Vickie Lee Hammonds, a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, and beloved by many others, died from medical neglect at the California Institution for Women (CIW) on June 5, 2019. She was only 55 years old. Her death—devastating and preventable —speaks to a pattern of injuries and deaths as well as a larger culture of disregard at CIW specifically and throughout the CDCr more broadly, despite widespread and persistent public scrutiny. Vickie’s family and CCWP demand that California and its institutions of human caging be held responsible for preventable deaths in their custody, like Vickie’s, and for practices of ongoing abuse and neglect.
Vickie was diagnosed with diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and had suffered through years of poor medical treatment at CIW. She also had trouble walking even short distances, but Vickie was continually denied access to a wheelchair despite repeated requests. Vickie’s health worsened in the weeks leading up to her death, but she and her friends’ advocacy on her behalf was ignored. On June 4th, the day before she passed away, Vickie’s breathing became especially strained. Despite informing the nurse of her difficulty breathing and that her oxygen machine was malfunctioning, Vickie was sent back to her cell with no additional care, support or resources.
On the morning of June 5th, Vickie’s condition worsened. Once again, Vickie was refused admission to the prison’s emergency medical unit or transfer to the hospital. Later that night Vickie stopped breathing. Guards performed CPR while they waited for emergency responders, but their access was prevented because of new procedures around a newly-installed fence at the prison. It took a full 45 minutes before the emergency medical team was granted access and reached Vickie. By then it was too late and Vickie was pronounced dead in the hallway outside her cell.
The horrific circumstances of Vickie’s death were compounded by the lack of communication with her family. It was not the prison who contacted Vickie’s sister, Alma Hammonds, but one of Vickie’s friends. And, as if losing a family member is not devastating enough, there was also confusion and chaos around the whereabouts of her body. “We the family of Vickie Lee Hammonds feel that her early demise was due to a lack of proper medical treatment and a complete lack of response to her,” Vickie’s family said in a statement. “Vickie’s family suffered a great loss and we all are lost for words. We all want to know why she was so neglected and allowed to die.”
For Vickie, by Taylor Lytle
Help i can’t breathe
Was her only plea
But it was not met with urgency
and now beautiful soul gone too soon
But CDCR is never accountable for their mess
So we stand here and protest
We shout the names of our lost loved one
Vickie we love you
Vickie we will fight for you.
Vickie you won’t die in vain
Vickie we are sorry
Sorry because we couldn’t save you from a system that enslaved you
The same system that claimed they wanted to help you Failed you.
We, your sisters and brothers, are sorry that we are still powerless in 2019
from preventing these systems from destroying our families
CIW u r guilty
Of inmate cruelty
I have no reason to lie
I once was a victim you see.
No more hiding behind these gates
The truth has been told
We’re shutting you down
I promise you that even if it cost me my soul
Screaming no more deaths is becoming a little too old
We are taking the power back
We will see to it that you get closed For good