How We Managed to Get Prison Reforms on the Table - Wed. Hearing Is Important
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.

June 25, 2007

One of the most frustrating aspects of having been a prison reformer for the past decade is low voter knowledge of the issues which I have always referred to as ignorance. I do not mean general ignorance, although there is plenty of that out there too, I am referring to citizen ignorance of how the system works. The media has been writing about this topic lately which I believe deserves to be addressed in very simple language since government propaganda and low voter knowledge are hurting us all. Get rid of the propaganda and we've solved the problems once everyone understands why they exist and what can be done about them.

Back in the day, we were taught the basics of government in high school in our senior year. We understood that the purpose of our learning how to read and write was to be able to protect our liberty and property. Using our education to make a living was secondary to being able to protect our freedom. We were told that every good citizen was to write regular, short letters to the editors on the issues, whenever necessary to demonstrate in the streets, which is how we ended the Viet Nam war, and work to get out the vote even when no major issues were looming.

These were basics and no red-blooded American would ever have been caught being uninformed on the issues or inactive in the processes. Even those with less than a high school education were taught that participation in the Democrat process was vital. If we, the people, didn’t do our patriotic duty to write to editors, protest at legislative hearings, get the truth out about injustice, then the slimy politicians would do whatever they wanted to in order to serve law enforcement labor unions. We were told that to shirk our responsibilities would result in us losing our freedom to a police state.

Well, somewhere along the line as people were snoozing, struggling to make a living and not bothering to bring people to the polls to vote on election day, this prediction from the 60’s came true. The nightmare that our professors warned us about has become reality. We have only ourselves to blame for it. Just drive by the sports stadiums and you will see tens of thousands of people wasting their time and money on watching a silly game instead of showing up in the legislature. This is not just apathy. It’s pure ignorance of how the system works and what each of us are supposed to being doing as citizens.

The politicians loathe noisy watchdogs and they do everything in their power to keep their campaigns quiet. They love the prison industry, even those who pretend to be against it, because it funds their bureaucracy. This is why there is such limited media access and great inhumanity is taking place in California's taxpayer-financed institutions. 

I had the recent experience of being told by a staffer in the legislature what I could and could not write about in my column and daily newsletter concerning our decade long campaign to release sick and dying inmates. That was a chilling experience with which I will never comply as it was our UNION people, Prison Law Office, ACLU and Friends Committee on Legislation that exposed the abuses and took actions against it. 

Can you imagine a veteran opinion writer being chastised and directed on what news to release and not to release? I was floored at having my First Amendment Rights once again trampled upon and that might turn out to be a separate column all in itself.

Republican politicians in particular are financed and put into office to do law enforcement's bidding but the Democrats all voted on the ridiculous prison expansion bill AB 900, so they all culprits and promoters of locking people in cages for funding. Anyone who is popular with legislators is a lap dog that is achieving nothing in prison reform, although often they buy adversaries in order to shut them up. Some of us are not for sale, thank God. It does quite a few years of following people and issues to be able to see through the propaganda efforts and to have the courage to call them on adverse actions to the people. This is why it is sad to see key journalists getting axed from newspapers all over the state. They have always been our first line of defense and some did a fantastic job that brought prison reform to the brink of forward motion where we are all sitting today. Several of the best of the journalists were kicked out of the Capitol Press Corps for reporting too much truth and would be as welcome as a turd in the punchbowl when "delicate matters" regarding parole and sentencing laws were to be discussed.

In California we now have three million potential voters related to a state prisoner. Most are people who are least likely to vote because they have less than a high school education. These citizens don’t really know why their lives have been devastated by their government. It is very easy to finance the bureaucracy by using billions in tax dollars to run the human bondage industry because the majority of those three million voters do not know how to organize well enough to elect their own people to office, file lawsuits and force changes in laws by doing initiative campaigns. They are willing participants in the oppression that they suffer due to a lack of education and apathy. It's tragic but it's correctible. 

I am often stunned at just how great a loss people are willing to suffer just to avoid the simple tasks of organizing up to and including the torture and death of their loved one. Is this denial perhaps or a lack of compassion or sense of duty toward their family members? I don't know the answer but I do know that this lack of knowledge must be overcome before the most important reforms can take place and the necessary voting machine fired up to be a long time source of protection. Obviously, just reasoning with politicians does not work. They have sold their souls, most of them, to law enforcement's interests.

A survey conducted last year showed the voting records of legislators from both parties vote for the will of law enforcement labor unions from 80% to 96% of the time. They do not for the welfare and will of the people who are being terrorized with harsh and ridiculous laws by our public servants that really do nothing to reduce crime

But not all three million potential voters attached to a state prisoner are ignorant on the issues or how to overcome the oppression by organizing. Imprisonment has crossed over into the middle class now and journalists, teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers and other educated professionals have lost their sons and daughters to the slave labor industry. I have spent years teaching people how to become activists for change who have lost their homes, lost their health, lost everything fighting cases of injustice for their children and grandchildren. If I died today, the basic organizing that I have taught hundreds of people would be enough for them to be able to rescue themselves at any point that they decide to get serious.

In the past we had some great advocates in elected office who were not owned by law enforcement labor unions, prosecutors and DA's and other types of punishers. My favorite one of all time was Senator Tom Hayden who was the one and only official who would have a member of his office staff actually follow up on a prisoner emergency. It was a tragedy when people would not get out the vote to elect him to public office in Los Angeles after his term expired. That lack of support by our lame side was very destructive to us all. Many people died preventable deaths because after Hayden left there was no place to go for help. This is the result of snoozing and not taking care of our business, supporting our good advocates and showing up at the polls. Hayden's books have delivered a similar message that nobody can help apathetic people who want to complain to one another instead of doing public education campaigns. 

Other elected officials tried to bring about prison reform but our side has always been lame. Legislators brought bills to amend sentencing laws but only about 50 people would show up to the hearings and almost no one was writing the simple letters to the editor that is our responsibility when something important is up for a decision. People on our side of the argument refused to register the poor to vote, load up their cars and bring them to the polls to vote when an amendment to the cruel and ineffective Three Strikes was on the ballot. The evidence of that is in a comparison of the voter turn-out from the election before and the one where such a life and death issue was on the ballot. There was little difference in voter turn out. What a shame!

After about a decade of a small percentage of us living in abject poverty, working our guts out, scraping pennies together to do rallies at the Capitol and at the prisons, filing lawsuits and educating the other families to their role in writing, recruiting and getting out the vote, we have reached an important crossroads in prison reform.

Judges Thelton Henderson and Lawrence Karlton, both of whom are more powerful than Governor Schwarzenegger, have made legal rulings and given the Governor and the legislators, (most of whom are bought-and-paid-for by law enforcement labor unions), a deadline to correct the prison crisis.

Judge Henderson stated to the Los Angeles Times that prison reform is difficult because “nobody is up in arms about prisoners.” Those in power do not see us with our letters to editors and large protests so they think that people who care about and are willing to fight for prisoners do not exist in large enough numbers to have any teeth. Henderson is in his 70's and has been telling us all that he wants to retire but he has a difficult time doing that knowing that people are suffering. It is the lifetime dream of every person in power that at some point the families are going to be able to organize and fund their own voting machine. Just making noise once in a while does not bring about the changes, it must be a constant building of registered voters all writing, protesting, bringing people to the polls and lawsuit rulings that brings the changes in the laws. Going to a protest once in awhile is just a part of achieving the major goal. 

The oppressed outnumber everyone since the three million potential voters do not include those on parole, those in jails, federal prisons or related to juveniles. It makes perfect sense that out of millions of those affected by harsh laws and abuses in prisons that there would be 6500 intelligent ones who could get together and elect the right people to office and force changes in the laws by doing initiative campaigns.

Then why doesn’t it get done? Is it ignorance of how the system works? Is the stumbling block to success the problem of apathy? Or is it putting silly indulgences such as games, movies, trips, smoking and drinking habits ahead of the importance of organizing and funding a rescue for themselves? Are poor and oppressed people cleaning houses instead of educating the other prisoners out in the prison and jail line ups? Is there some assumption on everyone’s part that advocates such as myself and other key UNION members are doing their fighting and talking for them and that they need do nothing in support? Are people willing to sacrifice time and a few dollars to show that a voting lobby does exist when called to action or would they rather be ignored because they're too dysfunctional to get out a crowd?

Whatever the misunderstanding, low voter knowledge and ignorance of how the system works is what is holding back reform. 

The hearing in Sacramento on June 27, this Wednesday, needs a large turn out so that both Judges Henderson and Karlton can see that we are capable or organizing well enough to do initiative campaigns and bring crowds to important hearings. We need to prove that we are intelligent enough to file more lawsuits, which is what brings about all reform and that we have generally stopped viewing ourselves as helpless victims. the UNION families have filed 28 lawsuits with more on the way, the more we file, the faster the reforms will take place. We have collectively sued more than 300 state employees for their role in wrongful death, permanent disabilities, denial of first amendment rights and extreme abuses. 

Everything that is important – sentencing, parole, release of sick and dying prisoners, medical neglect, abuse of the mentally ill, harsh laws, injustice in the courts are all related to our reform movement is now in the firm grasp of these two judges. Their insistence of the State's compliance to their orders and a prison cap would stop the insane effort to expand a failed industry. If the system is expanded, we will never see sentencing and parole reforms. 

The CCPOA is for once telling the truth when they advise everyone that they cannot staff the prisons now. There is only one doctor reportedly working at Blythe for 5,000 men. And the Governor and Legislators want to rob our education dollars by pouring money into a useless black hole when they can't staff the present blood houses as it is, how illogical can they get?

It starts at 10:30 am, the Amtrak comes just across the street from the Federal Building at 501 “I” Street in Sacramento, or you can drive and take the J Street exit off the 5 freeway, it’s easy to find. The hearing is in the Federal Courthouse on the 16th Floor, Courtroom 1, Judges Lawrence Karlton and Henderson's Prison Cap hearing.

This legislative session can turn out to be the best we’ve ever had in the entire decade that I’ve been working to bring these changes in laws and policy about as long as the Judges have them all by the short ones.

I would like you to see some of the tragedies of the family members of UNION people who died along the way and our battle to get the movement to this point while others didn’t help, didn’t show up, didn’t support our many campaigns or lawsuits with a nickel and even bashed us every step of the way. 

Everything possible was done to try and stop our organizing and public education because, after all, that would put prison guards and their legislators in the soup line, instead of in power over us. There is nothing more powerful than a large, noisy, writing, suing, citizen’s group and we have survived and are possibly on the verge of major wins for every prisoner and their family members in California

We sacrificed our income, our lives and fought everyone’s battles but the time has come for people on the sidelines to stop being ignorant of the issues and learn to show up three or four times a year when called to prove that we’re not too stupid as a movement to organize and elect our own people to office.

If the judges retire at this juncture, we will have no hope of bringing about the reforms so vital to getting justice in everyone’s cases and taking back our lives, stolen so that bureaucrats could have budgets from the human bondage industry.

We want to be there to show them that we support a prison cap, oppose prison expansion and are not too lame to organize and get out the vote.

You can get ride information here at this link, if you can give a ride or need a ride, please email me at 

The Motel 6 off the Richard Blvd. exit on Jibboom Street charges $49.99 for two beds, two people for those who want to arrive a day early. 

Silence has been the wrong action to take because supporting those fighting these battles is something every red-blooded American needs to be doing if we are ever to put an end to what old time educators warned us about – ending up with a police state.

We all have legal burdens but there will be no justice in anyone’s cases until you help to reform the state laws and policies and only the power of numbers moving on one campaign at a time can accomplish that goal. It can’t be just about your own case because the brick walls are in place on purpose and it takes a citizen’s group to tear them down.

What are you waiting for, a miracle rescue that requires no work and no moneys spent?

That is impossible for anyone to hand to you. The prison guards have this organizing routine all figured out. That is why they hold the jailer’s keys and others are the slaves to the bureaucrats. 

It’s all very basic, simple, high school government knowledge but if people were doing these simple steps of writing, recruiting, showing up in mass when called and getting out the vote for people who would really represent us, we would have NONE of the current problems. Everybody thinks someone else is doing it and then nobody does it.

Too bad when the oppressed outnumber all the others and could clean this mess up in a heartbeat if enough people would help.

Be there with a carload or hush up complaining and risk setbacks to all our years of hard work. Everybody has a role in this battle.

The hearing flyer is here 

Rev. B. Cayenne Bird 

P.O. Box 340371
Sacramento, Ca. 95834 

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