The whole world watched as Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans exposed the deep racism of our country. Over 1,000 lives were lost and countless people were trapped in unspeakably horrible conditions for weeks as the U.S. government claimed helplessness in the face of this disaster that could have been minimized if the states and federal government had placed human needs before corporate greed.
Prisoners in state and county jails were abandoned. Many people in New Orleans were arrested while trying to feed and clothe themselves and their families.
We dedicate this issue of The Fire Inside to those prisoners, family members, attorneys, journalists and community activists who exposed the unspeakable conditions in jails and prisons in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas?and raised the call for investigation of these conditions and amnesty for everyone arrested in the aftermath of this disaster.

Chowchilla?s women prisoners on Katrina

I am appalled at the indifference of our government. They were so slow moving to respond it was sickening. When they finally responded it seemed to be only because of media ? suddenly when all eyes were focused on the fact that they were not doing anything, they felt they better get busy now. In the meantime, underprivileged, sick, elderly and minority people were being left behind as if they counted for nothing, as if no one cared. It was so heartbreaking and it made me ashamed of my own country and fellow human beings. Prisoners were left to drown and it opened my eyes to how society considers me less than human because I am a convicted felon. After awhile, I couldn?t watch the news anymore.
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Racism is alive and well. I hope it was a wake up call for the country. People who are poor or people of color are just not going to get what they need. The only good thing was that the hypocrisy was exposed. This country needs to shape up.
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If I could go down to New Orleans, even if I had to be shackled all the time, I would do it just to be able to help people there. Some people here come from that area, so it touches them personally, but most people are happy to help. We collected over $3,000 for flood victims.
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A lot of people here were hurt watching what happened to New Orleans. Some have still not heard what happened to their families there. The guards passed out the forms to indicate if and how much you wanted to donate from your own funds. Everyone filled out the form and retuned it within the alloted hour, but we have not heard what happened to that money. Has it gotten there?
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Some people responded to Katrina, and the tsunami before that, but some tune out all news. Many have families in the area and wanted to call to find out what happened to them. You could not get through at first, it took several weeks to hear if our families were OK. We heard that they left prisoners to drown in their cells. It made us wonder what would happen to us if there ever was an emergency here.

Legal Corner: CDCR?s recievership background

Cassie Pierson, Staff Attorney, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
In June 2005, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that the court would establish a Receivership to take control of the delivery of medical services to prisoners incarcerated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). On October 3, 2005, a written decision was issued detailing the court?s specific Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (Plata v. Schwarzenegger, No. C01-1351-THE, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California).
What led the court to take such a drastic step? It was not just the Plata lawsuit but years of neglect by the CDCR to deliver constitutionally mandated medical care to thousands of prisoners. Judge Henderson wrote: ?It is clear to the Court that this unconscionable degree of suffering and death is sure to continue if the system is not dramatically overhauled. Decades of neglecting medical care while vastly expanding the size of the prison system has led to a state of institutional paralysis. The Prison system is unable to function effectively and suffers a lack of will with respect to prisoner medical care.?
What were some of the findings that influenced the court? Here?s a partial list:
(1) An increase of over 500 percent since 1980 in the prisoner population coupled with the failure by the CDCR to reform its management structure, information technology, and health care services;
(2) A decentralized structure in the CDCR which allowed individual wardens to determine prison standards and operating procedures;
(3) Lack of qualified medical staff including administrators, doctors, and nurses;
(4) Data management (to manage appointments and track follow-up) is virtually non-existent;
(5) Lack of medical supervision—only 5 or 6 prisons have an adequate Chief Physician and only one-third of the prisons have an adequate Health Care Manager;
(6) Failure to engage in meaningful peer review;
(7) CDCR has failed to hire regional medical directors as ordered by the court;
(8) Prisoners do not have timely access to physicians nor are their requests for medical care properly assessed by a nurse;
(9) Interference by custodial staff with medical care; and,
(10) Extremely poor management of prison pharmacy operations.
In testimony, court expert Dr. Goldenson said that inadequate medical care was the result of not only incompetence, but also gross negligence. One example is the case of a prisoner who reported a two to three week history of chills and fever and although he repeatedly visited medical staff, he was sent back to his housing unit. The prisoner eventually received a diagnosis of endocarditis, a potentially fatal heart condition treatable with antibiotics, but did not receive any medication. The prisoner was seen in the prison emergency room and despite the objections of the nurse on duty who recognized the severity of the prisoner?s condition, the doctor tried to return the prisoner to his housing unit without treatment. The prisoner was sent to the prison?s Outpatient Housing Unit for observation rather than the community hospital emergency room and he died of cardiac arrest.
The receivership will remain in place until the State assumes its legal obligation to run the CDCR in a way that provides constitutionally adequate health care to all prisoners.

Health care recievership update

Developed by the California Coalition for Women Prisoners in consultation with Prison Law Office.
? In June 2005 Judge Thelton Henderson declared that the state prison medical system was ?terribly broken? and placed it in federal receivership. Henderson wrote ?The harm already done in this case to California?s prison inmate population could not be more grave, and the threat of future injury and death is virtually guaranteed in the absence of drastic action?.
? Judge Henderson?s action was taken after reviewing changes mandated by the Plata law suit, filed by the Prison Law Office, and finding that changes were grossly inadequate.
? Once a Receiver is chosen, the CDC will no longer have control over the prison health care system. Until then the CDC maintains the current system although state corrections officials admit that the system is in ?extreme crisis?.
? The court had hoped to quickly find an experienced candidate to fill the position of Receiver, but in early November it hired a professional search firm, Korn Ferry International, in order to find a qualified person for this extremely difficult job.
? It could be sometime in the spring before the system in actually managed by a receiver.
? Judge Henderson has also appointed a consultant to prepare a report outlining ideas for addressing two of the most serious problems in the health care system: a growing number of staff vacancies for doctors, nurses and technicians; and the inadequacy of systems for reviewing the deaths of inmates under medical care and the number of serious injuries caused by poor care. In his order, Judge Henderson requested recommendations regarding interim solutions to staffing problems pending the appointment of the Receiver.
? The Prison Law Office will continue to monitor the new health care body, under the settlement of the Plata lawsuit, even after the Receiver takes over. This is paid for by the state.
? During this transition period, prisoners should continue filing 602?s when they have a grievance about the medical care they are receiving. They should proceed through the entire 602 process, up to Sacramento until they receive a notice from Sacramento that the 602 has been denied. At that point they should send a copy of the denial to CCWP or directly to the Prison Law Office.
? Under Plata MTA?s are not supposed to serve as gatekeepers. Please let CCWP or the Prison Law Office know of any instances when MTA?s are making decisions medical staff should be making.
? Language translation is available through AT&T telephone service which is contracted for by the CDC. Service is mandated when a translator is unavailable in any situation where the prisoner cannot communicate comfortably in English. Please let others know that this service is paid for by our tax dollars and should be asked for when needed!

Editorial: Nuestro 10 Aniversario de la CCWP

Este año es el 10 Aniversario de la fundación de la Coalición de California para Mujeres en Prisión (CCWP). Es un momento para celebrar nuestra historia asi como lo hicimos en nuestro maravilloso evento de aniversario el 9 de Junio.
¡También es un tiempo de reflexión, evaluación y espectativas!
Cuando nos preguntaron ?¿Qué han logrado?, ¿Qué ha cambiado para las mujeres en prisión en los últimos 10 años?? la respuesta derrepente no es obvia de inmediato. Apesar de los constantes esfuerzos de nuestros miembros dentro y fuera de prisión para cambiar las condiciones y retar al complejo industrial de prisiones, el cuidado de salud es aún abominable , el atestamiento se torna cada vez peor, los condenados a cadena perpetua no estan recibiendo libertad condicional , y las mujeres adentro aun enfrentan acoso sexual y abuso por parte de los oficiales correcionales. ¿Ante esto que hay que celebrar?
Hace 10 años el hecho de que las mujeres fuesen el sector mas rápido en crecimiento dentro de la población en prisión era mantenido como un secreto, y los problemas que enfrentaban eran sumamente invisibles. Charisse Shumate miembro fundador de CCWP, cambió esto cuando se convirtió en la demandante principal del pleito legal contra el DCC (Departamento Correccional de California), retando la gran negligencia del sistema de salud en prisión.
Las Mujeres en prisión a lo largo de los años han liderado el camino en el desarrollo en la educación y organizando estrategias que han empoderado a mujeres para lidiar con el VIH y la Hepatitis C, para llenar peticiones de habeas y 602, prepararse para audiencias de libertad condicional e iniciar campañas de peticiones en contra de guardias abusivos.
Ellas se unieron con gente de afuera para formar una organización de base que pudiera apelar por las mujeres en prisión en ambos lados de los muros.
Desde el inicio CCWP ha estado comprometida a ?levantar conciencia pública? dandole voz a las prisioneras. The Fire Inside (o El Fuego Adentro) provee un foro para mujeres adentro, y para comunicar y organizar. Inspirados por la determinación de nuestras hermanas adentro, miembros de familia y abogados han organizado concentraciones, han hablado en conferencias y clases, han escrito cartas a los editores de periódicos locales, y mas recientemente hemos producido un video sobre la lucha de Charisse Shumate y sus hermanas en prisión por servicios de salud básicos. Juntos hemos ayudado a a cambiar los terminos del debate sobre las prisiones y el nivel de conocimiento público ha cambiado significantemente. Ahora cuando vas a la web y tipeas Women prisoners, veras 14,300,000 entradas al tema y la página de web de CCWP esta a la cabeza en la lista!
No solo hemos construido conciencia, hemos construido solidaridad entre los miembros de familia, abogados y mujeres encarceladas mediante constantes visitas y proyectos conjuntos. Hemos creado una comunidad que esta genuinamente dedicada a cambiar la violencia institucional, y las inequidades raciales, económicas y de género que son las bases del complejo industrial de prisiones. Construir comunidad no ha sido siempre fácil. Hemos tenido que luchar para ser honestos acerca de la forma en que el racismo opera no solo en el sistema de prisones si no también entre nosotros para mantenernos divididos. También hemos tratado de superar los muros que nos separan entre diversas opciones sexuales, capacidades, religiones y contextos culturales.
Desde 1995, nos hemos determinado promover el liderazgo de mujeres en prisión y ex prisioneros. Estamos particularmente orgullosos de que en nuestro 10 Aniversario, nuestra nueva directora ejecutiva Yvonne Cooks, es una ex-prisionera y una mujer de color! También estamos orgullosos de que nuestra organización continua basada en el trabajo de voluntarios que juntos contribuyen cientos de horas cada año.
Claramente, tenemos tareas monumentales delante de nosotros, pero hemos puesto una sólida base para sostener esta lucha.
Estamos especialmente emocionados de que nuestro nuevo proyecto Compañeras está comenzando a tratar los problemas, específicos de las mujeres inmigrantes en prisión. Hemos aprendido y logrado mucho en los pasados 10 años y sinceramente esperamos que todos nuestros lectores continuen uniedosenos para ?Preocuparnos Colectivamente por las Mujeres en Prisión? en la decada que viene!