Build Mental Hospitals - Not Prisons, to Lower Crime 27,000 mentally ill people are being prosecuted and tormented for acting out their illness. Why not heal them instead?
When the voters empowered politicians who are little more than cartoon characters and aging action heroes, it devastated millions of California families. I know how it happened alright. Blustering hypocrites spewing “tough on crime” rhetoric were elected to office by law enforcement labor unions while the rest of the voters were pre-occupied with activities such as sports, television and earning a living. Public officials were being trusted to do the right thing. This trust is how they crept in as a cancer that has taken over our government, ravaging people’s lives with a corrupt legal system set up to serve these unions.
I was involved and outraged when the media was banned from the prisons in 1996 via a tape recorder and a clerk so that they could not communicate with the prisoners. This was, in my qualified opinion, deliberate cover-up. I learned about the preventable deaths from medical neglect, the cruelest form of torture, during this period.
For our hundreds of families in United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect, we are relieved that Federal Receiver Robert Sillen and Special Master John Hagar are bringing in the Calvary (we hope) eight years later. But to us their findings are old news.
My troops and I did everything in our power to Paul Revere the message that people were dying needlessly to the media and legislature. We didn’t whisper, we were SCREAMING in legislative hearings, television and radio news, public speeches over overcrowded and abusive conditions which were beyond inhumane. I published my internet newsletter everyday for eight years because I received reports from the prisoners and their families about horrible abuses and the families contributed to it, always fearing retaliation to their loved ones for speaking out which did happen multiple times.
It wasn't just the families who fought in vain for their sons, daughters, husbands and family members, I personally testified in public hearings on bills and against wardens at their confirmation hearings on television, I wrote articles including one in the Los Angeles Times, September 27, 2000 which railed against the overcrowding and abuse of the mentally ill naming specific prisoners. We did low budget television shows for public television to expose the inhumanity but nothing worked well.
Other advocates and family members also wrote articles, attended hearings, protested at the Capitol and at individual prisons. We called on legislators begging them for assistance with people who needed surgeries or who were terminally ill.
We got very little, if any, response from all the bureaucrats, prison employees, legislators, physicians the majority of the time and witnessed slow, torturous deaths. The deaths didn’t upset anyone that much until we were finally able to find lawyers to file six lawsuits which demand compensation for wongful deaths. The lawmakers assumed that the poor were too uneducated to organize well enough to put money together to hold state employees accountable.
It wasn't easy, and only by the grace of God were we able to stand up for ourselves with so little resources.
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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.