Prisons are Still Killing People, Sillen is not a hero
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.

May 18, 2007

Picture Caption: A few of the UNION members who came to San Francisco July 12, 2006 and filled Judge Henderson's Courtroom to welcome Sillen. Note the smiling faces and pink carnations, a symbol of "hope" and "trust." Thirteen months later the people in this photos have had little or no remedy to their worry.

After a decade of watching people's sons and daughters often die slow, painful and preventable deaths in prison, which almost no one cared about other than the immediate family, I was ecstatic when Judge Henderson appointed Robert Sillen as the Receiver. 

I began communicating with him before he left the Santa Clara hospital about people who were suffering immeasurably needing his help to get life-saving surgeries being denied by the CDC. When I learned Sillen would appear at an important hearing held by Special Master John Hagar in Judge Henderson's courtroom in San Francisco, I called out the parents and other family members who had been praying for a miracle to overflow the courtroom on July 12, 2006 to give him a warm welcome. We wore pink roses on our lapels that day symbolizing "hope" and "trust." 

Sillen saw the human faces so desperate for his intervention and turned around from the front row to face us in that courtroom. He told us all that he had no intention of taking care of individual cases of suffering and dying inmates. Sillen said that he planned to focus on improving the pharmacy delivery system as his first and most pressing job. He seemed like such a decent individual in person that we did not lose hope that day, even though he made it clear that he did not intend to assist the people standing there begging for his help. Sometimes folks don't believe terrible things that are said because it is hard to face that anyone could be that callous. 

That was the first day that I realized Sillen saw prisoners as commodities as being no more important than factory widgets and not as people. My UNION subscribers and I had fought for help to stop the dead bodies from stacking up for more than a decade and there was no way that we were going to challenge Robert Sillen, the man that Judge Henderson appointed to do that big job, until we gave him a chance. 

The 60 or so UNION people sitting in that courtroom in San Francisco wearing pink roses who traveled from many cities. They later received weak rejection notices when they wrote to Sillen about their emergencies, if they received any response from him at all. Then, Sillen hired expensive public relations people instead of hiring patient advocates to prevent prisoner deaths and permanent disabilities. 

The best public relations of all would have been to actually get the inmates the surgeries that they needed, or compassionate releases when the prisons didnít have the equipment or resources to take care of them. This is why were so elated when he took over, it was perfectly logical to assume that taking care of the prisoners was to be his first priority.

But Sillen's orientation toward the prisoners as widgets, and not as people, would dictate his inactions. I documented the appeals for remedy made to Sillen in a number of these cases in my daily newsletter, which is read by key journalists, attorneys, lawmakers and many of the more intelligent professional families of prisoners. The paperwork records of his responses, when he bothered to respond at all in some of these life and death cases, are not those of someone whose main priority is prisoner health. 

These were clear cut emergencies backed up with recommendations for compassionate release from CDC's own doctors. Surgeries and other urgent medical needs which would result in death or permanent disabilities are still being denied more than a year later. That is his fault, in my opinion. Granted, Sillen probably finally got one of our worst cases to a hospital after being on his job for a year. Getting a prisoner who has sunken to a level where he or she is clearly dying and losing massive amounts of blood to an outside hospital after a year of pleading is not that admirable a feat. 

Sillen didn't care that the inmateís elderly mother, also his legal guardian whom a judge ruled must be in on all medical procedures was denied visits to her son both in the prison clinic and in Mercy Hospital. Sillen has known that families are denied visits with their loved ones when they must go to a hospital since before he took over but has done nothing about this horrible treatment of people.

This mother had no choice but to get court intervention as she was excluded from the process of her son's medical treatment. Why did it take a year to get someone in that condition to a hospital? Sillen didn't care during that entire period except when the journalists began asking him questions about why the heck he wasn't helping save this young man's life. 

Another case that I have documented in my UNION newsletter concerns a young man who has kidney stones the size of golf balls who is located at Salinas Valley State Prison where the Green Wall was recently given yet another victory by the corrupt courts. Permission for surgery to remove these excruciating stones was granted more than two years ago, and his elderly parents were in the group that traveled with a pink rose to appeal to Sillen. 

Not only has nothing been done to give this worried family relief, but Sillen has never answered their numerous letters and phone calls, nor has any member of his staff answered to give them hope that the surgery is actually coming even though it was approved YEARS ago. 

It's a game, you see. They don't want to spend the money to take care of the prisoners' health because it cuts into profits. So they take them to the hospital for tests to ensure that the records show they made some efforts for treatment. They take them "for tests" again and again, but the surgeries never happen. Their demented logic is that "some effort" protects CDC from lawsuits in the future without any outlay to actually remedy the suffering. I could go on at great length about why I have lost hope that Sillen is capable of being a good Receiver and I might just do that in future columns. 

If Sillen were sincere, he would never recommend giving any power back to the State Inspector General's Office! Wasnít Sillen hired because the Inspector Generalís office was failing? Now he wants to give the inmates back to them so he wonít be bothered with all that suffering and dying business which should have been his first priority to remedy? 

In my experience, the Inspector General's office -- all the way back to Steve White -- has been completely useless in helping with medical complaints as well as those of abuse by the guards. In fact White, now a Sacramento Judge, is fighting for immunity for the retaliation on the prisoners that he caused when he was Inspector General. White posted on every prison bulletin board that the prisoners would be protected from violence and intimidation by the guards if they would report their hellish experiences to him and the ombudsmen placed at each prison.

Judge Steve White is named in two lawsuits where Eric K'napp was tortured for reporting abuses to White, to the media, to key members in the legislature and yet White is claiming no responsibility and wants to be excused as a defendant from the two cases? White lied to the prisoners. He did not deliver protection and he did not deliver remedy to any of their abuses, medical neglect or problems that took place when they cooperated with him as the Inspector General.

There is no Inspector General who has ever been focused upon anything but acting as a complaint department for the prison guards and taking care of their problems. There is no complaint department for the prisoners and their families even though it would save the State millions in lawsuit payouts if Sillen had taken care of this major detail. 

What Sillen is saying now is "let the useless Inspector General's office go back to ignoring prisoner crises so I can get back to counting people as widgets and not be bothered with responsibilities for the human toll that I see." Sillen keeps himself isolated from the harsh realities of people suffering and dying preventable deaths -- people who in many cases should not be in prison at all. Sillen already has blood on his hands from the people who have died preventable deaths since he took over the medical care. Why canít we know the total death toll in the past 13 months since heís been in charge? Why are those statistics not being made public?

Sillen has made statements which appeared in the news that the rampant filth diseases, often caused by the contaminated milk, should be considered business as usual. This infected milk is produced on prison farms by slave labor. What if you could not trust the milk you were drinking from the dairies that supply your local grocer! One of the most basic things that a sincere Receiver should have done is clean up the prisons and NOT tolerate filth diseases that leak out into the communities. Instead he folded into this ongoing problem that truly harms the public as well as prisoner health.

I have elaborated on these preventable sanitation conditions in other columns, and I explained them to Sillen in great detail when he first took over, not realizing then that he simply doesn't care about the people who are the brunt of this medical neglect madness. Prisoners are to be viewed as livestock, not as human beings.

This logic is held by more people than you could imagine and is the reason why human bondage is California's number one industry without very much objection. Sillen is neither a healer or a mindless punisher, he is simply an opportunist and bean counter and there is a need for people like that but not given extreme powers as they donít set humanitarian goals as the priority.

One achievement I will attribute to Sillen is putting an end to the Medical Technical Assistant position. We worked as advocates for ten years to stop prison guards with little medical training from posing as nurses. It is the MTAs who have most often managed to successfully destroy the records in almost all the lawsuits for abuse and medical neglect. 

A person is either a "punisher" or a "healer" and the Hippocratic Oath was being violated with MTAs always siding in with the guards, because they were guards, not nurses. We had several bills go forward to stop this practice over the past decade which were always vetoed, so I was very happy when Sillen managed to accomplish this progressive move. 

But does this one advancement make up for all the UNION families whose loved ones are still suffering and dying while Sillen focuses on profits and politics with his team of overpaid public relations people? Does eliminating the MTA position indicate that prisoners who are too sick to walk to the medical clinic or to the cafeteria for starchy, unhealthy food are going to get relief soon? I don't think so.

The trouble with Sillen, besides his thinking of people as widgets, is that he basically wants to expand the human bondage industry instead of cutting it back to a manageable size or better yet, eliminate 70% of it altogether. Prisons are doing nothing to prevent or reduce crime; they are a leach and a pimple on the buttress of our country.

Research shows that alternative sentencing and restorative justice, prevention of mental illness and EDUCATION are much more effective tools in reducing crime. The front end is what protects public safety, not punishing medically ill people which is a waste of tax dollars with no good result.

For example, beneath the many layers of his calloused heart, Sillen knows that the 34,000 mentally ill prisoners shouldn't be locked in cages, draining billions in education and human services dollars. Instead of saying "let's get these people out of these blood houses into more healing places", Sillen says, "Letís expand the prison industry by building places which we will call hospitals." 

This building is a reward for the CDC and the DMH for their blatant maltreatment of the mentally ill. Prisons aren't hospitals. Prison goons aren't nurses. There is no healing possible of anyone in a prison because the punishers, not the healers, of our society are in charge. A cat is a cat. A dog is a dog. Punishers don't heal people. It is simple logic. Prisons are never going to be healing places for the mentally ill. Sillen wants to expand his empire instead of putting this huge problem under a new agency and in a new ocean where professional treaters might like to work. He rewarded bad behavior by increasing the industry. What kind of lesson did the abusers learn from that?

The prisons are full of innocent, over-charged, unconstitutionally sentenced people who shouldn't be there in the first place! The Supreme Court just ruled that for 30 years, Californians have been receiving unconstitutional sentences.

Sillen should have focused on release, retrials, getting people out of the blood houses when he saw they are ďon fireĒ and that emergency help is unavailable in violation of the California Constitution.

The millions, possibly billions, of tax dollars being paid out to mindlessly punish the mentally ill benefit people like Sillen and the other "Receivers". This human suffering is simply business to them; it's how they finance elaborate lifestyles. They're getting rich off human suffering and doing little to remedy or put an end to it. So I don't support these inhumane mindsets that are not really looking for solutions and feel they are too good to remedy individual cases.

I haven't made a bold statement against Sillen until now because I was so hopeful that when he saw what I witnessed taking place in the blood houses, the human part of him would reign victorious over the "widget" section of his brain. It's never going to happen; the guy just doesn't jive with Judge Hendersonís humanitarian goals.

The Receiver has a great deal of audacity to attack Donald Specter of the Prison Law Office, who has done far more to benefit prisoners than Sillen. Not that PLO has been able and willing to handle individual prisoner cases and provide emergency help or patient advocates. They have not done this job well and often put too much faith in useless people. But was this ever their job? Wasnít the Inspector Generalís office set up to be the prisoner complaint department to prevent lawsuits and human tragedy with early intervention?

The PLOís performance in bringing big-picture relief through their many lawsuits -- or at least trying to bring relief while walking the tightrope of strained relationships -- has been exemplary, particularly when they are effective with winning these lawsuits against the bullies. I am not going to paint Donald Specter as an angel, but he has been far more caring about people, conditions, adherence to the laws than Sillen, which is why our UNION people told their stories at every opportunity possible and rarely, in all these years, had to identify him as a threat.

Far from it, the PLO has our gratitude even though they are not really a place to go for emergency help. PLO should not be at the mercy of the California Department of Corrections in whether or not they get paid when they win their lawsuits. That situation is terribly wrong. PLO should be allowed to seek damages for families who have suffered wrongful deaths and torture, but their lawsuits at least seek solutions to the problems, which is better than a poke in the eye with a burned stick. 

I have the greatest respect for Judge Henderson's human rights bent. After sitting through many proceedings in his courtroom, I know that he is sincere in wanting to do better for people who are so uneducated that they will not organize, write to editors, and get out the vote to stop the bullies that have destroyed their families. Henderson knows of that widespread ignorance of how the system works amongst the poor and uneducated and doesn't view people as "widgets." Sillen isn't saving enough lives fast enough; he has done some foolish things and is not a representation of Judge Henderson's humanitarian mindset.

Sillen has earned enough money to keep him comfortable for many years while we are suffering without remedy. I hope that Judge Henderson does not fire the Prison Law Office but elevates their position to less dependency on CDC and sends Sillen to some other job, maybe in planning or accounting, where he will be happy counting widgets as trophies, instead of people. Sillen has verified the "unconscionable suffering," and if he is sincere, should be willing to work on improving pharmacy or something where a bean counter will excel. People are not beans; they are not commodities. Prisons, which never have been nor will they ever be a solution to prevent crime, need to be phased out and not expanded. 

Sillen is part of the expansion mentality which is a non-solution, especially when CDC is telling the truth that they cannot handle the staffing requirements of the prisons now. An intelligent, enlightened person would not be promoting prison expansion and calling it a "solution" when they are clearly failed agencies which are doing more to build a police state and return people much sicker to their communities than as better people. The healers need to stand up to all who are promoting punishing at the great expense of mortgaging our children's futures. Stealth legislation passed in the middle of the night (AB 900), which raised taxes without the people's permission, was an unacceptable move by the legislature and the Governor.

Judge Henderson should hear from you because he does not see your posts in the newspapers in great enough numbers, although many of our UNION people are writing to editors regularly. When he told the LA Times that people are not making enough "donít care about prisoners" what he means I believe is that thousands of short letters to the editors should be out there at the newspaper sites about these issues.

Judge Henderson does not see at least a thousand people showing up to the Capitol protesting either. He doesn't see the families of prisoners organizing to be able to elect their own representatives to office by getting out the vote and financing their preferred candidates campaigns. Judge Henderson won't live forever. God help us if a power monger like Sillen, who views people as no better than widgets, remains in charge without someone like Judge Henderson to put a foot on him. 

A decision is about to made about your future. Please document events; send correspondence you sent to Sillen asking for help over the past year to Judge Thelton Henderson. Tell him of your concerns; document your reports wherever possible.

Silence is deadly. It means consent. Write about your circumstances so that Judge Henderson can see that people do care about prisoners and that your problems have not been resolved.

Judge Henderson's Address:
Honorable Thelton E. Henderson 
United States District Court 
450 Golden Gate Avenue 
San Francisco, California 94102


I donít expect anyone to see the full picture as I do because I am the one directing people to Sillen (and others) to seek help. Just focus on writing about your own problem for this communication to Judge Henderson. I know that many of you have nightmare stories that you're carrying around with you when you should be making noise. 

NEVER be silent when your loved one is suffering. The punishers don't want to send people to the hospital because that is where the evidence of abuse surfaces. As long as prisoners die in prison they can cover up, distort and destroy the medical records. Your unresolved cases need to be reported RIGHT NOW so that Judge Henderson can make informed decisions and you can possibly get some help.


One important bill that would relieve some of the medical neglect crisis is a campaign that we have worked on 24 - 7 for a decade now. AB 1539 has passed Appropriations and is now headed for the Assembly Floor. You can watch our UNION testimony at this hearing by going to, click on webcasts, click on archives, enter 050907 just like that with no dashes, select Assembly, Committee, type in Appropriations, a list will come up, go to May 9, 2007 and click on "watch" Move your slider to exactly 42 minutes.

The UNION was there and the courtroom was full. The Catholic Conference attended as well as Friends of HIV/AIDS Patients. I believe that depending on the timing of Judge Henderson's decision this bill has a chance to pass for purely political reasons. I may be issuing a call to action if I need back up assuming it passes the Assembly floor and makes it to the Senate. Email me if you will make the crowd that our champions wants to see attending this and all bills fought on our behalf. 

The notice could be very short, are you mobilized and ready to move? The Animal Rights People wouldn't allow a chicken to be treated the way that prisoners are being abused. You are that human rights person I need to help with this important work. the Power of Numbers electing their own people to office, getting together to file lawsuits and accomplish initiative campaigns is the only solution

Rev. B. Cayenne Bird

P.O. Box 340371
Sacramento, Ca 95834