Beth Schwartzapfel

Beth Schwartzapfel is a freelance journalist living in Boston. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Mother JonesThe Nation, and other publications.

Recent Articles

The Great American Chain Gang

AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, JohnnyCrawford
Laurie Hazen has bad taste in men. “They’re my downfall,” the 41-year-old jokes in her Massachusetts accent. “I have to really stay single.” An ex-boyfriend first introduced her to prescription drugs, she says, a habit she maintained through the course of another relationship, with another addict, and through two stints in prison, most recently in 2012 for writing fake prescriptions. When she arrived at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Framingham, Hazen left behind a job as a records manager for a fiber-optics company. Her $14-an-hour salary had covered food, utilities, and rent on the modest apartment she shared with her boyfriend and her teenage son. She would have been putting some money away, too, if her paycheck hadn’t also been covering the couple’s drug habit. As it was, like many inmates, she went to prison with no savings and, because her boyfriend was locked up too, had no one on the outside to send her money. Her son...

Born This Way?

AP Photo/High Point Enterprise, Don Davis Jr.
From the time she could talk, Maggie* has told her parents that she is a boy. She doesn’t say, “I want to be a boy.” She doesn’t say, “I feel like a boy.” She says, “I am a boy.” She tells her classmates, too. Lately—she’s in elementary school now—they’ve been having debates about it. “Maggie’s a boy,” one kid said recently, in a not-unfriendly, matter-of-fact sort of way. “No, you idiot,” countered another. “She’s a girl. She’s wearing pink shoes.” On a recent Tuesday morning, psychologist Kenneth Zucker tells this story at a weekly group supervision meeting, where he reviews cases with his dozen graduate students and postdocs. “As if, ‘duh’—it’s so obvious,” he says, and the room chuckles along with him. Head of the child and adolescent gender-identity clinic at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Zucker...

Inconvenient Contraception

For millions of women, getting birth control is a laborious process. Would making the pill an over-the-counter drug be the best policy fix?

Last week, birth control for college students got cheaper. An "affordable birth control" provision in the 2009 appropriations bill, which President Barack Obama signed last Wednesday, restored an incentive for drug makers to offer college health clinics discounts on the pill (the longstanding incentive had been inadvertently eliminated in a 2005 deficit-reduction bill). Still, even when it's cheaper, birth control will continue to be two things: inconvenient and thoroughly tied up with the medical system. A trip to the doctor. Time off from work. A waiting room. A pap smear. A co-pay (assuming you're insured, of course). A trip to the pharmacy. Another co-pay. Then, finally, your birth control: 28 little pills, packaged in foil and plastic, standing between you and a pregnancy you don't want. If you are one of the 11.6 million women in this country who relies on the pill to prevent pregnancy, this scenario, or some variation on it, has played out in your life again and again. It may...

Former Prisoners Reforming Prisons

Politicians and correctional officials are recognizing that, in conversations about prison reform, they must include the voices of those who have lived it.

Elizabeth Gaynes has worked with people involved in the criminal justice system for more than 30 years: as a young law student in the early 1970s, she was galvanized by the uprising at Attica, and helped to defend some of the incarcerated people who were involved. Later, she took the reins as executive director of the nonprofit Osborne Association, which provides services to incarcerated people and their communities. But until her daughter turned 16 and started speaking up about prison issues, Gaynes kept a rather relevant piece of personal information close to her chest: her kids' own father was incarcerated, and had been for a decade. "We really didn't volunteer that information very much in the world," she says. "Even people like me who worked in this business felt pretty restrained." All of that's changed now. Part of it, Gaynes says, was her daughter's outspokenness. Part of it, however, was a larger cultural shift that is now reaching a tipping point. People affected by...

Barrier Methods

When Margaret Sanger was arrested in 1916 for "obscenity" (which is to say, advocating birth control), diaphragms were a revolutionary way for women to take control of their bodies. What do most women think of diaphragms today? Yawn. So quaint, so old-fashioned, so ... Margaret Sanger. The number of women using the diaphragm has fallen steeply since highly effective hormonal methods were introduced in the United States in the 1960s. What was once the country's most common contraceptive device is now used by less than 2 percent of couples nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A small but growing number of researchers and advocates think that the oldest contraceptive on the market -- a latex or silicone cup with a firm, flexible rim and a shallow dome -- could be re-imagined for the 21st century. A Seattle-based international nonprofit organization, Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), is working on a diaphragm redesign, the first ever...