The whole world watched as Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans exposed the deep racism of our country. Over 1,000 lives were lost and countless people were trapped in unspeakably horrible conditions for weeks as the U.S. government claimed helplessness in the face of this disaster that could have been minimized if the states and federal government had placed human needs before corporate greed.
Prisoners in state and county jails were abandoned. Many people in New Orleans were arrested while trying to feed and clothe themselves and their families.
We dedicate this issue of The Fire Inside to those prisoners, family members, attorneys, journalists and community activists who exposed the unspeakable conditions in jails and prisons in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas?and raised the call for investigation of these conditions and amnesty for everyone arrested in the aftermath of this disaster.
I am appalled at the indifference of our government. They were so slow moving to respond it was sickening. When they finally responded it seemed to be only because of media ? suddenly when all eyes were focused on the fact that they were not doing anything, they felt they better get busy now. In the meantime, underprivileged, sick, elderly and minority people were being left behind as if they counted for nothing, as if no one cared. It was so heartbreaking and it made me ashamed of my own country and fellow human beings. Prisoners were left to drown and it opened my eyes to how society considers me less than human because I am a convicted felon. After awhile, I couldn?t watch the news anymore.
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Racism is alive and well. I hope it was a wake up call for the country. People who are poor or people of color are just not going to get what they need. The only good thing was that the hypocrisy was exposed. This country needs to shape up.
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If I could go down to New Orleans, even if I had to be shackled all the time, I would do it just to be able to help people there. Some people here come from that area, so it touches them personally, but most people are happy to help. We collected over $3,000 for flood victims.
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A lot of people here were hurt watching what happened to New Orleans. Some have still not heard what happened to their families there. The guards passed out the forms to indicate if and how much you wanted to donate from your own funds. Everyone filled out the form and retuned it within the alloted hour, but we have not heard what happened to that money. Has it gotten there?
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Some people responded to Katrina, and the tsunami before that, but some tune out all news. Many have families in the area and wanted to call to find out what happened to them. You could not get through at first, it took several weeks to hear if our families were OK. We heard that they left prisoners to drown in their cells. It made us wonder what would happen to us if there ever was an emergency here.
Cassie Pierson, Staff Attorney, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
In June 2005, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that the court would establish a Receivership to take control of the delivery of medical services to prisoners incarcerated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). On October 3, 2005, a written decision was issued detailing the court?s specific Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (Plata v. Schwarzenegger, No. C01-1351-THE, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California).
What led the court to take such a drastic step? It was not just the Plata lawsuit but years of neglect by the CDCR to deliver constitutionally mandated medical care to thousands of prisoners. Judge Henderson wrote: ?It is clear to the Court that this unconscionable degree of suffering and death is sure to continue if the system is not dramatically overhauled. Decades of neglecting medical care while vastly expanding the size of the prison system has led to a state of institutional paralysis. The Prison system is unable to function effectively and suffers a lack of will with respect to prisoner medical care.?
What were some of the findings that influenced the court? Here?s a partial list:
(1) An increase of over 500 percent since 1980 in the prisoner population coupled with the failure by the CDCR to reform its management structure, information technology, and health care services;
(2) A decentralized structure in the CDCR which allowed individual wardens to determine prison standards and operating procedures;
(3) Lack of qualified medical staff including administrators, doctors, and nurses;
(4) Data management (to manage appointments and track follow-up) is virtually non-existent;
(5) Lack of medical supervision—only 5 or 6 prisons have an adequate Chief Physician and only one-third of the prisons have an adequate Health Care Manager;
(6) Failure to engage in meaningful peer review;
(7) CDCR has failed to hire regional medical directors as ordered by the court;
(8) Prisoners do not have timely access to physicians nor are their requests for medical care properly assessed by a nurse;
(9) Interference by custodial staff with medical care; and,
(10) Extremely poor management of prison pharmacy operations.
In testimony, court expert Dr. Goldenson said that inadequate medical care was the result of not only incompetence, but also gross negligence. One example is the case of a prisoner who reported a two to three week history of chills and fever and although he repeatedly visited medical staff, he was sent back to his housing unit. The prisoner eventually received a diagnosis of endocarditis, a potentially fatal heart condition treatable with antibiotics, but did not receive any medication. The prisoner was seen in the prison emergency room and despite the objections of the nurse on duty who recognized the severity of the prisoner?s condition, the doctor tried to return the prisoner to his housing unit without treatment. The prisoner was sent to the prison?s Outpatient Housing Unit for observation rather than the community hospital emergency room and he died of cardiac arrest.
The receivership will remain in place until the State assumes its legal obligation to run the CDCR in a way that provides constitutionally adequate health care to all prisoners.
Developed by the California Coalition for Women Prisoners in consultation with Prison Law Office.
? In June 2005 Judge Thelton Henderson declared that the state prison medical system was ?terribly broken? and placed it in federal receivership. Henderson wrote ?The harm already done in this case to California?s prison inmate population could not be more grave, and the threat of future injury and death is virtually guaranteed in the absence of drastic action?.
? Judge Henderson?s action was taken after reviewing changes mandated by the Plata law suit, filed by the Prison Law Office, and finding that changes were grossly inadequate.
? Once a Receiver is chosen, the CDC will no longer have control over the prison health care system. Until then the CDC maintains the current system although state corrections officials admit that the system is in ?extreme crisis?.
? The court had hoped to quickly find an experienced candidate to fill the position of Receiver, but in early November it hired a professional search firm, Korn Ferry International, in order to find a qualified person for this extremely difficult job.
? It could be sometime in the spring before the system in actually managed by a receiver.
? Judge Henderson has also appointed a consultant to prepare a report outlining ideas for addressing two of the most serious problems in the health care system: a growing number of staff vacancies for doctors, nurses and technicians; and the inadequacy of systems for reviewing the deaths of inmates under medical care and the number of serious injuries caused by poor care. In his order, Judge Henderson requested recommendations regarding interim solutions to staffing problems pending the appointment of the Receiver.
? The Prison Law Office will continue to monitor the new health care body, under the settlement of the Plata lawsuit, even after the Receiver takes over. This is paid for by the state.
? During this transition period, prisoners should continue filing 602?s when they have a grievance about the medical care they are receiving. They should proceed through the entire 602 process, up to Sacramento until they receive a notice from Sacramento that the 602 has been denied. At that point they should send a copy of the denial to CCWP or directly to the Prison Law Office.
? Under Plata MTA?s are not supposed to serve as gatekeepers. Please let CCWP or the Prison Law Office know of any instances when MTA?s are making decisions medical staff should be making.
? Language translation is available through AT&T telephone service which is contracted for by the CDC. Service is mandated when a translator is unavailable in any situation where the prisoner cannot communicate comfortably in English. Please let others know that this service is paid for by our tax dollars and should be asked for when needed!
Este año es el 10 Aniversario de la fundación de la Coalición de California para Mujeres en Prisión (CCWP). Es un momento para celebrar nuestra historia asi como lo hicimos en nuestro maravilloso evento de aniversario el 9 de Junio.
¡También es un tiempo de reflexión, evaluación y espectativas!
Cuando nos preguntaron ?¿Qué han logrado?, ¿Qué ha cambiado para las mujeres en prisión en los últimos 10 años?? la respuesta derrepente no es obvia de inmediato. Apesar de los constantes esfuerzos de nuestros miembros dentro y fuera de prisión para cambiar las condiciones y retar al complejo industrial de prisiones, el cuidado de salud es aún abominable , el atestamiento se torna cada vez peor, los condenados a cadena perpetua no estan recibiendo libertad condicional , y las mujeres adentro aun enfrentan acoso sexual y abuso por parte de los oficiales correcionales. ¿Ante esto que hay que celebrar?
Hace 10 años el hecho de que las mujeres fuesen el sector mas rápido en crecimiento dentro de la población en prisión era mantenido como un secreto, y los problemas que enfrentaban eran sumamente invisibles. Charisse Shumate miembro fundador de CCWP, cambió esto cuando se convirtió en la demandante principal del pleito legal contra el DCC (Departamento Correccional de California), retando la gran negligencia del sistema de salud en prisión.
Las Mujeres en prisión a lo largo de los años han liderado el camino en el desarrollo en la educación y organizando estrategias que han empoderado a mujeres para lidiar con el VIH y la Hepatitis C, para llenar peticiones de habeas y 602, prepararse para audiencias de libertad condicional e iniciar campañas de peticiones en contra de guardias abusivos.
Ellas se unieron con gente de afuera para formar una organización de base que pudiera apelar por las mujeres en prisión en ambos lados de los muros.
Desde el inicio CCWP ha estado comprometida a ?levantar conciencia pública? dandole voz a las prisioneras. The Fire Inside (o El Fuego Adentro) provee un foro para mujeres adentro, y para comunicar y organizar. Inspirados por la determinación de nuestras hermanas adentro, miembros de familia y abogados han organizado concentraciones, han hablado en conferencias y clases, han escrito cartas a los editores de periódicos locales, y mas recientemente hemos producido un video sobre la lucha de Charisse Shumate y sus hermanas en prisión por servicios de salud básicos. Juntos hemos ayudado a a cambiar los terminos del debate sobre las prisiones y el nivel de conocimiento público ha cambiado significantemente. Ahora cuando vas a la web y tipeas Women prisoners, veras 14,300,000 entradas al tema y la página de web de CCWP esta a la cabeza en la lista!
No solo hemos construido conciencia, hemos construido solidaridad entre los miembros de familia, abogados y mujeres encarceladas mediante constantes visitas y proyectos conjuntos. Hemos creado una comunidad que esta genuinamente dedicada a cambiar la violencia institucional, y las inequidades raciales, económicas y de género que son las bases del complejo industrial de prisiones. Construir comunidad no ha sido siempre fácil. Hemos tenido que luchar para ser honestos acerca de la forma en que el racismo opera no solo en el sistema de prisones si no también entre nosotros para mantenernos divididos. También hemos tratado de superar los muros que nos separan entre diversas opciones sexuales, capacidades, religiones y contextos culturales.
Desde 1995, nos hemos determinado promover el liderazgo de mujeres en prisión y ex prisioneros. Estamos particularmente orgullosos de que en nuestro 10 Aniversario, nuestra nueva directora ejecutiva Yvonne Cooks, es una ex-prisionera y una mujer de color! También estamos orgullosos de que nuestra organización continua basada en el trabajo de voluntarios que juntos contribuyen cientos de horas cada año.
Claramente, tenemos tareas monumentales delante de nosotros, pero hemos puesto una sólida base para sostener esta lucha.
Estamos especialmente emocionados de que nuestro nuevo proyecto Compañeras está comenzando a tratar los problemas, específicos de las mujeres inmigrantes en prisión. Hemos aprendido y logrado mucho en los pasados 10 años y sinceramente esperamos que todos nuestros lectores continuen uniedosenos para ?Preocuparnos Colectivamente por las Mujeres en Prisión? en la decada que viene!
This year is the 10th Anniversary of the founding of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. It is a time for celebrating our history as we did at our wonderful anniversary event on June 9th. It is also is a time for reflection, evaluation and looking forward!
When we are asked ?what have you accomplished, what has changed for women prisoners in the past ten years?? the answer might not be immediately obvious. Despite all the consistent efforts of our members inside prison and outside to change conditions and challenge the prison industrial complex, health care is still abominable, overcrowding is getting worse, life-term prisoners are not receiving parole, and women inside still face sexual harassment and abuse from correctional officers. So what is there to celebrate?
Ten years ago, the fact that women were the fastest growing sector of the prison population was a well kept secret, and the problems they faced were largely invisible. CCWP?s founding member, Charisse Shumate changed that when she became the lead plaintiff of the class action lawsuit against the CDC, challenging the gross neglect of the prison health care system. Women prisoners over the years have led the way in developing peer education and organizing strategies which have empowered women to deal with HIV and hepatitis C, to file habeas petitions and 602 grievances, prepare for parole hearings and initiate petition campaigns against abusive guards. They joined with people outside to form a grassroots organization which could advocate for women prisoners on both sides of the walls.
From the start, CCWP has been committed to ?raising public consciousness? by giving voice to women prisoners. The Fire Inside provides a forum for women inside and for communicating and organizing. Inspired by the determination of our sisters inside, family members and advocates have organized rallies, spoken at conferences and classes, written letters to the editor of local papers. Most recently, we produced a video about the fight of Charisse Shumate and her sister-prisoners for basic health care. Together we have helped change the terms of the debate about prisons and the level of public awareness has changed significantly. Now when you go to the worldwide web and type in women prisoners, you see 14,300,000 entries on this subject and the CCWP website is at the top of the list!
But we have not just built awareness. We have built active solidarity between family members, advocates and incarcerated women through consistent visits and joint projects. We have created a community of people who are genuinely dedicated to changing the institutional violence, and the racial, economic and gender inequities that are at the foundation of the prison industrial complex. Building community hasn?t always been easy. We have had to struggle to be honest about the way in which racism operates not only in the prison system but also among all of us to keep us divided. We have also tried to overcome other walls that separate us, between straight and queer, between abled and disabled, between people of different religions and cultural backgrounds.
Since 1995, we have been determined to promote the leadership of women prisoners and former prisoners. We are particularly proud that on our 10th anniversary, our new executive director, Yvonne Cooks, is a former prisoner and a woman of color! We are also proud that our organization continues to be based on the work of volunteers who together contribute hundreds of hours each year.
Clearly, we have monumental tasks ahead of us. But we have laid a solid foundation to sustain this fight. We are especially excited that our new Compañeras project is beginning to address the specific, aggravated problems of immigrant women prisoners. We have learned and accomplished a lot over the past 10 years and we sincerely hope that all of our readers will continue to join us in ?Caring Collectively for Women Prisoners? in the decade to come!
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[To remember the founders of CCWP who have since passed away, we print their pictures throughout this issue.]
Charisse Shumate, lead plaintif in the class action suit Shumate v. Wilson, which charged that CDC?s medical practices constitute cruel and unusual punishment. CCWP was formed to support the organizing inside that led to over seventy women prisoners participating in the law suit.
Sherri Chapman?s abysmal medical care was investigated by Amnesty Internatio-nal, which helped bring a spot-light on the issue. She refused to accept second-class medical care for herself or others.
Judy Ricci, HIV and HEP C peer health educator, hospice volunteer, tireless fighter for women prisoners? right to be healthy and well
Patrisia Gutierrez Contreras, third life term prisoner to receive compassionate release in California?s history. She held that as painful as it might be to struggle for justice without seeing signs of change, it is far better to die not having one?s hopes realized than to die without knowing hope at all.
A victim of this insane prison society
Never ending ridicule, distributed systematically
Freight in my eyes
Living in a bloody disguise
Just a mold among all women
I’m labeled as quite a sin
By the system put to shame
But I am not the one to blame
I fight for me
To end this strife
It’s a shame that a large part of the staff who work here at VSPW are immature men who regularly verbally assault us. They take pride in inflicting rules, not enforcing them.
The verbal and emotional abuse is the norm. The men don’t even respect the female staff. I’d be embarrassed if I was continually getting pay raises while the state’s youth go without school materials. It is a sad time for California. Locking people up is not the answer. Rehabilitation is a term that only exists on paper.
The system loves it when all we do is eat noodles and zone out to the TV, it makes their unlocking doors job (which is the rough point of their day) that much easier.
This institution does not promote recovery. The substance abuse program is primarily concerned with bodies in the beds so they get paid. We are warehoused like cattle.
Nutrition here is a joke. There isn’t enough iron, protein, green vegetables, or calcium, which contributes to various health problems over time. It would save the state money in the long run in medical costs if we had proper nutrition here.
The defeminization of having our hair up 24 hours a day, even in our non-programming time is just a form of control, to keep women feeling bad about themselves. This institution is like going from one abusive relationship to another, and nobody even hears your voice because you’re behind walls.
Recidivism means this place is a revolving door. There isn’t anything at this institution to show you tools to change your attitudes or habits.
Women, how do you cope? What’s going on at your institution to promote healing, recovery? Give us some ideas. We need help to stop the madness that infests VSPW. We need outside help, so the public is aware of the abuse that is daily here.
[We reprint a small part of a research paper written for a class by the daughter of Sara Olson, currently inprisoned at CCWF]
An enormous piece of my family went missing when my mother was sent away to prison. Most children may not understand what’s going on. Why is their parent gone? They may have had no warning.
Children are the hidden victims of the criminal justice system. Having my mother taken away from my family was a very traumatizing event. She now sits in a cell 3,000 miles away from home, and the prison makes it especially difficult for us to be close to her.
The growth of the prison system has dramatically impacted the lives of millions of children. In 1999 U.S. prisons held parents of over 1.5 million children, an increase of over 500,000 since 1991. Children of color are far more likely to have a parent in prison. Black children are nine times more likely to have a parent in prison than white children. Latino children are three times more likely.
When parents have to go away, children feel sad or worried. They may feel abandoned or feel they may never see the parent again. Not a lot of information is given, and many children may worry that something terrible may happen to their parent while in prison. It can hurt a child very much to know that their mother is being treated harshly in prison. I worry about that every day.
Children may feel alone when their mom is gone. We may sometimes feel like we could have done something to prevent this, or be mad at our parent for getting into the trouble that sent them away. The stigma of incarceration is significant. Children get taunted and may be avoided as being part of a “bad” family with criminals in it. Children may feel ashamed of their imprisoned parent. The stigma makes it difficult to seek help.
There are very few resources where families and children can go to ease the impact of incarceration. Few prisons offer child friendly services. I have to fly to San Francisco and then drive three hours to finally visit my mom. Then there are motel and car rental costs. I am lucky I can afford to make that trek. Most families don’t have the means. Half of the children with mothers in prison never visit them because of the lack of opportunity. I can write letters and receive phone calls. Most young children can’t write and those phone calls are incredibly expensive.
For most families, prison tears them apart. We felt that it would do the same for us. But when my mom was sent away, my family realized that the love we had for her was even stronger. Prison visits are the key to helping children stay in contact with their parents, and helping them with the trauma of not having them around.
We miss and love you! Salutes to “Happy,” JoAnn, and Juju-Mama! CCWP is a blessing. We’ll miss Christina and we will embrace Yvonne.
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Wanda Brown, CCWF
I appreciate you all taking the time and effort to talk, listen, and to care about our needs. And don’t give up on us, this place can be really negative but you put positivity in our lives. I appreciate it all and pray they won’t run you away.
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E. Sherrie Smith, CCWF
We women here at CCWF would like to send a very special honor of thanks to Urszula, Diana, Sally, Christy, and all the rest of the volunteer team at CCWP. Thank you so much for all your help over the years.
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Hakim Anderson, CCWF
Oppression among women in prison is prevalent. Thanks to CCWP we fight for humanity.
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Sara Olson, CCWF
Thanks for bringing a little bit of the outside inside, for spinning our stories outward.
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Nick Bottom, CCWF
I would like to honor a FRIEND who touched many lives inside as well as outside there walls. Kerri (K-Loc) Broughton will always be remembered as a TRUE FRIEND to many as well as a BLESSING from God. May the Heavens hold you tenderly. A special thanks to the ladies of CCWP for all the support and care you’ve given CCWF. Thanks a million. God Bless.
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Genea Scott, CCWF
While being here I have had the opportunity and pleasure of meeting and receiving support from CCWP staff and volunteers. Thank you all… A shout to Christina! Keep up the good work wherever you may go in life you will succeed. Look toward the sky and keep smiling. You’re a star fr many of us, good luck girl and see you soon. Welcome Yvonne Cooks to CCWP and into our lives. Peace and love.
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Linda Field, CCWF
I would like to take this time to remember some of our lost sisters. Diana was the first to die here because of medical negligence (July ’91). We lost Birdie Foleu. I lost two roommates, Annie Jackson and Minerva Gonzales. Let’s not forget Charisse Shumate and all the others. Please dedicate the next decade to all of the sisters burried but who will live in our hearts.
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Bambi Boyer, VSPW
Thank you and God bless your organization for giving a voice to those that society has forgotten.
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Sammy Pierce, CCWF
From the bottom of my heart I want to thank Urszula for coming into my life and showing me that some things are worth fighting for. Urszula has stood by me through this long 2-year trip fighting for Native American rights.
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Mary Shields, CCWF
Diana, you have been a blessing to my life. So know that no words can truly say what I feel in my heart about you. Thank you for caring so much about me and others. You are a blessing to all because you are a very special lady. Thank you again for making a big difference in my world.
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Bea Smith-Dyer, CCWF
I have been told to expect miracles. CCWP has been our ray of light through this journey of darkness. Love, Bea.
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Medina Ibbotson, CCWF
Over the years I’ve needed help woth medical and personal issues. Without the help of CCWP I wouldn’t have a place to turn.
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Marilyn Buck, Federal Correctional Institution, Dublin, Ca.
You live your intentions though sisters who struggle from outside after crossing over. Carry on the tradition!
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Jane Dorotik, CCWF
May we be blessed with the future of our choice. May we live to see a thousand reasons to rejoice. In solidarity, Jane.