
Cohn added, “There’s layers upon layers upon layers of how these procedures happen.