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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  B. Cayenne Bird
Bio: B. Cayenne Bird
Date:  December 12, 2007
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Topic category:  Other/General

Prison System is Abusing Visitors - Many Inmate Family Members Robbed or Turned Away
Most California prisons are in complete chaos as members of the state legislature focus instead on a bill to increase their terms in office and meet with one another and lobbyists

Families of prisoners are unseen crime victims who need help, especially during the holiday season. You can directly assist someone in dire need today.

Packages sent by prisoners' family members to try and console their daily-abused incarcerated loved ones are being purposefully withheld for a month or more. Even legal mail is slowed to more than 30 days delivery. Mandated inmate access to the prison legal libraries are being denied causing delays in the court system and adding to the holiday stress of people on legal deadlines. Many female visitors are now being asked to squat and cough over a mirror, even elderly mothers and wives, with little or no reason or provocation given for this gross rights violation. People are driving from hundreds of miles away hoping for at least a six hour visit, but are being turned away over ridiculous rules restricting the type and color of garments they may wear.

Visits are being "terminated" early regardless of how far the family member traveled because they may have spoken to another visitor in the canteen room. This retaliation enacted upon a family member for speaking to someone else is a violation of the US Constitution's First Amendment and yet it happened several times last week-end at Salinas Valley Prison. Someone needs to step in and make the prison guards follow the state's own rules, but the legislators can't be bothered to do their jobs with oversight committees. And we must always remember that the court and prison system finances the legislature and entire bureaucracy, something that most people forget when they expect elected officials to do the right thing by prisoners. I have called several times for 2750 participants to join the UNION families to help pay for and file a class action lawsuit against all who are participating in and allowing these intrusive and harsh visiting policies, but the millions of people who visit prisons are all thinking that this abuse will not happen to them personally until it does and so they don't come together with us to fight back.

The UNION families have filed 28 lawsuits against state employees, mostly for wrongful deaths, but the visiting lawsuit which is desperately needed, is something that needs to be hired by those affected to get done as there is no payout at the end for any attorney. The family members are mostly women and children. It is doubtful whether most of them took civics in high school in order to understand that they could organize their way out of the oppression by being active in our UNION and learning to build a bigger and stronger voting machine. So not enough families will rescue themselves by joining in to pay a large firm who specializes in lawsuits against the government. This failure to organize and take the right actions at the right time are mostly due to the widespread illiteracy at this level of society.

For example, there are two initiative campaigns circulating. One includes lifer visits and the other is to amend three strikes, but neither has a prayer of winning because the 6500 workers it takes to be able to gather 500,000 plus signatures in only 150 days weren't gathered and trained in advance nor was the minimum one million dollars raised that it takes to pay for public education to really prepare the voters to vote the right way.

This is not to say that people shouldn't be working on the initiatives because they are a valuable tool in voter registration of the poor, and could be used to educate our side that no one can win more reform without a massive mobilization of writers, protesters and people who are going to put up money to pay for this necessary organizing work and the campaigns. After all, if the poor voted, the world would be a different place. Had the poor been voting all along, none of the present problems would exist and very few of the present officials would be in office. Human rights leaders have said the same thing for generations but somehow complaining is preferable to actually voting and registering others to vote, or to put up people who are actually going to represent us in the first place.

The stark reality of the situation is that there is no chance to win initiatives now because the 6500 workers and the first million dollars were not gathered together in advance of the filings. But if this ability to win initiative campaigns is ever going to be done successfully in the future, it is the organizing done now that will put an end to the power of the law enforcement and their elected puppets in the State Legislature. Nobody is going to do this work except the three million people related to a state prisoner and if they won't do it, apparently there will be no end in sight to the abuse and suffering taking place right now on many levels just so law enforcement members can have an over-paying job. No judge, no legislator, no attorney and no advocate can rescue the people until they take the right steps of reform, for there is almost zero justice in the court system and the brick walls cannot be overcome through conventional methods. Where it is right now is that too few advocates are worked to the bone while others sit and complain and don't do the organizing work required. It's a no-win situation as long as it continues in this manner. It's easy to complain and criticize but it doesn't help the campaigns win to take this approach to problems.

In the meantime, the state employees are breaking laws, violating rights of prisoners and people who visit the prisons are suffering an immeasurable human toll. To illustrate what millions of young women, children and elderly parents and grandparents who have a loved one in prison are experiencing, here is an detailed accounting of what I went through on a visit to California State Prison Los Angeles County (CSP-LAC). Imagine going through all this and being turned away over the color and style of a garment or made to squat and cough over a mirror which is happening widely to visitors at most prisons.

Alarming Visit of Rev. B. Cayenne Bird to CSP Lancaster

B. Cayenne Bird

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Notes:  To read the details of my nightmare prison visit, please go to this link to finish reading this story as there isn't enough room here for all of it.

Biography - B. Cayenne Bird

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.

Read other commentaries by B. Cayenne Bird.

Visit B. Cayenne Bird's website at Columnist

Copyright 2007 by B. Cayenne Bird
All Rights Reserved.

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