by Heidi Strupp, Women’s Positive Legal Action Network
A few months back I took a trip to Chowchilla to visit a group of women living in the Skilled Nursing Facility at CCWF. There was nothing unusual about this visit except for the spectacular long-stalked irises and fat roses that color an otherwise bleak prison landscape. When I left the SNF, I met up with a guard waiting to escort me back to the general population visiting room. I’ll call her Officer Betty.
The walk to the main visiting room took Betty and me down a long asphalt path lined with a row of dazzling rose bushes. Word has it that former Warden Farmon loved her roses and spent thousands of tax dollars to spruce up the grounds at CCWF, or rather those parts of the prison open to “free world” folks. I told Betty that the flowers really brighten up the place. “Don’t get too used to them,” she warned me. “We’ve got orders to dig’em all up. And not just those flowers but a lot of the trees too.” “Why!?!” I exclaimed. “Security,” Betty explained. Of course. I told her that I don’t understand how flowers could possibly be a risk to the internal security of this maximum security prison. This is where Betty really laid it all out for me.
“You see that rose bush right there?” a finger jabed out in the direction of a seemingly harmless bush, “Yeah,” anxious to see where Betty was headed with this conversation. “An inmate can rip out one of those thorny branches and slash your face” “Oh, I see,” I responded. Betty continued, “Not to mention that big bushy tree over there.” I looked over at a lonely pine tree providing a spot of precious shade in the sizzling Central Valley heat. “Inmates hide up in those branches and homosect.” “Excuse me?!?” I looked back at the sad little tree with its spindling toothpick branches. “You know, homosect, two women being homosexuals.”
Suddenly our boring stroll back to visiting got really interesting. I asked Betty just how often she finds prisoners “homosecting” up in that poor old pine tree. Images of women falling from its branches in fits of passion complete with broken arms and bruised knees filled my head. She claimed to have pulled out two women only a few days earlier. Just when I thought I’d heard it all, Betty taught me a little more about the deep level of paranoia and homophobia that infects this despicable prison system. Well, at least it’s good to know that Betty and her gang are hard at work “walking the toughest beat in the state.”