Punishing the Victim, Once Again

(Thanks to Rick Jackson for this story)
In response to the dismissal of 30 correctional officers for sexual abuse at CIW, Warden Susan Poole proceeded to retaliate against the prisoners by atempting to confiscate most of their personal property and forcing them to dress in drab gray uniforms so as to make them less “sexually provocative” to male staff. After receiving dozens of outraged letters from women inmates, Senator Polanco wrote Poole challenging the new regulations. Since then, most of the new rules have been withdrawn. We applaud the women for their courage in refusing to be punished for the staff’s abuse and thank Senator Polanco for stepping in on the side of the prisoners.

Shumate v. Wilson Lives! Judge Shubb rejects CDC’s request to dismiss

by Karen Shain
Two-and-one-half years ago, in August 1997, it appeared we may have won the Shumate lawsuit. Just before the case was to go to court, the state of California agreed to make important changes in the way it provided medical care to women at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) and California Institution for Women (CIW). Less than a month later, Minerva Gonzalez, a prisoner at CCWF, died from dehydration over Labor Day weekend. Minerva’s cellmates begged that she be treated by prison doctors who refused to come out to the prison over the holiday weekend.
Since that time, we have heard from women at both prisons that most medical care has not improved at all, and in some cases it is even worse. Despite all this, in January 2000, the court-appointed monitor and his staff of assessors released a lengthy report stating that CCWF and CIW brought their medical care into “substantial compliance” with almost all aspects of the settlement agreement. The report has been sent to Judge William Shubb, and California’s state’s attorney’s office has requested that the lawsuit, Shumate v. Wilson, be dismissed. Attorneys for the women are opposing this dismissal. Monitor William Keating and his staff of asesssors wrote their report after three brief visits to each institution. They refused to meet with women or staff members who had significant information and wanted to speak with them about the cover-up that was happening. Instead, they relied on written documentation and records provided by the California Department of Corrections.
No matter what happens with this lawsuit, we in CCWP vow that women who placed their names on the suit, the over 700 other women who provided evidence of medical neglect and malpractice on the part of the institutions and their so-called “doctors,” and, of course, ALL of those women who died and continue to die under horrible conditions ? often needlessly ? will never be forgotten. The Shumate lawsuit successfully raised the issues of women prisoners’ medical care throughout California, across the country and around the world. It was because of this lawsuit that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International came to California to investigate other forms of human rights abuses ? namely sexual assault on women prisoners by guards. It was also because of this lawsuit that Ted Koppel came to California to investigate medical care and Security Housing Unit (solitary confinement) conditions at our newest women’s prison, Valley State Prison for Women.
CCWP started in 1995 in direct support of the women who filed this lawsuit. We know that medical care has not significantly improved at either CCWF or at CIW. For those of us on the street, even those of us with inadequate medical insurance or none at all, we have the right to choose our doctors or the hospital to which we are sent (even when those choices are severely limited). Women in prison have no choice whatsoever. If they experience abuse from a doctor or racism from a nurse, their only options are to accept that treatment or to refuse any medical treatment whatsoever.
To the Calnia Department of Corrections, we warn that WE ARE WATCHING YOU! We will continue to demand adequate medical care for all women prisoners. We will continue to report on all human rights abuses happening in California’s women’s prisons. We will not go away.
To all women in prison, we promise that we will continue to listen to you. We ask that you write and let us know what is happening with you so that we will still be able to speak the truth.
To the Shumate warriors, living and dead, we salute your strength and your courage as you fought this historic and truly important battle. We know that this struggle is not over.
NOTE: As we go to press, we learned that the case was not dismissed! We will provide more details on our next issue

Standing Up for Women Prisoners

by Urszula Wislanka
Chowchilla, Ca. – On November 13 about a hundred of us from California Coation for Women Prisoners (CCWP), California Prison Focus, Women’s Positive Legal Action Network (Women’s PLAN) family members and other prisoners’ supporters demonstrated here outside the two largest prisons for women in the world. We demand a stop to the murder of women prisoners.
We in CCWP have been fighting the media silence about women prisers, exposing conditions in California women’s prisons in The Fire Inside, and holding this demonstration annually for the last five years. The recent Nightline series about one of those prisons, Valley State Prison for Women, brought much needed attention on some of these conditions. And there was more media covering this year’s demonstrations.
Yet, partly because the media ban prevents the press from talking to particular prisoners who have stories to tell, Ted Koppel did not capture the tale of systematic abuse in this prison. Cynthia Chandler, the Director of Women’s PLAN, spoke for exple about Rosemary Willeby, an HIV+ woman who was also infected with Hepatitis C (see the story in the last issue).
At the demonstration the importance of the health-care abuse in women’s prisons was underscored by Toni who was just released from VSPW at 9:30 that morning. She came back to participate in the demonstration “to stand for all the girls in there.” She said “girls are dying in there. You guys are a blessing.” This solidarity between the women inside and outside is one way to break down the prison walls and create a more human society.

Health Corner

by Sherron Longfeather, certified massage therapist, health educator and former prisoner
Let’s begin by relaxing, taking a deep inward breath and with your outward breath releasing stress, tension, pain, frustrations, being pushed beyond your personal boundries.
We will enter the land of accupressure points. Touching these points with your fingers, thumbs, side of your hand or the palm will awaken the healing centers of the body.
Hold these points for a couple of minutes, holding and then releasing the pressure. Fast beat stimulates and slower beat creates a deeply relaxing effect on the body.
Each point will feel somewhat different when pressed, some tense while others are sore or ache. So if it hurts, it should “hurt good.” Use pressure until you reach a balance between pain and pleasure for yourself.
There are cautions. This form of healing is not recommended for people with life-threatening disease or a serious medical problem. Please consult a doctor for things such as strokes, heart attacks, cancer, etc. When used along with proper medical attention, gentle accupressure can help soothe and relieve distress and pain.
Here are a few points from Michael Gach’s book, Accupressure Potent Points:
For headaches and migraines
Gates of Consciousness (GB 20)
Location: Below the base of the skull, in the hollow between the two vertical neck muscles.
Benefits: Relieves arthritis, headaches (including migraines), dizziness, stiff neck, neck pain, neuromotor coordination problems, eyestrain, and irritability.
Joining the Valley (Hoku) (LI 4)
Caution: This point is forbidden for pregnant women because its stimulation can cause premature contractions in the uterus.
Location: In the webbing between the thumb and index finger, at the highest spot of the muscle that protrudes when the thumb and index finger are brought close together.
Benefits: Relieves frontal headaches, toothaches, shoulder pain, and labor pain.
For colds and flu
Drilling Bamboo (B 2)
Location: In the indentations of the eye sockets, on either side of where the bridge of the nose meets the ridge of the eyebrows.
Benefits: Relieves colds, sinus congestion, frontal headaches, and tired eyes.
Facial Beauty (St 3)
Location: At the bottom of the cheekbone, directly below the pupil.
Benefits: Relieves stuffy nose, head congestion, burning eyes, eye fatigue, and eye pressure.

ABC’s Nightline Features Women Prisoners

by Diana Block
In the beginning of November, ABC’s Nightline news program featured a six part series on women prisoners at Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW). Ted Koppel (the anchor of Nightline) and his team actually spent ten days at VSPW. The resulting program is an important breakthrough in terms of mainstream media coverage of women incarcerated in California. This is especially significant given the media ban on interviews with prisoners which has been in force since 1995.
In the series, women prisoners speak out about their lives – the lack of medical treatment for their illnesses, their pain as mothers forcibly separated from their children, their struggles with drug addiction, and the terrible conditions they face when placed in solitary confinement in the Security Housing Unit (SHU). Because this was network TV, there were many aspects of prison conditions which were not shown. The series understates the daily brutality, humiliation and general mistreatment which incarcerated women face. Correctional officers were not about to push women around, sexually harass them or insult them with the television cameras rolling. In many cases the women who were interviewed in the series were hand picked by the prison administration, and in some cases there was retaliation afterwards against women who did speak out. Still, the program paints a disturbing picture of the many serious problems with conditions in prison.
Poor health care is one of the primary complaints of the women whom Koppel interviews. The problems discussed include untreated cancer, incorrect prescriptions, and unnecessary pelvic exams. When Koppel asks Dr. Anthony DiDomenico, the former chief medical officer at VSPW to respond to the complaint about pelvic exams, DiDomenico accuses the women, in front of the cameras, of asking for the exams “because it’s the only male contact they get.” His statement makes it shockingly clear that such sexist, demeaning attitudes are commonplace and unquestioned among prison staff. As a result of this interview, DiDomenico was reassigned to a desk job and, according to CDC officials an investigation was begun.
The most horrifying exposure of the series focused on VSPW’s Security Housing Unit. In this segment viewers can see first hand how locking women up for 23 hours a day can drive them mad. It shows how women are forced to shower in a main hall area with male guards present. The prison psychiatrist admits that 25-40% of the women in the SHU are mentally ill before being sent there but dismisses Koppel’s suggestion that they should be removed to mental health facilities instead. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t mention the fact that many women are sent to the SHU because they try to speak out about prison conditions and their SHU time is retaliation against them.
This is an important program which gives women prisoners a much needed chance to speak out to the public about conditions which are usually invisible outside the prison walls. Contact CCWP for more information about how to view the program.