Salinas Valley Prison denies woman visit for being too obese to fit through the metal detector
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 since 1998. 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 03, 2008

As the UNION turns ten years old on July 5, 2008, it is time for reflection and planning for the future.

I plan to detail in a separate column the torture of jailhouse lawyer (paralegal) Eric K'napp at Salinas Valley State Prison whose access to the courts is being blocked by denial of his medically prescribed writing appliance- his typewriter- for no reason whatsoever except that he won a few legal actions and filed more, one of which is now going forward before Judge Jeffrey White in the 9th District Federal Court.

This column is not about what they did to him in violation of the Armstrong and Coleman cases but it should be ready for publishing on the national news wires soon. 

This column is about one of the most shocking displays of discrimination and cruelty to a visitor that I personally witnessed in the visiting waiting room at Salinas on Saturday, June 28 at approximately 10:30 a.m. About 50 other people witnessed it as well.

I have been taking complaints from all 33 prisons and many jails for more than ten years and I've witnessed and read about tens of thousands of abusive situations, especially to visitors at Salinas Valley State Prison where the Green Wall is still thriving. 

I'd had a number of reports that the visiting officers were abusing people because of their obesity. It was difficult for me to actually envision that state employees could be that cruel and well, stupid, to do such a thing. It was only when I actually witnessed this discrimination myself, that such a spectacle literally brought me to my feet to challenge such callousness and disrespect.

Sgt. Watson is the elderly guard on the visiting desk who had a young woman literally sobbing when he told her that there would be no visit if she couldn't pass through the metal detector by the third time. The problem was not that she was wearing anything metal, but that due to the unusally small size of the metal detector and the fact that she was a tall, large woman, that her hips were touching the side of the machine.

There is no way that she will ever be able to pass through this metal detector. What that means for her is that she will never, ever get to visit her loved one behind the walls. She was sobbing out loud and praying to God that she could pass through it on the third try, which of course failed as her hips touched the sides.

I couldn't stand it any longer.

I cried out "Sgt. Watson, what are you doing turning this woman away from ever being able to visit her loved one because she is too large to pass through this small metal detector? In the name of common decency, let her turn sideways or use the wand, but do not turn this grief-stricken woman away."

He replied to me, realizing that I can call a large protest outside the prison again if necessary "We're not supposed to let them turn sideways. If she can't pass through on the third time, she may not visit."

I can fit through the metal detector but not if I gained another ten pounds, which could happen because the stress and grief of dealing with the inhumane prison guards, wardens and administrators seems to cause most who are connected to a prisoner overweight or far too thin. I could just imagine showing up needing to visit my loved one and being turned away because I was too large to pass through the metal detector after traveling hundreds of miles, spending money that I didn't really have to spare, just to be able to discuss legal matters or give them some hope and encouragement.

It's absolutely outrageous and unacceptable that public servants could be doing this to people at a time when family ties are critical to rehabilitation. We had a favorable ruling in a recent habeas corpus which ordered the visiting room to be brought up to regulations. The judge was impressed with the number of prisoners and their families who participated in this action because we were all working within the system. Sgt. Watson was the individual who tried to lie to the judge telling her that the B yard was in compliance when it was not. So his integrity has already been recognized by the court as being deficient. I will put the order up online soon, our scanner needs to be replaced.

Sgt. Watson told me that he would "check on allowing people to go through the metal detector sideways." He still would not allow the devastated woman to pass through.

Whether or not this cruel practice ends here and now remains to be seen. If you know anyone who has been turned away from being able to visit their loved one because they are too large to pass through a metal detector, particularly the small one at Salinas Valley, please write or email me right away. I believe we can do something about this abuse.

UNION families have made multiple complaints of abuses taking place at the prison to the Monterey County Grand Jurty. It is my understanding that they have called in some of us as witnesses to testify and are conducting full investigations of many violations of the law taking place under the Warden Michael Evans and Asst. Warden Moore.

When we act as sheeple and do not file complaints with the local County Grand Jury, get together to file lawsuits and habeas corpus motions such as the one we just won and another coming up in federal court, we invite more of the same abuse.

There are about 350 people involved in our legal actions against this one prison alone, and it appears that we are going to have a few more. I always encourage the prisoners never to do their own fighting. That is the responsibility of their family members to get together and hire competent lawyers or the kind of retaliation that is happening right now to Eric K'napp will result. How many lawsuits will it take until the rules are followed and the torture and murder of prisoners comes to an end? How many lawsuits will it take until the abuse of their family members simply trying to see them stops?

The prisoners and their families at Salinas Valley Prison found that we as the UNION can be victorious when we do not allow the wardens, guards and administrators to tell lies and do their usual divide-and-conquer tactics. My next column will describe the torture and name the names of the people who are blocking Eric K'napp from meeting a critical July 17, 2008 legal deadline by refusing him his medically mandated typewriter.

Here is the address of the Monterey County Grand Jury where you should file all complaints. Name a person, a date, a time of whatever it is that you are suffering and need help with. There are many complaints already filed there now, so you need not worry about being singled out. Only leaders, whistleblowers and jailhouse lawyers usually get the physical abuse and the Grand Jury is to divulge no names as most of them are regular citizens, not necessarily stacked with law enforcement goons.

Hiding atrocities and being too fearful to file complaints is not the way to reform. Cockroaches don't like the light and they will scatter when their evil deeds are exposed, especially when you post about what goes on behind the walls at the news sites. Use your screen name but don't neglect your public education of what you're going through. These are tax-payer financed institutions and the people wearing badges are not supposed to be bullies and thugs.

I saw people turned away for wearing white, blue, green, camoflauge, too tight or too low or see through garments. Two people with screws in their joints were denied visits because they didn't have a doctor's note. But to turn people away in a circumstance they can do nothing about - being too large for the metal detector - must be against the law.

The UNION has too many lawsuits in progress and remember that everyone including me is an unpaid volunteer. So I am saying no to most new campaigns, as we are short funds and volunteers to take care of even life and death situations. However, eople being discriminated against for being too large is something we can do something about if those who have been victimized by this will get in touch with me right away. 

Sgt. Watson kept telling me "visiting is a privilege. These people are lucky that we let them be here at all and if we want to turn them away, that is our perogative. " It is this attitude that makes the prison guards very unpopular. We, the people, number almost 3 million and can at any time organize to do initiative campaigns to vote prisons completely out of existence. The prison guards simply think we are too lame to ever really organize and put them in their rightful place as our public servants.

The prison guards and administrators are destroying family ties and creating far more crime than they're preventing anyway. Leading criminologists today feel that prisons do nothing to prevent crime, Quite the opposite is true and there's plenty of evidence to support that no one is coming out of prisons as a better citizen.

Report abuses to the Grand Jury in your county. It can take months but they do respond and they have quite a bit of power. If you can get a seat on a grand jury, this is even better.

Monterey County Grand Jury download complaint form on the page. Furnish as much evidence as possible. One complaint on a public official might not mean very much but 50 complaints mean a great deal. The UNION didn't bring the movement to this place by not filing tons of complaints and making a daily public outcry by communicating with the media. 

P.O. BOX 414

Please give anyone you know who has been turned away from prison visiting because their body touches the side of the metal detector, at any prison in California, my contact information. This includes existing UNION subscribers and those who are not yet in our communications network as well. 

Rev. B. Cayenne Bird
P.O. Box 340371
Sacramento, Ca 95834 

These are some photos of our last rally out in front of Salinas Valley where more than 200 people showed up, including Associated Press and the Salinas Californian. It may be time to do another protest over visiting abuses, not to mention rampant ADA violations. They have had men cruelly locked down in ad seg for nine months there. You will read more in my next column. If you think we need to do a protest at Salinas Valley again, please email. I will not do protests without at least 100 people committed to attending in advance who will help with the rally expenses and bring people. That is why we don't do more. 

The UNION is only as strong as the number of writers, protesters and contributors

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