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Published in the Los Angeles Times as a bylined Commentary

Friday, September 29, 2000

 Imprisonment Should Not Be Revenge



 By B. CAYENNE BIRD
 

      We're all responsible for ignoring the inhumane conditions that amount to nothing less than torture in California's prisons.

      Our group of 4,600 doctors, nurses, teachers, college professors and social workers receives hundreds of pleas weekly from the families of inmates asking for help. Here are three:

      * James Diesso, a mentally ill inmate in the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, was put in a double cell with another mentally ill person. Both inmates had violent histories of acting out their mental
illnesses. Now, Jeffrey Ford, Diesso's cellmate, is dead. Diesso is on trial for murder. Who takes the responsibility for careless double-celling practices when there are 18,500 mentally ill people housed with others throughout the system?

      * Charles Wesley, an inmate serving time at Chino for auto theft, now has permanent nerve damage because of medical neglect. He asked officials and staff of the prison's medical clinic for help 61 times and was denied it until it was too late. Seven months later, he had back surgery, which found seriously herniated discs. He was made to work for less than 20 cents an hour while suffering excruciating pain. Wesley will be released from prison soon, permanently disabled.

      * James Rookwood, a 33-year-old inmate serving an 11-month sentence for parole violation, is now sitting in a 5-by-7-foot cell in Vacaville in a wheelchair. He suffered a stroke, which has paralyzed 80% of his right side. He was denied access to a doctor or physical therapy and will be released from prison permanently disabled and much sicker, mentally and physically, than before he went in.

      Reports of medical neglect, rape, murder, psychological torture and intimidation by guards comparable to that in a Third World country are well-documented in our files. If the inmates speak to the press, there is retribution in the form of lost visits or worse.

      The Department of Health Services has asked for money to handle the constant conveyor belt of thousands of inmates being sent to prison by the courts. Gov. Gray Davis has refused. Instead, millions of taxpayer dollars are paid out in medical lawsuits. Where's the "correction" part of
Corrections?

      Cells were built for one person, yet the inmates are jammed together because of overcrowding. To get a taste of living in a cell, go into your 8-by-10-foot bathroom for a month. Take a mentally ill person with you. Some prisons have been on lockdown, in which inmates are confined to their cells
for 23 hours a day, for a year or more.

      It puts great stress on inmates when their "cellies" are mentally ill, so great that they must sleep with one eye open and be afraid for their lives at all times. There is little if any education, rehabilitation or counseling.

      At Mule Creek, the so-called model prison in Ione, prisoners in the dormitory live under a heavy cloud of second-hand smoke. And treatment for cancer is virtually nonexistent for prisoners, except for a brand-new oncology arrangement just beginning at Vacaville. The wait for medical care is six weeks at most state prisons. If an inmate is allowed to see a dentist, there is an eight-month wait.

      Is this inhumane treatment of prisoners really lowering crime? If statistics were to be believed, there's more evidence to support alternatives such as rehabilitation, community service and after-school supervision of youth.

      Somebody needs to sit down and think this crime thing through because the current system is causing more crime than it is preventing. The right thing to do is to release nonviolent prisoners--70% of California's total prison population; institute alternative sentencing for the mentally ill and drug addicts; and send dying prisoners home on compassionate release. Otherwise, all we get is revenge against wrongdoers that results in them going home to their communities sicker.

 - - -

 B. Cayenne Bird Is a Sacramento Journalist and Volunteer Director of United for no Injustice, Oppression or Neglect.

Web Site:

 http://www.1union1.com


 letters@latimes.com

Dear Editor:

Finally someone had the courage to write about and publish the horrible inhumanity happening inside California's prisons in the name of "justice."  (Imprisonment Should Not be Revenge, 9/29/00 by
B. Cayenne Bird).  Yes, the media is banned from being able to interview inmates directly but there is no reason why they can't use information from letters sent in by themselves and their families.

There are no statistics anywhere to prove that prisons, Three Strikes and Mandatory Minimum Sentencing or the Death Penalty are real deterrents to crime.  Any sentence to prison is a death sentence with the degree of rape, murder, torture happening to our young people inside these mismanaged bloodhouses.  We need to put an end to sending inmates home sicker than before they were imprisoned over mostly non-violent crimes.  Prisons are a practice from the Dark Ages. There are many ways to prevent crime and rehabilitate people without having to resort to torture, which doesn't work anyway.  Nobody should be denied medical and dental care.

Susan Randall
Sacramento, Ca.


 http://www.thereporter.com/Current/plet.html

 Published: Wed, Nov 8, 2000

 Prisons' failure to correct is obvious

 Reporter Editor:

 The two recent commentaries, one by B. Cayenne Bird, "Better prisons are needed," and the other by a former state Department of Corrections psychologist deserve some elaboration.

Not only are many of our 160,000 imprisoned people young, but they are also veterans.

Our homeless problem directly relates to the way we mishandle our prisoners. They are tortured while in captivity, both mentally and physically, then put on the streets with $200 in their hands. Basically they are taught nothing while in prison, their self-esteem is lowered. It is almost impossible for them to find a job. Everyone wonders why they end up right back inside.

Prisons have become a catch-all for a society that has no value for a person if they are mentally ill, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or cannot afford a fair good representation at trial, or if they are veterans with war-related disabilities.

 The example of callousness we set for our young people by allowing this kind of treatment is not that of a freedom-loving society. Who is going to cry out when they come for you if you don't join this freedom fight to stop the human bondage industry?

We're like sheep grazing. The wolf plucks us out one by one and the rest of us go back to grazing until the next one disappears to prison.

Herman Cummings,
Fairfield


http://www.thereporter.com/Current/plet.html

 Published: Fri, Nov 10, 2000

Prison conditions are getting worse

 Reporter Editor:

I've had a hard time sleeping ever since I read the Forum commentary by B. Cayenne Bird (The Reporter, Oct. 22) describing the way we are allowing our young people to be tortured in prisons. I know people within the California Department of Corrections say these are common occurrences, not happening just once in a while.

The Bible says that in the last days, the people will think "evil is good and good is evil." It is nothing but evil to treat human beings worse than animals and cause their illnesses to spread and be carried back out into the population.

 I was told that the conveyor belts are feeding people into prison for non-violent crimes so rapidly that there are 800 inmates without a cell, all crammed together in dormitories, living in inhumane conditions you would have to see to believe.

 If one inmate gets airborne tuberculosis, they all get it very rapidly.

We haven't raised the food budget for prisoners in 14 years. It is still just $2 per day. Prisoners don't get fresh food, they don't get vitamins. They don't get "corrected," only punished far worse than their offenses.

Christians should recognize these practices for the evil they are bringing upon all of us.

 This author is right: "No one is thinking this crime problem through," but we are all paying billions for stupid and outdated methods.

Susan Randall, Vacaville


Now is the time to talk about psychological intimidation of prisoners and their families, practices such as constantly disturbing and rummaging through the cells, the conflict of guards being nurses according to the Hippocratic oath, what happens when a prisoner asks for an aspirin, what happens when a prisoner files a complaint over being unable to see a doctor or a dentist, co-payment which discourages medical treatment, the common practice of using needed surgery as a power game, the psychological torture of SHU housing, uncontrolled disease and living conditions in dormitories, careless double celling stories where inmates have been maimed or murdered because of the mental condition of their cellmates, lack of citrus or vitamins, poor food quality, lack of special diets even for diabetics, filthy kitchens and showers and lack of cleaning supplies which contribute to the spread of disease,  no treatment for cancer or other serious diseases, millions in lawsuit payouts for medical neglect and outright abuse which are  hidden from the public, fighting for the bodies of prisoners to be released even after death, unauthorized cremations, the practice of chaining women to beds in security wards even during childbirth, lack of preventive
medicine, no sunshine or showers during inhumane lockdowns, pulling teeth as the only  dental treatment option, the powerlessness of legislators who try to help but are overruled by the Guards, endangerment  of the public safety when tuberculosis, Hep C. AIDS and other contagious diseases are spread among the population from prisons, one to two hours for an ambulance to arrive at prisons even in dire emergencies,
lack of emergency treatment ability even though riot injuries are commonplace, the uselessness and health problems of elderly prisoners,  prisons as a catch-all for the mentally and physically ill, failure to treat addiction, retribution style correction as opposed to restorative and healing style techiniques..... on
and on and on.  If you don't write these stories, who will?  The media has no clue this is happening unless YOU write to them and share your stories.

The ball is in  your court.  Fight back or be a victim, the choice is yours.

Everyone is waiting for what you have experienced.  This requires about ten minutes for you to write up about 10 or 15 lines of a comment.

No one is going to do this for you.  Carry your weight!  Write!


letters@latimes.com

Op-ed by B. Cayenne Bird 9/29 (Imprisonment Should Not be Revenge) reveals shocking conditions inside California's prisons.  Is this California in the year 2000 or Germany, 1945?  How can people emerge healthier, better adjusted from living conditions of disease, fear, intimidation and no education or rehabilitation to prepare them for meaningful work. How far can that $200 given to them at the gate really go to undo years of torment?  The mentally ill are usually given 30 days of medication if and when they are released but they are back to prison in 45 days because there are no follow up programs in place for them.  The author is correct. "We are all responsible for allowing conditions that amount to nothing less than torture in California Prisons." Let the non-violent inmates go into other programs for mentally ill and addicts.

Jerry Baker
Sacramento


letters@latimes.com

Dear Editor:

The author of "Imprisonment Shouldn't be Revenge", B. Cayenne Bird, 9/29/00 has imparted great wisdom and a common-sense analysis in why retribution has never been a solution to crime.

I know for a fact that the mentally ill are terrorized inside prisons simply for acting out their mental illness, that medications are not given on a regular basis, that emergency treatment does not exist.

An inmate cannot get an aspirin, cough syrup or any over the counter remedy and doctors are unavailable.  Taking someone's freedom for life over petty thefts and addiction problems is a gross enough gesture, but withholding medical and dental treatment is an indication of a barbaric society.  And we wonder why our young people are growing up violent. Prisoners are VERY connected to us.  If one is
released and moves in next door to you, let's hope he or she is healthier and not sicker after incarceration. Prevention makes more sense.

Richard Till


Are you aware that the $2.15 per day allowance to feed each prisoner hasn't been raised in 15 years?  A citizen's group must make these types of demands.  We need many more members to cover all this work properly.  There's a million holes in the boat.  What are YOU doing about it?


letters@latimes.com

Dear Editor:

Responding to the Commentary written by B Cayenne Bird "Imprisonment Should Not Be Revenge", 9/29/00.  I am elated that the media is reporting the tortures and abuse of prisoners by the California Prison System.

These few cases listed in this article are only the tip of the ice berg of the destruction of young men
and women who are supposed to be inside for Correction not psychological and physical devastation.

*The murder of Jeffery Ford was wrongful and should never have happened. The prison  administration alone is  responsible for this tragedy.

It is wrong to use James Diesso as the scapegoat for the Prison's wrongful doings.
But with the way State agencies stick together, he cannot receive justice.

* Charles Wesley, an inmate serving time at Chino for auto theft, now  has permanent nerve damage because of medical neglect. How outrageous!

This will no doubt cost the taxpayers millions if a lawyer will handle it.

*James Rookwood,, a 33-year-old inmate serving an 11-month sentence for  parole violation. Now in a wheel chair cause of medical neglect. How can this happen?

We send law breakers to prison for punishment of their crimes but not to be tortured and abused.
PRISONS are not suppose to be WAR CAMPS!

I hope and pray that one day we will make sure our mentally ill do not end up in prisons but in hospitals
to receive the care they so much need so they can function in society again.

PRISON'S ARE NOT HOSPITALS! PRISON GUARDS AREN"T NURSES

Margie Jump



letters@latimes.com

Dear Editor:

Callous people will simply skip over the evil exposed in 9/29/00 article "Imprisonment should not be revenge" by B. Cayenne Bird.

The ugliness of what we do to our mostly young people in the name of justice has earned us an international reputation for cruelty and inhumane acts.

We have millions to waste on medical and civil rights lawsuit payouts, but can't even feed prisoners properly.  Starving people of nutrition and vitamins and giving them nothing to do all day can't be constructive or helpful to lower the crime rates.  For 15 years, the budget for food for each man is $2.15 a day while they often work in slave labor industries.

There are no vitamins, citrus, or fresh salads, things most people take for granted.  Animals we cage up in the zoo get lots of food, medical attention, dental care, all the basics.  A recent article appeared about
how an American prisoner was refused medical treatment in Russia. It's news when it happens there but not here.

Put any animal in a cage, abuse it, starve it, taunt it with psychological torture and when it gets out, no doubt it will bite the first person it meets. We aren't smart on real solutions to crime. We could do much better.

Every tortured prisoner has a mother and most have children, they are not separate from us, but a part of us. The Bible says we have an obligation to take care of prisoners as we would take care of God himself. Christians should be outraged at present conditions.

Natalie Rowe
Citrus Heights, CA


Dear Editor:

Plain talk such as that in the commentary "Imprisonment should not be Revenge" by B. Cayenne Bird, Sept. 29 probably flies in the face of the lies told to the people by the politicians.  Most folks think people in prison are there because they have done something horribly wrong. There is so much corruption as bad or worse than Rampart that this is simply not the case.

Assuming there are ten family members connected to each of California's 160,000 prisoners, that means 1.6 million people have this "gestapo cancer" eating away at their families.  With less than 30% imprisoned for serious crimes, it is costing the taxpayers billions.  Pay now or pay later, the taxpayers and the CITIZENS are going to pay for the medical neglect and abuse.

Why not just do things right up front?  How valuable is a pound of cure, that doesn't really cure? Prevention is good insurance but it would hurt a lot of political careers if we put it into practice.  Gray Davis is hiding something by disallowing media access.  Could it be a medical crisis that is ultimately
taking a great toll on our society?

Joanne Dalvan
Bakersfield, California



Dear Editor:

At the heart of deficient medical care for state prisoners ("Imprisonment Should Not Be Revenge" by B. Cayenne Bird 9/29/00) is the same shortsighted, isolationist mindset that bred every crime those men and women committed.  It says, I don't care about tomorrow, I don't care about the guy next to me, I'm
all that matters.  All the hate, all the discrimination, all the violence that tears apart our society begins with that premise.

All the good that characterizes American society, our generosity, our wealth of opportuity for those of all origins, our expectation of progress in all facets of life, voices the opposite.  It says, we are all in this together and the future of our world depends on our hard work and wide vision.

The wide vision in regard to crime must include treatment and rehabilitation for convicts and prevention programs in our communities--simultaneous with outreach to victims and respect for our police force--that our society may feel healing, rather than pain, in its gut.

Deborah D. J


Deborah has done an incredible job writing letters on a daily basis for 21 days straight. If everyone was doing this, our issues would well be out in the public eye. Reform is up to YOU.
Cayenne.


Dear Editor:

This letter is in response to Ms. Bird's article on "Imprisonment Should Not Be Revenge." I absolutely believe that it is possible to rehabilitate people and turn their lives around from personal experience. There was a time in my life that I could have gone in another direction but due to good influences and lots of work I changed to become a business and property owner and a person who has sat on the boards of many non profit organizations.

We are taking people who have been sentenced and paying their debt to society and are letting questionable people inflict more unnecessary punishments on them. We are denying them the most basic medical needs and are doing nothing to offer rehabilitation and we are keeping them from their families who offer them love and hope as all human beings need.

How can we expect to see a change when our system continually runs the same shamefully neglectful programs and expects different results? Was it not said before that if we don't learn from our past mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them? Rehabilitate these people. Give them hope and basic human care along with their punishment and have a plan that restores their dignity so they can be reintroduced to society with more positive results.

Marlene S.



.
letters@latimes.com

Dear Editor:

I've had a hard time sleeping ever since I read the Forum feature by B. Cayenne Bird describing the way we are allowing our young people to be tortured.  I know people within the California Department of
Corrections who tell these are common occurrences, not happening just once in a while.

The Bible says that in the last days the people will think "evil is good and good is evil." It is nothing but evil to treat human beings worse than animals and cause their illnesses to spread and be carried back out into the population.  I was told that the conveyor belts are feeding people into prison for non-violent crimes so rapidly that there are 800 inmates without a cell, all crammed together in dormitories living in inhumane conditions you would have to see to believe.

If one inmate gets air-borne tuberculosis, they all get it very rapidly.

We haven't raised the food budget for prisoners in 14 years.  It is still just $2 per day. Prisoners don't get fresh food, they don't get vitamins, they don't get "corrected" only punished far worse than their offenses.  Christians should recognize these practices for the evil they are bringing upon all of us.

This author is right, "no one is thinking this crime problem through" but we are all paying billions for stupid and outdated methods.

Susan Randall
Vacaville, Ca.



Dear Editor:

The two recent editorials you printed in Sunday Forum - one by B. Cayenne Bird,  "Better Prisons are Needed" and the other by a former CDC psychologist deserve some elaboration.

Not only are many of our 160,000 imprisoned people young, but they are also Veterans.  Our homeless problem directly relates to the way we mishandle our prisoners.

They are tortured while in captivity - both mentally and physically - then put on the streets with $200 in their hands.  Basically they are taught nothing while in prison, their self-esteem is lowered, it is almost impossible for them to find a job and everybody wonders why they end up right back inside.

Prisons have become a catch-all for a society that has no value for a person if they are mentally ill, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or don't have money for a proper trial, or if they are Veterans with war-related disabilities.  The example of callousness we set for our young people by allowing this kind of treatment is not that of a freedom-loving society.  Who's going to cry out when they come from you if you don't join this freedom fight to stop the human bondage industry?

We're like sheep grazing, the wolf plucks us out one by one and the rest of us go back to grazing until the next one disappears to prison - and the slave labor happening there to bring a profit to the State.

Herman Cummings
Disabled Veteran and a member of United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect
http://www.1union1.com
Fairfield, Ca


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