Editorial – Caged Mental Health

People use different words when talking about mental health and mental illness, and many of the terms carry a lot of stigma. While we don’t want to be the “word police,” we are choosing to use the term “mental illness.” We think some of the other terms are too “medical?ized” (like psychiatric or psychological disabilities, illnesses or disorders), and others are just not respectful of people (like nuts, crazy or schizo). CCWP wants to be part of helping people define for themselves what is healthy in relation to the people and situations each of us lives in.
There is a growing mental health crisis in prisons and on the streets. Every person, inside and out, experiences a lot of mental stress because of the conditions of our society: racism, poverty, gender discrimination. All of these things create a dehumanizing system. In the last issue of The Fire Inside, we wrote about the increase in suicides in CCWF and how it is a reflection of a system that isn’t working. Many women talk about the suffering and violations of basic human rights due to overcrowding, lack of mental health services, inappropriate denials or changes of psychiatric medications, increase in lock-downs, and as Sarah Olson wrote, “the general pall produced by simply doing prison time.”
People also talk about what they are doing to survive, stay strong and be as mentally and emotionally healthy as possible, and to build support for each other and fight back against the worsening conditions (see Mental health in prisoners’ experience in this issue).
Documenting what is happening is very important. “A” writes, “The first week our meds were cut [Sept. 2007] there were over 600 602s filed.” You might have to file again and again, but people are winning, so don?t give up! And the fact of that many people filing 602s against the medication change sent a loud and strong message of resistance to the CDCR. “J” writes about the “Grief Share” program that Sister Maryanne helped set up, creating a safe and supportive place for people to share their fears and losses and know they are NOT alone.
Constant threats to prisoners’ mental health, as well as stories of strength and survival, push us to ask the big picture questions: What does mental health — and mental illness for that matter — mean in a prison system, a society and culture that is so abusive, so focused on a “me first” mentality that creates so much dis-ease? How can we begin to talk about mental health when the values in this country are so badly distorted that money for war and prisons is always put above resources for health care, education and jobs? How does one envision mental health inside a cage?
Mental health has a lot to do with our ability to recognize personal and societal strengths and shortcomings in ways that help each of us to live and work within the families and communities we are part of. CCWP supports people defining for themselves what their own health is. There is a lot of room for different definitions and behaviors, as long as those behaviors don’t include harming or abusing others or ourselves.
We want to stretch our minds about these questions at the same time as we build responses to the problems inside the prisons. There is a lot of money going to so-called mental health services inside. Where is it? What is it paying for? What should it be paying for? The CDCR must be held accountable, but what is the best way to do this? Some people say that people with mental illness should not be in general population, that it is harmful to their health and to the health of people around them. Others fight for prisoners with mental illness to have the same rights to programming that everyone else has.
Help us figure out how to focus our campaigns to support the self-determination of prisoners and to advocate for a range of choices in how we care for each other and ourselves. Some possibilities are:

  • Encourage more peer counseling and self-help opportunities.
  • Oppose using the SHU as a dumping ground and punishment for people with mental illness or people who are labeled as having a mental illness.
  • Support appropriate medications for people who want or need psychiatric medicines.
  • Stop over-medicating people who do not want or need psychiatric medicines.

Let us know what you think and keep documenting mental health abuses so that we can track what is going on and hold authorities accountable.

Editorial – Salud Mental Enjaulada

Las personas usan diferentes palabras cuando hablan sobre salud mental y enfermedades mentales, y muchos de esos términos están cargados de muchos estigmas, No queremos ser la “policía de las pobras,” estamos eligiendo usar los términos “salud mental”. Pensamos que los demás términos son demasiados “medicalizados” (tales como los términos psiquiátrico o desabilidad psicológica, o enfermedad o desordenes), y otros que son irrespetuosos para las personas (tales como locos, psicóticos, “nuts” etc) CCWP quiere ser parte del apoyo para las personas que quieran definir por ellas mismas que es lo saludable en las relaciones con las personas y situaciones donde cada uno de nosotros vivimos.
Hay una creciente crisis de la salud mental tanto dentro de las prisiones como en las calles. Cada persona, dentro de la cárcel y afuera experimenta muchísimo stress mental por las condiciones del sistema en que vivimos: racismo, pobreza, discriminación de género. Todas esas cosas crean un sistema deshumanizado. En el último numero de The Fire Inside, escribimos acerca del aumento de suicidios en CCWF y como es una reflexión de un sistema que no está funcionando. Muchas mujeres hablan sobre el sufrimiento y la violación de los derechos humanos básicos, la falta de servicios de salud mental, cambios inapropiados de la medicación psiquiátrica, aumento de los encierros, y como Sarah Olson escribió, “el cansancio general solo por estar sirviendo tiempo en la prisión”.
La gente solo habla de lo que está haciendo para sobrevivir, estar fuerte así como saludable mental y emocionalmente como sea posible, construir apoyo entre unos y otros y luchar contra las perores condiciones (ver Mental health in prisoners’ experience) Documentar lo que está pasando es muy importante. “A” escribe, “La primera semana nuestros derechos médicos fueron cortados [Sept. 2007] Hubieron formularios 600 602s llenados.” Tú debes de llenar una y otra vez, la gente gana, entonces no te rindas! Y el hecho de que mucha gente que llena los formularios 602s en contra de los cambios de medicación manda un mensaje fuerte de resistencia contra él. “J” escribe sobre el “compartir el dolor” un programa que la hermana Maryanne ayudo a que se lograra, creando un lugar de apoyo para la gente compartir sus miedos y perdidas y saber que ellos no están solos.
Constantes amenazas a la salud mental de los y las presas, asi como historias de fortaleza y sobrevivencia, nos empuja a hacer la gran pregunta: Que significan la salud mental y la enfermedad mental para el sistema de prisiones, en una cultura y sociedad que son abusivas que enfoca en una mentalidad de “yo primero” que crea tanta enfermedad? Como podemos empezar a conversas sobre salud mental cuando los valores en este país son tan distorsionados que el dinero para la guerra y las prisiones es siempre puesto encima de los recursos para cuidado de la salud, educación y empleos?
Como uno puedo visionar la salud mental metida en una jaula?
La salud mental tiene mucho que ver con nuestra habilidad para reconocer fortalezas personales y sociales, así como las vías que nos ayudan a cada uno de nosotros a vivir y trabajar con la familia y la comunidad de las cuales somos parte. CCWP apoya a las personas que definen por ellas mismas que es para ellas su salud. Hay muchísimo espacio para diferentes definiciones y conductas, mientras estas conductas no incluyan daños o abuso a nosotros mismos.
Queremos flexibilizar nuestras mentes sobre estos asuntos al mismo tiempo que vamos construyendo respuestas al problema dentro de la prisión. Hay un monto de dinero dirigiéndose al mal llamado al servicio de salud mental que hay dentro de las prisiones, Donde esta? Que es lo que se está pagando? Que es lo que se debe pagar con ese dinero? El CDCR debe de rendir cuentas, pero cuál es la mejor manera de hacerlo? Alguna gente dice que las personas con alguna enfermedad mental no deben ser incluidas en la población general, que es dañino para su salud y para la de los que lo rodean. Otros luchan para que los presos con enfermedades mentales tengan los mismos derechos que todos los demás tienen.
Hoy desde aquí hacemos un llamado para ayudarnos a darnos cuenta cómo enfocar nuestra campaña de apoyo a la autodeterminacion de los prisioneros/as y defensores a tener un agama de posibilidades de cómo cuidarse a sí mismos y entre sí. Algunas de estas posibilidades son:

  • Alentar más pares consejeros y oportunidades de auto-ayuda.
  • Oponernos al uso del SHU como un castigo para la gente que tiene alguna enfermedad de salud mental.
  • Apoyo con medicación apropiada para las personas que quieren o necesitan medicina psiquiatrica.
  • Parar de sobre medicar a las personas que no quieren o no necesitan medicinas psiquiatricas..

Dejanos saber que piensan al respecto y continua documentando los abusos de salud mental y nosotros haremos el respectivo seguimiento de que esta pasando y de pedir una rendición de cuentas a las autoridades.

CCWP hosts Without Walls radio show

On Friday July 25 CCWP will be hosting the Without Walls radio show, which airs on the last Friday of every month from 4-5 PM. This show we will be discussing Marsy’s Law and the Runner Initiative which will both be on California’s November 7 ballot (see Statewide Demonstrations Against the Runner Initiative and Marsy’s Law — threat to parole in this issue for more information). You can listen to the show on KFCF 88.1 FM in the Central Valley, KPFA 94.1 in the Bay Area, or listen online to the Hard Knock Radio archives for that day at www.kpfa.org.

Family Visiting Day, 2008

March 15 marked CCWP’s forth annual Family Visiting Day event connecting with family members and loved ones of prisoners at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) and Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) and providing transportation from Oakland and Los Angeles to see their loved ones inside.
As in past years, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles offered their building as the southern California meeting place and Friends Outside, a statewide organization which provides services and programs to loved ones of people caught in the criminal legal system, welcomed our volunteers at the CCWF visitor trailer during the visiting hours.
Thank you to all the loved ones who made the long trip with us, and to Eric de Bode at Chowchilla Family Express and the folks at CCWF Friends Outside for helping make this beautiful event happen.
Thanks also to Noah’s Bagels, Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, Trader Joe’s, and Veritable Vegetable for their generous food donations and to Hometown Buffet in Merced for working with our group.
Chowchilla Family Express
5411 Camellia Ave
North Hollywood, CA 91601
(866) 91-VISIT (918-4748)
www.familyexpress.us
Friends Outside National Organization
P.O. Box 4085
Stockton, CA 95204
(209) 955-0701
www.friendsoutside.org

CURB sues to stop AB900

On Tuesday, May 6th Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB)* filed a lawsuit to stop the $15 billion dollars of prison debt. At a time of desperate financial crisis, AB900 authorizes the state of California to borrow $7.5 billion to build 53,000 new prison and jail beds and pay double digit interest rates on the lease revenue bonds which it is using to finance the prison building binge. Each bed will cost $220,000 for construction alone and more billions will be needed to cover the cost of operating these new prisons.
The lawsuit argues that the $7.4 billion in lease revenue bonds violates the requirement in the California Constitution that all significant long term debts be approved by the voters. The suit also charges that the use of lease revenue bonds is irrational and wasteful since they cost much more than other types of bonds.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit held a press conference on the steps of the Capitol building in Sacramento. They include Dorsey Nunn, a member of All of Us Or None; Laura Magnani, from CURB, Dawn Williams, a public school teacher; Camilla Chavez from the Dolores Huerta Foundation; and Vanessa Huang from Justice NOW. The plaintiffs and their attorney Thomas Nolan pointed out that California has opened 23 prisons in the past 23 years and the prisons are more crowded than ever. Building more prisons will not fix California’s prison crisis. Members of CURB, wearing Schwarzenegger face masks, distributed invoices to the public reading “You owe $12 billion for more prisons!”
The press conference and activities were a big success and the Sacramento Bee, Univision, KQED, KPFA and the Capitol Community paper all covered the issue. We only hope that the interest that was generated by the filing of the lawsuit will lead to greater public awareness and support for the goal of stopping AB900!
*CCWP is a member of CURB and has been participating in the planning of the lawsuit.