Orange County Register, June 19, 2002

Guard our budget from prison spending 

Articles about my volunteer work in the UNION (United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect) written by other journalists

This article appeared in the Orange County Register on January 13, 1999, just after I was able to get an admission from the Tehachapi Warden during a televised senate hearing that prison guards were running the drug rings. Is it not the height of hypocrisy that we have so many people locked up for life over nonviolent drug violations and that prison guards are merely reprimanded for breaking the same laws. The CCPOA has a captive market supplying drugs to prisoners statewide. I've been screaming about this for five years, that the taxpayer's money funds cop-run drug rings. It was nice to see it in the Register.

The reason I was at the hearing in the first place was to represent a lone voice for the prisoner families and object to warden appointments at Calipatria and Tehachapi prisons. It was the warden's job review and I said it like it was for all California to hear.

There's a verse in the Bible I find particularly inspiring. "And God said, 'I did not make you in the image of fear.'

Without courage to fight back, we lose our freedoms more every day. The choice is a personal choice. We can either stand up and speak out or be a victim of a voting lobby.

B. Cayenne Bird

Drugs in prison 

January 13, 1999

A recent drug bust at Ironwood State Prison near Blythe highlights a problem that is almost certainly more widespread than officials admit. The drug dealer arrested Dec. 30 was not a street punk but one of the prison guards. More arrests, quite likely of prison guards or civilian prison employees, could follow.

It's far from the first such incident in California prisons. In November a female prison guard was arrested, along with two cooks and a parolee with a violent past, as part of a ring smuggling drugs -- heroin was seized in November, methamphetamine in an earlier arrest -- into San Quentin.

Last July a 54-year-old veteran prison guard at New Folsom prison near Sacramento was arrested after buying a pound of marijuana from relatives of inmates who were working undercover for the prison system. Officers also seized $19,000 in cash and bank deposits that they said were prison drug profits.

Perhaps, as prison officials say, these incidents represent only a few "bad apples" in the system. But Andy Furillo of the Sacramento Bee, in researching this story, talked to a parolee with a long history of drug convictions who claimed that his "job" while inside prison was cultivating guards and other prison employees for drug smuggling, that he was quite successful at it and that the practice is widespread throughout the California prison system.

That possibility is reinforced by an incident last Wednesday at a state Senate hearing for three wardens up for periodic reinstatement. A spokesman for a new group of prisoner families, called United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect (or UNION), claimed that guards at the Tehachapi prison ran drug rings. The senators expressed shock at the allegation, then the warden admitted there had been a couple of "bad apple" guards who had smuggled drugs but said they had been fired and the problem no longer existed.

Such allegations should not be shocking. Considering the profits to be made, it would only be surprising if no guards ever smuggled drugs. The question is how widespread the practice is.

The arrest at Ironwood was the work of the California Department of Corrections' new Office of Internal Affairs, created last summer in response to state Senate hearings into allegations of prisoner abuse at Corcoran State Prison near Bakersfield. So there's evidence that those in charge are trying to correct at least some abuses in the prison system.

But California's prison system has grown so dramatically in the last couple of decades that it has outrun the ability to manage it effectively. Some abuses are inevitable; more are likely to surface. In the long run the best approach is to consider and implement alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders, who make up about two-thirds of the prison population.


Published on the Opinion Page of the Orange County Register May 10, 1999. This will give you an overview of my advocacy journalism efforts. My goal is to educate the public to achieve prison reform.....because prisons, harsh laws and the death penalty are not solutions to crime. We must work on restorative justice, not retributive justice to prevent crime. The focus on punishment does not solve the problem of crime. It never has. It never will.


Opening up the prisons

May 10, 1999

Several important bills regarding California's deeply troubled prison system have come to the fore in this legislative session.

One of the most important -- a change that could shed light for ccitizens on the inner workings of the system -- involves relaxing strict rules on reporter access to prisoners.

For instance, stories about medical negligence in the prison system abound, though not many can be confirmed. 

In one case in April the state government quietly settled a medical negligence claim for $850,000 with former New Folsom prisoner Steven Dodson, who was in for drug possession. Although Mr. Dodson constantly complained of pain while in jail, officials refused to give him medical treatment. After he was released, in August 1997, emergency room doctors determined that he had a broken neck. Prison authorities had simply viewed him as a malingerer and insisted that he was in the early stages of the lawsuit.

For several years prison authorities have limited contact between prisoners and journalists so severely as to constitute a virtual ban. San Francisco Democratic Assembly woman Carole Migden, along with Thousand Oaks Republican Tom McClintock, have introduced AB 1440 to require the Department of Corrections to permit news media representatives to interview prisoners and receive confidential correspondence, as was the practice for years. The bill deserves to be passed.

Democratic state Sen. Tom Hayden of Los Angeles is still pushing SB 79,which would require that a Third Strike under California's draconian Three Strikes law would have to be for a violent or serious felony to merit a life sentence. Since new Republican Assembly leader Scott Baugh has backed away from a previous commitment to seek Three Strikes reform, this bill might not make it. Possibly the best hope for progress on this vital issue is San Jose Democratic state Sen. John Vasconcellos' SB 873, which would require the legislative analyst, in cooperation with the Judicial Council, the attorney General and the University of California to conduct a joint study on the costs and benefits of the "three strikes" law and report to the Legislature by July 1, 2000. We still think SB 79 should be passed and sent to the governor, but if that's not possible it is essential to pass SB 873.

A group working for sensible prison reform, made up mostly of families with members in prison and called the UNION (United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect) has a useful compilation of prison 

Los Angeles Times - Deaths of 3 Women in State Prison Probed- Click Here