Watch Birthing People Behind Bars: Exposing Forced Sterilizations in State Prisons

Watch the panel discussion

*Please note the documentary is no longer available through our platform. Watch the trailer here

For our April 2021 Collaboratory, we were proud to screen the Peabody award-nominated documentary, Belly of the Beast, which explores illegal sterilizations in California's women's prisons. After the screening, we were joined by Kelli Dillon who is both featured in the documentary and is the Co-Chairperson for the Empowerment Congress Southeast neighborhood Council for a panel discussion. We were proud to co-host this event with Black Women Birthing Justice

Read a Guardian article about the film

More about the film

When a courageous young woman and a radical lawyer discover a pattern of illegal sterilizations in California’s women’s prisons, they wage a near-impossible battle against the Department of Corrections. With a growing team of investigators inside prison working with colleagues on the outside, they uncover a series of statewide crimes - from inadequate health care to sexual assault to coercive sterilizations - primarily targeting women of color. This shocking legal drama captured over 7-years features extraordinary access and intimate accounts from currently and formerly incarcerated people, demanding attention to a shameful and ongoing legacy of eugenics and reproductive injustice in the United States.


Kelli Dillion

Kelli Dillon 

Kelli Dillon is the Co-Chairperson for the Empowerment Congress Southeast neighborhood Council. She is a survivor of domestic/gang violence and an advocate for violence prevention and intervention programs. Kelli found herself incarcerated at the age of 19 and was sentenced to serve a 15-year sentence. Her case intensified from a domestic violence incident, in defense from preventing an attack from her abuser. While in the California Department of Corrections, her advocacy and community social work began during this time assisting fellow inmates with counseling and social justice issues. Since that time, Kelli continues to advance in education and has received certifications of training in the areas of Anger Management, Domestic Violence, Batterer’s Intervention Program, Art Therapy, HIV/STI Education and Peer Advocacy, Homeless prevention, and Sociology. In 2014, Kelli worked as an advocate with Justice Now, Inc. alongside of Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson on the SB 1135 Anti-Sterilization Bill. Her testimony was key in helping the Senate and Gov. Jerry Brown pass this bill into law, to ban unlawful and non-consensual sterilization of California prisoners. Kelli has received several awards for her passionate work and continues to volunteer her time in the community of Los Angeles. Kelli is now the Vice President of the Empowerment Congress Southeast Neighborhood Council and newly appointed Commissioner and Board Member for the Department of Community and Family Services. In addition, she is the founder and executive director of Back to the Basics, a community empowerment organization, and outreach program.

Aminah Elster

Aminah Elster

Aminah Elster is a Campaign and Policy Coordinator with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners where she leads its campaign to end coercive sterilization practices in women’s prisons.

Aminah’s motivation to achieve racial and gender justice is rooted in her own lived experience as a Black formerly incarcerated woman and navigating the intersections of those identities. She is committed to fighting the impacts of decades of systemic oppression and liberating criminalized survivors.

Aminah is an Oakland, CA native with a Bachelor of Arts degree in legal studies from the University of California Berkeley. Aminah also worked as the Family Unity Project Coordinator with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, where she worked with incarcerated parents seeking to maintain relationships, and custody, of their children. She additionally organizes with Survived & Punished CA and is the co-founder of a purpose driven organization called Unapologetically HERS.

Jennifer E. James

Jennifer E. James

She is a qualitative researcher and Black Feminist scholar whose research lies at the intersection of race, gender and health. Dr. James holds a PhD in Sociology from UCSF, a Master’s of Social Work and a Master’s of Science in Social Policy from the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Yale University. Jen is a mom of two and lives with her wife in San Francisco. She was inspired to do more research and activism in the birth space after her own experience giving birth in a setting that felt highly medicalized and out of her control.

Chinyere Oparah

Chinyere Oparah

Chinyere Oparah is social justice educator, activist-scholar and co-founder of Black Women Birthing Justice. She is Provost/Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Ethnic Studies at Mills College, a college committed to gender and racial justice, and transformative education. Chinyere is author and editor of multiple books and articles including Global Lockdown: Race, Gender and the Prison-Industrial ComplexBirthing Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy and Childbirth (with Alicia D. Bonaparte) and Battling Over Birth.  Chinyere is a co-founder of Critical Resistance, a movement to end incarceration, and has researched and written about incarcerated pregnant Black Women and prison abolition. She became a birth justice warrior after her own near-death hospitalization and experience of labeling as a so-called "advanced maternal age" Black mama. She lives in Oakland, CA with her partner, 10-year old daughter and labradoodle.