A Nightmare in Chowchilla

by Keri Kolmer-Gutierrez, CCWF
I am 35 years old. Over the past 23 years, I’ve been in and out of drug rehabilitation. Along with the drugs came dysfunctional behavior, burgularies, robberies, etc. I’ve also been in and out of county jail most of my life, either getting bailed out or doing short periods of time with a program attached. But no matter how hard I’d try to stay clean, I would go back to the needle.
Well, this time county jail just wasn’t good enough for the Ventura County Judge. This time I got myself sent to Hell! The Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.
I’m a woman living with HIV. Since I’ve been here in prison, I’ve gotten abused, mistreated and emotionally and mentally stressed out. My t-cells dropped a great deal. The MTAs (Medical Technical Assistants) don’t have a clue how to treat any medical problems, never mind serious, chronic illnesses.
One day, my friend walked me to the MTA after I had a bad epileptic seizure in the dayroom. The MTAs told my friend, “She can’t come in here, let her finish her seizure outside.” It was 107 degrees outside. I then went into another seizure. When they finally brought me in, the MTAs told the doctor that I was faking it.
That’s only one incident of many. I never have my medication on time. They started me on triple combination therapy, including a protease inhibitor, and never told me about the side effects of any of the drugs, including Crixivan. “Just take it,” they said. “Now if you’re late taking that medication, it’s extremely detrimental.”
Since I’ve been here, I’ve witnessed a lot of women going through the same terror every single day. We’re not “allowed” to be sick except on the days we are scheduled for sick call. If we are ill with some serious infection like boils, the MTAs give us bandaids and tell us to go to work anyway. In the heat, when it’s 90 degrees or above, they give “heat cards” to women on psychotropic medications. But if you have epileptic seizures or heart problems, then you are out of luck!
Two weeks ago, I witnessed a young lady pass away in my unit, possibly of food poisoning. She was also ill with the HIV virus. She had been trying to go to sick call for weeks. One day, I heard one of the corrections officers tell her, “if you can walk to the bathroom, then you can walk to the MTA.” They just refused to help her or even call for a wheelchair.
Funny thing, isn’t it? Most of us women who are HIV+ are willing and able to work and we do! All we want is the “proper” medical attention that we deserve. All these so-called doctors need to be put behind cell doors for having the nerve to practice at all. The MTAs also. One MTA in particular really needs to be put away. If you’re dying or even close, she’ll still refuse to see you.
I’m a very angry woman, though not for myself so much. I’m paroling next year. But what about the other thousands of women left behind in this institution? My heart really goes out to the other HIV+ women in here. I want to help and I am going to. This abuse has to stop! No one asked to come here to die. We just want to do our time and make it out alive. Lately, that doesn’t seem likely.
We do not want to die in here alone. Pray for us, please, say a special prayer for the lifers. Thank you.