Absurd Salinas Valley Prison Visiting Policies Routinely Turn Inmate Families Away Prisons are ripping apart families, Breaking Minds, Bodies and Spirits
I have written about the abuses of visitors to Salinas Valley Prison several times in my published columns and in my daily online newsletter. A movie is in the works about my experiences in the California prison system which just seems to write itself. For example, today I had an eye-to-eye direct confrontation with the underhanded methods of the Green Wall.
After a 3-l/2 hour trip from Sacramento and three hour wait in the parking lot, we finally went up the cattle walk into the prison waiting room to be “processed.”
I was wearing the same 3-piece pant suit that I have worn numerous times to visit at other prisons including Salinas Valley. Black loose-fitting pants, jacket, and a shell with high neck and high underarms, nothing that could be construed as being improper by any stretch of the imagination.
Considering my age (my grandchildren attend college), it was a most degrading experience to be told that I couldn't visit due to the shell under my jacket being sleeveless even though I never take off the jacket. How ridiculous! Are the arms of a senior citizen who is older than the earth’s crust, such as myself, going to cause the prisoners to have a riot even if I were to take off my jacket?
We are talking arms here, not breasts or other parts of the body.
I explained that the jacket never comes off and that I had worn this same attire to visit at this prison several times before in a very civil tone – the first five times I had to say it.
The answer from the guard was still “No, you can’t come in wearing that” – an emphatic flat “no” that never once suggested that the prison has a Friendship House trailer that might have something in my size.
I asked politely to see the supervisor. By this time a burn in my gut began to gnaw at me as I recalled the hundreds of people, mostly Hispanics, whom I have witnessed degraded in this same manner. I have watched the guards turn people away from visiting their loved ones after they spent thousands of dollars and traveled hundreds of miles because they were wearing blue, green gray, brown or even white!
That pretty much covers the majority of the colors so I opted for my black suit several years ago so that this treatment could never happen to me. After all, by the time I am admitted I have six and a half hours and about $100 invested in the process and the prisoners waiting for me have pressing business.
It’s reasonable that if a young woman arrives with a black bra under a spaghetti strap t-shirt that they should be asked to cover up for their own safety. That is a situation that definitely might cause prisoner attention in the visiting room. But this is NOT the case with the majority of families who are denied access.
As I was waiting for “the supervisor” a large, brutish looking female guard with a crowd-sized pepper spray canister strapped at her waist, along with several other weapons interrupted.
“I am the supervisor and you're not coming in with that outfit.” She said in that tone so common in the prisons. You know the one I'm talking about if you are one of the 3 million citizens who visit California prisons. In fact, B yard was shut down last week because of alleged threats to attack “staff.” And it is my opinion that this tone of degradation and intimidation is at the root of most riots and acts of violence.
“What is your name?” I asked her.
She refused to answer me, more of that “I am God and you will not ask me anything" attitude so commonly used with the families.
I asked her again “What is your name?” and I tried to get a look at her badge or to see the name tag that most of them wear.
Then she drew her sword in the fashion that the Green Wall members at Salinas Valley are noted for against the prisoners.
“You aren’t going to see your anyone today. In fact. I am going to have you removed from the prison grounds.” She spewed with a voice through clenched teeth.
“I really need to visit him ” I told her. “I just came from Sacramento and have been waiting for six and half hours to see him. He has important legal deadlines, on one of the cases he is pro bono and I am a witness.”
“You should have thought about that before you wore that outfit to visit today.” She spewed. “Plus you tried to grab me and you are lucky I don’t have you arrested.”
“There are going to be consequences to you for this young lady. That is a complete lie, I never touched you” I told her, standing up for myself.
Then she calls SIX guards and tells me to lower my voice that I am inciting the visiting room. I told her “I have a constitutional right to use any octave of voice I want. I am not one of the prisoners that you can lie on, violate my rights and then have no consequences for doing so whatsoever.”
By this time all the other guards are present. My voice is that of a professional broadcaster and it does carry, but there is so much noise during processing that it would be impossible for any one person to “incite the visiting room.”
When she put her name on the report, I thought I was going to laugh. She is K. Knuckles. Honest, from the person who coined the term “Knuckldraggers” for the California Prison Guards, I was violated by Sgt. K. Knuckles.
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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 Journalism, Liberal Studies, and Humanities (Cultural Anthropology) she has focused on prison reform making great strides in Calif. supporting the landmark Plata-Coleman case for a decade which resulted in major prison reform. She writes scholarly articles too but prefers op-eds.