Build Mental Hospitals - Not Prisons - to Lower Crime
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. 

 Dr. B. Cayenne Bird
July 9, 2006

When the voters empowered politicians who are little more than cartoon characters and aging action heroes, it devastated millions of California families. I know how it happened alright. Blustering hypocrites spewing “tough on crime” rhetoric were elected to office by law enforcement labor unions while the rest of the voters were pre-occupied with activities such as sports, television and earning a living. Public officials were being trusted to do the right thing. This trust is how they crept in as a cancer that has taken over our government, ravaging people’s lives with a corrupt legal system set up to serve these unions.

I was involved and outraged when the media was banned from the prisons in 1996 via a tape recorder and a clerk so that they could not communicate with the prisoners. This was, in my qualified opinion, deliberate cover-up. I learned about the preventable deaths from medical neglect, the cruelest form of torture, during this period.

For our hundreds of families in United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect, we are relieved that Federal Receiver Robert Sillen and Special Master John Hagar are bringing in the Calvary (we hope) eight years later. But to us their findings are old news.

My troops and I did everything in our power to Paul Revere the message that people were dying needlessly to the media and legislature. We didn’t whisper, we were SCREAMING in legislative hearings, television and radio news, public speeches over overcrowded and abusive conditions which were beyond inhumane. I published my internet newsletter everyday for eight years because I received reports from the prisoners and their families about horrible abuses and the families contributed to it, always fearing retaliation to their loved ones for speaking out which did happen multiple times.

It wasn't just the families who fought in vain for their sons, daughters, husbands and family members, I personally testified in public hearings on bills and against wardens at their confirmation hearings on television, I wrote articles including one in the Los Angeles Times, September 27, 2000 which railed against the overcrowding and abuse of the mentally ill naming specific prisoners. We did low budget television shows for public television to expose the inhumanity but nothing worked well.

Other advocates and family members also wrote articles, attended hearings, protested at the Capitol and at individual prisons. We called on legislators begging them for assistance with people who needed surgeries or who were terminally ill.

We got very little, if any, response from all the bureaucrats, prison employees, legislators, physicians the majority of the time and witnessed slow, torturous deaths. The deaths didn’t upset anyone that much until we were finally able to find lawyers to file six lawsuits which demand compensation for wongful deaths. The lawmakers assumed that the poor were too uneducated to organize well enough to put money together to hold state employees accountable. 

It wasn't easy, and only by the grace of God were we able to stand up for ourselves with so little resources.

Prison Law Office has done a fantastic job in the many lawsuits that they brought forward and we are deeply grateful to them for their fine work. When the UNION families themselves began to file and demand financial settlements, the reform efforts became much more serious. Now it is going to cost the State money whenever a lawyer will take the cases on contingency. Of course lawyers don’t like to go up the dysfunctional system because facts and records are withheld, distorted and conveniently lost. Not to mention the Green Wall of Silence and cronyism that has allowed the prison employees to often get away with murder.

Win or lose, lawsuits are the only way to bring about accountability to those who are unconcerned, which is the root of the entire problem in my view. 

The legislators claimed that they were “law makers” not “law enforcers” and they were mostly powerless and unwilling to go up against the prison guards in cases of medical neglect and other abuses. They still tell the families to contact the Inspector General’s Office and that the prisoner, if able to write or talk, should file a 602 grievance form, a system that has never worked. 

The prisoners are punished severely for complaining about denied medical care. Often they are put in ad seg and their families denied visits for months or years simply for needing a surgery and having someone from the outside call in. There is no place to go for help when this happens.

For those who file a complaint, the Inspector General’s office sends a form letter to the prisoners stating that their caseload is so great they cannot respond to their desperate appeals for help.

It's an exercise akin to a dog chasing its tail.

This callousness at every level of the bureaucracy resulted in hundreds of preventable deaths. Nobody was ashamed of themselves and we were treated with derision, ignored, and at times even called “liars” for our attempts to get help to save lives. No one heard our screams except journalists whom I had know for decades and Judge Thelton Henderson. Even though all these bureaucrats knew of the crisis, individual cases are still unresolved and people continue to die at my feet.

To be certain, we did save some lives, the pressure of the press coverage would occasionally cause the bureaucrats to take some action but this was a relatively small number compared to the size of the problem.

We even managed to get Danny Provencio, paroled and unshackled AFTER he was braindead. His mother and grandmother were denied access to visit him for days after a guard shot him in the head. The reports of his medical treatment before being transported to the hospital at the prison were vague. It was a huge mess that received international press coverage nine times throughout the entire painful process.

My journals are full of these nightmare accounts, many of which I documented at our website and through my daily newsletter sent to the key journalists and publishers in California whenever I could get word to them as they unfolded. I said it so many times, that others couldn’t comprehend it. 

This ugly fact that people are needlessly suffering and dying, and that there is no place to go for he even in a preventable emergency is an abomination. 

The journalists believed me but they couldn’t see first hand how the mentally ill are ignored, beaten by the guards because they can’t follow rules, how often they died from being carelessly double-celled with dangerous people. Often times, psychotic and schizophrenic prisoners broke under the pressure of being mishandled by guards who know nothing about even basic first aid, let alone about handling a mentally ill person. Inmate Blaylock at Chino predictably acted out his illness under severe pressure, killing a guard. The administration is not on trial for mistreating him. Why are those who are to blame for the circumstances not on trial? This scenario has repeated itself again and again.

I believe, as the person who lived this horror 24/7 for the past eight years as the UNION director that the best reform that could take place is to build mental hospitals instead of more prisons. Done right, that would take 27,000 prisoners who are broken in body, soul and spirit and put them in a more healing environment.

The State’s few mental hospitals outside of prison are also mismanaged, so what is needed is a new agency and down-sizing Corrections and the Department of Mental Health who are both failed endeavors. In my opinion, neither CDC nor DMH can be fixed without firing everybody. Creating a new agency is a way to do that. It should not be run by people whose holy grail is not punishing such as law enforcement. 

Punishing is the opposite of healing. The doctors and nurses need to be in charge of mental hospitals. At this time, the opposite is true which is why they cannot keep good people on staff. Our UNION has many healthcare workers secretly joined with us as they cannot bear the inhumanity they are witnessing on a daily basis.

Guards should be a back up not the main sources of care. Prisons aren’t hospitals, prison guards aren't nurses. Why are we putting people who mentally and physically ill in places of abuse and punishment? 

Isn’t the goal to bring them back to the communities in better condition than before they were incarcerated? The goal of prisons should not to be to give the guards overpaid jobs for locking people in cages for mostly non-violent crimes but such is the case.

When I tell people that 70% of the prisoners are being held captive for being mentally ill and acting out or for needing medical care as an addict, they look at me in disbelief. What a primitive people we are for glorifying violence with action-hero television and movies to our young people and then punishing them for responding. You can research the proven effect of violence in the media on our youth by going to and entering key words. It is pure hypocrisy for cartoon character politicians to promote punishing instead of healing when they are in large part responsible for this societal sickness.

I have confidence in Judge Thelton Henderson, a legend who was with Dr. Martin Luther King, but I fear that due to his advanced age these reforms might not take place rapidly enough. Eight years have passed and relief is only just now possibly on the horizon.

While Receiver Robert Sillen has been laying out his plans, other prisoners have died. Our UNION families would like to bring everyone involved in trying to find solutions down to earth by emphasizing that the proverbial house is on fire.

The people need to be evacuated before anymore needless deaths occur. That should be the first order of business. There is no good reason why the terminally ill and frail elderly should not be released to partly federally funded programs and/or the care of their families, those who will take them. Why do we have quadriplegics in prison at all? In similar crises, other states evacuated their prisons immediately.

Judges need to be notified to stop the conveyor belt sentencing and to divert the mentally ill and minor offenders into alternative programs. When any sentence to death is a potential death sentence, this is clear logic that the voters should demand be put into place.

Surgeries that have been denied for years should be granted right away to stop the deterioration.

The diets of prisoners in no way resemble the Government’s Food Pyramid, they are being fed starch and mystery meat with no special diets for diabetics. Prisoners are not given vitamins even though more than half of them have life-threatening disease such as Hepatitis, TB, AIDS and every filth disease known to man. Fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, and whole grains are basic to good health but this isn't happening.

Clean up the Joint. Canada issues safe tattoo kits, the Hepatitis is spread through filthy food handling, improper laundry techniques and risky behavior. Some 8000 new cases per year are caught in California’s prisons according to the Center for Disease Control and these do leak out to the public. The prisoners are given two teaspons of scrubbing powder, denied adequate towels, washclothes and toilet paper. Filth disease are routine and rampant.

Immediately set up a team of people who are actually going to listen to the families of the prisoners and inmates themselves to rescue those who are barely hanging onto life TODAY. Nora Weber, one of the mothers who is an insurance agent in Bakersfield, has documented denied surgeries. 

Her crippled son is crawling around on the floor of the isolation unit at Corcoran as if he were an animal with no wheelchair available to him. She has filed a lawsuit but the abuse continues.

He resembles a Nazi war camp victim weighing about 100 lbs because the guards intentionally starve him and his diabetes does not get treated. He was born with organic brain damage and his life in prison has been hell. His crime was a motorcycle accident in which his companion was killed. She has spent twelve years, all documented, begging for help including an appearance before a senate rules committee which yielded no relief. He had a parole hearing two weeks ago at which he should have been released to his mother who can pay for his medical care but that was denied. I was stunned that his parole could be denied when he is so far gone that he will never come back due to the neglect of his Hepatitis and diabetes but this really happened.

There are tens of thousands of similar current emergencies and no one is taking care of them. In my opinion, this should be the first order of business as I can see many more lawsuits are on the way as the prisoner continue to fall.

History – How the Regime Responsible for this Cruelty Came to Power

Republicans Pete Wilson and Dan Lungren built a massive human bondage industry in the early 90’s, increasing the number of prisoners from 20,000 to 150,000 in a few short years. Yup, they were going to clean up California and the put Pete Wilson into the Presidency on that tough-on-crime platform. Never mind that the facilities and staffing requirements couldn’t adequately handle that type of increase.

Democrat Jerry Brown, another cartoon character, was responsible as well for harsh sentencing laws that would keep the prisons stocked with fresh youth to perform services to the state for 9 cents to 22 cents per hour. So they put the old tried and true fear mongering speeches out to the voting machines, promised outrageously high salaries and benefits to prison guards and brought us to our current shocking total of 171,000 mostly non-violent people imprisoned. 

Disgraced and ousted Governor Gray Davis knew, as does Schwarzenegger and Angelides that when one aspires to elected office they must court the vote of those who will donate money to their campaigns and bring people to the polls. No one else really matters in a majority –VOTERS- rules democracy except those people who are going to write the check and show up to vote. That is where the citizens fell down, as our founders warned us “if you snooze at election time, you lose your liberty. Then you lose your life. People are in prison who shouldn’t be there.

More thoughts to free up beds

Better investigations and trials for the poor, consequences for judges and prosecutors who climb the career ladder with convictions regardless of guilt or innocence is what a true leader would propose. They are thousands of cases behind on parole, this would also free up beds. Building mental hospitals and moving the power from the punishers to the healers would benefit everyone except a labor union that the voters need to disengage and those politicians whom they have bought and paid for to elect them and do their bidding.

Some of the families whose loved ones were murdered by the State due to medical neglect or who are desperate for help will be in San Francisco on July 12, 2006 at 9 am, 450 Golden Gate Ave., 19th floor, Courtroom 12 . They are cooperating with the media, as am I, in sharing information during this crisis.

It’s good to be at the solutions stage after eight years of being very vocal. Time is of the essence though and we can't let up until the death toll drops. God Himself must surely be crying at what the cartoon character politicians and aging action heroes are doing to the people.

More to come on this topic shortly. 

This is a high price to pay due to voter apathy.