A Strategy Meant to Break Me Fuels My Passion for Human Rights

Amy Preasmyer’s powerful article was just published in the SF Bayview. CCWP has visited Amy for several years and supported her when she wanted to write about her recent terrible experience with Administrative Segregation at CCWF.

http://sfbayview.com/2013/a-strategy-meant-to-break-me-fuels-my-passion-for-human-rights/
A strategy meant to break me fuels my passion for human rights
October 16, 2013

by Amy Preasmyer

I am an inmate at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, California. In April 2013, I and another individual were falsely accused of sexual assault and placed in Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg) immediately. I was forced to face the loss of my job assignment, property, good living quarters, placement and status in groups and organizations. I was forced to miss my scheduled final examinations for college and lost the privilege to shop, walk outside or even call home.

Chowchilla Freedom Rally 'CCWF is at 200 capacity w 4,000 people inside' 012613 by Wanda, web

This little girl and her grandmother and hundreds more traveled to CCWF, California’s main women’s prison, in January for the Chowchilla Freedom Rally to demand, “Bring our loved ones home.” Their sign highlights the dreadful overcrowding at CCWF, created in order to ease crowding in the men’s prisons. The situation has not improved. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

The federally mandated Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) protocols and the complexity of its consequences turned my world upside down in seconds.1 This protocol has no intelligence or consideration of the law or constitutional rights that the judicial system offers and in many cases merely lacks. Through PREA, I quickly learned the cruel conditions of Ad-Seg.

This false accusation under PREA meant I was abruptly removed from my bed late in the evening to face an extended wait and then a transfer to Ad-Seg. Upon entering my newly assigned chambers at 3 a.m., I found the toilet was backed up and a DD3 (EOP)2 had urinated everywhere prior to me, leaving extremely unsanitary conditions and aromas.

I was left with only a bedroll, a state issued muumuu and no panties. I was utterly distraught and in a mental state of haze and disorientation, not knowing the excessively degrading experience I would continue to face from that point forward.

The torture and anguish administered with each passing minute, the refusals, limitations, the sudden removal of rights and privileges, and the revisions established by prison officials reveals a clear abuse of authority and misuse of power.

CCWF Ad-Seg conditions and limitations include:

Inadequate (if any) legal assistance and resource access.
No phone access.
Canteen items removed from original packaging.
Absolutely NO educational or rehabilitation opportunities afforded.
No religious services.
No contact visits.
No means to properly disinfect and sanitize cells.
No sanitation in dayroom, hallways, and stairs even while escorts continually take place daily and frequently.
No efficient and proper mental health assessment, evaluation and tracking.
No razors to maintain feminine hygiene (30 day review).

And the list goes on.

I was subjected to this treatment for an investigation evidenced as false. I am forced to start over when thrown back into general population, and CDCr holds no accountability, doesn’t right their wrong, nothing.

They remain unaccountable and unmoved by the loss, humiliation and set-back I endured those countless days and nights. They failed to offer guidance, leadership or assistance in reinstating my original program, assignment and the positive participation within my community I was once commended for.

Further, the cost to arrest, charge, investigate and re-house us was absurd. No precautions were taken toward California’s budget and its continued economic crisis. Nonetheless, I was guilty until proven innocent, a constitutional right broken and overseen based on “protocols,” but in reality, it is because everything changes behind these walls.
I was subjected to this treatment for an investigation evidenced as false. I am forced to start over when thrown back into general population, and CDCr holds no accountability, doesn’t right their wrong, nothing.

In a world of hardened minds, poverty, misunderstandings and violence, PREA offers a tool for manipulation of the system, its institutions, and all of those within it.3 What is disturbing is that the woman who filed the accusation under PREA sought – and ultimately was rewarded with – a transfer to California Institute for Women (CIW), the only other institution where a woman serving a life sentence term can be housed. In addition, there was no disciplinary action for her false allegation or restitution for expenses incurred behind it.

I was sentenced as a juvenile to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), and there was an enormous capacity for me to change my life as I matured from adolescence to middle age.4 It is unnerving that my opportunity for rehabilitation and education was jeopardized and challenged by a protocol set forth by CDCr, the very department that stands firm on their claim for rehabilitation and education.

Yet, those are among the first things denied when we are placed in Ad-Seg and hold the greatest ramifications on our future successes. These are all a result of the system’s damages.
In a world of hardened minds, poverty, misunderstandings and violence, PREA offers a tool for manipulation of the system, its institutions, and all of those within it.

Must we wait for more victims before we seek and support a change? Or is CDCr simply waiting until PREA is manipulated in a way that damages them, society’s example of law-abiding citizens?

Had this woman falsely accused an officer, would that officer have been arrested and forced to relinquish rights pending results of the investigation into the accusation? Would the employee suffer a wage loss? Would disciplinary action and consequences be rendered to the accuser once charges turned out to be baseless? Are you waiting until you have to rebuild your life or are you supporting to seek change now?

After being subjected to this methodical strategy meant to break me for a mere investigative purpose based on false allegations by another inmate later evidenced, I have chosen to embark on another journey to overcome and refuse to be their puppet or their statistic. I will not allow CDCr policies or standard operating tactics to make me stray from rehabilitation, education and future re-entry into society. As many say – that is NOT an option!

I defy the daily systematic obstacles set in place to make struggles become failures. There is no expectation of success and, through this ignorant assumption, I am empowered and influenced. What was intended to discourage has fueled the passion and participation in the Human Rights Movement for humanity and peaceful resolutions when faced with resistance behind bars and in the systems of injustice.

If we believe, we can achieve. Together we can make a difference. Support restoring lives and the need for change NOW.

Send our sister some love and light: Amy Preasmyer, X-29459, CCWF 511-19-4U, P.O. Box 1508, Chowchilla CA 93610. This story will appear in The Fire Inside, the newsletter of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.

Fire Inside’s editorial notes:

1.Enacted by Congress in 2003, PREA (P.L. 108-79) sets protocols to prevent, identify, respond to and monitor sexual abuse of incarcerated or detained people in custody. PREA aims to address sexual abuse as it may occur between inmates or may be perpetrated by correctional facility staff. Grant funding is available at both the state and local level of government to implement PREA. PREA also mandates that information on rape and sexual abuse be collected and made available as part of the monitoring provision of the act. For more information, see http://nicic.gov/prea.
2. EOP stands for Enhanced Outpatient Program, a program designed for inmates who are categorized as having a disability that makes it difficult for them to interact with the general population in prison but not so serious that they require inpatient care. DD3 is a designation within the EOP classification.
3: This occurs in a context of severe overcrowding following the conversion of Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) to a men’s prison, as over a thousand women and transgender prisoners were transferred from VSPW to either CCWF or California Institute for Women (CIW) in Corona, outside of Los Angeles. CCWF is currently functioning at close to 200 percent of its design capacity.
4.: According to the ACLU, there are approximately 2,570 children sentenced to LWOP in the United States, including children sentenced as young as 13 years old. The United States is the only country in the world that sentences youth to LWOP. See https://www.aclu.org/blog/tag/juvenile-life-without-parole.

 

Chowchilla Freedom Rally Media

The Chowchilla Freedom Rally made big waves in the local media! Below is a compiled list of the media coverage of the rally including radio interviews, television segments local to the Central Valley and articles written about the solidarity actions held in Santa Clara, Philadelphia and London.

Chowchilla Freedom Rally: It Just Ain’t Right, Interchange Blogspot, 2/2/13

Despite realignment efforts, numbers are still high in California’s women’s prisons, FSRN 1/31/13

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle with Ida McCray, Adrienne Skye Roberts, Windy Click, Community Video 1/30/13

Many speak out against possible CIM expansion, Daily Bulletin 1/30/13

CCWP member, Windy Click and Youth Justice Coalition Organizer Leslie Mendoza on Monday Morning Mix, KPFA (min 28) 1/28/13

Officials insist inmates’ needs are being met at Central California Women’s Facility, Merced Sun-Star 1/29/13

Inside the women’s prison in Chowchilla, CBS 1/28/13

Protest against prison overcrowding draws hundreds, KSBY 1/27/13

Manifestación de la Libertad, Univision 1/27/13

VIDEO: Hundreds of prison protestors rally outside of Chowchilla, Merced Sun-Star 1/26/13

Thousands Rally Against Prison Overcrowding, KSEE 1/26/13

Protest Against Overcrowding Held Outside Philadelphia Women’s Prison, CBS 1/26/13

Protest against prison overcrowding draws hundreds, The Tribune 1/26/13

Protest Against Overcrowding Held Outside Philadelphia Women’s Prison, CBS 1/26/13

Group to Protest Outside Jail Saturday, Redwood City Patch 1/26/13

Op-Ed: Angela Davis/Windy Click: Rallying to end women’s prison crisis in California, Fresno Bee 1/25/13

Chowchilla Freedom Rally to draw hundreds of Bay Area residents to Central Valley to protest women’s prison, SF Bay View 1/24/13

Groups set to protest crowding at Chowchilla women’s prison, Merced Sun-Star 1/24/13

Mumia Abu-Jamal Speaks Out Against Crowding More Into Chowchilla Rally Jan, Prison Radio 1/16/13

Over 400 protest overcrowding at Chowchilla Freedom Rally

On Saturday, January 26, 2013, over four hundred people from across California rallied, marched and chanted to protest extreme overcrowding, deteriorating healthcare and constant lockdown in the women’s prisons.  The crowd demanded an end to gender discrimination and unconstitutional overcrowding. Rallies in solidarity were also held in Redwood City, Philadelphia and London.  Local media, such as the Merced Sun Star featured the rally in their news coverage :  http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2013/01/26/2781378/hundreds-of-prison-protestors.html.

Hundreds march from Valley State Prison to Central California Women’s Facility to protest unconstitutional overcrowding.

Angela Davis and Windy Click Op-Ed: Rallying to end women’s prison crisis in California

An Op-Ed about the Chowchilla Freedom Rally co-authored by Windy Click and Angela Davis was recently published in the Fresno Bee. For the past 10 years, Windy was member of CCWP and an organizer inside Valley State Women For Prison. She was released in September 2012 after surviving 17 years inside and is a core organizer for the Chowchilla Freedom Rally. Here are some quotations from the op-ed and check out the entire article at the Fresno Bee.

“We are joining thousands of prisoners and families when we declare it is past time to bring our loved ones home. It is past time to stop the prison and jail expansion that has devastated our communities. It is past time to stop the criminalizing of our families, friends and neighbors. It is time to end policies like Three Strikes that leave many to needlessly die of old age in cages. It is time to institute and expand parole for sick and elderly people. It is time to widen alternatives to imprisonment. Thousands of people in women’s prisons can be freed right now. Money saved by reducing the prison population could provide drug treatment, re-entry services, mental health support and job programs.”

“Those of us working to end the prison crisis, and those of us who have lived inside these prisons, can tell countless stories of ongoing suffering: up to eight people living in cells that were built for four, or even two; lack of basic hygiene; the spread of infections; and failure to address preventable illnesses leading to health disasters.

The effects of poor health conditions and crowding are especially difficult for elderly prisoners, and the widespread use of lockdowns are contributing to mental health problems, including suicide. Access to jobs, programs and legal resources are largely unavailable. People living inside these prisons, along with their advocates on the outside, have noted that these unimaginable conditions and the state’s decision to continue to crowd women and transgendered people into these prisons constitute clear violations of human and civil rights.”

Chowchilla Freedom Rally!

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is converting Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) into a men’s prison in response to a U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce overcrowding. Instead of releasing people and closing VSPW, they are squeezing over 1,000 women and transgender people into the two remaining women’s prisons. The population of the other women’s prison in Chowchilla, Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) is dangerously close to 4,000 even though its maximum capacity is 2,000. The conversion has aggravated overcrowding, created dangerous conditions, and health care is already getting much worse. What’s more, they have added yet another men’s prison to their inhumane system. We’ve had enough! Come show support for all people locked up in Chowchilla’s prisons and tell the Federal Judges that overcrowding must stop now!

CHOWCHILLA FREEDOM RALLY

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Rides available by bus and carpool.

Contact chowchilla.rally@gmail.com or 415-255-7036 x 314

Caravans leaving from MacArthur BART in Oakland at 10:30AM and Chuco’s Justice Center in Inglewood at 8:30AM. We will gather at 2PM at SE corner of Ave. 24 and Fairmead Blvd off Highway 99 in Chowchilla.

Rally begins at 3PM at VSPW.

OVERCROWDING = DEATH

BRING OUR LOVED ONES HOME!

COMMUNITY RELEASE PROGRAMS * PAROLE FOR ELDERS * RELEASE FOR MEDICAL REASONS * END LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE (LWOP)

Solidarity actions encouraged! If you cannot make the rally or do not live in California, we encourage you to organize a solidarity action on the same day in your community. Hold a demonstration in front of the DOC offices or the county jail, organize a speak-out against prisons in a public space, stand in solidarity the Chowchilla Freedom Rally! Please let us know how we can support you! Contact info@womenprisoners.org.

Interested in helping organize this event? Join our coalition! Our next meeting is Wednesday, January 2, 2013 from 6 – 8PM at the CCWP offices. 1540 Market Street, Suite 490, San Francisco. Or contact adrienne@womenpriosoners.org.

The Chowchilla Freedom Rally Coalition includes members from California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Justice NOW, All Of Us Or None, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children, Fired Up!, Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project, Critical Resistance, Youth Justice Coalition, Global Women’s Strike, Occupy 4 Prisoners, Asian Pacific Islander Support Committee and the California Prison Moratorium Project.

State prison “realignment” falls short with plans for female ex-convicts

By Suzanne Bohan
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 03/01/2012 07:14:19 PM PST
Updated: 03/01/2012 09:48:43 PM PST
When Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law last year drastically changing the rules for oversight of low-level felons upon their release from prison, plans for handling the influx of female parolees fell between the cracks, say many experts.
“I’ve been screaming for a year, ‘What are we going to do with the women?’ ” said Edwina Perez-Santiago, who on Thursday opened one of the few services in the state for assisting “AB 109 women.” Her chief focus for the project, based in Richmond, is finding housing, a challenge heightened by laws barring felons from renting low-cost federal housing.
In April, Brown signed AB 109, a “realignment” bill that transfers oversight of felons exiting state prison for nonviolent, nonserious and nonsex crimes from the state to county probation departments. And effective Oct. 1, newly convicted “non, non, non” felons would be jailed in county facilities instead of state prison, part of an effort to reduce bulging populations at the prisons.
In exchange, the state pays counties for their increased load of prisoners and parolees.
Counties statewide have been scrambling to prepare for the influx, but the focus has been on aiding male felons in transitioning to stable lives with jobs and housing, or on jail accommodations for low-level felons convicted after Oct. 1.
“We’re all focused on the men,” Perez-Santiago said. “What about their mothers, aunties and everyone else?”
Women have unique needs, she explained, such as arranging child care or healing from the emotional scars of domestic abuse.
Advocates for female prisoners agree.
“Women are going to be impacted, proportionally, much more than men,” said Karen Shain, policy director with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children in San Francisco. She explained that more than half of the 7,500 women in state prison were convicted of low-level offenses. Typical crimes included drug use, credit card fraud or larceny.
By June, some 500 women released from state prison will fall under county oversight because of the new law, Shain said. “It’s a problem every county is going to be facing,” she said.
Counties have leeway in how they manage the new parolees, such as GPS monitoring, stays in drug-rehabilitation centers, house arrest or supervised release.
Perez-Santiago’s new service, the “Re-entry-Reunite Project,” is unique, said Terrance Cheung, chief of staff for Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, of Richmond.
Services for AB 109 women “are not as developed,” he said. “She’s the one solely focused on that.
“She’s a credible, formidable woman,” Cheung added. “She knows her stuff.”
Perez-Santiago said several women fresh out of state prison in Southern and Central California for low-level offenses want to relocate to Richmond, but she doesn’t have housing for them because of rents the women can’t afford and the restrictions on federal housing for felons.
Funding for the project now comes from private donations and Perez-Santiago’s own contributions, although she’s seeking county, state and federal funding for it.
A few of these women are in their 50s, she noted, and have been in prison since their teens. Once she does find housing, the nonprofit Reach Fellowship International, which she heads, will provide them with jobs, such as landscaping work. The organization also offers GED, ESL and other classes.
“But as long as I can’t get a roof over their head, it’s a little challenging,” Perez-Santiago said.
Contact Suzanne Bohan at 510-262-2789. Follow her at Twitter.com/suzbohan.
To learn more
What: Re-entry-Reunite Project
Address: 1662 Fred Jackson Way, Richmond
Phone: 510-289-7901
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Thursday

New bills regarding the death penalty, juveniles and gangs

February 28th, 2012
The following article was sent to us by The Criminal Justice Information Network
At Deadline Legislature Introduces Hundreds of New Bills: Juveniles, Gangs, and the Death Penalty
Friday, February 24th was the deadline for legislators to introduce bills. More than 800 bill proposals were filed on the final 2 days. Here are a few bills of interest:
SB 1514 (Anderson R) Death sentences: automatic appeal.
Current law requires an automatic appeal to be made to the State Supreme Court in death penalty, or capital, cases. This bill would remove this right to an automatic appeal. The bill would instead allow for an appeal to be taken to an appellate court in the same manner as non-capital cases, except under certain circumstances. Click for the full language here.
SB 1363 (Yee D) Juveniles: solitary confinement.
Would require that juveniles shall not be placed in solitary confinement unless they are found to be a substantial and immediate risk of harm to others and all other less-restrictive options have been exhausted. When a juvenile is placed in solitary confinement under this bill, correctional facility staff must take certain precautions as regards to mental health. In addition, the youth must maintain their rights, such as the right to bed and bedding, education, and religious services, among others. Click for the full language here.
SB 1506 (Leno D) Possession of controlled substances: penalties.
This bill would reclassify simple drug possession offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year. Click for the full language here.
SB 1307 (Runner R) Criminal street gangs: registration.
Current law requires anyone who has committed a crime that the court finds is ?gang related? to register their residential address within 10 days of release from custody. This bill would require this registration to occur annually and for each time an address is changed. It would make it a misdemeanor to fail to register or update registration. Because this bill amends law that was enacted through Proposition 21, a citizen?s initiative that was approved in 2000, the bill will require a 2/3 vote. Click for the full language here.

STOP THE CONVERSION OF VALLEY STATE PRISON FOR WOMEN TO A MEN’S PRISON: FINAL PETITION READY TO SIGN

February 16, 2012
http://www.change.org/petitions/cas-gov-brown-cdcr-secretary-matthew-cate-judge-t-henderson-stop-the-conversion-of-valley-state-prison-from-a-womens-to-a-mens-prison
You may have already signed and that’s great. We have modified the wording and included the complete joint statement from people inside both women’s prisons in Chowchilla, CA.
Please pass it on and reply if your organization wants to be listed as an endorser.
Currently there are over 2,650 women and transgender prisoners housed at VSPW. Instead of releasing thousands who are eligible to go home, CDCR is planning to transfer them to the Central California Women’s Facility (159% over capacity) and California Institution for Women (139% over capacity.)
Our communities have endured and suffered forced removals and relocations of people openly and under false pretexts for generations. Even though no prison is where anyone wants to or needs to be, closing and moving women out of this one is yet another uprooting to the detriment, and against the will of, people rendered powerless and whose humanity is disregarded.

STOP THE CONVERSION OF VALLEY STATE PRISON FOR WOMEN TO A MEN’S PRISON: FINAL PETITION READY TO SIGN

February 16, 2012
http://www.change.org/petitions/cas-gov-brown-cdcr-secretary-matthew-cate-judge-t-henderson-stop-the-conversion-of-valley-state-prison-from-a-womens-to-a-mens-prison
You may have already signed and that’s great. We have modified the wording and included the complete joint statement from people inside both women’s prisons in Chowchilla, CA.
Please pass it on and reply if your organization wants to be listed as an endorser.
Currently there are over 2,650 women and transgender prisoners housed at VSPW. Instead of releasing thousands who are eligible to go home, CDCR is planning to transfer them to the Central California Women’s Facility (159% over capacity) and California Institution for Women (139% over capacity.)
Our communities have endured and suffered forced removals and relocations of people openly and under false pretexts for generations. Even though no prison is where anyone wants to or needs to be, closing and moving women out of this one is yet another uprooting to the detriment, and against the will of, people rendered powerless and whose humanity is disregarded.