NoVo in the Media

Former Women’s Prison Transforming Into Space for Activism

25 October 2017
BY Brittney McNamara

The Bayview Correctional Facility sits among shiny buildings and trendy art spaces in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, a stark reminder of the now-closed prison’s past. The prison, which operated from 1974 to 2013, once housed 153 inmates. Once a symbol of oppression for women, the now-empty prison will now become a symbol of hope.

Activists have come together to transform the Bayview building into the Women’s Building, a place where women can gather. Pamela Shifman, executive director of NoVo Foundation, one of the organizations working toward the building’s success, says the space will be a place to challenge underlying misogyny and racism, and the systems of oppression that often result in the incarceration of women in the first place. And the need, she says, is greater than ever.

“This project will transform a site of women’s confinement and oppression and pain into a space dedicated to equality, liberation and justice for all girls and women everywhere,” Pamela tells Teen Vogue. “Today’s political climate is a major reason why a liberating collaboration space like the Women’s Building is so necessary. There has never been a greater need.”

The Women’s Building will be a community space, complete with meeting rooms, conference spaces, child care and more. As the project moves toward fruition, which will take about five years, activists have come together to not only make the building an asset for the community, but a product of the community, too — including the population that the building once housed.

“Every step of the way has been really done in a community driven way. We started with women who had been incarcerated at Bayview itself, as well as other prisons to ask them what success for the women’s building would look like,” Pamela says. “So much of what we heard…was the need to address the root causes of incarceration. The need to address poverty, racism and violence against girls and women, which starts at particularly young ages.”

Growing the building from a place that jailed women to a place that fosters them is a symbol, Pamela says, of the potential girls and women.

“I think, at a certain meta level, the Women’s Building will stand for what is possible when the potential for girls and women is fostered,” Pamela says, “instead of locked away.”