Health: The Health Effects of Prison Torture

It’s Your Health: The health effects of prison torture
Pam Fadem
?The physical scars heal, but the mental scars stay.?
This comment, made by a sister who has lived inside the walls at CCWF for a long time, goes to the heart of what torture in California?s prison does to the women, men-and the young sisters and brothers in the CYA- on a daily basis. This is the most profound impact of torture- Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). When most of us hear about PTSD we think of soldiers who have been on the battlefield, directly impacted by a recognized, international war. People in prison are also survivors of war-a war on their humanity. And many are survivors of torture, who experience PTSD just as severely as the soldiers coming back from Iraq. We don?t use the word torture lightly. We look to the stories shared by our sisters inside, and to internationally respected human rights groups that have written about the inhumane treatment in US prisons. In 1991, Human Rights Watch issued a report, Prison Conditions in the United States, which documented denial of medical care, sexual abuse of women prisoners by guards among other examples of unacceptable conditions that violate the UN Standard Minimal Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted in 1955. Amnesty International reported in their 1998 report Rights For All that women at Valley State had been locked down in the SHU, or been threatened with the SHU if they filed against the sexual abuse of guards. The impact of war- whether on the traditional battlefield, or the ?battlefield? of prisons- takes its toll on the families and communities of the survivors, too.
How do people survive and recover from the torture of prisons? By building on a belief in themselves, in their own humanity and dignity. With the love and support of family, friends and community, from others who have also survived similar conditions. With the knowledge that no one EVER deserves to be treated this way. And by gaining strength from and finding community in a political movement that ends the mass incarceration of people of color and the poor, that demands justice for all of our people. All of Us or None (see their contact info below), a prisoner advocacy organization made up of former prisoners, families and supporters, offers support here in California. Also, the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs (contact their website: provides information about specialized programs devoted to caring for survivors of torture and is another resource for people coming out of prison.
For more information: or call Yvonne Cooks, Linda Evans, or Dorsey Nunn at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children 415-255-7036 x377.