by Judy Greenspan, HIV in Prison Committee, California Prison Focus
HIV+ women prisoners at the Central California Women’s Facility desperately need your help. Women with HIV have always faced discrimination, medical neglect and a lack of confidentiality concerning their medical status. However, the rising epidemic of Hepatitis C (especially among the HIV+ women) and recent changes in the delivery of HIV medications at CCWF have sparked a new crisis.
At the end of December, CCWF changed the way the prison distributes HIV medications. Up until that time, women received a monthly supply of their pills and dosed privately in their cells. All of a sudden, CCWF made HIV medications “hot meds.” HIV+ women now have to stand on pill call line three times a day to be watched while they receive and take their medications. Some of the HIV+ women are supposed to dose between 4 and 6 times a day but now have to conform to this set schedule. The change in med delivery is a serious invasion of the privacy rights of the HIV+ women. Now everyone will know who is postive.
We have recently received many reports from HIV+ women about the difficulty of standing outside in the rain and cold for more than an hour, 3 times a day. Many women have already decided to stop taking their medications rather than risk missing doses or jeopardizing their health. More than 20 HIV+ women signed a group grievance demanding that the antivirals (HIV medications) be given back to them in 30-day intervals by the pharmacy. Beverly Henry
(“Chopper”), an HIV+ prisoner activist, has collected statements from many women protesting the new policy.
Judy Ricci writes from inside, “Not only does this policy affect those of us who do take medication (you know – every 8 hours, with different needs around food intake in correlation to med taking) – but now we’re being denied one of our doses on Sundays and holidays because there is no mid-day med line on those days. It’s like they’re going out of their way to make sure that there’s no possible way any of us could follow these complicated drug schedules that are difficult to adhere to in the best of situations.”
The new HIV treatment cocktails, as they are called, must be taken consistently or else the patient will become resistant to the drugs, creating a new multi-drug resistant strain of HIV that is very harmful. Once patients start on HIV medications, the general understanding is that they will have to take these drugs for the rest of their lives. The new CCWF hot med policy seriously jeopardizes the lives of women with HIV.
The fastest growing epidemic among people with the history of injection drug use is Hepatitis C. The California Department of Corrections estimates that over 60% of all women prisoners have this chronic illness. While there is no cure for Hep C which can be very painful, debilitating and eventually lead to death, there are drugs like interferon that can help control serious bouts of the illness. The California Department of Corrections recently started offering interferon to women prisoners. However, CDC policies state that HIV+ women are excluded from this Hepatitis C treatment. This policy is not only discriminatory but extremely detrimental to the health and well-being of HIV+ women. There should not be an across-the- board exclusion from interferon treatment. Women with HIV should be among the first considered for interferon treatment rather than the last.
Natalie Baret, a woman living with HIV and Hepatitis C writes, “I am at my wits’ end on what to do. What I don’t understand is if someone is in pain, anyone, and there is nothing they can do but give them something to make them comfortable, especially someone with a terminal illness, why not help them? Can someone please help?” [After we wrote a letter protesting Ms. Baret’s exclusion from Hep C treatment, she was placed on interferon for about two weeks and then abruptly taken off without explanation!]
Letters protesting the new “hot med” policy and the denial of Hepatitis C treatment to HIV+ women should be sent to Director C.A. Terhune, California Department of Corrections, P.O. Box 942883, Sacramento, CA 94283-0001; fax no. (916) 322-2877.
We invite you to join us as we speak out loudly in support of HIV+ women. For more information contact the HIV in Prison Committee of California Prison Focus, 2940 16th Street, #100, San Francisco, CA 94103; (510) 533-2590.


by Cynthia Russaw, VSPW-SHU
It takes unspeakable courage
to be thrown into prison, to cry, and
to be young and inexperienced…
It takes enormous courage
to grow up, to dream, to work, and
to risk making mistakes…
It takes steadfast courage
to be disciplined, to take responsibility
and keep trying after disappointments…
It takes gallant courage
to accept abuse, to be harassed, and
to always give unstintingly of self…
It takes dauntless courage
to balance different attitudes
with defeats, and to still relish
life’s sweetness…
It takes invincible courage
to grow in a corrupt system,
run by corrupt staff and government,
and to peruse mortality with a calm eye…
It takes noble courage
to speak out, and tell the world
the system they thought was working
is really cold, cruel and inhuman.

Amnesty International Condemns Treatment of Women Prisoners in the USA

Sexual misconduct and various forms of abuse and neglect of women inmates so pervade the U.S. correctional system that human rights violations are virtually a daily part of prison life, according to a comprehensive new report released by Amnesty International on March 4, 1999. “Not Part of My Sentence: Violations of the Human Rights of Women in Custody” details the abuses suffered by women prisoners in the United States. Part of Amnesty’s “Rights for All” campaign to expose and end human rights violations in the US, the report condemns the US for the grotesque and inhuman treatment many women prisoners are forced to endure and makes detailed recommendations on how to end the violations.
“Sexual abuse of women inmates is torture, plain and simple. Shackling and medical neglect of women inmates constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said. “These human rights violations must not stand.”
Despite the proliferation of women in U.S. penal institutions, the corrections system has failed to adjust to the gender-specific needs of the population. The report maintains that the climate of sexual abuse by prison guards is fueled by a lack of oversight and disciplinary action against sexual misconduct.
Some of the following issues are addressed in the report:

  • Custodial oversight of women is largely assumed by male guards, contrary to international standards that call for female prisoners to be supervised only by female guards.
  • Denial of medical care is widespread. Life-threatening illnesses go unchecked or without adequate treatment.
  • Physical restraints including shackles are used on women inmates, including pregnant women during labor, presenting health risks to women inmates and their newborns.
  • Racial minorities have been disproportionately affected. African American women are eight times more likely to be incarcerated than white women; and Hispanic women are four times more likely
  • Women asylum seekers are often subjected to harsh treatment. While awaiting action on INS claims, they often languish facing the same human rights violations all women prisoners face.

Even in states that criminalize custodial sexual contact, law enforcement is lax.

Caravan for Prisoners’ Human Rights

by Urszula Wislanka
Corcoran, Ca. – “The human rights problem of the world today is right here in the USA!” On October 18, 1997 hundreds of people from all over California participated in car caravans for prisoners’ human rights, converging at the infamous center of guards shooting prisoners in set-up human cock fights, Corcoran prison.
Participants included former prisoners and prisoner rights activists, Art and Revolution, a cultural youth group, and especially families of prisoners, many organized by F.A.C.T.S., Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes.
Coming from the North, we also stopped to demonstrate at the two women’s prisons in Chowchilla, the largest women’s prisons in the world, notorious for abusing women held there.
The caravan coincided with the launching of a year-long campaign by Amnesty International to focus on human rights abuses in the U.S. Speakers at demonstrations at both places told stories of not just the abuse suffered and witnessed inside, but critiqued the whole de-humanizing criminal justice system. The injustice of the Three Strikes is that it criminalizes the poor. Then as prison inmates they are demonized and deprived of any consideration as human beings.
Many different reforms were called for by different speakers, from making wardens accountable to the population to firing of sadistic, fascist guards and public oversight of all prisons’ activities. One young Black man, a former prisoner, expressed the hope of every one there that this demonstration be a beginning of a mass movement.
Yet he was concerned that the primary obstacle to a development of mass movement is the feeling instilled in many prisoners that they deserve their punishment. We had a vigorous discussion about “the battle of the mind – the struggle over our own conflicts.” Starting point for building solidarity between prisoners is overcoming the hatred prisoners feel for themselves. We talked about a vision of an “I” that is not an isolated individual but consciously includes the human relations developed with others, an “I” that is a “we.” In calling for a mass movement Abdul Olugbala Shakur said “working isn’t hard, it’s unity and understanding and having respect for each other which is hard.”
This building of firmest solidarity is a beginning of a real revolution.
Reprinted from News & Letters

Justice Overruled – Theresa Cruz’s Conviction Upheld

by Diana Block
On January 15, 1999 a three judge panel of the ninth district circuit court upheld Theresa Cruz’s original conviction, reversing the April 1998 ruling of federal appeals court judge Napoleon Jones. For those of you who have been following Theresa’s case, this is a serious setback, particularly given our hopes last year when her conviction was finally, righteously overturned. Her lawyer has put in an appeal to have her case heard by a full panel of the ninth district court but it’s not clear whether they will agree to that. Needless to say, Theresa and her family are very depressed about this and in need of support. You can write Theresa at #W-40058, CIW, Frontera, CA 91720. Donations for her defense fund can be sent directly to Defense Fund for Theresa Cruz, Accnt.#6832-217806 (write accnt# on check), Wells Fargo Bank, Bonita Office, 4180 Bonita Rd., Bonita, CA 91902.
We are also planning to circulate a letter supporting Theresa’s release for endorsement by organizations and prominent community members which can then be used in a variety of ways. If you have any ideas for groups or individuals who would be interested in endorsing, please let us know. Any other ideas and suggestions for supporting Theresa’s case are always welcome.