in prison. A new era of prisoners due to irrational
laws. I am one of those incarcerated – disabled women in the
CDC (California Department of Corrections). This time has been
an experience expected, possibly, during the dark ages of long
journey through “doing the time for the crime” began in a
misinformed courtroom in L.A. You see, my judge called the CDC
before sentencing to verify there was a medical facility at
CIW (California Institution for Women), close to my family.
He wanted to be certain that sentencing me to prison, as the
district attorney wanted, would be the appropriate place to
provide the medical care I need. He was misinformed – lied
to – told a complete falsehood by the CDC. Now, I am not
only NOT in a licensed facility able to care for and
house me, I am also NOT near my family. I am in
central California, over 400 miles from my loved ones and have
NOT seen any of them for 18 long months. My
parents are in their 80s and cannot drive this far. I am
totally disabled with 14 different medical conditions. These
conditions counteract each other. It takes 30 different pills
and treatments each day to keep me alive. My body wars against
itself daily. My room temperature is supposed to stay at 70º
- 75º 24 hours a day. CDC medical cannot provide this care.
judge sentenced me to turn myself in at CIW, so I would not
have to go through county jail treatment. The CDC said I must
go through county jail for the paperwork to be processed. I
was supposed to only be in the county jail for a week or so. I
was there for three months.
three months of waiting on CDC transportation, my ambulance
arrived. Yes, 400 miles to prison via ambulance. I was
taken to the CCWF/SNF (Central California Women’s
Facility/Skilled Nursing Facility). I was admitted directly
into a room there. CCWF is the designated medical care
facility for women in California’s prisons. While in the SNF,
I was subjected to a lack of medical care by the doctor, and
nurses and a massive cover-up of neglect by the medical staff
– malpractice at its finest. I repeatedly tried requesting
to be examined and tested for symptoms I was experiencing. I
was given more and more pain pills. I had never received basic
exams such as a pap smear/pelvic exam when I arrived. Even
though I was admitted to the medical facility. I submitted
request forms, spoke to nurses daily, and tried many times to
speak with the one and only doctor assigned to the SNF. I
received no tests – no answers – only more pills. Being
ignored, I tried one more time to get the doctor’s
attention. He came to my room – bursting through the door,
ranting and raving and screaming at me – out of control. He
waived my request (4th one) in my face, accused me
of faking and said he was sending me to the hospital so
another doctor could tell me that nothing was wrong. I
felt humiliated and embarrassed. So away I went in another
ambulance to emergency. After tests, that could have been done
at the facility, I was told by the doctor I had a severe
kidney-urinary tract infection, an extended gallbladder and
gastric reflux. My symptoms pointed to physical problems –
once again the SNF doctor was negligent to examine and test
also have sleep apnea which requires that I sleep with a C-Pap
machine to keep me breathing during the night. After two
months without it, I was sent to the pulmonary doctor – a
specialist. After examining me, he called the DMO (Chief
Medical Officer) at the facility and told him to get my C-pap
immediately, and if it was not guaranteed for me to have it by
the end of that wee, he was putting me in the hospital so I
could use one immediately. Sleep apnea causes you to stop
breathing and could result in death, and is a strain on the
heart. I had my C-Pap three days later. It seems to take
private doctors to move prison doctors to provide necessary
battle to get the SNF doctor to treat my conditions continued.
On his monthly rounds, he would see me 2-3 minutes, no pen, no
chart. Then he would ask me why I was there, as though he had
never seen me before. I wondered if he ever read the medical
charts – or – maybe I didn’t even have a chart!
medical care became worse. The nurse wouldn’t answer
call lights at night. They would ignore the call or turn off
the light. Sometimes, however, if you were very fortunate, you
would have the nurse answer you 2-4 hours later. Many
nights my arthritis would wake me up with pain shooting
through my joints when I would move. I usually would lie
wake – waiting for a nurse to answer – usually until the
morning shift of nurses would come on.
night, the nurse came in with my night medications. I
looked at the pills in the cut and told him they were not my
meds. He took them back, checked the other cups on the tray.
“Oh, I always get you mixed up with Ms. ____.” The woman
in the room next to mine was paralyzed and had seizures –
those were her medications.
I couldn’t move fast enough to get out of bed for the
bathroom and would have “accidents.” My bedding would
become soiled. The night shift wouldn’t help so I
would have to wait for the day shift. One day I had asked the
nursing assistant twice to change my bed. Finally, I went to
the nurse after lunch and told her about my bed needing to be
changed. My requested was answered by “changing your
bed is a comfort – not a necessity.” I cannot change my
own bed due to my arthritis.
had lived in these conditions for so long, so when the medical
staff continued their lack of proper care and conditions
became worse – I filed 602s (appeals) on medical or lack of
medical, I should say. I never received answers when I first
began filing them. Then a porter (janitor) who cleaned the SNF,
discovered 602s in the head nurse’s trashcan. After that I
“sent” my 602s out from the SNF with porters so they could
put them in their unit mail. I began to get replies on my 602s
– and a lot of attention from the head nurse. One day she
came into my room and told me to stop causing trouble for her
needed someone to listen – someone I could trust, who would
assist me and help me live through this “time.” I became
involved with lawyers and advocates who fight so courageously
for prison/medical reform. Someone had to speak the truth
about the lack of proper medical treatment and care. I
looked around and saw -- me. I never gave up trying to get
proper medical treatment and necessary tests – only this
time with legal assistance. Without these voices outside these
walls, our voice within would be but a whisper.
as the truth began to expose the medical conditions, I was
threatened with a transfer from CCWF/SNF to VSPW/OHU (Valley
State Prison for Women/Outpatient Housing Unit) if I didn’t
stop filing 602s, helping others with 602s and quit meeting
with the attorneys and advocates. I could not – would not
give up my rights as a human being to survive with my
disabilities inside prison walls.
now, here I am, at VSPW/OHU lying in solitude – similar to
administrative segregated housing. I spend 20-22 hours a day
in my single room. This facility has no license to house any
disabled prisoner long term. There are no operational
procedures or policies, so staff is able to do what they want
only bright side of the scales is I do have a good
professional physician who still cares about human life.
He did a complete history and examination on me. After a year
of fighting for these tests in a licensed medical facility, I
received the tests here. The pills the SNF doctor were
giving me for pain were a respiratory suppressant. They caused
my lungs and heart to work overtime. I have COPD (Chronic
Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), Sleep Apnea, Chronic
Asthma/Bronchitis. I am prone to pneumonia and should
never have been on those pills. Upon more tests, they revealed
more medical issues; ovarian cyst, hepatitis C, para-thyroid
tumor. The physician is thorough here, the nurses – well the
lack continues in that area. Still, at night, call
lights are not answered – no one checks on you during the
night. Sometimes I ponder this dilemma – maybe we just
aren’t allowed nursing care between midnight and 6 a.m.
nursing supervisor here at VSPW/OHU has admitted this place is
not staffed or set up for long term care. Once again, I
have had to file 602s just so they will comply with the
Americans for Disability Act. The staff says I am paving the
way – they never had a permanent resident in the OHU. No one
quite knows what to do with me. One nurse said its all
by trial and error.
must I suffer the “trial and error” that puts stress on my
body every day? Why must I be subjected to discrimination?
Because of my need for special housing I endure. Is it CDC
policy that one institution has the proper medical facility
while the other has the proper medical treatment? After all
the years the CDC has been in “business”, you would think
they could put good medical doctors and nurses at the same
facility where the proper housing for disabled is located.
feel like I’m living in a circle. The staff and I seem to go
round and round because of no policies or procedures, they
have no answers for me.
am exhausted. I have heard the cries and screams of so many
neglected and dying women. I have seen my friends’ names
being written on the memorial plaque as they died – one by
one. Did they reach the point of exhausted – the point
of becoming too tired to fight on anymore? Did giving up their
last breath become their way of being released from the CDC
medical facility care? I wonder – about them – about me.
then I answer my self – I won’t give up the fight for my
life – for others – for justice. Do the crime – do
the time. Does that mean time unto death? No one with
severe disabilities should be sent to prison. Prisons are not
built or equipped for long term medical care. Prisons are for
safety? What threat does a disabled person pose? There must be
alternative housing and care – so I continue to find the
solution, the answer to live.
and medical departments never seem to be able to agree on the
care and housing of the disabled inmate. Medical care
sometimes goes against custody procedures. Custody procedures
don’t agree with medical needs. Wee – the disabled
are stuck in the middle – between them – fallen in the
– just maybe – someone out there will listen to my voice.
Will hear and recognize the truth about the injustice of
disabled persons being sent to prison. Maybe, I still hope and
pray – my time, my experience here can be of some good –
to open the eyes of blind justice and balance the scales.
the disabled serve a double sentence. Is this right – is it
justice? The weakest endure the most.
see through my eyes, live through my body. Come sit in my
wheelchair or life in my bed. Try calling for a nurse who
never comes, lie in a bed not changed for two weeks. Smell
your trash built up for over a week because no one cleans your
room. Try to get something from a locker you can’t reach,
unable to hold onto anything because your hands won’t move
right – no help from anyone – you are all alone. Only the
silence of your room to answer you.
into your heart – then look me in the eye and tell me this
time fits my crime. Is this justice or big business?
When you find the truth – let me know. I will be here
– praying to live until I parole.
Valley State Prison for Women
P.O. Box 92, OHU-05-S
Chowchilla, CA 93610