We each wish that when a person passes, their loved ones surround them as they make their transition. California prisoners are more often than not denied that bit of compassion and humanity. This year, with the increase in suicides inside California prisons, we feel the loss of every person even more.
We dedicate this final issue of The Fire Inside for 2007 to everyone who has passed inside prisons. We recognize the importance of the love and support that comes from the families built inside the walls.
Following is a partial list of people who died inside women?s prisons this year. We are sorry not to have a full account, but whether a name is included below or not, we are honoring the memory of each person.
Sharon Alvarez, Mary Anne Hayden, Ellen Peel
Jean Pacheko, Tora Kahn
Jan Ogilve, Cindy Gray

Responses to Jena

[During Fall 2006 two Black students sat under what was considered a ?white? tree on Jena, La., high school?s grounds. The next day nooses were hung from that tree. The heightened racial tensions resulted in a prosecution of six Black students for beating up a classmate, while no whites were charged with any crimes. The first conviction in the case, of Mychal Bell, 16 tried as an adult, brought out tens of thousands of people, mostly Black, to the town of Jena on September 20, 2007, to protest the injustice of the ?justice? system. We print responses to the case from women in California?s prisons. –Editors]
This is not 1817. All people are supposed to be considered equal. It is horrifying to treat young people that way. Equal rights are not true for certain races especially Black people, who are not treated with respect. Any little thing we do or stand up for ourselves, they want to put us in prison for the rest of our lives.
* * *
We all understand what a hang noose is. [It stands for a tradition of lynching.] It shows your “family values” if you think this symbol, a reminder of this history, is nothing but a prank. It is very serious that history is not listened to.
Jena would not have escalated this far if the whites were willing to listen. They could have made the tree a lesson in reconciliation, in peace. I understand why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was for non-violence–we don’t want to stoop to the level of the racists by being as violent as they are.
Selective prosecution and letting the noose incident pass as a prank is wrong. It shows racism. It shows how far we have not come. How can people think it is funny to spread hate? It feels like we’re back in 1960s, before the Civil Rights Movement.
* * *
The judicial system doesn’t take time to consider everything involved, doesn’t look at things from all perspectives, doesn’t take in consideration the effect of intimidation had on those kids. The noose represented death!
* * *
Brings feelings of back in the old days when there was slavery. Hurts the heart to see kids to go through this justice system.
* * *
I am not surprised. Racism is not gone. The judge took it too far. School should have been held more responsible. No prison time. No justice.
* * *
Jena story is very sad, but not surprising. It is both a racial issue and an illustration of how the judicial system does not work. There is no equality in the judicial system.
* * *
Voices, the only instrument of the human body in unity of song, the human heart beats united in its rhythm. Outwardly you hear the sounds of harmony, oh but inwardly you hear a sound of a united drum beat of the heart!
What happen Jena? You were a lady of character and pride. Who made you afraid to speak against the injustice done to you? Open your mouth and speak. You lost your harmony of life. Your beautiful distinctive sound has now been distorted to an irritated squeek. You can get it back Jena, the melody of the song our forefathers and civil rights leaders gave their lives for. You can get it back, Jena; they might look intimidating with their rope that?s disguised as a gavel, and a sheet under a black robe. But remember, the invisible hand of justice is more powerful than the visible hand of power. You can get your melody back, Jena, just let them hear your voice! Speak, tell them that all men are created equal. Don?t stop listening to the sound of the voices and start looking at the color of their skin! Tell them Jena that you will not be silent any more.

Legal Corner – Fighting for your rights: Parole

Pam Fadem
Now is an important time to turn up the heat on the Governor, State Legislators and the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH), to uphold the constitutional right to parole. Former members of the Board who were forced to resign for “being soft on crime” are not going quietly. They now say what prisoners, their families, and community and legal advocates have been saying for years: the Board is stacked by the Governor to unfairly and illegally deny parole. A State Superior Court Judge is challenging parole denials by the Board. If we increase public pressure on both the Governor and our State Legislators, we can make parole a viable option.
In the three months she served, Bilenda Harris-Ritter granted 12 paroles out of approximately 300 life cases. “I didn’t find a public safety reason not to grant them parole and so I followed the law and I granted it,” she said. But the 12 paroles she approved got the attention of victims’ rights groups who called the Governor to complain. Ms. Harris-Ritter was told she had a choice: resign or be fired. She resigned, but decided to speak out against the pressure that victims’ rights groups and politicians put on the Board members.
Tracey St. Julien was appointed to the Board in July 2005. She was already hearing cases and was a few weeks away from her official Senate confirmation, when she was dismissed for being “soft on crime.” She was overheard telling a prisoner’s lawyer that she loved having the chance to grant parole to someone convicted of murder when they clearly deserved it. That was too much for conservative politicians. Ms. St. Julien was given the same choice that Ms. Harris-Ritter was given a year later: resign or be fired. CCWP believes these 2 women are not the only Parole Board members who have been pressured this way.
On August 30, 2007, in an unprecedented 34-page ruling, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Linda Condron called the current parole process “malfunctioning.” The judge ruled that the Board’s approach to thousands of cases each year is so flawed it violates the constitutional rights of California’s inmates during parole hearings. Her harshly worded opinion, which stemmed from the cases of 5 men who were denied parole while serving time on murder convictions, took the extraordinary step of ordering the state agency to revise its procedures and undergo training within 90 days to ?fix the system.?
Out of about 3,000 decisions each year, the BPH grants parole to only about 5% of eligible prisoners who are serving potential life terms. The Board is denying parole with “formulaic decisions” that “do not contain any explanation or thoughtful reasoning,” Judge Condron wrote. Judge Condron found the Board is ignoring a 2005 State Supreme Court ruling that established new guidelines for how the BPH reviews so-called “lifer” cases.
Let your local State Legislators hear from you about the right to parole. And let Governor Schwarzenegger know what you think about the Board of Parole Hearings. You can call, fax or write him a message at:
Phone: 916-445-2841
Fax: 916-445-4633
Address: State Capitol Building, Sacramento, CA 95814
At this time, the only way anyone with a murder conviction is getting out on parole is through the courts. It’s very important for people to learn how to file a writ to appeal the Board’s denial of parole. Jane Dorotik, a long-time CCWP member, has written detailed instructions on how to prepare a Writ against the BPH if they deny you parole. We cannot print it in full in The Fire Inside, but we are happy to send you a copy. Please write to us at CCWP.

Luchando por sus derechos

Ahora es un tiempo importante para todos nosotros de presionar mas al Gobernador, a los Legisladores del Estado y a la Junta Directiva, para defender el derecho constitucional a la libertad constitucional. Los anteriores miembros de la Junta Directiva para la Audiencias de Libertad Condicional fueron obligados a renunciar por ?ser blandos con el crimen? están denunciando. Ellos dicen que los prisioneros, sus familias, la comunidad, y los defensores legales han estado diciendo por años: La Junta Directiva ha sido designada por el gobernador para rechazar injusta e ilegalmente la libertad condicional. Un jurado de la Corte Superior del Estado esta desafiando la constitucionalidad de los rechazos de las libertades constitucionales por la Junta Directiva. Si nosotros aumentamos la presión publica al Gobernador y a los legisladores del Estado podremos hacer de la libertad condicional una opción viable nuevamente.
En los tres meses la Sra. Bilenda Harris-Ritter otorgo 12 veces libertad condicional de aproximadamente 300 casos de personas sentenciadas a cadena perpetua. ?Yo no encontré una razón de seguridad publica para no dar la libertad condicional y entonces yo seguí la ley y se los di? ella misma dice.
Pero los 12 casos de libertad condicional que la Sra. Harris-Ritter aprobó, llamaron la atención de los grupos de derechos humanos para las victimas, quienes llamaron al Gobernador para quejarse. A la Sra. Harris-Ritter se le dijo que tenía una opción: renunciar o ser despedida. Ella renuncio, pero decidió hablar en público contra la opresión que los grupos de derechos humanos de las victimas y los políticos ponen en los miembros de la Junta directiva.
A la Sra. Tracey St. Julien fue citada por la Junta Directiva en Julio del 2005, su caso fue llevado a audiencia y estaba a pocas semanas de la confirmación del Senado, cuando ella fue despedida por ser: suave con el crimen?. Ella fue escuchada diciéndole a un abogado de un prisionero que a ella le parecía justo otorgar la libertad condicional a alguien convicto por asesinato cuando esta persona claramente lo merecía. Eso era demasiado para los políticos conservadores, y entonces a la Sra. St. Julien le fue dada la misma opción que a la Sra. Harris un año mas tarde, renunciar o ser despedida. CCWP cree que estas dos mujeres no son las únicas miembros de la Junta Directiva de Libertad Condicional que ha recibido ese tipo de presión.
El 30 de Agosto del 2007, en un documento sin precedentes de 34 paginas, Una juez de la Corte Superior del Condado de Santa Clara Linda Condron llamo al actual proceso de libertad condicional ?malfuncionamiento? La juez declaro que las aproximaciones de la Junta Directiva de Libertad Condicional a miles de casos cada año es demasiado defectuosa y viola los derechos constitucionales de los y las presas de California durante las audiencias de Libertad Condicional.
Su áspera opinión, la cual se inclina por el caso de los 5 hombres a quienes se les negó la libertad condicional, mientras estaban en prisión convictos por asesinato, tomo el extraordinario paso de ordenar a la agencia del estado para revisar estos procedimientos e ir a un entrenamiento de 90 días para arreglar el sistema.
De cerca de 3,000 decisiones cada año, las Audiencias de la Junta Directiva de Libertad Condicional otorga dicha libertad condicional a solo el 5 por ciento de los presos/presas elegibles quienes están sirviendo potencialmente cadena perpetua. La Junta Directiva esta negando la libertad condicional con ?decisiones de formula? que ?no contienen ninguna explicación o justificación razonable? concluye la Juez Condron. En particular, Condron fundamenta que la Junta Directiva esta ignorando un estado de la Suprema Corte regido hace dos años donde establecía una nueva guía de cómo la Junta Directiva de Libertad Condicional revisa los llamados casos de ?vida?.
Déjeles saber a tus legisladores locales del Estado sobre el derecho a la libertad condicional. Y hazle saber al Gobernador Arnold Schwarzenegger que es lo que piensas sobre las Audiencias del Estado de la Junta Directiva para la Libertad Condicional. Tu puedes llamar al: 916-445-2841
Mandar un Fax: 916-445-4633
O escribir un mensaje a: State Capitol Building, Sacramento, CA 95814
En este momento, la única manera que alguien convicto por asesinato puede obtener libertad condicional es a trabes de la corte. Es muy importante para la gente aprender como llenar una apelación si es que la Junta Directiva (Board) niega una libertad condicional (Parole).
Jane Dorotik han preparado una orden en contra del BHP (Audiencia de la Junta Directiva para la Libertad Condicional) si que ellos niegan tu libertad condicional. Por razones de tamaño, no lo podemos imprimir en este número del Fire Inside, pero nos encantaría mandarte una copia, por favor para recibir un manual completo escríbenos a CCWP.


Kelly Evans/Davison, Standish Facility, Michigan
Bright, shiny bracelets
Jangling on my arm
While metal snug about my waist
Chains dangling seductively between my legs
I am captured, but not subdued
They think they have me
But my mind wheels and soars and spins and shouts.
No prisoner, I am free to look
To see all that I ever have been
All that I may be.
I hold the small and sacred part of me close
Like a royal flush
My poker face must not betray.
They cannot touch it, not even in their dreams.
I am light and air and fire
I slip through their clutching fingers like the night.
Even as they rasp my puny wrist
Of simple bone and blood and flesh.
Body here, Spirit there.
I am still free!

Pledging My Love

Kelly Evans/Davison, Standish Facility, Michigan
Prison walls may be between us
Prison walls may keep us apart
But each letter I receive, sweetheart
Brings you closer to my heart.
Love, there is no need to worry
There is no reason to fear
When I offered you my heart
I placed it in your care
It won’t be long now, sweetheart
Our time is near
I’ll show you I love you
And prove I’m sincere.

Suicide City

Sara Olson, CCWF
Right after 4:30 p.m. count on Halloween, there was the sound of a scuffle in D Hall. An alarm brought guards running from all parts of the yard. An ambulance pulled up to the back door of the hall in which we live. The attendant pulled open the back door, got back into the ambulance and backed the rear of the vehicle up to the door. Next thing we knew, a phalanx of guards came hot-footing down our hall toward the ambulance, three of them surrounding a tall, slim woman with her wrists cuffed behind her back, hair flying everywhere and a wild, terrified look in her eyes. She’d threatened to cut her wrists.
Later, we were locked down at 7:00 p.m. for the rest of the night. Even though several industrious inmates had worked hard to put on a Halloween party for the housing unit, with homemade decorations and cleverly-designed games and snacks, the guards squelched the fun and locked us down. They had to do “paperwork” on the cutter. Both are becoming more and more common, lock-downs and suicides. If it’s the weekend–lock-down. If it’s a holiday–lock-down. People are locked down and they become even more depressed, over and above the general pall produced by simply doing prison time. Bam! Another suicide attempt . . . or worse, a success!
It’s suicide city at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF). One prisoner said to me, “I’ve never seen so many people trying to kill themselves as I have in the last year. Sure, people die of natural causes . . . well, ‘natural’ prison causes like years of poor diet, no medical care, ever-present tension, but this suicide stuff!” As one of my roommates said, “It’s a madhouse.”
The warden was compelled by the rising rate of suicide attempts to issue a memorandum in August. In it, she assured the overcrowded, crammed-in-for-life masses that she is, “committed to insuring that you all have access to any level of mental health services you might need to address any mental health issues you may be experiencing.” Huh? More like, each attempt is a crazed reaction to emotional isolation in the midst of teeming predation. It is in prison that a human being comes to know that she really is, no matter what spiritual myths she may embrace to get her through each day, all alone in the universe.
* * *
This is an excerpt from a longer article published by the Fresno Alliance

More Suicides ? Whose Responsibility?

Diana Block
Over the past 18 months, there have been six attempted suicides at CCWF, four of which were successful. In a recent memo to CCWF prisoners, Warden Patrick assures prisoners that there are mental health professionals available for anyone who needs help. The reality is that at least one of the young women who recently committed suicide approached staff with an urgent request to see a mental health professional but was turned away.
Many factors contribute to the increasing suicide rate:
* Drastic overcrowding which makes it almost impossible for anybody to find inner or outer peace.
* Longer sentences for young prisoners, depriving them of all hope
* Change in the HMO providing prisoners with services resulting in denial of necessary psychiatric medications
* Lack of access to timely, adequate, responsive mental health services
When prisoners want to take their own lives, when they have lost the will to live, it is not just a personal problem. It is a sign of dysfunction within the institution and the entire prison system.
Worsening conditions at CCWF and within California?s criminal legal system as a whole are the fundamental cause for the increase in suicides.

Oct. 20 Mobilization to Chowchilla?s Prisons

Bring Our Families Home: Reclaim 15 Billion Prison Dollars for Community Health and Safety
?Break the windows! Break the walls! ?Til all the prisons fall! ?Til all the prisons fall!? was one of many chants shouted at the demonstration in Chowchilla, CA at the site of the two women?s prisons currently caging 8,200 people. Over 250 people traveled from Oakland, Los Angeles, and Fresno, gathering at Chowchilla to show their support for people inside. We demanded that communities get what they really need to be safe and healthy?jobs, education, healthcare, and social services, not prisons and policing. The Coalition for Accountable Healthcare?a coalition of groups that work with prisoners, former prisoners, and the loved ones of prisoners?organized the demonstration in part to hold accountable leaders like Governor Schwartzenegger, Federal Receiver of California prison healthcare Robert Sillen, and Wendy Still, Associate Director of Women and Children Programs and Services at Adult Institutions, all responsible for their actions and inaction on inhumane conditions inside.
Holding signs stating ?Prisons Are Concentration Camps for the Poor? and ?Enough Is Enough?Parole Lifers Now!? we gathered at the entrance to Central California Women?s Facility(CCWF) and marched the mile to the entrance of Valley State Prison for Women(VSPW). We were led by Loco Bloco, a performing arts and drumming group for youth based in the Mission District of San Francisco. We wanted to drum hard enough and chant loudly enough for people in the prisons to hear us and know we were there.
As we marched along the orchards that surround the perimeter of CCWF, we passed a gap in the trees between the road and the CCWF prison yard. Through the gap we could see that folks were on the yard?and not only could they hear us, but they could see us! We stood there for several moments, shouting to the people on the yard, waving and sharing the connection between inside and outside for as long as we could. People on the other side of the fence were walking towards us, waving and smiling. We felt for that instant that we were breaking through the isolation that the prison system creates. For many folks outside, it was the most powerful and memorable part of the day.
The march ended at the entrance to Valley State Prison for Women. Members of Free Battered Women arranged a vigil for people who died inside over the previous year. We heard the testimonies of people?s experiences with the prison system and the targeting of communities of color, poor communities, women, youth, and queer people by law enforcement and the criminal legal system. Speakers included CCWP?s shawnna d. as the M.C., Debbie Reyes of California Prison Moratorium Project, Hamdiya Cooks of All of Us or None and CCWP, Dee Mariano from Justice Now and the Family Advocacy Network, Kelani Key and Lala Yantes from Transforming Justice, Crystal from the Los Angeles based Youth Justice Coalition, and Marlene Sanchez from the Center for Young Women?s Development. After the organized speak-out, we went into an open mic, kicked off by Fresno poets and radio hosts Lady Bombay and Lady J.
Between speakers we held a mock awards ceremony, giving awards to those in power for things we wish they?d actually do. Governor Schwartzenegger was presented with an award for repealing AB 900, the bill that puts an additional $15 billion into the prison system. Federal Receiver Robert Sillen was recognized for stopping the construction of 10,000 more prison hospital beds and standing against any plans to build geriatric prisons. Wendy Still, Associate Director of Women and Children Programs and Services at Adult Institutions, was celebrated for releasing people from women?s prisons back into their communities and families. And the wardens of the two Chowchilla prisons, Tina Hornbeak(VSPW) and Deborah Patrick(CCWF), were awarded for banning the use of ?orange crush,? a particularly horrific pepper spray that remains on human skin for days and is re-activated when attempts are made to wash it off.
To make sure the ?honorees? knew they were receiving the mock awards, we passed around hundreds of thank-you cards for members of the community to sign and mail to their offices. Even though things may not change anytime soon, it was important for us to let California?s prison leaders know we are paying attention. We are holding them accountable for real health and safety in prisons and in our communities.
There was a lot of participation from people inside to mark the day. One prisoner told us that in her unit out of over 200 people only 8 people went to dinner the night of the demonstration, shocking the correctional officers. Other people wore a certain color or made bracelets to show solidarity, in spite of the risk of retaliation or punishment from the prison administration.
Overall, the day was a big success?bringing people together from different parts of California, with different experiences with prisons and policing, from different parts of the anti-prison and prisoner rights movements to get grounded in collectively challenging human rights abuses of prisoners, fight for letting people out instead of building more prisons, and demanding that resources be put into our communities instead of locking up more and more of our loved ones and comrades. We felt bonded and united, empowered and hopeful?feelings we hope will carry into years of struggle to come.

Transforming Justice Conference

Shawna S.
On October 13 and 14, a team of formerly imprisoned transgender people and anti-prison advocates held a conference at City College of San Francisco called Transforming Justice: Ending the Criminalization and Imprisonment of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People. The conference had special significance, since it was the first planned by those most impacted by transgender oppression, prisons, policing and surveillance. It also served as an opportunity to bring together members of the anti-prison movement and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender(LGBT) movement, connecting two significant communities. Throughout the weekend, the connections between LGBT organizing and anti-prison organizing were made clear: LGBT organizing and anti-prison and prisoner advocacy organizing both need to be informed by and conscious of the targeting of queer, especially trans and gender non-conforming, people by the state.
The conference began with digital storytelling, screening a film in which formerly imprisoned transgender people recounted their experiences and shared how their lives had been impacted by transphobia and discrimination. Later sessions included discussions on understanding the cycles of imprisonment and the criminalization of transgender and gender-nonconforming communities. Another session allowed participants to share successes, challenges, and strategies related to their work and organizing.
At the end of the second day, which was spent in smaller groups organized by topic and region, we gathered to discuss what we had learned and what we all wanted to do together to move forward. From this discussion, four main decisions emerged:
1) Create a national coalition to support local organizing work led by former prisoners and trans people.
2) Work to support transgender and gender-nonconforming people coming out of prisons and jails to break the cycle of criminalization and poverty.
3) Create a platform of action specifically for trans people who are immigrants and in the criminal justice system.
4) Focus on creating and establishing responses to violence and harm that don?t create further violence and harm (i.e., create alternatives to locking people up)
The Transforming Justice conference was truly unique. It felt very special to be a part of an event that was planned by and for formerly imprisoned trans people who have been silenced and shut down at every turn. CCWP was well represented at Transforming Justice and is committed to supporting the plan of action which emerged from the conference. We will keep everyone up to date on what develops from this amazing event.