Parents of Prison Inmates Pray for this Reform First
Except for a small handful of legislators, these elected officials are not there to do the right thing for all mankind.
The legislators are there to do the bidding of the people with whom they are “popular” and especially those organized groups that would write big checks or call out many of their members to vote them into power
It was never my goal to be “popular” in life. I always felt that people who had this goal were too likely to compromise their higher principles in order to fit into some silly group or get elected to public office. Any semblance of popularity that I have gained is not because I sought after it by compromising my basic moral code or by pandering to those who oppress the people.
If my life had revolved around a quest to be popular with the legislative crowd, these preventable prisoner deaths might never have made it into public view.
If I had not chosen to live in the wilderness and eat berries in order to be able to expose this monstrous prison machine, if I had sold out or deferred to those who participate in locking people in cages, we probably would not be standing here on the brink of actual prison reform.
When I first started pleading with the legislators to save lives of people in crisis and to hold guards and wardens accountable in 1996, I had a gentile manner. In my mind, this abhorrent inhumanity was taking place because they didn’t know about it. I reasoned that all I needed to do was communicate in a very civil tone about what I was witnessing and that action would be taken to right the wrongs and lives would be saved and the suffering would end.
How wrong I was to assume that elected officials were in office to do the right thing for everyone! It took me several years to realize that words of advocates that are not backed up by lawsuits, and large voting blocks who could do initiative campaigns, to elect or recall politicians, were falling on the deaf ears of people who had sold their souls to the law enforcement labor unions who put them into office. Except for a small handful of legislators, these elected officials are not there to do the right thing for all mankind.
Oh no, they are there to do the bidding of the people with whom they are “popular” and especially those organized groups that would write big checks or call out many of their members to vote them into power.
Speaking to bought-and-paid for legislators and asking them to reign in the monstrous actions of the prison guards and wardens was akin to yelling into a 180,000 mph wind. Nice people who tried to do that were steam-rollered, ignored, treated as a nuisance and sent away. For many years, I was the ONLY person to testify against wardens at their job review hearings except on one occasion. That was when a number of health care workers testified against Warden Tom Carey when he was moved from Tehachapi to Solano State Prison.
He went on to cause a number of deaths in his new job but he appears to be gone as warden there now. No matter how horrible the mismanagement, the wardens were always confirmed. I still have a hard time understanding this level of depravity amongst the lawmakers who accept it as business as usual. I went there alone, the hearings were televised. Nobody else showed up to make a plea for the prisoners.
The death toll rose then due to silence of all concerned and it continues to mount today. The callousness at every level of the bureaucracy, the unlawful deliberate indifference toward inmates and their families has not waned.
The current state of affairs is shocking even for a seasoned old salt such as myself.
It took a monumental effort for an entire decade for the parents of the prisoners to get reform efforts to this point. Many of those who did everything humanly possible to get emergency help for their loved one were never heard or were completely ignored by officials, legislators and their aides who were more concerned about popularity than with taking any actions whatsoever to save lives.
Many of these parents had loved ones who died preventable deaths. We all watched it happen in spite of our calling, faxing, writing to editors, protesting at the
Capitol and at the prisons, and filing 25 lawsuits, most of them for wrongful death or permanent disability. The prisoners who are currently in distress are still voiceless.
They are still suffering and dying as those who strive to be “ popular” with the moneyed political players are party to endorsing a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions happening right now.
Naturally, as those who have paid dearly in every way imaginable for speaking out about these abuses for the past decade are worried about how this is going to go because talk of reform has been in the air since 1998 (and before) and very little has actually taken place.
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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.