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.”

Fighting Abuse and the Criminal Injustice System

by Teresa Cruz, CIW
My name is Theresa Cruz, and I am a battered woman serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole after seven years. I was convicted of attempted murder: my child’s father was shot in the legs five times by another male. He is not dead, crippled or maimed. His life continued and resumed to normal. I was not the perpetrator, but I am responsible for him being shot.
How long will society continue to ignore the incarceration of individuals that made decisions under duress as a result of domestic violence? Don’t misunderstand me. I accept ownership for my participation in a dysfunctional relationship, but like community property, I am only entitled to half.
Domestic violence first came into my life like an undetected disease. It started out slowly. The objective was control over the body and the mind. The end result was total control of one individual by another. When the objective was not met, or fell short of being met, the result was out of control behaviors.
Living in a domestic violence situation is one of the most painful situations one could live in. He beat me and stalked me. I moved five times in three years. He left cards in my mailbox signed “Black Friday the 13th,” signed “Your Ex – Carlos.”
His final threat was to take my child. For five straight years I sustained a lot of abuse, but this final threat pushed me over the edge. I had never been separated from my children, and I cannot even begin to describe the feeling and fear I felt. In reality it was a syndrome that built and built and then exploded. When it came to my children, I lost control of my mind and let my emotions take control. After he was shot the domestic court found him for what he truly was and refused to take custody away from me. I was out on bail for two years and was no threat to society but still had to answer for a crime I had committed.
In April 1995 my children went to Sacramento, California, to testify for a proposed law, AB231, today known as Penal Code Section 4801.* My children took police reports of varous break-ins, photographs of varous beatings and the original cards he’d leave in our mailbox. My children testified about the incidents that led up to my crime. In October 1995, Governor Pete Wilson signed the bill and it went into effect January 1, 1996. My case was a major factor in achieving the passage for this bill, but to this day I have been given no consideration under the new law.
On May 22, 1996, I went for my first consideration hearing for parole. I was commended for my G.E.D., my 18-month Vocational Data Processing Course, and all of my achievements. The parole board did state that my case was a very sad example of domestic violence, how it can get out of control and how this was a tragedy for me and my children. The records prove he stalked me and abused me. At the end I was denied parole and told to return in two years (May 1998).
I am not looking for excuses or for anyone to condone what has happened, for nothing justifies violence. I am asking for mercy, forgiveness and compassion. My children were ages 4 months, 6 1/2, 9 and 10 years old when I came to prison. If looking into your own children’s eyes every weekend and seeing the pain in their eyes and having to say good-bye over and over again for six years isn’t punishment, then I don’t know what is. To hear my child say “If I would have never been born, you wouldn’t be in prison, Mama” is a guilt that I can’t describe. To see the hurt and guilt and resentment he carries towards his father is a pain that can’t be described.
If you support my release, please write to Governor Pete Wilson and James W. Nielsen, Chairman of the Board of Prison Terms. God bless you and thank you.
Theresa Cruz, W-10058
Miller A 32L
Frontera, CA 91720
*AB231 states that the Board of Prison Terms (parole board) can consider evidence of the effects of physical, emotional or mental state abuse upon the beliefs, perception or behavior of victims of domestic violence where it appears that the crimnal behavior was a result of that victimization” when commuting or paroling women being held for violent crimes performed in retaliation for spousal abuse.
The Children of Theresa Cruz Write
Our mother is not a career criminal, she is an abused and battered woman who was pushed to the edge. Our mother’s abuser went to her parole hearing to say that if my mother was paroled his life would be in danger. For years this man abused our mother and now he is the so-called “victim” and has the right to say when my mother should be free. With all our hearts, we want to thank you for taking the time to write two letters.
Send letters to
James W. Nielsen, Chairman
Board of Prison Terms
428 J Street, 6th floor
Sacramento, CA 95814
Governor Pete Wilson
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
Theresa’s family is trying to raise money to hire a lawyer to represent Theresa at her parole hearing. They are asking everyone who can to write a check for $10 to the Defense Fund for Theresa Cruz. The account number 6832 217806 must be written on the check and it should be mailed to Wells Fargo Bank, Bonita Office, 4180 Bonita Rd., Bonita, CA 91902.

Compassionate Clemency for Claudia Reddy: Justice for a Battered Woman

by Judy Greenspan
Claudia Reddy, a 42-year-old Dominican woman, is dying of lung cancer at the California Institution for Women, in Frontera, California. She is serving a 15-year to life sentence on a second degree murder charge. Claudia has already been in prison for over 14 years. Claudia’s crime was defending herself against and killing her abusive husband. She describes in her own words, the brutality that she suffered:
“His jealous possessiveness exploded into physical abuse of me behind closed doors – a shameful secret that hovered like a cloud over our marriage. A heavy drinker, my husband hit me so hard that the retina of one eye was knocked loose – resulting in partial blindness in the eye. A swift kick to my stomach while I was pregnant resulted in a tragic miscarriage. Subsequent miscarriages resulted from other brutalities. An impression of his teeth remain in a semicircular sore on my forearm… Terrified and fearing for my life during one of his attacks, I grabbed his gun to defend myself. I was arrested and convicted of second degree murder.”
I had the opportunity to visit with Claudia this past May prior to her last compassionate release hearing. Claudia, her new husband, Jerry, and I sat together in the uncomfortable visiting room at CIW and talked. Claudia is an extremely articulate, intelligent and caring woman. It is clearly her inner strength, her desire to die outside of prison and be united with her husband (if only for a short time) that is keeping her alive.
Claudia is currently confined to either her bed or a wheelchair. A thin, slight woman, she explained to me that she has trouble swallowing the food that is prepared for her because the cancer has spread to her esophagus. While she was at the outside hospital, medical staff would puree her meals. Now that she is back at the prison, CIW staff has continued her “special diet” but they won’t puree her food. Thus, she has great trouble eating.
She struggles to breathe at night and is routinely given oxygen. She is in tremendous pain. She has been given a prognosis by prison doctors and specialists from the outside hospital of less than a few months to live. Claudia married a very kind gentle man while in prison. Her husband would like to take care of her during this last period of her life.
Neither Governor Wilson nor the Board of Prison Terms has shown any degree of compassion toward Claudia Reddy. In both April and May 1997, Claudia was turned down for compassionate release. Her clemency petition has been gathering dust on the governor’s desk for several years. Claudia asked me to get people involved in her release campaign.
We ask that you write to the governor in her support today. Address your letters to Governor Pete Wilson, State Captol Building, Sacramento, CA 95814.
The message is simple:
Dear Governor Wilson:
Claudia Reddy was convicted of second degree murder over 14 years ago for defending herself against a violent and abusive husband. She has developed lung cancer and been given a prognosis of only a few weeks to live. Though her condition worsens daily, she was turned down for compassionate release by the parole board in both April and May. You have the power to grant Ms. Reddy a compassionate release by signing her clemency papers, which have been before you for over four years. I urge you to do so immediately and allow Claudia Reddy to spend her last remainining days near her family and friends in a community-based hospice.
If you cannot sign her clemency papers then please direct the Board of Prison Terms to grant her compassionate release. I am sure that Ms. Reddy will abide by any terms of parole.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

Abused Before Entering, Battered While Waiting for a Death Sentence not Ordered by Judge

by Charisse Shumate, CCWF
There is a cycle theory of violence. Phase I, tension builds. Phase II, explosion. Phase III, honeymoon.
There is also a cycle theory of abuse by our medical department at CCWF. Phase I, sick. Phase II, sick call, hurry up and wait, sorry no doctor or RN. Phase III, go out to medical, none of what was recommended is done, which can lead to death.
Before I was convicted of the crime, for which I am now serving 17 years to life, I was battered. I told no one until it was too late. I made excuses for the violence. I expected that having family could give my one son what I could not on welfare. It took my coming to prison to find each place where I went wrong. All of what I should or could have done to not be here. But I am here.
I was born with sickle cell (SS) disease. It did not happen after incarceration. Now I am being battered monthly by the medical department, as well as being subjected to verbal abuse to which each woman here is subject on a daily basis.
“Don’t like it here, don’t come to prison.” “You are nothing and no one listens to an inmate.” “You are a liar, a thief, a drug addict.” You are always faking when you are sick. Officers throw tampons and kotex at you like you are dogs.
The tension builds behind these walls like a wild fire. Everything is done to discourage your family from visiting. If you call home for the entire 15 minutes, the call is interrupted with “this is an inmate from a state prison.” No one must forget that for one second.
What has been forgotten by most, inside and out, is that we are human. Mothers, sisters, daughters.
Behind these walls of CCWF we are being forced to buy food and hygiene items from the canteen. If it is sold on canteen, you cannot receive it in a quarterly package. It does not matter if your account is frozen, or you are indigent. Not to mention the $5 co-payment that you pay to see an MTA who will put you on a list to see a doctor and you pay another $5 co-payment to see a doctor whether the doctor shows up or cancels.
You start all over again. When, where will the abuse stop?

Welcome Back, Geronimo!

by Diana Block
On August 16, CCWP was part of a crowd of 2,500 people who welcomed Geronimo Ji Jaga to the Bay Area as a free man. Geronimo, a former Black Panther, was held in California prisons for 27 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He was finally released on bail this June after a judge ruled that his original trial was not fair. The state is still deciding whether to retry him on the same charges.
The event was also a fund raiser for Mumia Abu-Jamal, another former Black Panther. Mumia has been on Pensylvania’s death row for 16 years, convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. The speakers, who included Alice Walker, Leonard Weinglass and Angela Davis, spoke of the many injustices in the prison system and urged everyone to intensify the fight to save Mumia’s life. A major mobilization for Mumia is planned for December 6. CCWP was proud to participate in such a historic event!