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Throng of families of dead and dying prisoners beg for help outside Federal Courthouse

By       Message B. Cayenne Bird       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   6 comments

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This photo of a large throng of desperate but grateful families is what Donald Specter, lead attorney in the historic Plata case saw when he arrived at the Federal courthouse on Nov 21, 2008. (To view a larger photo click on this link.) Many other families of dead and dying prisoners arrived during the morning as we packed Judge Thelton Henderson's courtroom.

The sign in the photo "prisoners are dying weekly" is actually incorrect. A prisoner dies every day in California's prisons due to severe over-crowding and unbearable bureaucratic callousness and incompetence. It was estimated during a judicially-ordered investigation several years ago, that at least one prisoner death per week is preventable. The families shown almost all have someone who has died or is dying or who is mentally ill, all suffering as a result of mental and medical health negligence in California's prisons.
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Pleas for help are falling on deaf ears at every level because there is no place for them to go for effective intervention. The state is hell bent on covering up the problems, which is why the media is banned from being able to interview specific prisoners. It is literally a bloody mess.

Nobody knows how many prisoners die shortly after release due to neglect of chronic illnesses or how many die in community hospitals which are never added to the statistics. Nobody knows how many prisoners are maimed for life due to irresponsible double-celing practices of the mentally ill. Note Denise Langely in the blue jacket to the right. She came attached to an oxygen bottle because her son is bleeding from both ears and can't get medical help for him at CMF Vacaville. She was hoping to find someone who would listen to her about her son's emergency and take action to save his life, which has yet to happen.

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Next to her is 69-year-old Nora Weber who came to the rally very ill with the flu. Her son, brain-damaged from birth, cannot walk or care for himself in any way, yet he is being tortured in isolation (SHU) in Corcoran Prison. He is so sick and depressed that he is refusing his diabetic medicine in his delirium. The prison cannot care for him but they refuse to release him to her. He could be released under AB 1539 and she could take care of his needs but Gov. Schwarzenegger, Secretary Matthew Cate, the warden, Receiver J. Clark Kelso and the entire heirarchy are ignoring Nora Weber and others like her. People in prison have no more value than chickens laying eggs for a profit to those in power who could do something to give Nora Weber relief from her horror, but it isn't happening.

Also present in the back row by the pink sign is Jane Wills, the wife of a husband who has thyroid cancer and needs eye surgery at CSP Solano. He was told that it would take up to one year for him to get any services. Cancer doesn't wait for "one year" and she doesn't believe he will survive. Her pleas are also going unaddressed and unheard and she fears retaliation for even asking for medical help.

Others in the UNION group have lost their loved ones through wrongful deaths and suicides.

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These families have all been devastated by having a loved one in the criminal justice system and almost never smile. But when Donald Specter of Prison Law Office and lawyers from Rosen, Bien and Galvan arrived to the courthouse for another day of battle in the Plata case they cheered. The UNION families have filed at least 100 lawsuits for abuse and wrongful death since 1999, with approximately 30 lawsuits still in progress. The state employees and prison administrators lie, withhold and distort the truth. They often change the records to suit their own agenda, even going so far as to carelessly double-cell mentally ill prisoners even against their doctor's recommendations. Being served with lawsuits is the only accountability that the state employees ever receive in a system that is corrupt arrest through parole.

UNION families live all over California and work in their communities as teachers, nurses, social workers, business owners, insurance agents, bank tellers, clerks, blue collar and white collar workers from every occupation imaginable. The present humanitarian crisis taking place in the prisons touches 3 million Californians related to a state prisoner. Thousands could be released under AB1539 that was signed into law last October who are paralyzed, terminally ill with Alzheimer's, cancer, AIDS, and other ailments who have family members who want them. This would save the taxpayers and the state billions but they still are not releasing anyone under the new law.

It is quite difficult for the family members to travel to San Francisco for each and every day of the trial. Others who couldn't attend are encouraged to do so, although proceedings will not be heard next week, they will resume after Thanksgiving. email me at for more information.

We may go back on the final day of the trial, which is estimated to be Dec 5, 2008, but it could change on short notice.

It takes abot 6500 people willing to do a little work and spend a little money on initiatives campaigns to change any California state law; less than that cannot meet the 150-day initiative deadline for gathering signatures. Laws could have been changed years ago if enough people were doing the organizing work. Lawsuits, initiative campaigns that have enough funds and volunteers and putting up votes and dollars to get our own people elected are the only ways to change laws.

The Republican politicians have built the prison industry to the moon and blocked all reform for ten years, while passing more and more harsh laws that do nothing to help the crime problem.

A profit in the human bondage industry cannot be made if the inmates are given a proper diet, education, medical and dental care and rehab, which is the primary reason why the services do not exist.

If you would like to see conditions improved and work for prison reform, subscribe to the UNION Daily newsletter here. The Dec 5 date could be earlier or later, depending on how the Plata trial progresses, the newsletter will keep you abreast. The location of Judge Thelton Henderson's court is in the Philip Burton Federal Court Building, 450 Golden Gate Ave, San Francisco, CA. The BART comes within three blocks and there is underground parking available on McAllister. It is difficult to see the parking entrance since the entire block-long structure is a Park on the street level, and an underground parking structure under the green areas.

Subscribe here to learn to become a California advocate for change:

Don't agonize, just help organize.

Rev. B. Cayenne Bird

UNION (United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect)
P.O. Box 340371
Sacramento, CA 95834


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B. Cayenne Bird is a 45-year veteran op-ed journalist and publisher. A descendant of Mary Todd Lincoln, and General Andrew Porter, she is passionate about human rights and criminal justice issues. A mother and grandmother with advanced degrees in (more...)

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