Legislative Hearings: Women Prisoners Tell It Like It Is
October 2000

by Diana Block, CCWP/San Francisco, Donna Willmott, LSPC
Twenty-two women sent statements to Sen. Richard Polanco for inclusion in a packet of materials for the Legislative Hearings on the Conditions of Confinement for California Women Prisoners, held at Valley State and California Institution for Women on October 11 and 12, 2000. Following are excerpts from a few of those statements. For a full set of documents submitted to the hearings, including all the prisoner documents, please send $15 to LSPC, 100 McAllister Street, San Francisco, CA 94102.
From “Creating a National Campaign for Women with HIV” by Sandra Massey:
“In our society it is the height of hypocrisy to relegate ‘convicted criminals’–fellow humans who may or may not have committed a crime (an unconscionable percent are now publicly known to be factually innocent of the charges)–to horrifying and barbaric conditions and deliberate premature death. Further, it is the absolute height of idiocy for our society to expect ‘prisoners’ who have witnessed society’s ‘heart’ firsthand to return to them with anything greater than a loathsome revulsion for the class of beings who publicly admit they don’t care if a ‘prisoner’ lives or dies.

Christina Avilan spoke about the impossibility of recieving adequate medical care if a prisoner does not speak English.
Christina Avilan spoke about the impossibility of recieving adequate medical care if a prisoner does not speak English.

So long as our society does not experience pain and outrage that motivates change in state officials who not only have the audacity of deeming an individual of no social value, but also goes on to deliberately murder that individual, and as long as there is no demonstrable outrage at our elected officials who knowingly spend billions of dollars every year to prosecute, imprison, and in many cases execute citizens the officials know are factually innocent, then prison officials will continue to perform their passive executions of the prisoners in their custody regardless of the nature of the medical condition for which they deny life-saving medical treatment.”
From Asali Richardson:
“I’ve experienced a lot of things in VSPW and while officers aren’t perfect, the sworn oath should be upheld regardless of their personal opinions and views. As long as they get paid to do a job with professionalism, they need/should do the job. We females are mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, etc. Our punishment is the time sentenced and the setting away from family and society — not the cruelness, bigotry, open hatred and the abuse applied by the very hands that are sworn to protect us.
From Patricia McCaskill:
“During an emergency appointment, I thought I had a lesion on my vagina. Dr. D___ put a plastic shield on covering his face and two pairs of rubber gloves. Before he attempted to check me he left the room, touching door knobs on several doors, and then returned to the examination table but was not willing to change the gloves! …
There are groups of patients tested for serious conditions/diseases, including myself, who were not informed of positive results in a reasonable time span by the regular yard physician nor the doctor ordering a test. Some of us were informed by other physicians seeing us for other reasons. I was told my hepatitis C positive results eighteen months later by a relief physician. I still await explanation and recommendation for treatment if any is available.”
From Judy Ricci:
“Why should any of you care about a bunch of prisoners that are safely locked away? Because each one of us is someone’s grandmother, mother, child, wife or friend. Because it should not be about cost cutting over care giving. Because most of us are coming out to free society, sooner or later. Multiply the [HIV/Hepatitis C] infected population here times 32 other state prisons and the public health risk begins to look pretty frightening, and the need to do something significant becomes obvious. Imagine how many future infections in the community could be avoided if every infected prisoner were made aware of their status, learned the responsibility every human being with a communicable disease has to protect the next human being, was given information, monitoring and treatment if treatment is warranted. Bottom line, this issue needs to be aggressively addressed. If not now, when?
From Charisse Shumate:
This is not about me. This is about we. As I sit here trying to express these sad but true facts about the issues at CCWF…First of all, thanks to an inmate named Joann Walker, may she rest in peace, who put her life on the line to make the California Department of Corrections know how important it was to reach other inmates about the hard cold facts of HIV behind these walls. She spoke out loudly and clearly. She was a “we” person, not a “me” person. … When I first came behind prison walls at the California Institution for Women (CIW), lifers worked in unity. They were big sisters to each other. We fought for the betterment of all inmates. We explained to the short timers on parole violations the importance of helping one another. … Charisse Shumate knows no other way but “we.” Will you please join the we and get the hell off of me. The real warrior is on a never ending battle. Pray for us as our lives are on the line.