Dedication

This issue of Fire Inside is dedicated to women who have been victimized by the so-called drug war and especially those doing incredibly long sentences because of mandatory minimums and Three Strikes.
In particular, we dedicate this issue to Hamedah Hasan who successfully got her life sentence reduced to 12 years. Her new sentence is being appealed by the U.S. attorneys and we all hope for the best. Hamedah writes to Fire Inside: “I feel absolutely great! …God has blessed me with many supportive hard working people throughout this ordeal for whom I am very grateful.”
Hamedah, for your dedication, hard work and perseverance in fighting for your freedom, we dedicate this issue to you.

Is This an Offence?

by Stacey Rena Candler, FCI Dublin
[At age 24 Stacey is serving a 15-year sentence for conspiracy to possess/distribute controlled substance, and aiding and abetting in drug trafficking]
On June 13, 1995 at 7am, the police forced their way into my boyfriend’s and my new apartment. I had just come home from my first job and was getting ready to go to my second job when my life changed forever. I had no knowledge of my boyfriend’s drug trafficking. When the police searched the apartment they found money, drugs, a scale and a firearm. My boyfriend had several past contions and was not working. I had never had any trouble with the law and was working two jobs. Because of my clean record, my boyfriend convinced me to say that the gun was mine. He said they would go easy on me because I was a first time offender. He forgot to mention the mandatory sentence that had to be given when a weapon was involved.
Because I did not report my boyfriends “suspicious activities” the police assumed I knew everything. Claiming the gun made it look like I was covering for my boyfriend, the judge gave me the maximum.
Since coming to prison I have met other women who have similar tales to tell. Many have been given sentences that do not fit the crime and many have been given additional sentences because of their refusal to “cooperate”. I hope that in telling this story I can help bring the attention of women on the outside to our situation. Maybe together we can take steps toward righting the injustice of excessive sentencing.

A Woman’s Story

by Danielle Metz, F.C.I., Dublin, Ca.
When I look in the mirror I do not see a criminal, a murderer, or a threat to society. But when the judge in New Orleans sentenced me five years ago, he said that I had forfeited my right to live in a humane society. Sometimes in the middle of the night I awaken to those very words.
At the age of 26, mother of two small children, I was sentenced along with my husband to three life sentences plus 20 years. It was my first offense and my first involvement with the law.
Our charge was conspiracy to distribute five kilograms of cocaine – cocaine that was never seen, never produced, never confiscated from any of the nine defendants in our case. No substantial evidence was presented at our trial, only hearsay. The government constructed their case on the testimony of people who were already in prison. Each of them received generous reductions in their sentences. Some are now free.
Before our trial, I had no idea what conspiracy was. At the time of my arrest, the agents told me I was not the one they were after. They told me I would go free if I “cooperated.” I just wouldn’t “cooperate” enough. I didn’t know enough to buy my freedom if I had been willing to.
I am now 31 years old, still in prison fighting for my freedom. I was the first woman in New Orleans ever to be sentenced to this type of time for drugs. This used to be shocking, unheard of, but now it’s becoming a fact of everyday life. I am sure almost everyone has heard of the nightmare of Kemba Smith. Well, there are about 15,000 similar nightmares that go unheard of–women locked up for 15, 20, 30 years or life, because of their relationship to a man. Kemba is fortunate because she has parents who are go-getters, dedicated to her freedom. Most of the women in prison don’t have anywhere near that kind of support. Most of us don’t even have any legal help.
The hardest part of all is the separation from my children. We need each other terribly. My heart aches to know that all the love I pour out to them may not be enough to convince them that I haven’t left them out of not caring for them. It’s a tragedy shared by women, children, families and communities across this country. The laws and the “legal” process that took me away from what the judge called “a humane society” are doing lasting damage to the humanity of that society.

In Memoriam to Patty Contreras

by Cynthia Chandler, Director, Women’s PLAN
Patrisia Gutierrez Contreras died of pneumonia on Wednesday, April 28, 10:40 a.m. at White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles. Patty was the third life term prisoner to receive a compassionate release from prison in California’s history. She was a true warrior for the rights of women prisoners, and she will be greatly missed.
For those of us who knew Patty, she will be remembered for her unmatchable personal strength and her ability to maintain her dignity when confronted with obstacles and abuses that would have crushed any of our spirits. Patty will also be remembered for her personal sacrifices made to educate people world wide about the abuses of HIV-positive women prisoners. Her fight for compassionate release contributed to a national campaign for the humane treatment of terminally ill prisoners which continues today. While she suffered retribution and a total loss of privacy as a result of her role in publicizing the inhumane treatment of women prisoners with HIV, she remained dedicated to increasing the public’s awareness of the injustices she suffered. She never backed down from doing what she knew was right.
On a personal level, Patty taught me the true value of hope. She reminded me that as painful as it might be to struggle for justice without seeing signs of change, it is far better to die not having one’s hopes realized than to die without knowing hope at all. I will carry this message with me for the rest of my life.

Testimony at Joint Committee on Prison Construction, Sacramento, CA

[On April 29, 1999 the State Joint Legislative Committee held a hearing on the effectivness Board of Prison Terms. This is Karen Shain’s testimony at the hearing]
My name is Karen Shain. I am administrative director of Legal Servies for Prisoners with Children. I also work with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners and the California Coalition for Battered Women in Prison. We have been working with prisoners in California and their families since 1978.
Every time we visit women at CIW, VSPW or CCWF we meet lifers, most of them doing time as a direct result of being battered. They all express their fear of being forgotten, of losing hope. They talk of their fear of dying like Claudia Reddy who died of cancer shackled to her bed at Madera Community Hospital having been denied compassionate release by the Bureau of Prison Terms (BPT) over and over again. We know that we will be witnessing more deaths like Claudia’s – women and men who are clearly no danger to society dying isolated and alone in California’s human warehouses.
We have read in the newspaper of Gov. Davis’ statement that he will release no one convicted of murder, no matter what the circumstances. We have spoken to lifers, women and men, who see that statement as a slap in the face, as the end of all hope of being released. People have asked me why they are working so hard to rehabilitate themselves if there is absolutely no chance of their being released, and I have no reply.
Many women sentenced to life were convicted before recognition of domestic abuse as a mitigating factor. Many received much longer sentences than their male co-defendants because they refused to cooperate with authorities or had no knowledge to trade for lower sentences. The case of Theresa Cruz exemplifies the problems that battered women face. Although Theresa did not actually shoot her abuser, and although her abuser was not permanently injured, Theresa was sentenced to 25 years-to-life. The sentence was even
reduced to 7 years-to-life. Theresa testified in support of AB 231 (Kuehl) which requires that the BPT take domestic abuse and battered women’s syndrome into account when looking at length of sentence. But the BPT failed to do this in Theresa’s case.
Last night I spoke with my friend Kalima who is doing a life sentence at California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo. He has been incarcerated for over 30 years, is 63 years old and in failing health. This man has had no disciplinary infractions in over 10 years and I would not hesitate for a second leaving my nine-year-old daughter in his care. He has fulfilled all conditions of parole numerous times and now sits and waits. Yet he has no hope of being released under the present regime. What do I tell him when he asks why he should keep on trying?
The stories of Claudia Reddy at CCWF, of Theresa Cruz at CIW and of Kalima at CMC are repeated over and over again. All over this state there are women and men awaiting release who could be making a postive contribution to society.
This is no longer a question of rehabilitation or punishment. It is a question of humanity. Someone has to take a stand and stop the growth of this dangerous prison industry. Someone has to insist that these prisoners be treated as the human beings that they are and give them some hope for the future. Let’s release those prisoners who are no danger to our society and develop a plan to assure the release of more of them over time.