Vigil for Vickie Lee Hammonds

Alma Hammonds, Vickie’s sister, speaking in front of CIW at November 9th rally.

Vickie Lee Hammonds, a mother,  grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, and beloved by many others, died from medical neglect at the California Institution for Women (CIW) on June 5, 2019. She was only 55 years old. Her death—devastating and preventable —speaks to a pattern of injuries and deaths as well as a larger culture of disregard at CIW specifically and throughout the CDCr more broadly, despite widespread and persistent public scrutiny. Vickie’s family and CCWP demand that California and its institutions of human caging be held responsible for preventable deaths in their custody, like Vickie’s, and for practices of ongoing abuse and neglect.

Vickie was diagnosed with diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and had suffered through years of poor medical treatment at CIW. She also had trouble walking even short distances, but Vickie was continually denied access to a wheelchair despite repeated requests. Vickie’s health worsened in the weeks leading up to her death, but she and her friends’ advocacy on her behalf was ignored. On June 4th, the day before she passed away, Vickie’s breathing became especially strained. Despite informing the nurse of her difficulty breathing  and that her oxygen machine was malfunctioning, Vickie was sent back to her cell with no additional care, support or resources.

On the morning of June 5th, Vickie’s condition worsened. Once again, Vickie was refused admission to the prison’s emergency medical unit or transfer to the hospital. Later that night Vickie stopped breathing. Guards performed CPR while they waited for emergency responders, but their access was prevented because of new procedures around a newly-installed fence at the prison.  It took a full 45 minutes before the emergency medical team was granted access and reached Vickie. By then it was too late and Vickie was pronounced dead in the hallway outside her cell.

The horrific circumstances of Vickie’s death were compounded by the lack of communication with her family. It was not the prison who contacted Vickie’s sister, Alma Hammonds, but one of Vickie’s friends. And, as if losing a family member is not devastating enough, there was also confusion and chaos around the whereabouts of her body. “We the family of Vickie Lee Hammonds feel that her early demise was due to a lack of proper medical treatment and a complete lack of response to her,” Vickie’s family said in a statement. “Vickie’s family suffered a great loss and we all are lost for words. We all want to know why she was so neglected and allowed to die.”

Taylor Lytle reading the poem she wrote for Vickie

For Vickie, by Taylor Lytle

Help i can’t breathe

 Was her only plea

But it was not met with urgency

and now beautiful soul gone too soon

Preventable yes

But CDCR is never accountable for their mess

So we stand here and protest

We shout the names of our lost loved one

Vickie we love you

 Vickie we will fight for you.

Vickie you won’t die in vain

Vickie we are sorry

Sorry because we couldn’t save you from a system that enslaved you

The same system that claimed they wanted to help you Failed you.

We, your sisters and brothers, are sorry that we are still powerless in 2019

from preventing these systems from destroying our families

CIW u r guilty

Of inmate cruelty

 I have no reason to lie

 I once was a victim you see.

No more hiding behind these gates

The truth has been told

We’re shutting you down

I promise you that even if it cost me my soul

Screaming no more deaths is becoming a little too old

We are taking the power back

We will see to it that you get closed For good

Thank you

Gravestones for some of those who have died preventable deaths at CIW

CCWP Co-Sponsors AB 1764 -Sterilization Compensation


Kelli Dillon, center, and team after Kelli testified at the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

The Assembly Public Safety Committee passed AB 1764 – the Forced Sterilization Compensation Program Bill, authored by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo.  AB 1764 would provide victim compensation to survivors of California state sponsored sterilization between 1909 and 1979; and survivors of involuntary sterilizations in women’s state prisons after 1979. 

 The bill, which is co-sponsored by California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ), the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) would make California the third state in the nation to provide compensation for survivors who were sterilized under state eugenics laws and the first to offer compensation to survivors of involuntary sterilizations at women’s state prisons.

 The number of people sterilized under the 1909 eugenics law in California account for one third of all the recorded sterilizations that occurred in the United States in the 20th century. All those affected lived in state institutions and were classified as having disabilities or were deemed “unfit for reproduction” by state entities. It is important to note that administrators of the law at the time had broad discretion in practice to decide who was classified as “unfit.” The majority of sterilizations were done on women and girls, and disproportionately impacted Latinas, who were 59% more likely to be sterilized than non-Latinas. 

 “For 70 years, it was legal for Californians to be sterilized just because they were disabled or somebody thought they were disabled. California’s Sterilization Compensation Bill helps provide redress to disabled survivors who were wrongly sterilized against their will,” said Susan Henderson, Executive Director, DREDF. “Taking responsibility for this injustice is the necessary next step to guard against future state-sanctioned abuse and discrimination.”

 While California’s eugenic law was repealed in 1979, a subsequent state audit revealed that at least 144 people had been sterilized during labor and delivery without proper consent while incarcerated in California women’s prisons from 2006 to 2010. Further research indicates that an additional 100 involuntary sterilizations were performed during labor and delivery with an additional small number of other coerced or involuntary sterilizations happening during other surgeries in the late 1990’s.  As with the sterilizations performed under California’s eugenics law, the sterilizations disproportionately affected people of color.

 “The sterilizations at the women’s prisons primarily targeted Black and Brown women as well as poor white women,” said Hafsah Al-Amin, CCWP Program Coordinator. “They were intended to stop the reproduction of a population whom the state would rather see caged, disenfranchised and infertile.”

 Eugenic sterilization programs are now considered a major human rights abuse. California officials apologized for this historical wrong in 2003. Recently the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors issued a public apology for the non-consensual tubal ligations of Mexican-origin women at USC/LA County Hospital in the 1960s-1970s, yet the history and legacy of California’s eugenics laws are little known. 

 “The legacy of California’s eugenics law is well-known and as the prison sterilizations show, the repercussions continue to be felt,” said Laura Jimenez, Executive Director, CLRJ. “As reproductive justice advocates, we recognize the insidious impact state-sponsored policies have on the dignity and rights of poor women of color who are often stripped of their ability to form the families they want. This bill is a step in the right direction in remedying the violence inflicted on these survivors.”

 This bill would help compensate verified survivors of California’s eugenic sterilization program and involuntary sterilizations at California women’s state prisons as well as establish markers at designated sites that acknowledge the compulsory sterilization of thousands of people in the state, raising awareness of the unjust sterilizations of thousands of people. Although monetary compensation cannot adequately address the harm suffered by sterilization survivors, it is a material acknowledgement of this wrong.

About California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ) CLRJ is a statewide organization committed to honoring the experiences of Latinas to uphold our dignity, our bodies, sexuality, and families. We build Latinas’ power and cultivate leadership through community education, policy advocacy, and community informed research to achieve Reproductive Justice. Learn more about California Latinas for Reproductive Justice at www.californialatinas.org
About Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), founded in 1979, is a leading national civil rights law and policy center directed by individuals with disabilities and parents who have children with disabilities. DREDF works to advance the civil and human rights of people with disabilities through legal advocacy, training, education, and public policy and legislative development. Learn more about DREDF at https://dredf.org/
About California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) CCWP is a grassroots social justice organization, with members inside and outside prison, that challenges the institutional violence imposed on women, transgender people, and communities of color by the prison industrial complex (PIC). We see the struggle for racial and gender justice as central to dismantling the PIC and we prioritize the leadership of the people, families, and communities most impacted in building this movement. Learn more at https://womensprisoners.org

Lawsuit Filed Denouncing Assaults on Trans & Queer Prisoners at CCWF

Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming and Queer Prisoners say “me too”: Lawsuit Filed Denouncing Assaults at The Central California Women’s Facility

On November 9, 2017 four people of color – a transgender man, a gender non-conforming person and two queer female prisoners – who were all at one time incarcerated at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), filed a lawsuit against the State of California and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).  The lawsuit denounces two vicious assaults where correctional officers beat up, sexually harassed, hurled homophobic and transphobic insults at, and tormented the plaintiffs.  The plaintiffs were then denied medical treatment for their injuries and were prevented from filing grievances about the assaults they had experienced.  The assaults are particularly reprehensible because the plaintiffs are all survivors of sexual trauma and violence and were assaulted while advocating for their basic human rights.

The assaults originally took place on November 11, 2015, when Stacy Rojas, a gender non-conforming former prisoner was brutally attacked by correctional officers after warning that they intended to complain to the prison’s internal investigation unit about repeated harassment by guards regarding their gender.  Rojas’ cell mates were subsequently attacked when they indicated that they would report the use of excessive force against Rojas.  All three were then confined for nearly twelve hours in small programming cages and subject to sexually humiliating and abusive treatment.  This included having their clothing cut off of their bodies, having their breasts and chests stomped on by guard boots, and being told that male guards could “show them what a real man is” while making reference to the size of their penises.  They were then put in solitary confinement without cause and without receiving medical treatment for their injuries or being allowed to use the restroom.

When all three plaintiffs attempted to use the internal system of accountability designed to report abuses inside prisons, they were obstructed. Their original complaints were claimed to have been lost and then mentioned in response to future complaints as a reason to not investigate follow-up reports. Furthermore, they were never informed by the CDCR of conclusive results of any investigation into the incidents. The legal complaint submitted by the law offices of Siegel and Yee seeks the creation of a system of true accountability for excessive use of force, sexualized violence, and targeting of transgender, gender non-conforming and queer prisoners by guards against prisoners as well as freedom from retaliation for reporting such violations.

Released in January 2017, Rojas is now part of the legal advocacy team working on the case, they are committed to making a difference for those still in prison: “Most of us are inside because of the histories of violence and abuse that we experienced and then got caught up in.  Just because we are in prison doesn’t mean that we should not have our basic human rights protected.  I do not want anyone else to go through what I did.  My fellow inmates use to tell me that I was singled out because of my gender and because I advocated for myself and others.  We have a right to stand up for ourselves and to take care of each other.”

On January 5, 2017, Isaac Medina, a transgender prisoner at CCWF, was denied access to his medication.  When he asked why he was being denied, he was then attacked violently by multiple guards.  At the time of the attack, Medina was in a wheelchair and during the incident he was also denied the accommodations he was entitled to under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).  During the course of the attack he endured physical brutality and sexually humiliating treatment, such as having his pants pulled down to his ankles throughout the attack and having his head smashed against a brick wall.  Medina, was also placed in a programming cage and not allowed to use the bathroom after the attack.  Further, he was denied medical treatment for his injuries.

According to Sara Kershnar of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, “These incidents are part of a pattern of abuse at CCWF, part of a climate of increasing violence employed by correctional officers at CCWF against transgender, gender non-conforming and queer women prisoners.  They represent a backlash against hard-won legal rights for trans people in prison, such as the right to access hormone therapy.  They reflect officer resentment about changing cultural norms regarding gender identity.  They also re-traumatize people who have suffered sexual violence and homophobia and transphobia before they were incarcerated.”

This is a moment of exploding social awareness in this country about the pervasiveness of sexual  harassment and violence by those in power against vulnerable people.  This case shines a light on predatory practices by correctional officers that target people who are marginalized within women’s prisons based upon their gender identification and sexuality.  The plaintiffs’ demand systemic policy changes in the prisons to prevent such types of abuse and prejudice in the future.

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SUPPORT CCWP’S IMPORTANT WORK!

PLEASE GIVE GENEROUSLY TO CCWP

Dear CCWP Community,

2017 has been a hard year for all people who seek justice in the world.  At the same time, it has been a year when we have all pushed our limits to resist a system that is ramping up white supremacy, anti-immigrant fever, misogyny, transphobia, xenophobia and hate of all kinds. CCWP has responded by intensifying our work on behalf of people living in California’s women prisons – rejuvenating and expanding our visiting teams, pushing forward with campaign to DROP LWOP sentencing, and building a new CCWP chapter in Los Angeles.

One of CCWP’s major highlights of 2017 was our statewide retreat in September. There, we reaffirmed our collective commitment to nurture creative forms of radical sanctuary inside and outside of prison and prioritize mutual aid and grassroots advocacy.

At the retreat, we welcomed members of our new CCWP chapter based in Los Angeles, a major step forward in building our capacity across the state.  Our growing L.A. chapter reflects the tremendous amount of dedicated work that has been done with people at CIW and their loved ones over the past couple of years in response to the suicide and in-custody death crisis there.

In 2017 CCWP worked inside and outside of prisons to accomplish many things:

  • Launched the Drop LWOP campaign!  We sent thousands of signed postcards to the Governor urging him to commute LWOP sentences.  This year, he has started to grant commutations for the first time, including two women we work with, Sue Russo and Liz Stroder. Almost 30 other people at CCWF and CIW who filed petitions for commutations have now been interviewed. We also partnered with people at CIW to hold a powerful LWOP town hall inside the prison! Over 100 people participated, building strength and community for the 36 people at CIW serving LWOP
  • Pressured the California State Auditor to release a highly critical report of CDCR suicide prevention and response policies, focusing on CIW. The report confirmed everything CCWP had been saying for years – but its proposals for change didn’t go far enough.
  • Filed a lawsuit, working with Siegel & Yee law firm, against the CDCR for egregious incidents of excessive force used by correctional officers at CCWF against gender non-conforming and trans survivors of sexual trauma and violence.
  • Stepped up to support immigrant women in detention by demonstrating at the Contra Costa West County Detention Facility on International Women’s Day, offering solidarity to hunger strikers protesting horrendous conditions at Northwest and Adelanto detention centers, and supporting CCWP member Ny Nourn who was recently released on bail!
  • Began the Share the Fire reading circle with members inside and outside of women’s prisons. All members read the same materials focused on race, gender and prisons and exchange reflections about these thought provoking pieces.
  • Supported the passage of many propositions and legislative bills, including SCR 48 (the Felony Murder Rule Change); SB 394 (the Youth LWOP bill); AB 1008 (expanding Ban the Box); and SB 310 (The Name and Dignity Act for Incarcerated Trans People).
  • Initiated FireStorm, a new educational project to build international solidarity with women and trans people targeted by the U.S.-led Prison Industrial Complex around the world.
  • Continued building our visiting teams, parole support, Fired Up empowerment group in the San Francisco jail, and The Fire Inside newsletter (now in its 21st year of publication!)

All of this crucial work requires resources of many different sorts. Your donation will help us strengthen these efforts in 2018:

  • Support the salaries and stipends for our staff members.
  • Sponsor expenses for prison visits including car rentals, gas and food for the people we visit.
  • Provide stipends for the formerly incarcerated members of our Speakers’ Bureau.
  • Contribute printing and mailing costs for The Fire Inside.

We cannot do this without you, our community! Please accept an invitation to be part of this work by:

  • Becoming a monthly sustainer
  • Making a generous one-time contribution
  • Planning a legacy gift through a bequest, a living trust or a beneficiary designation

PLEASE GIVE GENEROUSLY TO CCWP!

For 22 years, CCWP has been challenging the impact of state, racist and gendered violence in prisons and on the streets.  There has never been a more important time to come together to dismantle the systems that promote violence and hate and build community based on justice and love. Thank you for supporting us in these efforts!