Who Said?

by Rosie Alfaro, Death Row, CCWF
They say we must die before we multiply,
I say we must keep on living and not digging
the hole for our awaiting killing.
They say that I’m wicked so I must die.
I say I ain’t got no ticket to be wicked
so I just titter cause I ain’t bitter,
my ticket tells me to keep on ticking till time
takes its tough turn and toll towards tomorrow.
They say I must die cause I’m full of hatred.
I say I’m hanging high, a little hard,
but harmless to even having a harmful
heart that’s full of hatred…
They say I must die cause I’m corrupt…
I say I’m not corrupt, crazy, craven a coward
or even cruel… I’m a coy, canny crony,
capable of caring and I won’t kick you to the
curb cause I care…
They say I must die cause I’m malignant.
I say “my oh my,” I’m not mad, I merely manage
and maintain my mind from all this madness
and mud cause I’m not ma
nant, so I make my
move and move on…
I may be down but I’m not knocked out.
I’ll talk my talk and walk my walk.
They say what they want to say.
They do what they want to do.
And me, I keep my head up high,
I won’t shed a tear cause I don’t fear…

Pros and Cons of Being a Lead Plaintiff

by Charisse Shumate, CCWF
I write from my heart and the experience of a battle that I took on knowing the risk could mean my life in more ways than one.
First of all, have an open mind and trust in God to give you the wisdom and strength. As lead plaintiff, staff will very seldom have any thing good to say to you or about you. Medical staff will feel like you are a threat only when they know that they are not doing their jobs the way they should. So you are labeled as a trouble maker. Now your peers with medical concerns will want you to be able to get them immediate help.
Beware that you have all the facts and as much proof as you can get your hands on. Never give up your only copy of anything and keep close records because CDC also labels you as a liar.
Now please don’t give up. When times get rough hold your head up and know that you may be free or dead if you have acute medical needs yourself before you see the change that we fight so hard for. But stay in peace with yourself that you are doing the right thing. It’s not a me thing; it’s a we thing, and together with the Dream Team and the help of CCWP there is light at the end of the tunnel.
And yes, I would do it all over again. If I can save one life from the medical nightmare of CCWF Medical Department then it’s well worth it.

Justice for All?

by Cathy Jacquet Thompson, Death Row, CCWF
The United States houses more women comdemned to die than any other country in the world. Other than when their crimes occur or when an execution date is scheduled for one of us, we remain totally invisible to society. This is probably how society wants it. They do not want to be reminded that they have condemned mothers and grandmothers to die against their will. When they are reminded, they ease their conscience by painting a picture of us as the worst of the worst women on earth, women too dangerous to even be around other inmates in the prison system, women who have committed unspeakable crimes.
The population of condemned women is .01% of the entire women’s prison population. If you take a look back at history, this country has performed 511 legal executions of women starting in 1632. The oldest woman ever executed was 65 years of age, the youngest was only 12 years old. It’s apparent that age has no bearing on our barbaric society.
Executions in the 1600’s, 1700’s and early 1800’s were public carnivals held in the center of towns immediately after sentencings. Women were forbiden to attend executions. A condemned woman was placed on the scaffolds and humiliated before crowds of cavorting men cheering the executioner. It was a show for men.
There are presently over 3,500 men on death row, by far out numbering the 50 or less women. Women sentenced to death are usuually first time criminal offenders. The vast majority of these women come from abusive families and easily fall prey to abusive relationships.
In the book Women Prisoners-A Forgotten Population, the author shows that almost half of the women presently on death row have a history of abuse and are there for the murder of an abusive spouse or lover. When a woman strikes back at her abuser and kills her intimate partner she is given a longer and more severe prison sentence than what a man receives.
Death rows vary from state to state. There is no set pattern. Some states allow women to mingle for meals and yard excercise, while others never allow any contact with another human and women are locked down up to 23 hours per day.
Fifteen years ago many women who were sentenced to death got reversals and sentence modification to life without parole upon appeal. A man who brutally abuses a woman, finally goes too far with the abuse and kills her will receive a manslaughter conviction with a 15 years or less sentence. Depending on which state he resides in, he can get out after serving half the time. If his victim of abuse had killed him out of fear for her life or to escape the beatings and mental abuse, she gets an average of 15 years to life all the way up to death penalty. Obviously, women are not sentenced according to guidelines.
Women prosecutors seem to feel they have to prove they have no gender bias in their eyes and tend to strike out at women that are accused of murdering their abuser.
It is apparent the justice system is still in the control of men as were executions in the 1600’s, 1700’s, and early 1800’s. It is a sad, but true, fact of reality that female prosecutors fear some type of retribution if they show empathy for an abused defendant who killed her abuser.
Most of these cases are improperly defended because of a lack of available funds for defense and investigation. The funds and resources available to prosecute a case have no limit. Is this just one more panel of men making the decisions? Over 50% of the women on death row were represented by male attorneys, their courtroom was controlled by a male judge, and the courtroom bailiffs were male.
Abuse of women starts as a child and ends in the so called justice system. Our Pledge of Allegiance, taught to a child in grammar school, has been challenged for the mention of God. This writer feels it should be challenged for the very last four words we recite “and justice for all.”

Editorial: Death Penalty is Dead Wrong

There are eight women living on California’s death row at Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. Because there are so few women, they are usually forgotten in discussions of the death penalty. Even if there is a huge media flurry when a woman is convicted of a capital crime, once that woman is sentenced and sent to CCWF, she becomes invisible.
Two of the women on death row are African-American; two are Latina; the other four are white. They range in age from mid-twenties to late-fifties. For many of them, this is their first conviction. Most of them say that they were battered at some time in their lives prior to their incarceration. Many of them have no family outside of the prison. They have built a close-knit community amongst themselves at CCWF. All of their cases are presently on appeal and none of them is expected to be executed in the near future. They are: Rosie Alfaro, Celeste Carrington, Cynthia Coffman, Kerry Dalton, Maureen McDermott, Mary Ellen Samuels, Catherine Thompson and Caroline Young.
There are over 3,000 people on death row in the United States today, 482 of them in California. The U.S. continues to execute people at an increasing rate and expands the death penalty to include more crimes while cutting off death row prisoners’ access to legal representation and appeals. This country stands alone among all of the other so-called developed nations in using the death penalty. We in CCWP believe that the death penalty is barbaric – that taking a life in exchange for a life makes no sense.
The racism so present in every aspect of our society is reflected as well in who gets sentenced to death, and for killing whom. The chances of a black person being executed for murdering a white person are four times greater than those of a white person being executed for murdering a black person.
CCWP was formed in response to the abysmal medical care that women prisoners receive. In the past three months, two women died at CCWF after begging for medical care and one woman almost drowned in the bathtub in the infirmary. Women are receiving the death penalty without even being sentenced!
As women, we experience this country as steeped in violence. We face violence every day as we walk down the street. But the call for “law and order” is no solution. It has meant “force without justice” – the uncontrolled incarceration of hundreds of thousands of human beings 1-1/2 million people in the United States this year. State sponsored violence – from the murder of more than 700 people by police in 1996 to the execution of over 400 people in US prisons since 1973 –
has had the most far-reaching effect on us.
The case of Mumia Abu Jamal, an African-American political prisoner on death row in Pennsylvania, has brought the issue of the death penalty into the forefront of progressive politics around the world. We totally support Mumia in his struggle for freedom. And we know that the struggle for Mumia’s freedom is not for him alone. It is also for the other 3,000 on death row across the country, including the eight women here in California. We believe that we need to increase the visibility of the women on death row as part of the battle against the death penalty, and so this month we join with hundreds of women around the Bay Area in a women’s contingent against the death penalty and to free Mumia Abu Jamal. We ask all supporters of women’s rights and struggles to join with us.