Torture Ignored in California's Prisons
by Dr. B. Cayenne Bird
It is a black day. Although many citizens with a loved one in prison
faxed in details about California Department of Corrections Agency Secretary
Matthew Cate's deliberate indifference that has resulted in irreparable
harm to prison inmates, the Senate Rules Committee confirmed him anyway.
I was copied on many letters that described mail delivery so poor that even legal mail is delayed for weeks at a time, resulting in court deadlines that must be constantly changed. I have documentation of this costly practice due to direct experience as well. This routine practice of obstructing mail that is costing millions of dollars in re-scheduling costs in the unbearably incompetent courts wasn't even mentioned.
The cruel practice of lock downs that are driving men mad until they mutilate their own bodies or commit suicide? Not even addressed.
Was deliberately blocked access to the courts, retaliation on all our UNION inmate lawyers which is totally ignored and possibly encouraged by Cate brought into the discussion during his "job review?"
What about Sgt. Godinez' continual theft of items from inmate packages that resulted in a petition signed by 350 prisoners at Salinas Valley Prison and numerous filing of complaints with the Monterey County Grand Jury? Does it matter that a second lawsuit on this practice that Matt Cate refuses to do anything about has been filed in order to publicly document the ongoing abuse?
There have been preventable deaths in the past ten months where CDCr employees refused to give the families any information, even delaying the news that their loved one had died for weeks as we saw in the case of Shirley Ward, who died a sudden, suspicious death in December, 2008 at CCWF Chowchilla. The fact that her family will suffer angst for their rest of their lives over this cruel treatment was of no concern to the Senate Rules Committee, even after the story ran four times from coast to coast on the news wires and was published everywhere. They knew about it, but they just didn't care.
We've had four riots this month, always a sign of poor management which also ends up costing the taxpayers millions of dollars in overtime for "searches", medical care for the injured and blocked access to the courts as all services such as using legal libraries are shut down. The human toll and sick worry of family members is immeasurable.
Two of the riots never even made the newspaper. One was at Avenal involving 80 prisoners according to many reports, with injuries to "someone" that required helicopters. Another melee was on the Sensitive Needs Yard at Kern Valley State Prison, a second fight that involved about a dozen prisoners after one was killed and sixteen others injured. San Quentin exploded with 450 rioters. All of this dysfunction would surely have been a big red flag to any thinking person that the prisons are in crisis.
Today I received a report from a source at Coalinga State Hospital. He said the hospital is on lock down over an incident between the cops and their take-down of a black patient/inmate in the main mall area. It is also believed some cops were injured, but we don't know about patients. The tension is reported to have been increasing recently, as more and more individuals who originally had two year commitments are now receiving lifetime commitments pursuant to Prop. 83, Jessica's Law, and they realize they have been sent there to die. A hospital is supposed to be a healing place, which is what we need in California's prisons, instead of punishment of the sick. Nobody is going to settle for these harsh sentences and be functional in the current situation.
You would think that the lawmakers could recognize that four riots in a month is a sign of poor management, but it is so much easier to blame it on the inmates and "race wars", which tend not to exist in yards where a family member mails in the UNION newsletter. Riots are due to poor management plain and simple and they cost the taxpayers millions. I suspect that most riots are provoked so that guards can earn overtime during cell searches afterward.
The reports are that the death toll has fallen, but if the three judges hadn't intervened and we hadn't filed lawsuits over wrongful deaths, this would not be happening. I don't think any reputable journalist actually believes the reports coming out of CDCr, it's just that due to severe media restrictions, this is the only news they have to print, unless a family member is able to get evidence to a journalist who has the time to get involved. Blocking the media's access is evidence that cover up of the crisis in the prisons will continue.
I have reports that the death toll does not include those who die within a year of release from long-neglected chronic illnesses. Nor do these reports always include inmates who died when taken at the last minute to outside hospitals. They certainly do not include the suicides, which causes CDCr staff to publicly cheer out loud at many of the news sites where they post, although suicide is one of the worst forms of illegal medical neglect.
The arsenic level at Kern Valley State Prison is 250% over the maximum
federal levels and yet inmates are being forced to drink this water every
day. Matthew Cate has even proposed building hundreds more beds there even
though the water is giving everyone cancer. There are no "safe" levels
of arsenic. A metal, arsenic accumulates in the system and causes cancer.
How is the different from when the Nazis gassed the Jews at Auschwitz?
I am waiting for enough of the families whose loved ones are being poisoned with arsenic to get active in the UNION before I will find a lawyer for that one, because lawsuits are the only language that bureaucrats understand. Someone will have to die of cancer, then a lawsuit may be filed after the fact. There is a prison television channel that keeps telling the inmates "the water is safe to drink, the water is safe to drink." It's a lie, a damned lie and no one should believe it or hold back pursuing demands that bottled water be brought in right away. The lack of a public outcry is what empowers this mass poisoning to continue. You are that person who should be posting comments at the news sites and helping the UNION file a lawsuit over this.
This confirmation is evidence that the legislature will continue in gridlock, unable to pass serious reforms because they are more worried about politics than the hundreds of thousands of people that a dysfunctional criminal justice system has destroyed. After eleven years of trying to get people who have taken money and votes from law enforcement labor unions to do the right thing, I have no hope that they will ever comply with orders from the three judge panel.
We, the people, have the option to organize in order to elect or recall those who will administer "justice." When we don't organize large enough, funded enough, and take a strong approach which includes lawsuits, initiative campaigns, putting out dollars and votes for people who represent us, then we must settle for such appointments as Matthew Cate, a Republican and former prosecutor who holds no one accountable for breaking California's own laws.
I would be completely depressed over this signal from the legislature that the reign of death and injustice will continue unabated until our voting lobby is strong enough to force changes in the law via initiative campaigns except there is some great news.
One of our UNION families' civil lawsuits was awarded $6 million for the wrongful beating death of James Moore in the "Witch Hunt" town of Bakersfield, which is completely under seige by Fascists calling themselves Republicans. I still have the emails from when Alicia Moore, the mother of James Moore's son, contacted me in 2005 because she had no place else to go for help.
She had read about our success in getting Danny Provencio, a brain dead man on life support paroled just before he died. I recommended a lawyer that I grew up with, David Cohn, in Bakersfield and contacted reporter Stephanie Tavares who quickly responded and passed on the information to the criminal reporters at the Bakersfield Californian. The coverage of this story which has dragged on for four years has been excellent.
This victory is solid evidence that the family members of those who are incarcerated are not too stupid to organize and fight back as those in power assume. It delivers a strong message that torture and murder in California's prisons and jails will cost far more money than it would take to do things right in the first place.
While this is but one of about one hundred lawsuits that our UNION people have helped to facilitate by recommending the best lawyers, notifying the news media of deaths, and attending trials when possible, it is not our first legal victory nor will it be the last. It is the largest payout which goes to the children of James Moore when they become of age.
I will be doing a feature story on this case shortly. The criminal prosecution of three of the jail guards is underway now that the civil trial has ended. When a civil trial is underway, it cannot be openly discussed in public, but now this horrible death in custody can be told.
While this incident had nothing to do with Matthew Cate's performance, the ruling on the James Moore lawsuit has everything to do with families proving that they are able to organize, hire the best lawyers, and hold those who feed off the human bondage industry accountable for torture and murder.
Going forward, the Moore family members are committed to building the UNION large enough to where we are going to have the 6500 workers so we can have a voice. They will never forget and they will never get over the fact that 14 cops kicked, punched and humiliated a 30 yr old father for hours until he was a bloody pulp. I will release the photograph with my article that one of the cops took and then texted it to all the rest, apparently bragging about what happened.
I am interested in knowing the military background, experience, training and political party affiliation of all fourteen cops who felt so confident that the system would back them up, even if they tortured a shackled man for hours. The photo of James Moore, what is left of his face, bears amazing similarity to my son. James Moore was a person murdered by the sheriffs in my home town, and for no good reason. The situation is absolutely sickening.
In the past, it was very unlikely that such a lawsuit could be won in Bakersfield. We have yet to see the outcome of the trial over the criminal charges. I wish that I could be there every day and that UNION members could pack the courtroom. If any UNION members in or around Bakersfield can go to show the family support, this would be the right thing to do.
I have no idea how many lawsuits it will take because the bureaucrats just don't seem to care that CDCr employees aren't following their own laws. But each of us as citizens and taxpayers should care that the corruption in the criminal justice system has bankrupted our state and that nothing short of lawsuits and initiatives get any recognition or mention whatsoever.
We could end 80% of all the prisons tomorrow if the 3 million potential voters related to a state prisoner would stop the loose organization and come together into one group that is really going to stand up to all this nonsense, instead of brown-nosing limp-wristed lawmakers and lobbying in the men's restroom at the Capitol.
The size of the voting group, the NUMBERS who will do organizing work, this is the voting machine that only you can build if you want to end the reign of death and suffering.
Do you really think that these lawmakers who can't even agree on a budget and refuse to intervene or hold anyone accountable, even when penal codes are clearly being broken and irreparable harm is taking place, are going to change the laws and clean up the judiciary?
Do you really think that simply writing a letter THAT WILL NEVER GET READ, LET ALONE ACTED UPON, is going to result in any action for you? The power of numbers and the amount of funds raised to do more and better campaigns, not just reading email but doing campaigns, are the only possible solutions.
People in California who are destroyed by the human bondage industry have no voice. We saw that yesterday when the Senate Rules Committee confirmed Matthew Cate in spite of many complaints about serious matters of life and death.
Will you give yourself a voice by organizing?
What have you done for the UNION lately?
How many comments have you posted at news sites? How many new people have you reached out to at the prisons with flyers? Will you depend on your organizing ability or some charitable act of people who consider your concerns to be of no more value than that of livestock which brings a profit. Your voting machine will dictate what lies ahead in the future. It should be a very high priority for you to support being able to have more lawsuit wins that like that of James Moore, murdered by sheriffs in Bakersfield.
Kern County vs. Kern County?
Sounds like something from the twilight zone, doesn't it?
When is the last time you ever saw sheriffs who kill people on trial in the infamous "Witch Hunt" town? Bakersfield happens to be my home town, but I am not proud of the way people sold their souls to allow so much prison building or how they are not out registering the poor as "decline to state" voters so they can get those crazy Republicans out of power over their lives. We certainly did not have those conditions when I grew up there in the 60's. The economy was dependent on agriculture and oil. The hell that has been rained on the people of Bakersfield could be ended by them at the ballot box, but police intimidation in that town is really working and the people are just going along with it.
Here's a family who isn't. Of them, I am very proud.
Three jail guards face murder trial
I will put the referenced picture, which is absolutely the worst mutilation by beating of anyone I've ever witnessed in my next national column. It was sent to everyone who participated in this torture party, which went on for hours, by the sheriff who dealt the final death blow. It is far worse than anything you ever saw coming out of Guantanamo.
I promise it will be the picture heard around the world. But I will need your support and back up going forward to bring out more abuses. We have an election coming up on May 19 which means activists for change need to spend the whole day bringing people from poor neighborhoods to the polls to vote. 20 register 20 register 20 in the "decline to state" party.
These are the options, fight back or be a victim on your own government
that you allow to operate in this manner.
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We cannot have too many lawsuits filed or too many people willing to actually help with initiative campaigns. It is clear that reform will not come from the lawmakers who run the legislature off the human bondage industry.
Reform isn't something you wish for...
it's something you work for...writing
to editors, showing up to rallies and
hearings, recruiting others to write
and show up, registering the poor to
vote. Your enemies have no trouble at
all doing this simple work, which is
why they carry the jailer's keys.
Rev. B. Cayenne Bird
Dr. B. Cayenne Bird is 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.