Karen Day never meant to become an activist.
As a journalist who has reported on Cuba, the Middle East, Asia and Africa for the likes of The Los Angeles Times, NBC, CNN and BBC, she was used to covering difficult stories. But in late 2010, the Idaho-based journalist/filmmaker/photographer visited the new Bagram Detention Center—with military clearance—in Afghanistan near Kabul. While there, a guard asked Day if she had seen the women's prison in Parwan. She hadn't. A visit to that prison changed her life.
"There were 42 women and 16 kids in one room ... I was horrified," Day said.
Even though Day says she is quite knowledgeable about the cultural reality of the places she covers, she couldn't get beyond the fact that the women she saw in the Parwan prison were there for "moral crimes": refusing to marry a rapist, adultery or being accused of adultery, among others. Day said that nearly half of the 860 women currently imprisoned in Afghanistan have been convicted of moral crimes. Children often stay with their mothers in prison for the entirety of their sentences.
Day sold the footage of the U.S.-run detention center to NBC Nightly News, but couldn't get any takers on the story of the incarcerated women and children .
Then she spoke to Joanna Coles, the editor-in-chief of Marie Claire magazine. Known for being involved in women's issues, Coles quickly came on board. In part, it was Coles' support that jumpstarted Day's move from journalist to activist. In February, Marie Claire published "These Women Should Not Be In Jail," an article by Day about what she had seen in Parwan.
Coles was happy to help promote the T-shirt through the magazine, but there was one small catch: She needed one on her desk by Monday morning to meet her deadline. This was on a Friday.
"I went on Facebook and found Design Bandits [here in Boise]," Day said. "They saved these women's lives."
Day sent Design Bandits owners Helena Kruczynska and Jason Large her Marie Claire story. At 4 a.m. the following morning, Large sent day the design: On a white background, stark black lettering reads "Not Guilty." By Monday morning, FedEx had delivered the T-shirt to Coles. To date, nearly 30,000 of the $25 T-shirts have been sold.
To further the issue, Day aligned herself with director/producer Clementine Milpas, a British ex-pat who lives in Kabul. With Day's help getting access to the Parwan prison, Milpas made In-Justice, a documentary film, in which viewers meet some of the incarcerated women like Farida, age 26, or Gulnaz, age 19, or Orzo, age 14, all jailed for adultery.
On Tuesday, May 17, In-Justice will show at The Flicks. Photographs by renowned photographer Farzana Wahidy will be available via silent auction and, weather permitting, Day and Idaho's First Lady Lori Otter will be present at a no-host reception on the patio prior to the film. Day said she would love to stay and see the documentary, but she and Otter are flying out to meet First Lady Michelle Obama to discuss the AWJP. Tickets for the screening are $25, which includes a "Not Guilty" T-shirt.
"Ultimately, what I want to see is the prison in Kabul become a model prison," Day said. She knows she can't change the entire system, but she wants to do everything in her not-inconsiderable power to help.
"This is the working reality in Afghanistan, and we are trying to do the best we can."
See a trailer of the film at awjp.org.