Former Prisoners Speak Out at UC-Santa Cruz Student Rally

Former Prisoners Speak Out at UC-Santa Cruz Student Rally
by Urszula Wislanka
The students at University of California Santa Cruz have been protesting the state’s priorities in spending money on building prisons while cutting education. Several students went on a hunger strike on Thursday, April 11. On the fifth day of their hunger strike, April 16, they held a rally. About 100 other students came to participate in the symbolic chaining of the students to the entrance of the University. The hunger strike invited speakers from California Coalition for Women Prisoners to address the rally.
One former prisoner said it was good to demonstrate, to bring attention to what’s going on in prisons and focus on prisoner’s needs. But one demonstration on campus may not be enough because the prison bureaucracy is very static and hard to change. She urged the students to keep taking actions, to write letters, to continue talking to people.
Another former prisoner wanted to break the silence about the inhumane treatment, such as stopping letters to/from loved ones on “prison security” pretexts. She said: “I have various thoughts about captives and how they are seen by the captors. It seems that every rule and every attitude was designed to make me feel diminished and inferior — morally inferior to the rest of the world. I think my captors really believe that prisoners are not quite human, that we already had to have been ‘criminal types’ before getting to prison. My own experience was one of battling the underlying sense of futility that comes from facing the obvious contempt every moment of every day.
“I saw overt brutality at times and I have been subjected to mental cruelties, such as withholding my property and ‘misplacing’ moneys in my account only to have it miraculously found after my monthly canteen draw had passed. Sometimes I received mail postmarked three weeks earlier, and, when I complained, I was promptly told that this was prison and if I didn’t like the treatment, don’t come. I was often engulfed by frustration over arbitrary decisions made by the prison guards. And they are guards. Calling them correctional officers doesn’t change that or some of their nazi mentalities.
“Nobody ever explained any real purpose that may be served by treating inmates with contempt, by brutal acts, by poor medical care, etc. I wonder: are any streets in any city in California safer because all these thousands of people are locked away? Moreover, has any one of us been in any way improved or reformed by the experience? There is no rational humane explanation.
“There does, gover, seem to be a

They Said Nothing Was Wrong….

They Said Nothing Was Wrong….
by Linda Fields #26257 from CCWF
Her name was Anna, Annie Bells to me, Gator to most. She didn’t have much book learning, she was illiterate. Annie took a remedial reading class as long as she could. She would come back to our room and read a children’s book, so proud to be able to make out a few words.
Annie loved the yard. She would work in the plumbing shop all day, come in for count and work in the yard all evening. People would stop in front of unit 507 and just gaze at all the beautiful flowers she had lovingly raised from seed. Our yard was a showplace. She was so full of life and joy. Her blond hair would fly behind her as she’d race the wind. That was my Annie. But all things must change, not always for the best. Annie grew quiet. She no longer had energy. The medical staff said nothing was wrong. She hurt. She bled too much and too often. She kept asking for a pap smear. They didn’t give her one. She couldn’t eat, kept loosing weight. They did nothing. After months, the doctors decided to give Annie her pap smear. All of a sudden, she was sent out to a cancer clinic for laser treatments. She laughed about her little tattoo dots, the marks showing were to aim the laser. They said she’d be fine. Then they kept her overnight for several days, putting radioactive pellets inside her. She came back weaker, with huge blisters from her buttocks to her ankles. She quietly cried. She had implants several times in the month of April 1994. Still, she was forced to work.
The garden grew weeds, Annie worried about the flowers. She tried to keep up but could not. She grew too weak to attend reading class. She no longer picked up her children’s book. She no longer slept. Nights were the hardest for Annie. She tried not to moan aloud, she didn’t want to bother anyone. The sheet metal we call a bed cut into her thinning body. Could would seep into her bones. Still, she worked. Nothing was wrong they said. “Get away from the MTA office,” the medical staff would yell.
We asked if Annie could take a shower in the middle of the night to ease the pain. “It’s not permitted,” we were told. Many times she would just stand, holding onto the metal bed poles, crying, afraid or unable to move. The housing staff would call the MTA to help her. There was nothing they could do. Aspirin, Motrin, that was it. The pain became unbearable. By October, Annie was swelling. First her ankles and lower legs. Still she had to work. She no longer had strength to go to the dinning room. We stole food for her that she could barely eat. We begged for medical help. They said she couldn’t die from swelling. “Get out!” they’d yell at her. They said there was nothing wrong with her.
Still Annie was forced to work. They would not un-assign her. The garden turned brown and died as if it wept for its tender. Annie paled and swelled more. She couldn’t get her shoes on. She couldn’t eat, she vomited. Day after day, Annie would lay in front of the medical clinic on the ground, sobbing for help. They said she was fine and get away before they wrote her up. She couldn’t work anymore. Her poor little body was shutting down. Finally, the doctors decided something was wrong. They admitted her into the treatment center where she was placed in a room and forgotten. Forgotten by the medical department, but not by the inmates here at Central California Women’s Facility.
Annie died in December of 1994. She didn’t want any special treatment, she didn’t want anything fancy. She was used to a lot less. All Annie wanted was to be treated like a human being. Would anyone allow their animals to go through what she went through? The animals have the SPCA, who did Annie have? Who cared about her? I did. I loved Annie. She was my best friend, my roommate. I swore that I would never watch another person die like she did. I promised her I would tell her story. Please, remember Anna Jackson. She was a mother, a daughter, a friend. Don’t let her suffering be for nothing. Don’t ever let this great state of California kill another woman like her again. I have her name on the inside of my locker. I read it every day. I will remember her. Make my last memory of her racing the wind and winning, not laying in front of an MTA’s clinic, sobbing. Let her live through us, the women left doing time in CCWF, with a medical department that treats us as humans.

Women Sue for Healthcare

Women Sue for Healthcare
by CCWP members
On April 4, 1995, 24 courageous women prisoners with grave illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, sickle cell anemia, AIDS and tuberculosis, filed suit in the Federal District Court in Sacramento against Governor Pete Wilson and the California Department of Corrections. The medical care in prison is so inadequate — seriously-ill women in pain are being systematically denied access to doctors and medication — that is amounts to a violation of the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
The shocking conditions facing ill women prisoners are torturous, as crucial medical attention is delayed and denied. Some women have suffered through the agony of AIDS, dying after having had pain medication no stronger than Motrin. Meanwhile, there is no HIV specialist for women prisoners and access to HIV/AIDS education materials have been denied to prisoners even though the number of HIV positive women in California prisons is growing. Told that there is nothing wrong with them and turned away from the doctor, women in debilitating pain suffer intensely, getting sicker and sicker, only to be diagnosed with life-threatening diseases like cancer after it is far too late for treatment to save them.
Tragically, Brenda Otto, a plaintiff in the lawsuit (Shumate et al v Wilson), died at CCWF on April 28, 1996. When members of the lawsuit team interviewed her on April 4th, she stated that she had had a minor stroke in March which went untreated, because the doctor maintained there were no tests they could do to prove she had a stroke. She also informed the doctor she was having chest pains and shortness of breath upon walking short distances, yet she was refused a stress EKG test. Subsequently, Brenda had another stroke, according to an ex-prisoner, and she was sent to an outside hospital which wanted to keep her for observation. Nonetheless, prison officials insisted that she be returned to CCWF, where she was denied a stay in the infirmary and was placed in her cell for a three-day lay-in. Shortly thereafter, Brenda had a heart attack on her way to breakfast and died.
Other outrages include the removal of all egg crate mattresses (used by women who have disabilities in order to avoid bed sores) from CCWF, according to a woman incarcerated there. Additionally, all prisoners are required to pay $5 for each request to visit a doctor, even if they are not allowed to see the doctor. “There have been many times that I have not had the money to purchase necessary medical supplies because I have been forced to use my limited funds to $5 for each medical visit,” said Charisse Shumate, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. Pregnant women who enter the Department of Corrections system are now being housed at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which has no 24-hour infirmary and is not part of the lawsuit (because it opened after the lawsuit was filed). Women who are carrying twins or who have had high-risk pregnancies in the past are not getting proper attention, and the number of babies being born dead is unconscionable. Pregnant women, women with chronic diseases, or those who develop life-threatening illnesses while in prions are not receiving proper healthcare, diet, or medication. Thus, a sentence of imprisonment for crime can turn into a sentence of torture or even death for a woman or her child.
Marcia Bunney, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, gives this compelling analysis: “Whatever one’s commitment offense, it is abhorrent to allow treatment of the kind endured by the women prisoners of this state. The United States is quick to condemn other nations’ brutality and inhumanity while allowing special interest entities and their political figureheads to manipulate the spending of as many tax dollars to imprison and torture our own people as we do to educate them. Californians look to Bosnia, China and Rwanda and recoil in horror and disbelief; yet how many smugly justify the torture of prisoners by saying, ‘Prisoners shouldn’t have rights?’ How many deny, and ultimately ignore the ad hoc death sentences delivered by the California Department of Corrections in the guise of medical care for those in its custody?”
If you have experienced any medical difficulties or know of any problems relating to medical care in California’s women’s prisons, please contact the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) at (415) 255-7036, extension 4, or writ to us at 1540 Market St., Suite 490, San Francisco, CA 94102.

If Walls Could Talk: Statement from Charisse Shumate, prisoner and lead plaintiff

If Walls Could Talk:
Statement from Charisse Shumate, prisoner and lead plaintiff,
Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF)

I, Charisse Shumate, wish I could be there with you because, as you grow in numbers for us behind the walls of CCWF, the big cover up is going on inside. Now, for those who ask why should they care or believe we are asking for “Cadillac care,” if we were allowed to have video cameras or tape recorders, the truth could be seen or heard about the junk yard care we receive. The sad part is why were we, who are mothers, daughters, sisters and grandmothers, compared to a car? Is it because they have forgot we are human? If walls could talk we would not have to beg help. Please, it could be your best friend that dies behind the walls of CCWF. We made a mistake, one that we are paying for. But for those who believe we must pay with our lives, may god bless you, because he sees our cries, our pain, how women are locked alone in rooms to lay and no one to check on them or told to go back to their unit, they are not in a life threatening situation. For those who don’t know how to help, just pray for us.