In March 2010, Deirdre Wilson took over as the new coordinator of programs at CCWP. We introduce her to all who may not have met Deirdre in person. Welcome Deirdre!
Q: How did you came to do prison support work?
In 2002, I went to prison for 3 years, 7 months. In many ways, I grew up there, went through a process of rediscovering myself. I also discovered the beauty, strength and heart of the women and transgender people behind the walls. It gave me great compassion as well as awareness of the vast ignorance
in our society about people convicted of crimes?who they are, their circumstances, and what they need when they get home, if they are allowed to come home. I was heartbroken by the reality of lifers at CIW, who had already
served decades of life sentences. I could have been one of them so
easily. It enraged me that so many really special people who have so
much to give were being shut away from their families and the rest of
society. Most of these women have experienced abuse in the course
of their lifetimes, whether it was related to their crime or not. I carry
these women with me always,which is really what has brought me to this work. The situation is intolerable on general principle, but it is also a very personal thing for me to get my sisters out of there.
I started volunteering with Free Battered Women (FBW) in 2006, about 6 months after I was released. Andrea Bible in particular, and the whole FBW/CCWP community made me feel honored for surviving my experiences and accepted me just as I was?a rare feeling for people released from prison!
FBW was doing work to support close friends of mine who were still in prison. It has been a great gift to work on campaigns that have brought some of them home.
Q: What draws you to CCWP?
The issues and concerns of people in women?s prisons and their families, and the impact of the Prison Industrial Complex on this country?particularly on communities of color?is deep in my blood. When you have been there
yourself, see things for what they are, and know that you have tools, skills, experiences and the heart to fight for change, it is a responsibility and a great gift. The system of mass incarceration is nothing short of genocide on communities of color. The increase in the number of women being locked up is especially devastating. Had I lived in the time of slavery, I would like to believe
that I would have used my heart and soul to fight it. What will our response be now?
I see CCWP as a home base because it embodies the values that challenge oppression of women and people of all gender identities that don?t ?fit? into a patriarchal model. The collective structure, and the way we conduct ourselves
in CCWP, empowers each person to feel safe to be who they are. The fact that we are supported and directed by membership both inside and outside prison is awesome!
Q: Do you have some specific hopes or plans for CCWP?
I have a long term vision to continue to enlighten a broad base of our society about who people in prison are as human beings so that we will no longer be able to tolerate the prison system as a solution. I hope to demonstrate how
folks motivated by their hearts can support and empower people so it
becomes irresistible, and spreads to all areas of life breaking down the
PIC through the force of love. To stop the genocide and to save the soul of this nation, we need to pay more attention to healing than to recrimination, punishment and judgment. Generations of families are being wounded and it
is the children who are blameless but pay the highest price. I want us to significantly change the system of mass incarceration, and for CCWP to be a model for how thatcan happen.
I look forward to deepening the level of communication we can have with the members inside and to really engage people in development of their leadership capacity. Our primary strength is listening. We first listen to the voices of our
membership inside?those who have the greatest knowledge of what is needed. Each person has wisdom, whether they have been in the organization a long or short time. I have a vision of CCWP as a large extended family. So many of
us need to build an understanding of, and comfort with, a functional and healthy family. For me, building according to values of a healthy family is the seed of a true social justice movement.
by Xiomara Campos
In addition to the separation people in prison experience due to physical barriers, such as the distance between prisons and communities, walls, and cells, borders develop within prisons themselves. In the case of compañeras in VSPW, language?specifically the lack of the English language?constructs additional borders for many. Too often compañeras speak of the lack of translators in legal, medical, or disciplinary situations which result in aggravating the already violent situation they find themselves in.
As a response to this situation, compañeras resorted to teaching each other English and Spanish. In one case, a compañera discussed how she grew up being embarrassed of being Mexican, so she refused to speak Spanish. While in prison she witnessed injustices against mono-lingual Spanish speakers. She made a concerted effort to learn the language to be able to communicate with and support Spanish speakers. In most cases, it is Spanish speakers that have to learn English to navigate their situation in prison. English as a second language was part of the curriculum available for women in prison. Due to the
economic recession these classes are being terminated.
Thus Spanish-speaking women are resorting to imprisoned bilingual speakers to teach them the necessary communication skills to survive in prison.
by: Mary Campbell
I was a resident of the Honor Dorm, Unit 512, C Yard at CCWF for 3 years. The criteria for living in this unit are: you must be disciplinary free, have a job or be
programming. The privileges you get in the Honor Dorm?first in line for chow release, R&R packages, family visiting, release from lock downs, and first to receive food sales?are nice to have, and I am wholly in favor of positive reinforcement and rewards for good behavior. I want to offer some suggestions about how to make the Honor Dorm work for everyone.
First off, with all the cuts in education and programming, will the Honor Dorm be the only dorm programming and receiving education which is a right, not a privilege or reward? As far as disciplinary free inmates– haven?t we all heard
of bogus write ups? A write up for expired meds that you forgot you
even had stashed in the back of your locker? There are only 200 inmates in the Honor Dorm out of almost 4000 prisoners at CCWF. Surely the Honor Dorm prisoners are not the only ?good prisoners??
The other problem I see with the Honor Dorm is that it sets up judgment on both sides. It sets up a mentality of, ?I am better than you because I live in the Honor Dorm and I have a job,? by those living there and, ?You think you?re
special and better than me because you live in the Honor Dorm,? by those not. Oftentimes, the officers will judge prisoners this same way. They lay guilt trips on prisoners in the Honor Dorm if they make a mistake or act out. They say, ?Oh that?s not very honorable,? in a sneering way or threaten a prisoner
with getting kicked out of the Honor Dorm if they make a mistake.
Everyone in prison is under incredible stress, and fights are one of the primary responses to that pressure. Even if you are not fighting, are following all the rules and doing your time in a peaceful and productive way trying to get
home to your family, you can be slammed into your cell because of ?security issues.? The fight may not even be in your dorm! Those fights, or even something as minor as a missing tool from the ?sewing factory,? can interrupt family visiting, programming, and even church services.
To be treated better because you earned it is a good feeling to have. I believe it
is our collective responsibility to take care of each other and to include each other so everyone can feel valued. So how about making mentoring people outside of the Honor Dorm a requirement to live in the Honor Dorm?
This way, we can help reinforce that rehabilitation and education are rights, not privileges, and Honor Dorm prisoners should not be the only ones programming
and getting educational rights. Jobs and programming can mean the difference between being deemed eligible for parole and not. This is serious!
Again, it is our collective responsibility to take care of each other and contribute to the healing of those who are wounded and struggling. People inside can help
create this community of mutual support by breaking down the judgments,
divisions and competition. We can inspire those who are willing and able, to take it with them back to their communities.
On March 4, 2010, tens of thousands of students, parents, teachers, workers, and community folks walked out, rallied, picketed, marched and even lay down on an Oakland freeway to defend public education in California. In the face of devastating cuts to education, including education programming within the prisons, and the threat of more cuts to come, we demanded fully funded, free public education from preschool through graduate school plus adult education.
We chanted ?Education Not Incarceration? and called for divestment from prison construction and war in order to fund public education. CURB (Californians United for a Responsible Budget which CCWP is part of) created a striking
poster highlighting the fact that California is #1 in prison spending and #48 in education spending in the country. The popular poster was distributed widely
and was visible on TV and internet reports of the days? activities. On March 5th, the California Federation of Teachers began a 300 mile march from Bakersfield
to Sacramento to continue building support for public education which CURB members also participated in.
March 4th demonstrated the potential for a movement that would shift California?s priorities away from prisons and to education. It is up to all of us to
help sustain this commitment and to get the message out that people inside prison have a right to education as well!
The devastation, injury and suffering
that the Haitian people have
experienced since the earthquake in
January have moved many people
around the world to reach out to
help in whatever ways possible.
The earthquake demonstrated the
enormous strength and determination
of the Haitian people to get
through this natural disaster despite
having so few resources. The earthquake
also exposed the additional
problems of poverty, economic
dependency and using the military
as the primary means of delivering
aid. Within a couple of days after
the earthquake, thousands of U.S.
troops were sent in to ?secure? the
situation in Haiti. For every one
dollar of U.S. aid to Haiti, 33 cents
has gone to the U.S. military. One
of the reasons given for prioritizing
?security? was that 4,000 people
had escaped from a local prison
during the earthquake.
Some California prisoners have
told us that they couldn?t stand to
watch the T.V. news?it was too
painful and heartbreaking. Some
people have pointed out that watching
thousands of Black Haitians in
such distress seemed like a horrible
re-run of Hurricane Katrina. One
person imagined a program where
prisoners could volunteer to help
out in Haiti and other disasters
when there was such a crying need.
In Nebraska, prisoners who
earn barely $1/day convinced
the Department of Corrections to
make an exception to the rule that
allows them only to send money
out to support immediate family
members. The prisoners wanted to
take up a collection for Haiti relief.
A check for $2025.31 was mailed
directly to the Red Cross.
What have been your reactions?
Please share your feelings and
thoughts with The Fire Inside.
Rosie Maria SanchezMolly Kilgore having served 31 years on a seven-to-life sentence was found suitable for parole on December 30. Her case is now before the governor
whose deadline to release a decision is May 29, 2010.
Cynthia Feagin has spent over 17 years at VSPW for a 15-to-life sentence. The mother of the victim publicly supports Cynthia?s release.
Patricia Joellen Johnson now 66, has been imprisoned since 1991 on an 18-to-life sentence. Jurors in a new trial wrote letters to the Board expressing
their firm belief Ms. Johnson was not a danger and should receive a parole date. Register your opinion with the Gov. by June 3rd, 2010.
Frankie Williams?a 72-year old grandmother who was found suitable for parole on February 4, 2010, has a loving extended family who are eager to
welcome her home. Register your opinion with the Gov. by June 3rd, 2010.
Linda Lee Smith?incarcerated over 30 years, has been found suitable 11 times by the BPH! She works as a peer helper, teacher and minister in the
Mental Health Department for troubled women in the prison. Register your opinion with the Gov. by July 1, 2010.
Ivy Martin has made tremendous contributions to community inside and outside of prison as a volunteer for Literacy Volunteers of America, and as a
valued contributor to Free Battered Women. Register you opinion with the Gov. by July 8th, 2010.
Marisol Garcia is a survivor of abuse. She became fluent in English, is a leader in Convicted Women Against Abuse, volunteers for the community
through Mexican American Resource Association and Sharing our Stitches. Register your opinion with the Gov. by July 9th, 2010.
Norma Cumpian worked as a peer counselor in the mental health department and served as Chairperson of Convicted Women Against Abuse from 2000- 2004. She was found suitable for a second time. Register your opinion with the Gov. by July 11, 2010.
Linda Rodriguez?in Governor Scwharzenegger?s own words, ?At 60 years old now, after being incarcerated for more than 19 years, Rodriguez has
made some creditable gains in prison . . . Moreover, she has received positive evaluations from mental health and correctional professionals over the years?,
(from Gov.?s decision, March 19, 2010) He, nevertheless, reversed the decision of the BPH to release Linda on parole!
Romarilyn Baker?a domestic violence survivor incarcerated 21 years since age 24, was found suitable for parole in November 2009 after the court ordered the BPH to give her another hearing. The Gov. reversed her parole on April 29th. She has obtained a Ph.D. in Christian Counseling and has not given up faith. All of CIW is rallying behind her. In a recent letter to CCWP she wrote, ?Keep fighting the good fight of faith, remember we WIN!? The reversal will
be appealed and she will have another board hearing in November, 2010.
AB 2232 is a cost cutting measure which proposes to double the co-pay for accessing medical services from $5 to $10 as a way of reimbursing CDCR
for medical expenditures. If a prisoner doesn?t have enough money on her/his account for the co-pay, she would incur a ?medical debt? that would have to be
repaid before she was allowed to purchase other goods. Such a terrible increase in the co-pay will further discourage prisoners from accessing care and probably delay treatment until a condition becomes acute and more
expensive to treat. CCWP, LSPC and other sister organizations have sent strong letters opposing this bill to the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
by: Diana Block
In November 2009, California prisoners received notification that many of the daily medicines and vitamins they have relied on to keep themselves healthy and manage routine colds, coughs and stomach problems would no longer
be available through the pharmacy. Cough drops, digestive aids, muscle
rub and vitamins were among the many items that will now have to be paid for and many of these may not even available through canteen or the vendor package system. The notice claimed that there isn?t proof that these items actually help one?s health. The real reason for the change is to cut costs? and
to do it at the expense of prisoners? health!
When a Federal Receiver was first appointed to the California prison system in 2006, prisoners began to get better access to care. After months of sensational media accusations that the current Receiver, Clark Kelso, is seeking ?Cadillac
care? for prisoners, he shifted his focus away from the mission of the Receivership? protecting prisoner health. His new focus is on controlling costs to comply with comply with Gov. Schwarzenegger?s mandate to cut $811 million
from next year?s prison health care budget.
Kelso?s proposals include further restrictions on the use of prescription drugs and outside medical specialists, expansion of telemedicine (where patients only
see doctors via video conferencing), and allowing temporary medical parole for prisoners who are physically incapacitated. While medical parole might be worthwhile, Kelso made it clear that the motivation, ??is a budget issue,
not compassionate release. It?s not ?Oh we feel sorry for these people.?
This is simply the most cost-effective way to provide treatment.? (AP 3/16/2010)
Kelso also created bottlenecks preventing prisoners from gaining compassionate release. He continues to push for building a new multi-million dollar, 1,734-bed prison hospital in Stockton. New prison hospitals are not the answer to the prisoner health care crisis. First and foremost, the prison
population has to be reduced to provide basic medical treatment, as the three-judge panel ruled in August 2009. Preventive medicine, a decent diet, and the elimination of the co-pay system could improve health care now without building new prison hospitals.
Write to the Receiver and tell him that cutting access to vitamins and digestive aids will not save money in the long run and will only make the prison health crisis worse: Clark Kelso, California Prison Health Care Services, PO Box 4038, Sacramento, CA 95812- 4038.
Or call the Inmate Health Care Inquiry Line at 916-324-1403 with your concerns.
by: Wilson Moy and Ashley Moss, CCWP high school interns
In 2006 Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases? (WORLD) highlighted the life of Beverly Henry, who tested co-positive for HIV/HepC in 1994. Ms. Henry was in and out of jail since she was 15 years old. By 18 she was addicted to heroin and cocaine. After she found out her status, she
felt hopeless until she learned more about her disease.
She was released in Oct. 2009 (see The Fire Inside #41, Fall 2009 dedicated to her.) Unfortunately, in America?s Prison Industrial Complex people are denied health care. Prisoners strive for better health care. ?Barriers to Basic Care?
(2006) quotes Stephanie Walters Searight, ?I wait to see the doctor…. They say don?t worry. You will see him soon.? Prison systems claim that the doctors that
they hire are professionals, but they prove to be unfit for the job.
?Correctional Health Care: A Public Health Opportunity,? states that, ?Because of the high yearly turnover, the criminal justice system can play an important
public health role… by controlling communicable diseases in large urban communities.? Health care needs to be more in the prisoners? hands. We must take the initiative of people inside and outside the prisons to improve health care for all.
In the Fall 2009 The Fire Inside we wrote about the outrageous injustice in the Scott sisters case. Jamie and Gladys Scott received two consecutive life sentences for a 1993 armed robbery in which no one was hurt and $11was taken. This is turning into a death sentence for Jamie who suffers from end stage renal disease, relying on dialysis to survive. The medical care Jamie Scott is receiving at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) in Pearl, MS amounts to criminal malpractice. The portable dialysis machine at the prison breaks down, contributing to multiple complications and infections.
The most recent time Jamie was taken out to a hospital the doctor insisted that she must stay for proper treatment, but the Mississippi Department of Corrections took her back to prison. As Jamie writes, ?The conditions in quickbed area are not fit for any human to live in. I have been incarcerated for 15 years 6 months now and this is the worst I have ever experienced.?I have witnessed many inmates die at the hands of this medical care. I do not want to be one of them.?
Please take action to save Jamie Scott?s life. Let these officials below know that you demand decent medical care and immediate release for Jamie Scott, #19197.
Christopher Epps, Commissioner MDOC
723 North President Street, Jackson, MS 39202
Governor Haley Barbour
P.O. Box 139, Jackson, Mississippi 39205
1-877-405-0733 or 601-359-3150
For more information on their case see: http://www.freethescottsisters.blogspot.com/ and write to their mother: Mrs. Evelyn Rasco, POB 7100, Pensacola, FL 32534.