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Publication Date: Friday, July 04, 2003

On latest Afghan trip, Stasek takes aim at prison problems On latest Afghan trip, Stasek takes aim at prison problems (July 04, 2003)

Often unjustly locked up, jailed women wanting for food, basic amenities

By Candice Shih

When Rosemary Stasek planned her trip to Afghanistan, her main goal was to negotiate the release of women from prison and teach them to make and sell jam. "Pfft. That all went out the window," she said.

Instead, when Stasek, a two-term Mountain View City Council member, stepped off the plane in Kabul one month ago with $5,000 in cash donations, her friend Rachel Waveham entrusted her with another task: rebuilding the women's prison.

Although Stasek met with Abdul Rahim Karimi, the Minister of Justice, and the heads of prisons and security for Kabul, she didn't ask permission to carry out the job.

"I couldn't get tangled in all the red tape," said Stasek, who had two weeks in the Afghan capital. "Amazing, it flew."

But not easily. Between her trip to Afghanistan one year ago and now, the standard of living and its related costs have shot up. It now costs $200,000 to build a house in Kabul.

Stasek knew she couldn't get very far with just $5,000, especially since builders, assuming she had more money, were overcharging her, and the prison needed $20,000 worth of repairs.

Unlike prisoners in the United States, Afghan citizens in custody are provided with very little, not even food, which is brought in by their families, said Stasek. And most of the 18 women were being held for infractions that would not (and should not) be considered crimes here, she added.

The most common crime was running away without their fathers' permission. Others were jailed for bigamy, murdering in self-defense, and murdering an abusive husband.

Because of the cultural complications of trying to move the women into a pre-existing women's shelter, Stasek set out to make their prison safer and nicer, rather than getting them out.

She spent the donated money on having the walls replastered and painted, wiring inlaid in the walls, and curtains put up. The curtains were needed to discourage peeping Toms in the adjacent courtyard.

But given the hefty expense of building a septic well, the hole in the ground will continue to serve as a toilet. "I didn't get done nearly what I wanted to get done for my money," said Stasek.

E-mail Candice Shih at


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