By Suzette Silva, CCWP founder in San Diego
In response to the human rights injustices and systemic abuse of our loved ones, local women activists, former and current prisoners, and families of prisoners formed the San Diego Chapter of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.
The mother of Theresa Cruz “a battered woman serving a life term at CIW,” is an active member of SDCCWP. The Theresa Cruz Story has gained local and national attention and has been featured on local radio stations and in the CCWP newsletter The Fire Inside. Theresa’s mother, also named Theresa can be seen at local demonstrations championing her cause on visiting issues and prisoner family issues, while marching in solidarity and giving her imprisoned daughter a voice for freedom.
I am Suzette Silva, W-14902, a former prisoner of the California Institution for Women (CIW), an indigenous grassroots HIV outreach worker and activist working at the San Diego American Indian Health Center HIV program. “Working in a community-based organization there are many opportunities to meet other activists and women in recovery.” I was approached by a sister, Janice, a political activist for the Leonard Peltier American Indian Movement, to collaborate on a local grassroots prisoner activist project that subsequently formed SDCCWP. In 1996, Patricia Contreras a Native American/ Mexican woman dying from complications of AIDS at CIW gained the attention of local activists and former prisoners. Local supporters consulting with Judy Greenspan of Catholic Charities HIV Project began writing letters for Patricia’s compassionate release with the direction of her attorney. Though Patricia was dying, the CDC claimed they could not grant Patricia Contreras a compassionate release due to the nature of her crime. Patricia was in a wheelchair.
Finally, Patricia was granted a compassionate release and died of AIDS related conditions in a hospital surrounded by family and friends. Patricia’s story changed my life and angrily prompted my journey back to “the days, the years” I spent at the California Department of Corrections California Institution for Women (CIW). My crime was a drug-related offense, which carried an indeterminate sentence of 1-5 years for which I served three years flat. As a youth offender I served prison time in the California Youth Authority and federal time at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in San Diego. Conversely, during the 1980’s CIW was the only women’s prison in California compared to the 1990’s, where California now hosts the largest women’s prison population in the world. Prison conditions have grown harsher due to overcrowding, mandatory sentencing laws, the three strikes law, proposition 187 and prop 21. Today women in prison are dying at an alarming rate due to substandard inadequate medical care at the hands of male administrators and corporate America. Family visits require that women be strip searched and subjected to humiliation in order to see their loved ones. Family visitors are turned away for wearing the wrong color of clothing to the type of clothing they happen to be wearing that day.
The San Diego Chapter of the California Coallition for Women Prisoners meets the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month from 6-7:30 PM. We support the national day of prison protest sponsored by the Prison Reform Unity Project by organizing with others a demonstration in front of CIW in Frontera, California. Theresa Cruz is a domestic violence survivor, a San Diego woman unjustly tried and incarcerated through the California justice system and is serving a life term at CIW in Frontera. Along with others, members of CCWP support Theresa Cruz and traveled to the prison on Saturday July 15th.
Write Suzette at the San Diego American Indian Health Center
c/o Prison Outreach,
3812 Ray St.
San Diego Ca. 92104
For more information contact 619-233-7984 or 619-223-2844 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.