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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 9/20/12

Veteran Op-Ed writer denied prison visit for identifying herself as a journalist

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Message B. Cayenne Bird
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(Article changed on September 21, 2012 at 10:13)

This past week-end my First Amendment Rights were once again trampled although I violated no prison visiting code. The prison guard Brassiere Brigade at Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, California went to great lengths to deny me an important visit for no valid reason and construed my informing them that I intended to report the events that transpired in my columns as a "threat" to the guards who oppressed me.

The prison guards Tracy Brown, E. Vazquez and D. Alfaro made a very big issue out of my undergarments and went to great lengths in a concerted effort to intimidate, degrade and humiliate me by using an arbitrary and vague dress code as their justification. The harsh treatment that I received because of my bra choice is probably indicative of why the parking lot was nearly empty at 9:30 am on a holiday weekend.

I am writing this report for every family and friend of a prisoner who has been turned away from visiting a loved one at a California State Prison based on invented rules and arbitrary dress codes. The people have a right to know what is taking place in the prisons, which are taxpayer-financed institutions wasting billions of our education and human services dollars.

When I became a California journalist in the 1960"s, I never dreamed that I would be using my advanced education to write about how I support my breasts, especially in what should be my Golden Years. But the reason I was turned away was not really about my bra choice, it was because I identified myself as a journalist and promised to expose their abuses in my columns well after they made the decision not to let me re-enter once I complied.

This is what the guard's called
This is what the guard's called
(Image by self)
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I was wearing an undergarment and as anyone can see from the photo of my "offending blouse", there was no bare skin, translucent or tight fitting material, no nipples showing or anything that would have sparked a riot. What a ridiculous notion! Prison Guard E. Vazquez was leering at my breasts after I had already made it through processing. I was already at the second phase about to enter the visiting room.  I suspect that this young female guard, less than half my age, resorts tothis tactic routinely, no matter how elderly the visitor might be or whether or not they even have a breast after a mastectomy. She considers herself a dedicated member of the prison guard Brassiere Brigade. Why, without her keen eye to stop me, my elderly breasts might have caused the young prisoners to rage out of control.

Normally when family members are turned away at the whim of a guard, they are re-admitted once they comply with their arbitrary, vague and often nonsensical objections. I left before entering the visiting room -- once Prison Guard E. Vazquez decided to harass me -- in order to go out looking for the one store in the area that sold bras.

When I passed by Prison Guard Tracy Brown, the extremely rude guard who had cleared me after a verbal scolding over the speed at which I placed my shoes on the counter, wanted a detailed explanation of why I was leaving. I had no duty, nor is there any law that says I must speak to her at all, but to be polite, I truthfully remarked that I would need medication to be able to make it through this day and that I would be back in awhile. She told me that once I had to leave the visiting area that I would not be allowed back in. But I hadn't actually entered the visiting room. Besides, people get sick all the time and need to go to their cars to get medicine since bringing it in is such a hassle.

E. Vazquez was making up her own rules, and looking for any excuse to keep me from being able to visit. I was not at all rude and drove the 15 miles to the nearest Walmart store to comply with what I thought might be their idea of a bra, even though I was already wearing the kind that dancers wear which is more of a half tank with no straps that would not irritate the open wound on my back from recent surgery.

There are at least 30 different types of brassieres on the market. This does not include the unconventional ones such as those worn by movie stars and the codes do not specify exactly what type of bra a visitor is required to wear, only that they must not contain metal or be obscene in any way. They did not check to see what type of undergarment I was wearing, but obviously Prison Guard Tracy Brown would have caught anything that was too offensive. The photo of just what the guards saw when they decided to make my shirt their business is shown on this page.

Who are these guards to dictate which bra I choose as long as there is no metal in it in the first place? While I was gone, Prison Guard Tracy Brown obviously called down to the visiting room to find out what transpired. She was no doubt angry that she missed what Prison Guard E. Vazquez perceived as breasts so voluptuous that they might cause a sexual frenzy and a riot amongst the prisoners in the visiting room, which actually had very few people in it. Most of the prisoners are very young and not interested in a matronly woman old enough to be their grandmother, even if I had walked in that room stark naked.

The last time that a similar bully tactic was used to keep me from a prison visit was in 2006. After I brought 200 people to protest Salinas Valley Prison for routine visiting abuses after I was turned away for "wearing a sleeveless tank top under the jacket of a 3 piece suit" the offending prison guard was fired. Of course, it took statewide media coverage of the protest and three other people who were similarly abused winning lawsuits to bring about a satisfactory conclusion of removing that particular bully from her job. That's because there is almost never any accountability of prison guards, as those of us who covered the landmark Plata Coleman vs. Brown case well know, even when they torture and murder prisoners. Each legal victory requires many dollars and many years to achieve, but there cannot be too many lawsuits filed when prison guards are running amok violating rights.

That's why I have written about prison conditions for 15 years and many articles have resulted in a lawyer stepping forward who is willing to file a pro bono complaint because the voiceless have no representation or protection.

Since January, 2012, I have been working on a documentary film to detail the horrific injustice and abuses that I have witnessed within our corrupt criminal justice system and it will be an eye-opening national wake-up call when the producers and I are ready to release it. For this reason, I hadn't journeyed to Sierra Conservation Center in nine months and was really looking forward to the visit, although at my age and condition of health as a disabled senior citizen, it is exhausting to travel 840 miles in two days. This is the case for thousands of others who visit someone in prison as well.

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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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