Theresa Cruz was abused for five years before she confided in a male friend, who then shot her abuser in the legs. Although the abuser suffered no permanent injury, Theresa was sentenced to life for attempted murder.
Theresa, her mother and her children have tried ceaselessly to win Theresa’s release. As a result of her family’s testimony, California enacted a law in January 1996 (AB231) that allows the Board of Prison Terms to consider the broad effects of abuse on a woman when deciding about her release on parole. But at Theresa’s parole hearing in May 1996 her abuser testified against her and she was turned down for parole and told to come back in May 1998.
For your fighting spirit and the change you’re helping to bring for all women, we dedicate this issue to you, Theresa.
This issue of Fire Inside is also dedicated to Claudia Reddy, a 42 year old Dominican woman serving a 15 year to life sentence at the California Institution for Women in Frontera for defending herself against a violent and abusive husband.
Claudia has already served 15 years and for the past several years, she has lived and suffered in constant pain due to the fast spreading lung cancer that has taken over her body. As we go to press, we have learned that Claudia was rushed to the intensive care ward of the local hospital. Doctors say she has less than a week to live. The California Coalition for Women Prisoners urges everyone to call, fax or write both Governor Wilson and the Board of Prison Terms (parole board) to demand that Claudia be granted either an immediate compassionate release or clemency.

Women Prisoners Win Shumate Case! Demonstration for Rights of Women Prisoners Set for October 4th

by Karen Shain
Lawyers representing women prisoners at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) and California Institution for Women (CIW) settled a lawsuit regarding the abominable medical care that the women have been receiving. The settlement gives the California Department of Corrections (CDC) 16 months to provide adequate medical care to the prisoners.
If the settlement is approved by the district court, an assessor will monitor health care in the two prisons with the assistance of four medical experts. To be in compliance, the prisons must, among other requirements, make timely referrals to physicians for patients needing urgent care; ensure that prisoners receive necessary medications without life-threatening delays; provide necessary physical therapy; offer preventive care including periodic physicals, pelvic and breast exams, Pap smears and mammograms; protect patient privacy by restricting access to medical records and ending practices that publicly identify women with HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.
CCWP member Charisse Shumate, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, expressed her mixed feelings about the settlement: “We won part of the battle but we are losing the war. The battle won was at least a watching eye on CCWF’s and CIW’s medical departments. MTAs [Medical Technical Assistants] are being trained that we are human. Their attitudes are changing slowly for the better. The war lost is the state still will not admit to their lack of knowledge of women’s medical needs, their outright neglect that caused us to watch each other die behind these walls, who were not sentenced to death by a judge. But our death is on the hands of those who want to put a bandaid cure and call it adequate care. To all of the dream team [the Shumate legal team] I want to say on behalf of myself and every woman here at CCWF, we thank you, our prayers are forever with you. It was a hard job, but my heart says it was a job well done. Thank you for your concern and your watchful eyes.”
“The women who brought this suit aren’t out for money or fame,” said Ellen Barry, director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. “They’ve stuck their necks out and stood up to the state for one simple reason: to hold the state of California responsible for meeting their basic medical needs. We will continue to monitor the situations at CCWF and CIW during and after the assessment period. We are hopeful that the settlement agreement will result in significant improvements in the provision of adequate health care.”
“Everything we did to get this to trial was rehearsal – now we’re ready for the show,” said Marcia Bunney, another CCWP member and a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “I’m ecstatic about this settlement. Finally, we have some standards that we can hold them to. But I’m saddened by the knowledge that they [prison officials] will never live up to this agreement, and I wonder how many women will have to die in here before they will really make a change.”
Valley State Prison for Women, across the street from CCWF, was not part of the lawsuit. But women there, many of whom are pregnant or have cancer, are being denied the most basic medical treatment and human rights.
California’s prison officials will never make a change in favor of prisoners unless they are forced to do so. We demand that they follow the guidelines set up by the Shumate settlement. On October 4, 1997, we are going to the gates of CCWF and Valley State to celebrate the settlement and to show these officials that we will not stand by and allow them to weasel out of this settlement. We will keep our “watchful eyes” on them.

Long Night at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF)

This night, like so many others during my incarceration in cell #19, I am startled awake by the sound of sobbing. As my eyes adjust to the dim light, I see a crumpled figure leaning against the heavy steel door of our cell steadily knocking, knocking, knocking – vainly trying to summon one of the graveyard-shift guards. The knocking goes on and on, with no response from outside the locked door. Soon, all eight women in our cell are awake and banging, yelling, screaming for help. Bitter experience has taught us that our roommate, Charisse Shumate, is in sickle-cell anemia crisis and needs immediate medical attention or she could die.
By now, Charisse’s face is awash in tears from the awful pain. We all begin to panic, because the guards are not responding – help is not coming! I have never felt so helpless. Charisse struggles to stay calm, knowing that the stress of panic will only worsen her condition, causing the sickling action in her blood to increase, creating life-threatening changes in her body.
She finds it increasingly difficult to stand. All she wants to do is crawl to her bunk and give in to the unbearable pain. But she knows if she does not stay on her feet, she may never leave her bunk alive. So, by shear force of will, she stands and continues to knock and knock.
Finally, after what seems like an eternity, a face appears at the door. Charisse struggles to regain composure, wiping away the tears that blur her vision. She knows her life depends on convincing the guard that she needs immediate medical attention. As her vision clears, she realizes she does not know the face peering in the cell window. The guard is new, and no, he has “not heard that inmate Shumate has a medical condition.” “Is this just another convict scam?” he is probably wondering to himself.
Charisse tries to explain her disease to him. Summoning up what is left of her strength, she tells him she has medical protocol papers she can show him, which will prove what she says. He says he is “not interested in reading them.” But tonight, she is lucky and he finally agrees to call the medical department to check out her story. Later, much later, the cell door opens and help arrives. As Charisse is led from the cell, the rest of us all breathe a collective sigh of relief.
However, the danger for Charisse has not ended. She is taken to the infirmary where standard procedure is to lock inmates in a holding cell until transportation to the hospital can be arranged – a process that can take hours. Charisse knows if she is locked away without water, for hydration, or medication, she may die. So, once again, despite the pain, which has now grown to mind-numbing proportions, she holds herself together and tries to explain to the infirmary personnel, why she must have immediate medical help, even prior to hospitalization.
At the hospital, it starts all over again. She has been taken to a new hospital this time – a hospital not experienced in treating sickle-cell patients. (Once before she was taken to a hospital that did not even have the special needles needed for the life-saving blood transfusion she must have.) Again, she finds herself having to explain about sickle-cell anemia. All she can do now is pray she receives proper care.
By choosing to treat Charisse’s disease only when it reaches a crisis stage, the prison system is playing a dangerous game with her life. What happens next time, if the guard on duty does not believe her, and refuses to call for medical help? What happens if the staff at the infirmary that night decide to treat her according to routine and put her in that locked room for hours? What happens when her strength gives out and she can no longer speak for herself? She may then pay for their ignorance with her life.
This story would be sad enough were it only about Charisse. Unfortunately, it is a story very similar to the stories of many, many women with chronic diseases and illnesses now serving their sentences at CCWF. I pray for them all.

From One Prison, a Movie About Abused Women in Prison

by Urszula Wislanka
In June, Prison Resource Activist Center (PARC) and California Coalition for Women Prisoners co-sponsored a showing of Carol Jacobsen’s 1994 movie From One Prison. It is an interview with four women, now in prison as a result of attempts to stop being battered.
The women are Juanita Thomas, Violet Alan, Garaldean Gordon and Linda Hamilton. All four told strikingly similar stories. They said that when the abuse starts, you feel you have to help him. After years and years of it, you can’t take it any more, you have to stop him. They said, “Something snapped inside of me.” But there was nowhere to go, nobody to go to. So they did what they could, taking, or attempting to take, his life.
One woman found the first person she could talk to while in jail. In general, the court system fails women. It’s not just some judges’ lack of knowledge of domestic violence. It’s the whole system.
Once you are convicted and sentenced, you have no privacy, no dignity. They strip you of everything, including your self-esteem.
And don’t get sick! If you get sick, you’ll die. One woman had an asthma attack. An officer came by and kept walking. She died. He said she must have been on drugs. Another woman had a heart attack. She kept calling, complaining about chest pains. They did nothing and she died.
The women said, “I have a right not to be treated like an animal, not to be humiliated.” “I feel like I’m treated like by my husband. I have no control.”
One woman told of being raped in prison, too. It was a maintenance worker coming from what she called “the free world.”
You’re not allowed to have any feelings in prison, not allowed to reach out to anyone. If you put out your hand to touch someone, that’s a ticket.
You learn you just can’t give up. You learn to love yourself and forgive yourself.
The movie’s message was powerful, and moved many in the audience. It showed how the abuse of women by individual men is completely supported by society. In prison, it is the society that directly abuses women. The only way out is for women to get together. We have to stop the abuse of women and the justice system from being another stage in a life of abuse.

Morbid Sanctuary

by Linda Field, CCWF
A friend once uttered the words “battered no more.” While it had a nice ring, I could not help but wonder how true that statement was.
She, like me, was imprisoned for stopping the battering, the abuse. Neither of us stopped it the right way. We simply could not tolerate any more pain. As a result we are both doing “life” sentences, close to the life sentences we were already serving. The only difference were our children. They are safe, but our abuses changed.
Often, I hear the words “I love you” screamed in tune with the punches an angry fist is delivering. More often, it is the subtle mind games being played. “If you love me, you will…”
I no longer have a husband to cater to. After ten years, I am finally in a room where I can take a deep breath, sigh my relief and relax, knowing I’m safe.
I ended my marriage needing a sanctuary, someplace, someone safe and warm. What I got is a morbid sanctuary, bombarded with hate and fear. I feel like I’m playing in a mine field, never knowing when one wrong step, or word, will take me into harm’s way. Will the correctional officer treat me as a human being, or use me as a verbal punching bag? Will I be made to beg for a roll of toilet paper, or ignored as if I don’t exist when requesting passage into my room? Will I panic at a man’s raised voice, a man simply acting the part of a husband in a play? Will the respect I give be returned?
I am safe from one man, but his painful abuse is still living. However, he can no longer deny me friends. He cannot alienate me from the world. I have learned.
I have learned the importance of family and friends. I have found friends within my own self-imprisonment. Some friendships die fleeting, while others, like Judith and Jackie Lie, are long enduring. With them, I can share my deepest fears without the threat of retaliation. I can share the pain of my separation from my children and granddaughter. I can cry and be comforted. Such friendships are few and treasured.
Someday, I shall emerge from this prison’s cocoon. I pray that I will leave the battery behind and will be able to say “Yes, Charisse, my friend, finally I am battered no more.”