“I watched many women die”
Artist Elizabeth Mikotowicz was nearly beaten to death while being pregnant, addicted to drugs by the medical system, then sent to prison where she was regularly humiliated and treated as a slave. In this explosive interview, for the first time ever, Elizabeth shares her phenomenal life story with The World Art News! It is an emotional, at times horrific, and unquestionably inspiring account of one woman’s survival against all odds.
Other than prison, were there any significant events in your life that influenced your artistic development?
One of my best friends was a two spirit trans gender native. After years of being targeted and beaten down several times by Bangor PD, the only crime they could ever get her with was drunk and disorderly; if they drove by and saw her, they stopped her. I showed up several times to her house after the police had brutalized her, sometimes not even arresting her. She was a beautiful soul and this world didn’t deserve her, she was hated because she was brave enough to be who she truly was.
After her death the only thing they mentioned in the paper was her petty criminal history and that she had suicide attempts and that she jumped; I don’t believe it. The cops chased her down that night without cause and without addressing her until they got her cornered on the bridge. She had been calling people terrified as the cruisers blocked her route home and pursued her. She was a makeup artist and always tried to encourage me to get back into art when my life had fallen apart. It was awful to lose her that way.
During your time in prison, you saw how inmates were mistreated and abused. Now you are working with legislators to identify and fix some of the problems within the legal system. What did you see, how did it impact you, and what specifically are you doing now to make prisons more accountable?
During my first week at Somerset County Jail, I witnessed an entire pod of women get strip searched after they signed up for a razor because a male Sargent wanted a list of who shaved their pubic area. Those that did were punished – they never did this to the men.
At Cumberland County Jail they bring the juvenile child inmates from Long Creek that have been deemed a problem. There was a 17-year-old girl I became friends with that was now being housed with adults because she stabbed a CO after getting repeatedly sexually assaulted by high-ranking staff. When they told her that she was going back for her last two weeks after she had already made it through 18 months, she slit her own throat. She did live, but several other “problem” children were brought to be housed with us and it was similar stories.
“I had a female Sergeant telling me to unalive myself”
At Somerset County Jail I was given Seroquel which is an antipsychotic drug. If you’re not actually in psychosis it can put you into psychosis. I was in solitary confinement in a pharmaceutically induced psychosis and I had a female Sergeant telling me to unalive myself and she couldn’t wait for me to get out so I’d overdose and stop wasting taxpayers money. It was just in the paper last year she told another inmate to unalive themself. They had to cut that inmate down from a suicide attempt.
I filed a PREA (prison rape elimination act) complaint against Somerset County after they forced me to strip in front of illegal cameras that were inside the SMU cells (which is against the law in the state of Maine) I was under threat and duress of being maced and extracted by an armed swat team with electric shock shields (that’s what they use on unarmed women along with gas bombs that are scientifically designed to take the oxygen out of your throat and lungs). When I got to Alderson, I filed a PREA complaint against Somerset. Anything of a sexual violation is considered PREA. They conducted their own investigation, they admitted to everything I complained about in their response and still deemed it unfounded. They do this so it doesn’t go any higher or to an outside party. This is how they bury the abuse.
When Alderson got the response, they read me the response and told me I couldn’t even hold it myself or have a copy of my own complaint. They do this so when you get out you have no paperwork to prove you filed proper complaints and went up the proper chain of command. You have 100 days to file suit in Maine but you need to have paperwork. When I got out of prison, Captain Grimes at Alderson and four of his subordinates all were convicted of raping and stalking inmates and tampering with PREA evidence. It was the same staff that handled my case, they covered up abuse for other institutions while they victimized dozens of women; this is a nationwide problem. I requested my paperwork from Somerset County Jail and by law upon request they have to give it to the inmate, however; there is no consequence if they don’t and they are still refusing.
I have Senators and the Governor making things uncomfortable for them while I am working with legislation to get a bill on the table that holds facilities financially responsible for every day, they stonewall inmates on their paperwork and complaints. I have a lawyer, but without an open case he can’t subpoena my paperwork and he can’t open a case and make a case without the original complaint. They know this, and they’ve gotten away with countless inmate deaths, medical neglect, and sexual assaults. I am also working with them to get Long Creek shut down and held accountable for the many children that were destroyed by that facility. I’ve testified at public hearings about bills that have passed to ensure inmates get proper mental health and MAT treatment upon release and other issues in the community I have first hand knowledge on.
“You suffer from things nobody should”
I watched many women die of treatable problems because the prison didn’t want to pay to get them properly checked out. I can’t even imagine what must have went on during the pandemic. I spent every day thanking whatever higher power can hear me that I wasn’t there during COVID. A girl broke her foot slipping on the ice because she had a snow removal job; by the time they took her to a hospital they had to re-break her leg because it fused back together. I watched a Somalian women get beaten every two hours by guards in solitary to the point she urinated on herself, she couldn’t’ even speak English. I watched a pregnant woman’s water break and go into labor and the only reason they brought her to the hospital was because we threatened to riot. They told her if it was a false alarm she would be punished and put in solitary. In the summer it’s unbearably hot and the water shuts off for days at a time at Danbury. There is no central air unless you’re in the RDAP program because they get way more money for those inmates; you suffer from things nobody should. I watched them break a girl’s arm because she asked what she did to get hauled to solitary.
How has COVID impacted your art career and what changes, if any, did you have to make?
Well, it didn’t affect me very much because I was still in the process of figuring my life out and how to maintain sobriety. It definitely gave me more time to paint. I had my first art show during the pandemic and every local media outlet showed up for it. I was painting so much that sometimes I went back to resorting to painting on cardboard instead of canvases to save money. Then I launched the clothing line and was trying to find ways of starting that business. Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing but I have business advisors now to guide me.
What challenges did you have to overcome as an artist?
In prison I was smuggling paint just to have a medium to work with. In the county that wasn’t an option so I was left with just a pen. Also, confidence in myself, I never even attempted portraits until my friend at Alderson begged me to try and paint one of her family. I told her I couldn’t’ and she wouldn’t take no for an answer. She believed in me more than I did and I’m glad because I’m apparently really good at them.
“In prison I was smuggling paint”
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