The people of our statewide communications system and newsletter, United
for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect (UNION) do not recognize the unlawful
ban of the media from taxpayer financed prisons.
One of our very talented members who visits Death Row, Jane Drake has, in an act of rebellion which could end her visits, drawn the cages built in 2001 by our new CDC Director, Jeanne Woodford. These were also approved by our California Legislature as a constructive use of your tax dollars.
If you're not outraged over these cages and the visiting "system" that is punitive to 6000 Californians who are degraded there each year, then you're not really paying attention.
Locking inmates in cages has never been and never will be a crime deterrent but locking families in cages is an unspeakable human rights atrocity. We urge everyone to plan to testify against the appointment of Jeanne Woodford as the new CDC Director when her confirmation hearing comes up because a person who would participate in this type of psychological torture does not have the capacity to be a real prison reformer.
Here are some startling facts about the visiting cages and Woodford's "system."
AVERAGE SIZE OF VISIT CAGES* 4'x7' Except for Cage # 10 which is 5'x8'
Visiting began in the Cages in February, 2001. Constructed by Jeanne Woodford
THE CAGES WERE CONSTRUCTED DUE TO A SCUFFLE BY TWO INMATES WHO WERE ARMED WITH A TOOTHBRUSH AND A PENCIL. THE GUARDS ARE SAID BY WITNESSES TO HAVE STABBED AN INMATE AFTER THE SCUFFLE ENDED. BEFORE THAT IT WAS BLOODLESS.
Family members account of what happened to cause visitor cages to be built.
"Two attorneys who were sitting right there, one with his client who was attacked, said a make shift pencil or toothbrush was the only weapon, but the inmate was not wounded until the Guard's came in. Officer Porton had control immediately, he maced the two attackers of another inmate and had the visitors and inmates down on the ground by the time the Guard's arrived. There was NO BLOOD until the guards came in and stabbed the inmate according to the lawyers who witnessed it. Then came the cages."
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE LOCKED IN THESE VISITING CAGES WITH SUPPOSEDLY MURDEROUS INMATES EACH YEAR?
Assuming that ten friends, family, attorneys visit the 600 men and women on death row, 6000 Californians have had the door locked behind them when they visit with an inmate. If these cages are for the protection of families, could they really get out in time if an inmate "lost it" while they were locked inside? Isn't this logic faulty?
WHAT ARE IN THE CAGES?
Two plastic chair and a low table which cannot be moved under any circumstances, a trash can with a liner. Children are allowed to bring in one coloring book but the floors are filthy, the tables are too low, so they can only place it on their laps. The discomfort from sitting two hours in the same position is very great and oppressive.
WHAT IF A PERSON NEEDS TO USE THE BATHROOM WHILE LOCKED IN THESE CAGES
If anyone needs to use the bathroom, the visit is usually terminated. Once a desperate inmate urinated in a cup when no guard was available and he lost his visits indefinitely. There is an elderly guard in the room who often sleeps through his shift and doesn't always open the doors in a timely fashion.
ARE THE CHILDREN WHO VISIT ALSO LOCKED IN THE CAGES?
Yes. The floors are filthy. The guards constantly harass the mothers and tell them to keep their children quiet. The families are treated as if they are garbage and also in prison.
IS THERE ANY PRIVACY FOR DISCUSSING URGENT LEGAL MATTERS?
No. The noise level is high and since the chairs cannot be moved, whispering is impractical. The visitors on either side can hear everything that is said so there is zero privacy to discuss legal cases and other important matters.
BESIDES A COLORING BOOK, WHAT ELSE CAN BE BROUGHT INTO THE CAGES?
One visit to the vending machines is allowed before the visit. The food is over-priced junk food for the most part. If it gets spilled, there is no opportunity to leave the cage to replace it, which happens frequently. A bible or other religious book is allowed. Death Row inmates are never allowed to attend chapel. This is a violation of almost every religious doctrine.
FAMILIES REACT TO THE OPPRESSION OF THE CAGES AND VISITING DEATH ROW.
"Visiting my loved one on death row creates such depression that it
has ruined my health, pursuit of happiness for two decades now."
"My husband had to tell his dying father good bye on the phone twice
because visiting is impossible for the disabled"
"With only a few cages available for visits, my hands and wrists go
numb having to redial for up to two hours to get an appointment.
There is almost no chance to get through."
"CDC is slicing families apart. I used to be able to visit a couple
of times per week to help keep my son supported in San Quentin's hell on
earth existence, but with the cages and visiting regulations that is no
longer possible. He will eventually be put to death and I want to spend
as much time as possible with him because he is mentally ill and this is
"The victims rights group and law enforcement unions are vengeful upon
the families of mostly mentally ill inmates on death row. They want
to hurt us in every way possible and Woodford and the Legislature has assisted
in this campaign of hate. We are innocent victims of crime just wanting
to spend as much time with our loved ones as possible before they are murdered
by the State."
"I am an elderly mother. My only crime is that I love my son. The State of California wants to torture me too and has made visiting very difficult for me. There is never a visit available for me since the cages limit the number of people who can get in to just a handful and now only two days a week cuts visits in half. Two hours was enough before but now it is impossible."
"The water is poison. A bottle of water costs $1 for visitors to buy and the food gives us cramps and diarrhea, food vendors are always late, the coffee cups have ants in them, the food area is filthy, there is a time limit to get into the cages but only two microwaves to warm the food."
"The temperature of the room is so hot that we must call out to get
one fan turned on, the newer visitors do not know of the days when we could
sit and eat or play a game beside our loved ones with no cages."
"WHEN KEVIN COOPER WAS NEAR EXECUTION, HE WAS ALWAYS PUT IN A FRONT CAGE BY THE OFFICE, AND HAD TO ENDURE THE QUESTIONS OF ALL.
BUT THE PUBLIC DOESN'T CARE, THEY WANT OUR MEN AND WOMEN DEAD. IT IS A "WAY TO HEAL" THEY ALWAYS SAY,, BUT THOSE WHO SEE IT ARE NEVER THE SAME,,,,,HOW COULD YOU BE WHEN YOU WATCH GUARDS SNUFF OUT A LIVING PERSON, AND YOU CAN ONLY VIEW IT AND NOT STOP IT ,,,,,,,,ONLY EVERYONE KNOWS IT BRINGS ON MORE PAIN FOR ALL CONCERNED,
REVENGE IS HATE, AND HURTS THE ONE WHO
"The guards in the office up front, snack and eat and read magazines and talk on the phone all day. This is the "cushy" job in there, and they are the ones who often give the wrong passes and drivers licenses to the wrong visitor. Some people have gone home to LA with the wrong Driver's license and have had to return them. The bottom line is, it is not that "DANGEROUS PLACE" the CDC would like to keep the public afraid of and the guards don't deserve that much money."
"Many of the inmates were drug users, and now that they are "sober", they are clean and act very courteous to all. Or they acted out their mental illness and are now getting medication which controls their out-of-control behavior. Had they been medically well in the first place the crimes would not have happened. It makes more sense to focus on prevention than torture.
The main friction and troubles are when the CDC makes cuts and changes to their programs,,,,,,,,,,or treats them like dogs,,,,,,or worse,,,,,only then does the CDC see trouble, and they know it.
It is a known fact that Death Row is less troublesome then the Mainline convicts. They have only a few good things left in their lives, visiting with family, and yard time. Some are so depressed that they commit suicide, and some never go outside at all. These "crazy killers" are often seen crocheting an afghan for their mom! And some do beautiful art work, write stories, play the guitar, to pass the time away,, but violence is at a minimum on death row."
"We who visit are perhaps more scrutinized at San Quentin, there have been few escapes at San Quentin overall, some they figure it was guard assisted and these did not happen during visits."
"Due to death row being in the mode of killing its captives, what are they looking for as we must pass each week through not one but two metal detectors take our shoes off twice INSIDE the gates? The men are strip searched twice at their cell, and in the back holding room each time we visit. Full degrading body searches.
"Critendon, San Quentin's public info man/second generation guard, who seems to delight in announcing an execution carried out is also saying we need another new death row, just to keep up with so many coming on a fast pace to Death Row. Critendon is a murderer at heart, a sadistic man who loves his job of killing the mentally ill. People who take these jobs have a certain sickness of their own but have found a legal and socially acceptable way to kill representing the taxpayers."
"On Death Row we have sickness, AIDS, and hepatitis terrible illness. We rarely see the dying in visiting. Our loved ones do though. They become numb to any feelings when things change for them. Due to all the mental illnesses on death row, and those who know they are guilty of acting out. People condemned to die with no hope grow despondent. They no longer go to yard, and sit in often -a filthy cell, depressed waiting to die.
We have suicides and fights some times ,but you never see the tiny back page news reports about it. Life has little meaning to some on death row, and yet others do well to stay fit and active, enjoying what days, months, years they have left to live, while waiting to be put to death in such a wicked way.
But some have prison palor, that they look like they re half dead already. Some guards in visiting also, are so full of hatred for those on death row that it shows on their faces.
I have seen several hundred at guards at least over the years in there,
some flirt with the ladies, and some are surly and mean. Can you imagine
how it feels to a death row man to see a guard flirt with his girl or wife?
"The visitors are mostly peaceful people, innocent crime victims but due to the strain , there is friction every year, telling a woman or mom or dad, that their son or husband is going to die in the chamber, is brutal on them.
I know most women are on anti depressants by way of their doctors, they must keep their jobs secret at all times, those with the strength to hold one. Due to the hate and prejudice surrounding anyone or the family members of an inmate who gets the "penalty of Death".
"Filth is a good way to describe San Quentin. Woodford has no
health consciousness whatsoever, so this is bad news now that she is CDC
"It is an odd feeling , to see our barren donated Christmas tree is no longer decorated. It used to light up the faces of even the most hardened inmate.
Some guards try to be friendly, but that look full of questions is usually on their faces. The one guard being kept in there is the one who is retired military, gray hair, in the center cage, pacing back and forth, when he is not sleeping on his stool. He was the one who pepper sprayed the fighters, that one fight, that they blame for these awful caged visits. ONE fight, set up, rival gang members and we have thousands of days of separation and torment.
The men still keep it a safe place in there, due to wanting to visit. It is to some, all they have left in life. Many are solemn and remorseful, and pray with their loved ones, on a regular basis. We do, it is the only shared sacred time together. Some times a guard will interrupt when our heads are bowed , questioning what we are doing??? Funny, prayer looks pretty safe I would say."
What these barbaric practices are is a way to punish the mentally ill and addicts who have acted out their illnesses. They are revenge but not actual crime solutions.
Look at just some of the money we spend on revenge because law enforcement unions can successfully organize voting groups and elect their own candidates.
-Each murder case (capital case) costs at least $1,000,000 to prosecute. A study by Columbia University discovered that even after all that money spent, 87% of the cases are flawed.
-The land upon which San Quentin sits is worth several million dollars. The prison is old and decrepit. Tearing it down and selling the land would help greatly toward the budget crisis. Why are the Republican politicians fighting this move? Death row is a waste of taxpayer money and shouldn't we really be giving the mentally ill medical treatment instead of killing them for acting out their illnesses?
-The human toll of executing the mentally ill is immeasurable. It cripples the entire family for life emotionally, financially, and ends their productivity and pursuit of happiness. There are 6000 family members attached to those on death row who observe and experience continuous oppression and psychological torment. Families of inmates are innocent crime victims and shouldn't be punished in a sane society.
-The cost of an execution exceeds that of life imprisonment. An execution is pre-meditated murder and delivers a message to our young people that murder is a solution when a wrong has been committed. Blood does not wash out blood and this is a bad example for the government who claims to be against killing to set for its citizens.
-There have been hundreds of people released off death row who are totally innocent. With the corruption in California's courts and the startling 87% rate of flawed cases identified in the Columbia University study, it makes no sense for the taxpayers to finance a failed system of injustice. This isn't about justice, it's about law enforcement jobs and we need to take a stand against it to protect the innocent and to heal the mentally ill who have acted out.
B. Cayenne Bird, Director