Giving Birth to Justice in the Desert

A report from a CCWP-sponsored demonstration in Chowchilla protesting the health care crisis and deaths of women prisoners in the SNF.


by Leroy Moore Jr.

Demonstration Photos:

“The warden is not here. No one is in charge today!”, the security guard barked at the protesters at the gate of the Skilled Nursing Facility of the Central California Women’s Facility, a state prison in Chowchilla. The group had come armed with a list of demands:

  • An end to the lockdown of women in the Skilled Nursing Facility.
  • Compassionate release for dying prisoners.
  • An independent investigation of the Skilled Nursing Facility.

On April 27, 2002, over 75 former prisoners, family members and advocates from around the state gathered at the gates of CCWF to protest the health care crisis and deaths of women prisoners. Chowchilla is in central California, north of Fresno.
Speakers who represented a coalition of organizations including Critical Resistance, Out of Control, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, California Prison Focus, Queers United to Fight Israeli Terrorism, Prison Moratorium Project, Death Penalty Focus, Amnesty International, and Disability Advocates of Minorities Organization, and other community activists took the mike to talk about what was going on inside.
Karen Shain of California Coalition for Women Prisoners and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children put the spotlight on the physical and sexual assaults against women plus the denial of medical care that has lead to 17 deaths at CCWF in the last year. Two years ago the high death rate at Chowchilla got the attention of the Los Angeles Times. According to a Dec. 20, 2000 article, there were 15 deaths in the year 2000, nine in 1999 and 10 in 1998.
Ida McCray-Robinson, a formerly incarcerated poet, mother, organizer, and founder of Families with a Future, pumped up the rally as she told how she used to feel, hearing protesters outside when she was incarcerated. “Make them hear you!” she coached. “We love you, we love you!” we shouted under Ida’s command. As I marched with the other protesters, some very young and some my elders, my blood was boiling from the stories about the way my disabled and terminally ill sisters are treated inside CCWF.
After an hour or so marching and listening to speakers, a handful of activists decided to take our list of demands to the warden. As we approached the gate, three security guards, one of them a woman, communicated to us through their body language, which clearly read “total confusion.” After we asked for the second in command because the warden wasn’t in, the guards looked at each other and replied that nobody was in charge today!
At that moment a common thought breezed into our heads and flew out of our mouths in a chorus, “Well, if nobody is in charge, the women prisoners should come home with us.” We realized that we were talking to a wall with human-like features, so we decided to continue our rally outside the gate.
Beloved activist Yuri Kochiyama rolled her walker up to the mike and told her story about the racist, sexist and classist prison industrial complex that is becoming home to so many in our diverse society.
As the car turned onto the highway to the Bay area, I saw three more prisons all for women. Our mothers, sisters and grandmothers are joining forces with spirits of our ancestors, goddess, Mother Earth and Mother Nature to give birth to JUSTICE in the desert. I wonder would our Native American ancestors agree on how the land and women are being treated? I don’t think so!
Leroy F. Moore Jr. is executive director of Disability Advocates of Minorities Organization, DAMO.