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Watchtower at a jail

A new documentary film is shedding light on forced sterilizations in California, reviving a dark chapter in the state’s history that is getting increased scrutiny amid a campaign to secure reparations for survivors.

Filmed over seven years, Erika Cohn’s Belly of the Beast exposes state-sanctioned sterilizations in California prisons through the story of Kelli Dillon, who was forcibly sterilized while incarcerated at the Central California women’s facility in Chowchilla, and her lawyer Cynthia Chandler.

Told she needed surgery to treat an ovarian cyst, Dillon unknowingly underwent a hysterectomy in 2001, at the age of 24. She was unaware of the procedure until her lawyer – and not the doctors who treated her – informed the mother of two that she would never have children again.

Dillon, the founder and director of Back to Basics, an organization tackling social problems through community empowerment and education, has helped lead the fight for justice for survivors of forced sterilizations in California. In 2006, she became the first survivor to sue the California department of corrections and rehabilitation (CDCR) for damages.

She lost the... see more