Former Prisoners Speak Out at UC-Santa Cruz Student Rally

Former Prisoners Speak Out at UC-Santa Cruz Student Rally
by Urszula Wislanka
The students at University of California Santa Cruz have been protesting the state’s priorities in spending money on building prisons while cutting education. Several students went on a hunger strike on Thursday, April 11. On the fifth day of their hunger strike, April 16, they held a rally. About 100 other students came to participate in the symbolic chaining of the students to the entrance of the University. The hunger strike invited speakers from California Coalition for Women Prisoners to address the rally.
One former prisoner said it was good to demonstrate, to bring attention to what’s going on in prisons and focus on prisoner’s needs. But one demonstration on campus may not be enough because the prison bureaucracy is very static and hard to change. She urged the students to keep taking actions, to write letters, to continue talking to people.
Another former prisoner wanted to break the silence about the inhumane treatment, such as stopping letters to/from loved ones on “prison security” pretexts. She said: “I have various thoughts about captives and how they are seen by the captors. It seems that every rule and every attitude was designed to make me feel diminished and inferior — morally inferior to the rest of the world. I think my captors really believe that prisoners are not quite human, that we already had to have been ‘criminal types’ before getting to prison. My own experience was one of battling the underlying sense of futility that comes from facing the obvious contempt every moment of every day.
“I saw overt brutality at times and I have been subjected to mental cruelties, such as withholding my property and ‘misplacing’ moneys in my account only to have it miraculously found after my monthly canteen draw had passed. Sometimes I received mail postmarked three weeks earlier, and, when I complained, I was promptly told that this was prison and if I didn’t like the treatment, don’t come. I was often engulfed by frustration over arbitrary decisions made by the prison guards. And they are guards. Calling them correctional officers doesn’t change that or some of their nazi mentalities.
“Nobody ever explained any real purpose that may be served by treating inmates with contempt, by brutal acts, by poor medical care, etc. I wonder: are any streets in any city in California safer because all these thousands of people are locked away? Moreover, has any one of us been in any way improved or reformed by the experience? There is no rational humane explanation.
“There does, gover, seem to be a