Any Sentence to Prison Is a Potential Death Sentence for Inmates
Dr. B. Cayenne Bird

Dr. B. Cayenne Bird is an ordained minister and a 37-year veteran op-ed journalist and publisher. She volunteers her time as founder and director of United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect UNION. The UNION is active in prison reform and criminal justice issues. She is a mother and grandmother and focuses on human rights and restorative justice. She is also the host of television series "Cayenne Common Sense" and publishes a daily online newsletter to subscribers.

December 10, 2005

It's difficult to get the holiday spirit when Repugly politicians are so blood thirsty that they set the date to execute Stanley Williams just before Christ's birthday. Whose bright idea was this and how much are we as taxpayers paying this person to muck up our Christmas with yet another State murder? 

Then we'll have two more following to bring in the New Year. Christ himself was a victim of capital punishment. It isn't likely that he would condone this barbaric practice from the dark ages of killing people in the public arena for political reasons, especially not just before His birthday. 

There are no statistics anywhere to prove that killing people, especially the mentally ill, deters other mentally ill people from acting out their illnesses. Blood does not wash out blood. And it sets a terrible example for our children to see an "action hero" such as Governor Schwarzenegger teaching them to kill out of revenge. 

What I want to know is who set this unholy date of December 13 for a vengeful murder by the hypocrites who call themselves sane Christians in elected office? Is this the rally cry for the Repuglies who care more about the unborn than the born gearing up for the next election or is it just pure Repug entertainment? 

Now that the State is in quite an uproar about a prisoner who might be killed, I'd like to chime in here with an even more ghoulish reality. It concerns the prisoners who have definitely been killed and are being executed in your name almost every day. That's correct. State prisoners are being executed and/or maimed for life who didn't have a death sentence by the cruelest form of murder - medical neglect. 

Judge Thelton Henderson has declared a public health emergency and throttled the Governor to do what he should have done long ago, appoint a "Czar" , to end the needless deaths of prisoners. Judge Henderson should go down in history for having the conscience to take a strong position and actually DO something about these murders by medical neglect. The public needs to understand what the urgency means in human terms. 

In one of my recent columns I wrote an open letter to the Secretary of Adult and Juvenile Corrections, Roderick Hickman who is second in command just beneath the Governor. He is also responsible for all the prisoners being murdered by medical neglect as the wardens and guards are under his supervision. 

I invited people who care about the 166,000 people in prisons who are being denied medical care to stand with me beneath Hickman's office on December 2 with their protest signs. This was after I tried unsuccessfully to get help with a number of life and death emergencies which were completely ignored and to this day are still ignored even though they are going to cost lives and ultimately end up in a lawsuit. I personally placed several phone calls to Hickman from September 26, 2005 onward. Then a couple hundred mothers and wives of prisoners also called his office to be specific with their emergencies. What was the response? 

These mothers were given bogus names of non existent people to call for help at the prison level. They were referred to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) as if there would be help for them there. I have a pile of form letters that the OIG sends to desperate prisoners stating that they do not having the staff and funding to be able to help them. 

Nobody is talking about the real reason for the medical crisis even though the Big House is on fire and an evacuation should be demanded by the 3 million family members attached to a prisoner, all of whom are in mortal danger. 

The emergency exists because of the overcrowding. 

Everything else is a secondary reason for the suffering and preventable deaths of the prisoners. It?s the overcrowding.

There are two choices here. Either try to hire more doctors - most of whom would not ever be a party to such inhumane practices -or cut down on the number of prisoners. Hire up, or pare down the prisoner population. 

Other states responded the next day that a similar crisis was declared by giving a compassionate release to the most at-risk patients, the ones who would require expensive specialists and would probably not survive anyway. They are no longer a threat to society. Why not free these jailbirds so that they have a fighting chance in the private sector? Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is federally funded and the prisoners qualify for it. Compassionate release is not only the humane thing to do but it makes a great deal of budgetary sense as well. It's politics that are allowing people to suffer and die in a fashion that is worse than any third world country. 

Here is a recent example that almost fell through the cracks except that devastated prisoners got to word to me and to the family of a man who died a tortured death on November 11, 2005.

I repeat.

He died a tortured death. 

A lethal injection would have been kinder than what they did to Bruce Frausto at Pleasant Valley Prison. He was only 53 years old and the father of four, with a big family of adult brothers and sisters and an 80 year old mother who isn't doing well after this. Frausto's family noticed that he was losing weight and they called the prison and notified everyone that they could get through to past the automated phone systems that their family has a history of colon cancer. 

They were told that he was "just fine" and "has hemorrhoids for which he is being given some ointment." They begged for him to be taken to a specialist and even offered to pay for it. Warden James Yates and his p.r. man C.O. Spearman are becoming notorious for their failure to respond to such emergencies as there was another shocking death there recently. There is only one doctor at Pleasant Valley Prison for 5000 men but this is not an excuse. The family saw Frausto suffering and fading and they fought for him but no one would listen or respond. 

Reasoning with apes would have yielded more results for Frausto family. There were many witnesses to this gruesome neglect, all of whom will be shuttled off to the SHU because they know about it for a year or more to hide it from the courts and public view. During his last ten days he could not get out of his bed at all. The doctors will not come to the cells when the prisoners get down to this level. 

The other prisoners notified the guards and they did nothing to see that he was taken to a hospital or his family notified. Frausto couldn't make it to the cafeteria to get food so he had no food at all the last ten days of his life as he lay on a bed without a nurse or attendant. 

This is torture. 

Rotting of colon cancer, which is an operable problem when caught by early screening, in the year 2005, without treatment, pain pills or hospitalization is an outrage. Especially when the family fought so hard and the prisoners themselves were crying out for help for Frausto realizing that they could be the next to die. At the moment they are traumatized over what happened. 

You didn't see the obituary notice in the Fresno Bee because the prison covered it up or thought that they had. God only knows how many of these deaths are hidden from public view as this crisis is in full swing and CDCR doesn't want people demanding that the overcrowding be dealt with. Can't have that. Releasing prisoners would cost more jobs. Compassionate release might start a trend and our modern day slave labor industry would go down the toilet. Never mind the sickening human toll.

So every one involved is participating in this inhumanity and taking no responsibility for their deliberate indifference. What's this cruel and preventable situation going to cost the taxpayers? Millions I hope because this should never happen in America to even one US citizen. You see these same silent, callous people in church calling themselves Christians. Revolting!

This callousness and abuse is business as usual. The entire Frausto family is devastated, they are worried that his 80 year old mother is going to survive the shock of how this happened. They need an attorney but cannot afford one after putting out thousands on a funeral they never expected to happen. 

This is but one story out of hundreds, thousands of deaths that have happened in taxpayer-financed institutions since Pete Wilson and Dan Lungren over flooded them with more human beings than the system could properly handle. 

The shortage of doctors and nurses is a part of this crisis but the 8000 lb elephant in the room that nobody wants to acknowledge is that there are too many people in prison. 

The cup has been overflowing for about five years now and ridiculously harsh laws are partly to blame. These laws such as mandatory minimums and Three Strikes are conveyor belts putting bodies into a system which cannot take care of their most basic human needs. Any sentence to prison has a very good chance of being a death sentence. What the hell is the matter with the judges that keep putting non violent and mentally ill people into these mismanaged bloodhouses when the outcome of death is so predictable? 

Alternative sentencing at the jail level needs to happen right away. Bunks stacked three high and people living in gymnasiums have created disease incubators. There are 650,000 Californians with Hepatitis which can be directly traced to mismanaged health care in prison. Give the prisoners safe tattoo kits instead of allowing the ink to take their livers. Some education about risky behavior might save a few lives not to mention practical things like disinfectant cleaning supplies, condoms, and regular screenings 

How about the filth? Proper laundry techniques would be a vast improvement and little bleach in the kitchens would pay off big dividends. Only two of the prisons fall under the scrutiny of the health departments so they are pennywise and pound foolish and violating every fire law, health code known to man for the sake of making a profit. 

The families are in la, la land until their loved one is stricken with something and medical care is unavailable. We have five mothers who may not visit, call, or get a letter from their sons in the prison hospital. They do not know if they are dead or alive, the physicians and psychiatrists have their own code of silence and are forbidden to have contact with the families. They are twisting privacy laws to aid in a cover up. The media is banned from the prisons so CDCR has covered itself to hide the deaths and riots over abuses from the voters. Or so they think 

Little did Hickman know that the family members calling him begging for help are the cream of the crop amongst prisoner families. They are nurses, social workers, teachers, homemakers, retail store managers, bankers, attorneys and other professionals who have a prisoner in their family. Hickman and his crew shined and degraded desperate professional taxpayers because in the past it was a given that families of prisoners could not organize themselves well enough to file lawsuits or put up any resistance to inhumane practices at all. 

Well, on December 2 our presence outside the CDCR offices disrupted the entire day's business as the parents and other family members of tortured and murdered prisoners marched with me outside Hickman's offices. We donned sandwich board signs and marched around the building. The newspaper headlines screamed out the crisis statewide as Judge Henderson threatened to hold the Governor in contempt if he didn't appoint someone to head up the reform effort. 

Some of CDCR's employees came down to speak with us to try and convince us that all our problems were the fault of the State Legislators. "It's the law and we have no choice but to house them. The legislature makes us do that even when they know the prisons can't hold another single person. Go picket the Capitol" they exclaimed. 

Toy soldiers living in a wonderland of high salaries, nice offices and a fantastic Mexican restaurant across the street. We're all paying for this idyllic existence that they live. We wondered how many of them had actually ever seen the worried mother of a prisoner. As they went to lunch, many could not make eye contact with the protesters. We could see that manners are not part of their job description. I personally could never be a party to locking a human being in a cage and denying them a good diet and medical care so I wonder what type of person would take those jobs in the first place.

Plastique people who worship money more than humanitarian principles and who are deluded about what constitutes actual solutions to crime, that's who takes those jobs.

As usual, we were perfect ladies and gentlemen and the television cameras recorded our statement on a lovely day but most of the media is still missing the primary reasons why the prisoners are dying. Univision took considerable footage of the marchers, and plans to do some follow up feature stories since the American Hispanics are so deeply affected. But this is not a race crisis ? all prisoners are in danger and have been, it?s just that communications are so bad with the media being banned.

Allow me to summarize the reasons why the prisoners are dying and the crisis exists:

1. Overcrowding is the number one reason why the prisoners are dying needlessly

2. Callousness and retaliation by the guards in responding to appeals for medical care. They have hired people who are one step above primates, with a G.E.D. and a room temperature IQ who don't have basic first aid or CPR training and given them too much power over medical care. A robot would do a better job of taking of the inmates.

3. Funds for specialists, prescribed treatment and surgeries are denied because the State doesn't want to spend the money and interfere with "profits." CDCR?s focus is on punishing, not healing and that is why all inmates are coming back to their communities much worse off, much sicker and beaten down than before they were incarcerated.

4. There is absolutely no person, no agency, no place to go even in life and death emergencies when the problem is small and they are rotting and dying of simple conditions. Total callousness and a feeling that prisoners are livestock, not really people that need help. Their letters are never read let alone acted up.

5. This is where the physician and nurse shortages and various incompetencies fit in as number 5 in importance as far as the families viewpoint goes. This is a factor. CDCR has hired physicians who do not know English and who are often too old or who have blemishes on their records. As Dr. Rene Kanan was finally firing some of these ?bad? doctors she did not replace them with physicians from the temporary agencies, thereby causing a mass exodus of health care workers.

The Big House is burning and the first priority needs to be to evacuate the most at-risk patients who cannot survive this takeover. Then to put the brakes on sending mentally and physically ill people to prison at all, they should be in healing facilities or get alternative sentences. Judges must stop giving life sentences to non violent offenders and call for rehabilitation and healing in their sentencing. Any sentence to prison is a potential death sentence. Why are you as a taxpayer allowing non violent prisoners to be executed with your tax dollars and not writing a word about it to editors and marching in Sacramento? Silence allows torture.

The First Priority should be giving prisoners in crisis a place to go for help instead of ignoring their pleas

Imagine that you are a prisoner and have a life-threatening disease. You know that you are going to have a heart attack or die of cancer if you don't get to a doctor right away. Let's assume the judge sentenced you knowing that you were very ill which happens every day in the trial courts.. Maybe you have a fairly short sentence, or not, the law says that prisoners are to have health care that meets a regular standard of community care. Whatever your sentence, you are not on death row and the State has an obligation to take care of your health. 

What are your options when you can't get an appointment to see a doctor because there might only be one or two on staff at a prison for 5,000 or more men. You can file a grievance called a 602 which is supposed to prevent riots because it calls for intervention at higher levels. The politicians all know very well that any prisoner who files a 602 Grievance is going to be beaten up by the guards, or by other inmates that the guards paid off to attack them, or the form will never be filed at all except in the round file trashcan.. The 602 Grievance Process is broken and that is a major reason why there are so many riots. 

But let's assume you are really ill and willing to suffer the retaliation which always comes with reaching outside of the walls for help. You write the legislators who seem to be the advocates for prisoners. In 99.9% of the cases, you will never get a return letter from the legislators because they are so overwhelmed with pleas for help that they don't open the mail, let alone act upon the emergencies. The legislators are practically powerless against the CCPOA unless they can deny budgets but if you are in an emergency state of health, those long term politics aren't going to save your life. 

What other options might you have for help? The prisons are supposed to have Ombudsmen who work through the Office of the Inspector General. If you can get a message in a bottle to them past the bully guards, the most they might be able to do is get you a transfer to another prison where you can begin the neglect process all over again. During the transfer it is very likely that you won't get your medicine for a least a month or longer for periods up to a year or maybe even never as the records and mail are delayed due to bureaucratic sludge. 

If you skip the Ombudsmen and write directly to the Office of the Inspector General you will get a form letter back telling you that they do not have the budget to take care of every inmate complaint. Then you are totally at a loss for where you will turn next. 

There are email lists all over the internet who appear to be "organizations" but when they get a desperate medical complaint the truth comes out. These email groups haven't funded themselves to be able to hire lawyers to go in during a medical crisis and file lawsuits and injunctions. They are not a place where prisoners in an emergency can get help. ACLU is a great group of advocates but a desperate letter to them gets a form letter in reply that they are overwhelmed with requests for help. ?No can do? is the standard answer of email groups. The families of prisoners never set up an organization for themselves that is funded well enough to respond in a crisis such as the one where we find ourselves today. They bleed advocates dry as long as it?s for free and they don?t have to do any work. They want to be rescued with no effort on their part. They had two months to plan to come to protest on behalf of their loved one but they are so beaten down that they won?t really fight on their behalf. They write to me, ?God Bless you Cayenne, thank you for the protest and giving the prisoners voice, I wish I had the gas money to come to be with you.?

Of course if they don?t protest and fight back their inaction will result in bigger expenses such as funerals and traumatized loved ones who are developing PTSD at an alarming rate when they witness others suffering and dying long, drawn out, and painful deaths. They know that it could be them going through that hell. Every family, no matter how poor they are, can get together and send one person to represent them in Sacramento when the crisis is so deep. There is no good excuse not to do so. You don?t see other citizen?s groups struggling with this problem and it allows all the abuses to go unchallenged and escalates the power of the guards who are blocking medical care and actually killing the prisoners.

So great is the fear and functional illiteracy that these families are mostly all terrified of the prison guards and they will witness the suffering and eventual death of their loved one and other inmates before they will say one word to the media or picket the prison, or organize a funded group that can help them sound the alarms and file lawsuits. 

This is a fact. I have witnessed this incredible process of denial on a daily basis for more than a decade and I am still stunned over each instance of this victim mentality. This is why it got so bad with few really realizing the extent of the crisis. Prisoners are being plucked off by disease one at a time because the family members do not know how to organize and they assume someone else is going to rescue them without their help. Of course that is impossible to do so their fear and apathy has allowed and even assisted the crisis by empowering CDCR to do what they want with not a peep out of them to the media.

The animal rights people would never stand for this much abuse to a chicken but there are people dying by the scores right now who never had a death sentence. And even their own families are not protesting in the streets even though they number in the millions of voters. Make my epitaph ?Ignorance and apathy of the people rule governments.?

This is what it?s like down here in the gutter of society where the poorest of the poor and the oppressed live out an existence which is a nightmare to witness. One of hopelessness and powerlessness and crying but taking no action to remedy and put an end to it. I have days where I get really disgusted with this victim mentality because it holds back all their potential advocates from being able to win for them. Fighting back requires funds and volunteers who are willing to write to the media, send at least one family member to a protest three times a year and ultimately work to get people elected to office who don?t believe in murdering prisoners. Simple but you?d be amazed at how many people just cannot and will not take responsibility and do their part in a crisis where their own loved one might die. They can?t afford gas but can they afford a casket?

The reality is too shocking for the families until death knocks on their door. And according to Dr. Rene Kanan, another callous bureaucrat, one prisoner dies almost each day, meaning the death toll is in the hundreds. I am willing to bet that the estimate of one preventable death per week is way too low. There is no way to measure who dies a short time after release from prison because they were neglected in there, or whose death is conveniently not listed as a prison death because they died at a hospital.

For a desperate prisoner even when he knows he is going to die, there is absolutely no place to go for help and it is likely that he won?t get proper medication if he gets any pain medication at all. That will all depend on the fight of his family. In many cases prisoners are former foster children and they have no one to stand for them.

UNION protests have always produced the pressure needed to put the politicians on the hot seat but we are from finished. Many more people are going to die in this crisis. Throwing a million dollars in high priced Repugly administrators isn?t going to solve it.

Hire up or Pare Down?

The logical answer is to pare down ? right now ? and for the families to make sure that their voices are heard by organizing and supporting advocates in this life and death battle.

Hickman has yet to answer our phone calls and letters. Maybe I need to take the families with me and go back down there and picket again as people are dying and nobody seems to care. The people must stop the executions and torture of California?s prisoners who didn?t have a death sentence by crying out now. The victim mentality must be cast aside if lives are to be saved. Many of those who died had a very short sentence. Several should not have been in prison at all. I need your active participation in putting an end to these cruel murders by medical neglect. Many voices matter when they come at the same time. Who will be next to die a preventable death with the flu season on it?s way and even worse, the possibility of a pandemic? 

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