Dedication

This issue of Fire Inside is dedicated to Karla Faye Tucker, born November 18, 1958, murdered by the state of Texas February 3, 1998. She was the first woman executed in the United States since 1984.
As we are going to press we got the news that Claudia Reddy died February 21, 1998, at the Madera County Hospital. See story in this issue.

Family visits, privilege or right?

Women in CIW
Morale on the yard amongst lifers and long-termers affected by the termination of their Family Living Unit (FLU) visits privlege is definitely down.
Serving a life sentence takes years of mental and emotional adjustments. It is not easy to leave your children, family and loved ones behind and try to begin a life in a completely unfamiliar environment of control, degradation, dehumanization. We are stripped of our pride, self-esteem and self-worth.
Not only do we go through traumatic changes, so do our children, loved ones and famlies. Our only source of pulling together and holding on to family unity and strength are our FLUs. They are our incentive to do the best we can while incarcerated – to earn the privilege of spending 72 hours with our families and loved ones.
It enrages us that this privilege has been taken away based on the prejudiced, pre-judged misconception that those visits are primarily conjugal visits – inferring sex visits. We have been discriminated against and suffered for years being compared to men, when in fact we are different, our crimes were committed for and under different circumstances. We are supposed to be the role models and nurturers, so the system sets an example of us.
Now again, we are being compared to men – we resent the fact that the truth is not being told – thus not heard. Only a few (about 5%) of the FLU visits here at CIW are husband-and-wife-only visits (a pregnancy has never resulted from these visits). They are not merely sex visits, but a time to be together to continue working on love, respect and support through quality time spent together in a family setting.
We, as women, mothers, children, grandmothers, need to spend time with our children and families. How do we tell them that they are not important to our lawyers, that they do not care that we may NEVER hold, hug, kiss or share special moments ever again? How do we begin to work on our problems in a noisy visiting room – then put them on hold until the next scheduled visiting day? Tell them, I can’t touch or hold you; it is against the rules? Where is the continuity, the peace, the quiet time, the time to disagree, to teach, to nurture, to learn, to share, to pray, to comfort – to love? These feelings and emotions cannot be done in a public place, where you cannot give in to your emotions or feelings.
Our FLU visits are not only for solving problems and growing emotionally. They are also used for rebonding and holding on to the family closeness and unity. We cook, clean, watch TV, listen to the radio, pamper each other, play, laugh, etc.
The women of CIW do a lot for the community (Voices from Within, SOS, Yes I Can, Project Interchange, Victim Services, fund drives, Christmas projects). With the loss of our FLUs, it has taken the heart out and the women no longer feel a part of the community.
Without these FLU visits, many are feeling hopeless, that our life sentences have been changed to death sentences. We are devastated.

A Day in One Prisoner’s Life…

Marcia Bunny, CCWF
Typical Weekday
5:00 am: Get up; boil water for coffee and oatmeal (using a coil-immersion heater); while water is heating, do hair and organize toiletries for shower; at approximately 5:30 am, enter shower.
5:45 am: Dress, do make-up, put belongings away; eat; read devotional materials.
6:30 am: Be ready for release to “chow hall” – box lunches are handed out at breakfast, so I go in to at least get milk and a piece of fruit. Return to housing unit and wait to be released for work.
7:30 am: Work release. Report to security checkpoint (“work exchange”), show ID to officers who check each person off against a daily computer printout of authorized workers. Walk to work site.
7:45 am: Report to work. I am a clerical worker in the prison’s education department. My tasks vary considerably, but are almost always performed on a computer, in MS Word or MS Excel.
11:30 am – 12:00 pm: Lunch break. We are permitted to eat at our desks, or go outside. I stay at my desk and use the time to scan the online tutorials to enhance my computer skills.
12:00 pm: Continue with tasks for the day.
3:45 pm: Dismissal from work; return through security checkpoint, getting pat-searched in the process (a daily occurrence — usually the officer is male); return to housing unit.
4:00 pm: Locked into living quarters for count time; gather/arrange materials for evening session in law library.
4:30 pm: Count time. Must be seated on bed and observed by staff.
5:00 pm: (With luck!) count clears. Release to day room to await release for dinner. (I never go.) I rush to officers’ station to sign up for the law library, then wait until it’s time to leave.
5:55 pm: Depart to law library. If I don’t have to wait long at the gate, it’s about a 10-minute walk.
6:00 pm – 7:50 pm: Law library time: research, read the legal publications, such as Daily Recorder.
7:50 pm: Return to housing unit; shower; do hand laundry; organize clothing, etc., for the next day.
9:00 pm: Bed, with recreational reading as a de-stressing tool. (This “rule” has saved my sanity over the last few years!)
10:00 pm – 10:15 pm: Zz – zzz – zz…

HIV/AIDS in Prison Project closes February 13; reopens as part of California Prison Focus

That’s right folks. Despite their best efforts, they were unable to obtain foundation funding to continue our project at Catholic Charities of the East Bay. The good news is they will continue the work on a volunteer, part-time basis as part of California Prison Focus. It is an organization dedicated to fighting the repressive and brutal security housing unit (lockdown) conditions faced by so many prisoners around the state. CPF is adding a special committee on HIV in prison issues.
To contact Judy Greenspan, or others working on the committee write to:
HIV in Prison (HIP) Committee
California Prison Focus
2489 Mission Street, #28
San Francisco, CA 94110
phone: 510 655-2931
email: judy@igc.org
They need your help. They are starting from the beginning again and need

  • volunteers to help (once a month) answer letters

  • donations!
  • office supplies and equipment (especially computers and file cabinets)
  • bulk copies of HIV education materials and newsletters to send inside.

Does Long Hair Threaten Prison Security?

In December 1997, the California Department of Corrections passed “emergency” regulations seriously restricting prisoners’ rights to have long hair, earrings and fingernail polish and affecting other so-called grooming standards. There was, of course, no emergency, only a continuing effort by the CDC to dehumanize prisoners and further isolate them from the rest of society.
The CDC has swung in its policies from any semblance of rehabilitation to being purely punitive.
To make their policies palatable to the public, they must dehumanize the prisoners. A media ban, preventing the media from entering prisons and interviewing particular prisoners, is designed to prevent the public from seeing human beings affected by these policies. Other programs, such as family visits, under the excuse that they are “conjugal” visits and a sex privilege for inmates, are also under attack. Family visits allow mothers to touch their children. With
out that fundamental nurturing, the link between a mother and her children, already strained by the forced separation, is further jeopardized for both of them.
Plans for future “emergencies” include removing many lawbooks from prison law libraries, removing weight lifting equipment from the yards, random drug testing of prisoners, ending quarterly packages and reducing good time for prisoners who actively pursue too many lawsuits.
CCWP joined many religious, cultural and prison activist organizations in denouncing the so-called “emergency grooming regulations.” Following is the statement one of our members made at the CDC hearing:
“CCWP is particularly concerned with the situation that women prisoners face in California.
“The so-called grooming standards are part of a longstanding policy which has developed in the CDC to strip back the Prisoners’ Bill of Rights which was formulated in the 1970s under Governor Jerry Brown as a response to a militant prison movement as well as growing outside support. Since that time, and particularly in the last few years, the state has pulled back from this Bill of Rights. The CDC has rescinded the Bill of Rights; has instituted a media ban policy which means that the news media is not able to enter the prisons and interview individual prisoners; has cut back significantly on family visits; has begun x-raying visitors in several institutions; has generated these so-called grooming policies; and now we hear about the possibility of abandoning quarterly packages and changing uniforms. At the same time, the prisons become more and more crowded, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association grows more and more powerful, and the budget of the CDC expands in leaps and bounds.
“One of the things that strikes me most about these so-called grooming standards is the CDC’s obsession with defining and protecting the differences between men and women. Use of the terms “flamboyant,” “masculinize” and “de-feminize” shows some of the real concern here. There are differences between prisoners, including differences of sexuality and sexual identity. Male prisoners who are more “feminine” as well as female prisoners who are more “masculine” should be protected, rather than forced to fit into molds that the CDC has determined are normal.
“There are clear issues of religious and cultural beliefs regarding individual grooming practices. We believe that the CDC is trying to make a very clear point ? that to maintain order in totally overcrowded and inhumane institutions, they must dehumanize the people within them. Their goal is to prove to the public and to the prisoners themselves that these men and women are nothing more than mirror images of each other. That individual differences between them are bad and that a faceless mass is what they are keeping behind these walls. In reading these proposed regulations I am reminded of photographs from concentration camps; where people’s individual features are lost in a mass of similarly dressed, clothed and (un)groomed people.
“The women and men in California’s prisons are not faceless – they are our mothers, our daughters, our brothers and our sons. They have done the crime; they are doing the time. Let that be punishment enough.”

Deaths from Medical Neglect Continue at CCWF

JAB, CCWF
I am only writing this story because by the time it gets printed I know I will be long gone, far from Chowchilla. It’s about being very sick and trying to get some medicine to get better.
[JAB describes in detail the nightmare she endured when she got sick with a flu while at CCWF. Her co-workers wanted her to go back to her housing unit so they would not catch it. She had to get permission to see an MTA, who did determine that she was sick enough to see a doctor. The doctor prescribed Tylenol, cough syrup and antibiotics and wrote her a lay-in notice so she could
stay in bed the next day. She had to fight for several days to have the medications dispensed to her. She had to stand several hours in the rain to even have the privilege of fighting for her medications and for a few more lay-ins. She concludes:]
I felt really lucky, because I would get better, I would survive.
Today I found out that yesterday, at the same time I was fighting for my antobiotics and my lay-in, there was another woman on C yard. She was 33 years old. For three weeks she has been telling the MTAs she had run out of her high blood pressure medication. She didn’t have the energy to fight them for it. She just went to her bed and died!
Sometimes women have to have a seizure before they are able to get their seizure meds.
Our medical care sucks. We are left standing in the rain when we are truly sick. We just lose days rather than try to prove we are sick. Some of us lose our lives. It should not be allowed to happen. The MTAs are all stressed out and hate the inmates. They laugh in our faces when we beg for help. Most of them probably treat their dogs better than they treat us.
How many inmates have to die before they do something about our health care system??? It is a horrible thing to get sick in prison. Its even worse to die here because no one cares enough to listen.

The “Pin” System

Women in Dwight Women’s Prison, Illinois
In recent months the Dwight Women’s Prison installed a “pin” system in its telephone system. This new law was allegedly caused by gang members allegedly gaining too much access to trafficking drugs by means of the telephone. Now prisoners’ calls are to be tape-recorded and limited to a certain number of calls. We were told to list all the phone numbers we plan to call, list the names of persons whom we call and that we cannot call anyone else except those numbers “if they are approved.” If you need to call another number they allow you to add or delete numbers every four months.
This is a problem. Out of the population of eleven hundred women in Dwight and Kankakee, excluding the women in Dixon and Logan, Illinois, medium security prisons, 95% are mothers. Many of the women have children in Department of Children and Family Servies, separated in foster homes, often moved to different placements. Some have children in different states and cities, being cared for by different family members. Occasionally a child could be hospitalized, or in a situation of some urgency.
With this “pin” system, mothers have to wait four months to add or delete their children’s phone numbers. This causes lack of stability in communication with the child and the child’s caregivers.
Perhaps the State of Illinois doesn’t feel the necessity of the mother to keep a bond with her children after incarceration. To do this is to sentence a prisoner to excessive punishment beyond the sentencing of the court. The mental and emotional torment of a parent trying to communicate with a child on a telephone system that allows you exactly 15 minutes to talk before it cuts you off, that interrupts your call with recorded messages that “the call is from a prison,” that records all your personal thoughts and sentiments is cruel and unusual punishment by the State of Illinois.
The situation with the male prisons concerning drug trafficking should not be an excuse to legitimize causing further pain and suffering to female prisoners’ children. Women are the main caregivers of children, and separations are emotionally fatal to them. It is mandatory that they have access to visitations, mail and phone services to their mothers, without delays of four months if they are moved to a new residence in foster care or with family.
In fact, it goes back to the insensitive natures of slave keepers towards women held in slavery and the atrocities they suffered: being brutally torn apart from their offspring without any compassion. Society has a moral obligation to the thousands of children dependent upon society after they have been separated from their mothers.
Write to the legislators about how they failed to consider this problem they’ve created for mothers and children!

Medical Abuse Mounts Despite the Settlement

Linda Field, CCWF
The newspapers are filled with articles on the settlement of our medical lawsuit. People seem to believe everything is fine now, but it isn’t.
Judge William Shubb had not even signed his name to the settlement when the name of another inmate in Central California Women’s Facility was placed on another death certificate. While trying to shift blame, the truth is they just don’t care.
Since mediator Michael Keating didn’t start to monitor until December, CCWF medical staff had more than three months to ignore, misdiagnose, mistreat and kill as many inmates as they want while the people of California believe we are receiving wonderful care.
The expensive equipment housed in the Paris-Lamb Health Center is used by untrained medical staff. They told at least one inmate she was having an asymptomatic heart attack as the EKG was being done. The inmate, who felt no pain, was sent to work and spent the rest of the day terrified. The truth was that the RN reversed the leads, creating a false image.
Women are not being sent out for life-saving treatment until it is almost too late. Medications are being withheld by medical staff even though doctors have written STAT on the prescription.
And all the while, this facility, the California Department of Corrections and the state officials claim we are receiving wonderful treatment.
We have lost too many. To be slowly, deliberately killed, one by one, extracting pain needlessly is what we are faced with. It would be more humane if we were simply lined up and shot cleanly.
We beg you…. please don’t condone this. Don’t turn your backs on us.

Is Anyone Listening?

by Marcie Fort, VSPW
The isolation one feels
   In a crowd, all alone…
Memories of our families
   Memories of home…
The regrets and remorse
   All a little too late,
Fill up our hearts
   With anger and hate.
The mind games played
   Just to survive…
The suffering in silence
   The tears that are cried.
The emptiness within us
   That invades our souls…
There’s nowhere to run,
   And nowhere to go.
We create our own prisons
   Surrounded by walls…
We took the risks
   Made the choices and falls
“Life isn’t a game,
   No rehearsal” it’s said.
I bite my tongue daily,
   As I scream in my head!
“I’m not an animal
   To be abused at will!”
By my captors’ egos
   To keep me quiet and still.
So…if anyone is listening
   To my heartfelt lament
I hope you can feel me,
   That was my soul intent.

Claudia Reddy Dies at Madera Community Hospital

by Judy Greenspan
As The Fire Inside goes to press, we have learned that Claudia Reddy died early Saturday morning (February 21) in the intensive care unit at Madera Comty Hospital. Claudia, a battered woman serving 17 years to life for defending herself against a violent and abusive husband, died of respiratory failure due to the untreated uterine cancer that had spread to her lungs.
Claudia spent the last 15 years of her life in prison. The California Coalition for Women Prisoners and other prisoner advocates were involved in an intensive campaign to win the compassionate release of Claudia Reddy. Unfortunately, the hostility of both Governor Wilson and the Board of Prison Terms (parole board) toward Claudia and her crime of self-defense guaranteed that she would die in custody. Since November 1 of last year, Claudia was on life supports at the Madera hospital. Demonstrations in front of the parole board, press conferences at the hospital and a national letter-writing and fax campaign could not budge a callous and uncaring criminal injustice system.
Claudia is survived by her husband, Jerry, who was at her side as much as humanly (and superhumanly) possible throughout her incarceration and particularly during her last months of life, and by her mother and three sisters, who spent several weeks in Madera visiting their dying family member. Until her last breath, she was guarded by two armed corrections officers earning double time pay. Claudia will be remembered by all of us as a strong, caring, loving and determined woman who was unjustly incarcerated for taking action to defend her life.
Sympathy cards can be sent to the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, 100 McAllister St., San Francisco, CA 94102. We will forward them to the family.