Writing to end the abuse of mentally ill at Vacaville and other prisons.

Published March 14, 1999 with beautiful artwork by the Vacaville Reporter in Vacaville, California. Front
page of Sunday Forum section.

Cruel and unusual punishment

Vacaville Prison officials condone torturous

By B. Cayenne Bird

When Jimmy Diesso's devastated mother came to our prison rights group, United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect, asking us to review his case in January, her son had been held in 11-point restraints for nine days. Restraints violate international law, and the most usually used are five-point devices.

What is the California Department of Corrections achieving by pinning a mentally ill person down so that he cannot move for days at a time?

A Vacaville prison associate warden readily admitted that Mr. Diesso was in these restraints when I telephoned him and demanded he be released from them. He not only admitted this practice to me, but to several other UNION members laying the blame for the cold room and restraint tortures on a Vacaville prison doctor.

The associate warden said, `I've been doing this for 25 years and no one ever complained.''

When James Diesso came to Vacaville's California Medical Facility in 1994-95, his doctor explained that he suffers from a form of brain epilepsy, a serious neurological condition he has had since childhood. 

Without medication, he loses control, blacks out, and does not remember what transpires. He also has Hepatitis C and is seriously physically ill.

We have obtained not one, but two, prison documents that reveal an inmate Mr. Diesso is accused of murdering had fought twice with the guards within a few months of being placed in Mr. Diesso's cell. The guards know that few people care when one inmate kills another. We believe it was no accident that Mr. Ford was housed in the cell with someone who has a long history of mental illness and is known to be violent when not medicated.

The symbol drawn in blood on the cell wall was not a pentagram, it was a Wiccan symbol. Wicca is not devil worship, as astute Religious teachers will tell you. Guards who would put an inmate into a dangerous situation like the one in which they placed both Mr. Ford and Mr. Diesso are capable of anything. They should not be trusted. Wicca is Mr. Diesso's religion, as far as he can understand the concept.

The prison has blocked Mr. Diesso from his mother, tortured him by placing him in cold rooms and in restraints, as well as other forms of abuse, for days on end. In spite of his long history of mental illness, which is extremely well documented over the years, the prison called his mother last week and told her, ``Mr. Diesso isn't mentally ill; he's more of a deliberate behavior problem.''

Mr. Diesso beat up and swallowed his reading glasses in one suicide attempt. Last year, he swallowed a razor blade, which required surgery. The year before, he stabbed another inmate 17 times. I wonder what they consider mental illness if this isn't it?

Mr. Diesso has a mother who knows he isn't safe inside the Vacaville prison. They treat the mentally ill with retribution. The mentally ill are innocent. If Mr. Diesso had been given his medication and not forced into a double celling with another inmate (who was also documented to be violent), this crisis wouldn't exist.

There are too many people in prison who should be in a real hospital, undergoing treatment by compassionate people. Prisons are not hospitals, and prison guards are not nurses.

It isn't fair to imply that the tattoos represent any sort of a gang affiliation. Mr. Diesso hates those tattoos and doesn't know how he got them in the first place. Getting unwanted tattoos is just one of the way mentally ill inmates are exploited by other inmates.

In prison, the mentally ill are victimized by rape, by guards and inmates who steal their property. They are beaten and left for days at a time in restraints and in cold rooms. Last year, California executed a mentally ill person. How does this benefit anyone? The real criminals are the ones who would treat the mentally ill in such a manner.

UNION, which comprises citizens of California, wants the cold room and restraint tortures stopped at Vacaville and all California prisons statewide. If cold rooms aren't meant as torture why are they freezing cold. It is so inhumane to punish someone for being mentally ill, especially when the outburst are the fault of prison mismanagement,

We want Mr. Diesso sent to Reno to a hospital so that his mother can supervise his medication. The medical association ought to hold all prison doctors just as accountable as they do others outside the walls.

Every prisoner is some mother's child. Every mother in the state of California ought to be shaking in her bed for the injustice and abuse 
happening to our young people in California prisons in order to bring profit to the state.

To contact UNION, e-mail can be sent to :
Rightor1@aol.com email address

The UNION Website is here: Home Page


Sunday April 2, 2000 

System gone awry
Vacaville inmate cannot get a fair trial
By B. Cayenne Bird

How it is possible that a recent commentator, who responded to the mother of a Vacaville prison inmate, could be so well informed about all the facts of 
the James Diesso case?

Could the writer be one of the prison guards or administrators who 
purposefully double-celled together two known mentally ill, violent prisoners 
in the psychiatric segregation unit?

Since the writer is preaching a holier-than-thou sermon to James Diesso's 
mother, with her mind already made up before a trial even begins, it makes me wonder who really penned that editorial essay.

The case for Mr. Diesso's long history of mental illness is very 
well-documented since he was age 14. Double-celling him and another inmate was a reckless, irresponsible act, and prison officials should not be enabled to commit more of these murderous decisions without being held accountable.

There are two documents in the hands of the top criminal justice reporters in the state that prove the inmate whom James Diesso killed had several fights with prison guards just before he was killed. They know that few people care when one inmate kills another.

When unmedicated, inmate Diesso has blackouts. Anyone could have blamed this on him, and who would know or care, except his family?

Judge Harry Kinnicut has already shown prejudice toward the defendant by 
calling him an animal in court, having him chained to a wheelchair with a 
mask placed over his head. But the judge claims he is sane. Oh yes, this man swallows razor blades and beats up his reading glasses and swallows them too, but he's sane? The judge chose to ignore all the documentation, all the detailed medical records and will put him on trial as a sane person.

What was James Diesso doing in the psychiatric unit at Vacaville prison in 
the first place if he were sane? Where is justice?

This inmate was dispatched out of Vacaville Medical Facility because the 
abuse of the mentally ill there was exposed in the media. Now he is in Folsom Prison, which is not a hospital.

Prisons aren't hospitals, and prison guards aren't nurses. The mentally ill 
are innocent; there is a certain way to handle them, and not with 
retribution, which makes them even sicker. A bloodthirsty approach to 
handling crime has never worked, is never going to work.

The system is so corrupt it is advisable not to believe anything you didn't 
personally witness. Our organization does not believe James Diesso will get a fair trial in the court of Harry Kinnicutt, who rated among the lowest in a 
recent survey of judges conducted among attorneys by The Reporter.

The Vacaville prison is being sued over this case by the family of the dead 
inmate, and we support that lawsuit. It is clear where the blame really lies, 
and those in the prison administration are the ones who should be on trial 

The author is director of United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect, a 
prisoner rights organization. The address is P.O. Box 340371, Sacramento, 


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Rightor1 is B. Cayenne Bird, Journalist
Articles by other Journalist about my volunteer work at U.N.I.O.N.