Suicide City

Sara Olson, CCWF
Right after 4:30 p.m. count on Halloween, there was the sound of a scuffle in D Hall. An alarm brought guards running from all parts of the yard. An ambulance pulled up to the back door of the hall in which we live. The attendant pulled open the back door, got back into the ambulance and backed the rear of the vehicle up to the door. Next thing we knew, a phalanx of guards came hot-footing down our hall toward the ambulance, three of them surrounding a tall, slim woman with her wrists cuffed behind her back, hair flying everywhere and a wild, terrified look in her eyes. She’d threatened to cut her wrists.
Later, we were locked down at 7:00 p.m. for the rest of the night. Even though several industrious inmates had worked hard to put on a Halloween party for the housing unit, with homemade decorations and cleverly-designed games and snacks, the guards squelched the fun and locked us down. They had to do “paperwork” on the cutter. Both are becoming more and more common, lock-downs and suicides. If it’s the weekend–lock-down. If it’s a holiday–lock-down. People are locked down and they become even more depressed, over and above the general pall produced by simply doing prison time. Bam! Another suicide attempt . . . or worse, a success!
It’s suicide city at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF). One prisoner said to me, “I’ve never seen so many people trying to kill themselves as I have in the last year. Sure, people die of natural causes . . . well, ‘natural’ prison causes like years of poor diet, no medical care, ever-present tension, but this suicide stuff!” As one of my roommates said, “It’s a madhouse.”
The warden was compelled by the rising rate of suicide attempts to issue a memorandum in August. In it, she assured the overcrowded, crammed-in-for-life masses that she is, “committed to insuring that you all have access to any level of mental health services you might need to address any mental health issues you may be experiencing.” Huh? More like, each attempt is a crazed reaction to emotional isolation in the midst of teeming predation. It is in prison that a human being comes to know that she really is, no matter what spiritual myths she may embrace to get her through each day, all alone in the universe.
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This is an excerpt from a longer article published by the Fresno Alliance