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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


Charisse Shumate - The Death of a Woman Warrior Prisoner

It is with deep regret that I bring you the tragic news that Charisse Shumate died on Saturday, August 4 at the Madera County Hospital. As many of you know, Charisse was not only a life term prisoner incarcerated for 16 years at the Central California Women's Facility and a woman dying of complications from sickle cell anemia, cancer and hepatitis C. Charisse was the reason that many activists and advocates got involved in defending the right of women prisoners to medical care and adequate treatment inside. Charisse was the inspiration that kept us in this battle year after year despite the constant setbacks, the losses and the deaths. Charisse we thought was indefatigable. 

For those of us who had the honor to visit her over the past year, it was very painful to see Charisse physically deteriorate. She lost weight, became extremely weak, had more severe sickle cell episodes, and finally resolved herself to getting around in a wheelchair. Charisse was the woman who championed the cause of battered women when no one else was rallying to their support. (She herself was imprisoned in the first place for her response to the abuse she suffered as a battered woman.) Charisse was the woman who made the California Department of Corrections, its administration and all of its employees, shake in their boots, when she stepped forward to be the lead plaintiff and prisoner spokesperson in the class action lawsuit challenging the medical neglect and abuse of women prisoners (aptly named Shumate v. Wilson.)




When I visited Charisse the day before her death at the skilled nursing facility at the Central California Women's Facility, she was mere skin and bones except for her bloated stomach, a symptom of end stage liver failure. She was barely conscious although she knew I was there and called out my name a couple of times during our "visit." Before I left, I wrote her note about how much she was loved and respected by those of us on the outside.

Charisse was going to die, we all knew that. But toward the end, we who had worked, laughed, and cried with her over the years, tried to get her out on a compassionate release. [Her parole application had been turned down earlier.] We got as far as the governor's office where Charisse's paperwork was placed in cold storage. It was clear that Davis was not going to release Charisse no matter what. We were just printing up the flyers for a massive fax zap to this cold-hearted governor when Charisse passed away.

Many of the groups (California Coalition for Women Prisoners, California Prison Focus, Justice NOW, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and others will be organizing a memorial to her sometime over the next few weeks. We will keep everyone posted. But equally important is the fact that we want to figure out a response to Governor Davis that holds him accountable for Charisse Shumate's death. Governor Davis robbed us and more importantly Charisse's family (her mother, son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren) the opportunity to be with Charisse, to hold and comfort her, to make sure she did not die alone shackled to a hospital bed. Charisse Shumate's death this past Saturday is another crime against humanity on the hands of Governor Davis and the entire prison industrial complex. We should all feel free to let him know that.



Judy Greenspan
HIV/Hepatitis C in Prison Committee
Of California Prison Focus