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September 9, 2007 - California Chronicle (CA)

Prison Reform Pow Wow at Capitol: Supported Bills, Exposed Human Rights Violations

By Dr. B. Cayenne Bird, UNION

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

A report on an emergency Sept 7 Human Rights Rally at the Sacramento Capitol attended by and supported by primary leaders of the prison reform movement. The theme of the rally was "A Call to the Governor for Common Sense and Compassion in Corrections". The legislative sponsor was Assemblymember Mark Leno.

The convergence of human rights and labor union organizers on the California State Capitol September 7, 2007 over prison issues was unlike any other of the many rallies in Sacramento that we have held in the past decade. The tears and angry shouts of organizers representing tens of thousands of wounded Californians went on for hours in the blistering hot sun. Everyone present supported the passage of AB1539, a bill that would better define the compassionate release procedure for terminally ill and medically incapacitated inmates. For the second time in as many years, both houses of the California legislature has passed it, and it is now on the Governor's desk for signing before October 12 which happens to be my birthday.

Two other bills supported by all the prison reform groups in attendance at one of our best UNION rallies yet are SB110 and AB160 which would create a sentencing panel that would have the power to change some of the harsh sentencing laws that might ease the prison overcrowding. SB110 and AB 160 will both be voted upon tomorrow in the senate and the assembly floor.

According to Senator Romero's legal consultant who telephoned me today to congratulate our UNION folks on Friday's successful rally, both bills are several votes short of passing in the Assembly and the Senate.

This means that all Republicans in particular need to be telephoned (not emailed or faxed) by at least 500 people to make the noise loud enough that you as voters and taxpayers want them to vote "YES" for both these bills. No need to call the Democrats as most of them are doing the right thing as usual to relieve this terrible overcrowding. Start calling the Republican legislators at 8 am sharp as the vote could be taken by 9 am.

Forget sending email, a fax is ok, it's too late for regular mail. The legislative sponsors have alerted us that we have the chance to influence the vote if enough phone calls are made to Republicans who are as usual voting against all prison reform bills by 9 am tomorrow. Go to to see the members of the Republican caucus, all of them are voting against the creation of a sentencing commission and all need to be telephone by as many people as you can find.

Senator Romero apologized that she could not break out of the intense hearings that took place on Friday according to her legal consultant to say a few words to us, but the entire legislature certainly acknowledged our strong support of the three bills.

Sacramento's television stations showed up a promptly at 10 am but key speakers didn't arrive until 10:40 due to delayed flights, so only the radio stations were broadcasting live. It was an unforgettable day as nearly every speaker, even those in authority as human rights leaders and members of the clergy shared the untimely and unsettling preventable death of a family member at the hands of our state and local government.

We shouted at the top of our lungs, we cried, held up signs, clung to one another with passion that crossed every racial, economic and religious barrier. The words "human rights violations" were used by every speaker and as mistress of ceremonies, I found myself unable to control a steady stream of tears as each person at the podium was literally shaking from the devastation of their personal lives.

There was $800 in rented chairs, shade canopies and sound equipment. Everyone pulled together to buy a plane ticket to fly in Theresa Vaughn, the mother of Timothy Souders who was featured on 60 Minutes twice this year after video tape captured the torture and murder of her mentally ill son in a Michigan Prison. There is no doubt that our UNION coalition members proved once again that we can professionally organize, a talent that those in elected office have poked fun at in the past. Other groups outside of prison reform can make such a rally happen within a few hours. It took us more than a week to pull this emergency pow-wow together but it was like a Who's Who in human rights with each one bringing a few.

MRSA Outbreak

An emergency exists in that a deadly strain of MRSA is traveling throughout the prison and jail system at an alarming rate and little or nothing is being done about it. Not only has CCPOA, the prison guard's union, filed a lawsuit about it infecting 13 guards at Old Folsom Prison, but the California Nurses, Fire Department and others are up in arms about the risks to their employees on high alert. We cannot for the life of us comprehend how something this important, on a level with meningitis, known to be spreading throughout Old Folsom since April, didn't surface in the media until last week.

It spreads like wildfire through handshaking or any type of physical contact, on surfaces such as light switches, door knobs, fibers such as clothing and bedding, even curtains. At least 8500 cases have been reported at the Los Angeles County jail since I first started mentioning this type of staph, which is an antibiotic-resistant bacteria. As these prisoners have been moved to the various institutions, the disease has spread to workers and inmates, to their families who visit and out into the community through the guards and medical workers. It is the one time when everyone at risk is united in agreement that this is a crisis which deserves to be a top priority with all those posturing concern for medical care.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) often joins the UNION in solidarity, especially for the reasons around this rally, and as were leaving at about 1:45 PM a number of them in their classic purple shirts showed up. However, their late arrival yesterday should not be a measure of how frequently some of the SEIU members work with us behind the scenes, the many phone calls being made to share information, and the cooperation between our UNION and theirs in working to get anti-bacterial cleaners to prisoners.

You heard me right folks.

In spite of many epidemics such as MRSA, filth diseases such as the Norovirus and many others raging throughout these disease hotboxes, the prisoners are not allowed bacterial cleaners. Their laundry is not washed and dried properly, crammed into washers and dryers and coming back full or urine, it's a sanitation crisis that Sillen has acknowledged but so far, no program of prevention or educating the prisoners of what is taking place has been instituted that we can see.

This summary of MRSA was translated by a hospital administrator who is a hardworking member of our UNION living in the Netherlands where there quick response to outbreaks and vigilance makes them a world leader in low incidence of infectious disease in institutions. Please mail it into at least one prisoner and to prison or jail warden in at least one of the prisons and jails before its spread into the community results in more deaths, a quarantine which means no visits and refusal of medical workers to enter infected prisons. One person lost a finger from MRSA, another person told me that they had to have it dug out of their eye. MRSA is a flesh-eating bacteria which cannot be cured in many cases. Do the mailing and pass this word widely as we need to educate ourselves and others when the Government refuses to do it.

Print off and mail this page to at least one prisoner so they can have a prayer to save themselves from this dreadful,ofen incurable, flesh-eating bacteria:

Nora Weber, whose son Mark Grangetto is dying a slow, tormented death after he continues to be denied medical care in a California prison detailed her nightmare experience in trying to get him into a long term facility through the courts. She was told before the rally by her attorney not to mention the Judges' name who could have relieved the suffering of her son but who, after almost two years in an expensive tangle with the State Attorney General suddenly imposed such severe limitations on evidence the day before it was to go to trial that it

This is the one of the most well-documented of cases of medical neglect and torture that I have ever reviewed in four decades of being a journalist and in my opinion, and that of thousands of other UNION members who have been witnessed this travesty, that JUDGE LA PORTE in his Hanford Court contributed the corruption and abuse which has taken over our system at every level from arrest through parole. He ruled in favor of Nora Weber's guardianship over the medical care of her son, ruled favorably a number of times and there was great hope amongst the prisoners and their families that we would see some accountability of CDC(r) employees for the continuous shocking disregard for his life.

The State cannot provide the medical care that he needs, Grangetto is blind, in a wheelchair with atrophied limbs, has diabetes, cannot walk, there is no way he can dress himself, provide any personal care, or go shopping. Grangetto meets the criteria of those who should be compassionately released, yet Judge LaPorte put up legal brick walls that no human being could penetrate.

Just days before the trial was scheduled to begin, Attorney General Jerry Brown's attorney Jim Phillips filed 15 motions to limit evidence in Grangetto's case which was very well documented and should have been allowed to proceed.

Judge LaPorte, granted the AG's motions, and limited the evidence that could be presented to the Jury. With this sleight of hand, LaPorte effectively narrowed the evidence that could be presented to such a degree that we did not have enough evidence within the Judge's narrowed definition of "Failure To Summons Medical Care" within the six (6) month limited time frame prior to the filing of the Government Tort Claim to even put on a trial.

It is clear that La Porte's fear of political consequences was more important that the Constitution and he will portrayed in the upcoming book and movie about this case exactly for what he is -- an inhumane coward who chose self-preservation over doing the right thing

Let the news of what Judge LaPorte didn't do to ease the suffering of this brain-damaged-from-birth prisoner and his elderly mother ring throughout the land. This is more evidence that Californians need the Judicial Accountability Initiative to be passed here by we, the people, if we can ever get off our duffs to organize large enough to pass it. We in the UNION don't allow corruption to go without sunshine and LaPorte will get plenty of it in the book and movie in progress which features this case and several others. There are thousands of prisoners in the same circumstances as Mark Grangetto in the system and what happened here in this case is indicative of the continued torment of all of them, which is a sickening reality. Read Nora Weber's speech here.

Dr. Moss David Posner, a former CDC physician spoke frankly about the lack of medical care in the system and what it's like for doctors who actually dare to take care of the inmates. He appropriately criticized everyone who is politically espousing medical care, but not delivering it, in both the State and Federal Receivership. It was an eye-opening, straight forward talk that proposed great ideas on how to resolve some of the systemic dysfunction. His viewpoint from inside the system was enlightening to all the key advocates present who have been fighting medical neglect, and his final observation that it is getting worse instead of better was received with a noisy round of applause from the crowd. You can see his speech here

Theresa Vaughn, whose voice for the nationwide abuse of mentally ill prisoners after the murder of her son Timothy Souders in a Michigan Prison was caught on video tape, gave us all a Federal Decree made by Judge Enslen worth the work it would take to bring it about. The three prisons in Jackson, Michigan have also been under federal monitor since the year her deceased son Timothy was born -- 1985.

A class action law suit known nationally as the Hadex Case, which was filed in 1985 by the prisoners in Jackson -- the year her deceased son was born, was won in the late 1980's and brought about the Federal Jurisdiction of the three prisons. The federal Judge set up a policy whereby video taping is required in all segregation cells and other areas of the three prisons under his federal jurisdiction. Prison administrators loathe this policy and fight it by insisting that the tapes be erased every seven days "to save money." Vaughn described the importance of the policy that resulted in hard evidence via a video tape of her son's murder by prison guards in these words. Read the Speech she wrote and delivered here:

She was impressed with the enlightenment of our UNION coalition and with the way that all races are working together in harmony for the good of the whole.

Theresa came to support our rally and is staying with me in my humble home for two weeks, hoping to learn our UNION system of organizing a voting group back to Michigan as well as teaching it to family members in other states. Yesterday when "60 Minutes" called her to discuss her appearance at our rally, we were all encouraged with their interest in our UNION members who have died preventable deaths. Theresa is available for media interviews in Northern California until September 20. Her legal case is the most important one in the country, and she reports to us that another similar case in the same prison resulted in a $3 million dollar award.

They actually win some of the cases of neglect in Michigan , unlike California where the punishers are in control at every level because we, the voters, have been sleeping and allowed them into elected office over us. Had it not been for the video tape policy, Theresa would have been left to believe that her son "died in his sleep" which as anyone who is viewing the tape can see, certainly was not the case.

She emphasizes that the murder and torture of her son captured on the tape and aired on "60 Minutes" reveals does not represent even 1% of all that he endured. Vaughn tells me that it was the journalists who took mercy and brought this atrocity out on an international level. The journalists in both broadcast and print are her heroes. "For the rest of my life, I will be in pain because my 21 year-old, mentally ill son shop-lifted something so he could pay the rent."

This minor crime ended up to be a death sentence for him" she told the audience.

Theresa Vaughn urged everyone in California to join the UNION and to participate and there were many emotional moments of devastated mothers as they embraced this brave young mother who spoke so eloquently through her own tears which flowed during her talk.

To see 40 minutes of the actual torture video from August 2 through August 6, 2006 that is on the ACLU website, visit:

Reverend Andre Shumake, whose nephew Anthony Shumake died at 41 years old of a simple tooth infection in 2004 at Solano State Prison gave a powerful talk about the historical importance of so many key organizers of different races and religions joining hands to stand up against state murder by neglect.

"People don't believe these atrocities are taking place" he said. "I didn't believe it either until it happened to me. How many other prisoners are going to die before our elected officials realize that all we want is some humanity in this state." The speech he gave yesterday is not amongst those posted online to preserve the historic remarks made but it was similar to the one he gave at our August 12, 2004 rally located here .

Three years later, his pain and contempt for what he unconditionally termed as "murder of our loved ones" hasn't subsided. Rev. Shumake is the well-known clergyman who set up the Tent Cities in Richmond last year and who has dedicated so much of his life to trying to solve problems in the troubled Richmond Triangle which has one of the highest homicide rates in California.

His voice influences hundreds of thousands of poor, particularly in the Richmond African-American community, whom he recognized are failing to get people out to vote which is exacerbating and allowing the problems. At once point during his remarks, Rev. Shumake shouted "Where is the outrage over these inhumane practices? We don't like to face the reality and use the harsh term of murder but that's what it is, and we need to come together in the UNION and put a stop to it. The outrage and participation and support must begin with each family member or we as leaders can't save you, because it's the power of numbers at the polls and in an organized group that matters to the lawmakers, which is wrong, but that's the way that it is and the sooner we all face that, the sooner we'll see these reforms take place." To see Rev. Shumake's speech from our 2004 rally (similar to the one he gave Friday) go to

As members of law enforcement and Capitol security looked on, some mounted on horseback, and others standing on the perimeter listening intently, the mothers told tearfully shared stories which one would expect to hear only in third world countries, certainly not in America .

Jacqueline Marshall-Alford, a Hupa Tribal Member gave us an emotional accounting of how the Humboldt County Sheriffs, EPD and SWAT killed Peter Stewart, her mentally ill son on June 4, 2007. She wants answers about how a mentally ill man WHO COMMITTED NO CRIME could be murdered by out of control law enforcement who shot 50 rounds of tear gas into his house and then when one of them caught on fire, watched the house burn down with him in it, even though three fire trucks were sitting in the driveway and his friends from school who were fireman begging the SWAT team to allow them to put out the fire. Her son was found dead in the bathtub naked and wrapped in sheets where he had tried to ease the pain of the burns from the teargas. His parents were never allowed to talk to him. Keep in mind that Peter Stewart had committed no crime. Her remarks are posted here:

And another shocking case out of Humboldt County were next on our program, explained by remarks from the family of Hans Peters, a mentally ill young man who died yesterday after what was reported to be a suicide attempt in the Humboldt County Jail. The family doubts everything that was told to them by the Sheriffs for a number of reasons, including the nature of the wound. They were not notified of his critical injury for seven hours after it took place and denied access to visiting him in the hospital until a public defender stepped in and got a judge to issue an order to allow them access. It is inconceivable to me that the monsters who administrate prisons and jails would ever tell a family that they could not see their loved one after injuries or during illnesses that require hospitalization but this is a common report. Why are we as voters and taxpayers allowing such policies to exist?

The younger members of Hans Peters cried out at the podium, "We want answers, can't the lawmakers do something about the sheriffs murdering our people in Humboldt County ?"

They are the human rights leaders who made up the audience, "We must do lobby days and make our elected officials know that we are not asking for much except for fairness and humane treatment. Surely there is something we can do about this."

And we who have spent a decade of our lives writing to editors, organizing similar rallies, finding lawyers for so many wrongful death lawsuits that I have lost count, listened to these innocent young people in such an intense state of suffering had no choice but to tell them a shocking truth.

Quetza Ortez, Director of the Barrio Defense Committee emphasized that all the thousands of marches, rallies, and walks through the legislature which everyone present has made for the past decade in an attempt to end to the brutality and human rights violations that are considered as business as usual at every level in the California criminal justice system. Her son has been in the SHU for eight years at Corcoran Prison over a baseless, ridiculous charge.

Ortez showed us his sweet-faced picture on a protest sign telling us tearfully that his skin was yellow and his hair falling out, she tearfully relayed news of his great mental suffering after eight years of being locked in total isolation and heavily suffering sensory deprivation. Ortez' agreement that in spite of all the deaths, or continual outcry at rallies, and at least a few people writing to editors (everyone agrees that not nearly enough family members are doing this simple task of writing to editors so necessary to all our work) there is still no place to go for help even in life and death emergencies.

The majority of the legislators are calloused and clueless or perhaps even powerless in controlling the law enforcement agencies who are terrorizing California 's poor.

As shocking as this truth of judicial callousness may be, it was something that the experienced prison reformers had no choice but to deliver to the large tribal family connected to Hans Peters and Peter Stewart, both of the Hupa Tribe of the Hoopa Valley and to all the other mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins and grandparents who loved one has been killed.

The family of Hans Peters did not have a prepared speech which I could release to the media and post online at our website due to the timing of his Sept 6, 2007, and their plans for a full Indian burial ceremony today. I urge the journalists on our list to please follow up with the very real people who are the victims of politics that are capturing the headlines daily instead of just quoting and giving publicity to the irresponsible and callous politicians at the core of these serious human rights violations.

Quanta Brightman, Vice President of the United Native Americans brought several people to rally with us and gave an energetic and passionate speech on racism and abuse of the mentally ill in California 's prisons and jails. Hopefully he will have a summary of those remarks for us later today so that we can put them up online and distribute them to the media.

I worked in remarks between each speaker, you can read my speech notes here. I will probably clean these up later in the week but you can see them here:

Lourdes Duarte of Books Not Bars, told us the hair-raising tale of her son's torment in a CYA facility which drove him to a suicide attempt. The experience was so traumatic for her that she became an advocate for juveniles. It is the passion of the parents of juveniles, they're cooperation in organizing, writing, showing up, helping to raise money and show up at important rallies that has resulted in some important bills being passed.

Lourdes ' speech including that she has joined the UNION and pledged her support of our work to set up a voting lobby strong enough to do initiative campaigns. She will continue to be active in Books Not Bars as well, but realizes that adult prisoners do not have families who will fight for them to the degree that the juveniles do.

More than 100 members of the United Farmworkers rallied with us and three of their representatives spoke on the incarceration and murder of their children. Several joined our UNION forces and vowed ongoing support on our issues. The Farmworkers spoke to us of the similar struggle of Cesar Chavez to educate the poor and bring them to the reality that the state runs on groups. For those individuals who do not have a group number in the tens of thousands of active writers and protesters there is no representation. Today the UFW has political clout but must still battle harsh labor practices such as being denied water and the right to go to the bathroom.

Now the Farm workers worry about arrest, even though members of other races are unwilling to do this hard work. I was able to share my story about the time the Capitol was swarmed by non-violent Farm workers who filled every hallway, every floor as the famed UFW flag was temporarily flown on the dome. There was incredible youthful energy that gave us all hope as the UFW pledged support in every way to our UNION mothers, who never stopped weeping the entire day. Their history is our history, and when I emphasized that the prisons are being constructed to cage the children of Farm workers a loud scream went up from scores who were protesting on the street all the way up to those participating with us. We were inspired by the UFW members who continue to organize and whose members, although poor, traveled in from all over California to be there.

While their primary focus is on labor practices, the UFW vowed to have at least some members of their Union join ours and be active in responding to the calls to action. The other labor unions in California are relieved that the families of prisoners are starting to recognize that they must provide the bulk of the energy to organize and fight for themselves, instead of waiting for a rescue.

It was clear that the victim mentality did not exist amongst the many leaders of the prison reform movement who were present and speaking yesterday which was welcome news to UFW members, many of whom have a loved one incarcerated. We have solidarity now in Bakersfield, and the UFW workers described what living in an area dominated and controlled by the prison industry is like, not unlike the history books describing Nazi Germany, 1945 and all under Conservative Republican rule in that area because our people are not active enough in writing to editors and educating people there constantly.

Where everyone came together yesterday, perhaps for the first time on such a scale, is that without Judges Henderson and Karlton there would be zero attempt at prison reform even after all the preventable deaths. It is abundantly clear to all the Coalition leaders in the UNION that only by organizing to do initiative campaigns will we ever see any relief from abuses or changes in the law.

That can only happen when our UNION reaches 6500 membership of trained, active, participating workers. Even with all the new subscribers to the newsletter who are leaders and members of the United Farm Workers, Barrio Defense Committee, Books Not Bars, United Native Americans, Richmond Improvement Association, we still fall short of enough funds and volunteers to be able to launch initiative campaigns that are assured winning because our side is mobilized well enough to achieve the 150 day deadline.

So what we all concluded was necessary was a total emphasis on recruiting new blood, new workers to the UNION with every group pledging five or six members to go out and find people with at least an 8th grade education who can/will write to editors and bring ten people each to the rallies, recruit ten people each to also learn how to write and recruit. Until this gets done, everyone is stuck in the current nightmare of the status quo, waiting for someone else to do the organizing work instead of pitching in.

The politicians should be very nervous about this very real mobilization and joining together of all these human rights groups who will continue with their own work AND urge people to subscribe to the UNION newsletter communication system which brings them news of the issues and gives ways to fight back by writing, protesting, joining in lawsuits and preparing to do initiative campaigns each day.

We all agreed that the most important issues of today are ending the abuse of the mentally ill, whom we want to see taken completely out of the criminal justice system, saving lives through railing and protesting against continued medical neglect which is getting worse not better as the politicians continue to lie to the public and violate the orders of Judges Henderson and Karlton. We also supported the creation of a sentencing commission and strongly urged the Governor to sign AB160 and SB 110 because one way or the other, and no matter how long it takes the teach the families of prisoners that they can and must organize to give their own legal cases relief by doing initiative campaigns, the recruiting team is now larger.

It is our intention to teach the poor to vote against Republicans at the ballot box because they are the primary source of these oppressive laws and inhumane conditions, and have blocked every attempt at reform for the past decade, either because of the way the legislators lockstep vote on the individuals bills (research their voting records at click on legislation and enter key words on prison reform) or by electing Governors such as Peter Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Gray Davis was a Democrat but his own party members participated in the Recall in large part because he was voting with the Republicans on criminal justice issues and allowing inhumane conditions to exist.

We must always remember that the problem is with the Republican politicians who are put into office with the funds and votes of law enforcement labor unions and not with the Republican voters who do not the human rights violations taking place because our side is not actively telling these stories at the news websites underneath the posted articles. It is a simpler message for the poor to understand that due to peer pressure and the fact that they are purchased into office by law enforcement labor unions, that Republicans politicians are punishers by nature who have no conscience about what is going on and have rejected all efforts to do the right, humane thing by the prisoners.

Take a look at the vote on AB1539 which is on the Governor's desk right now, a bill backed by a number of legislators that would more clearly define the procedure for the compassionate release of terminally ill and medically incapacitated prisoners.

Are the Republicans who voted "NO" on this bill this week in the Senate human beings or they so hung up on their political careers that they have sold their souls to participate and condone in truly evil and unlawful practices of murder by medical neglect?

How could anyone think that paying billions of dollars each year of California taxpayer dollars to punish quadriplegics, brain dead, elderly with dementia, and very sick people who could not possibly be a threat to society is a moral and wise decision? Still take a look at the people voting against the bill and remember their names, because reform at the ballot box is very important and only the poor who number in the millions are capable of forcing this reform simply by bringing 20 others into the voting process.

This is the AB1539 history and vote which did pass both houses of the legislature and is now on the Governor's desk for signing. Take note of all the no votes coming exclusively from Republican legislators and post about them out at the news sites or every bad thing that they do. If you're not writing, you're not fighting back ­ call them on their bad votes, even if the bill passed and is waiting for the Governor's signature, the Republican legislators DID try to block it. It takes a 2/3 vote to changes laws in the legislature, which is why we must work to prevent them from ever getting elected and teach the poor how to mark their ballot.

As the web pages with the photos and speeches given at the rally are up put up at our site over the next days, you'll be able to see more of what happened at this historical Pow Wow on the North Steps of the Capitol in Sacramento on September 7, 2007

Dr. B. Cayenne Bird is an ordained minister and a 37-year veteran op-ed journalist and publisher. She volunteers her time as founder and director of United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect UNION. The UNION is active in prison reform and criminal justice issues. She is a mother and grandmother and focuses on human rights and restorative justice. She is also the host of television series "Cayenne Common Sense" and publishes a daily online newsletter to subscribers.

Rev. B. Cayenne Bird
P.O. Box 340371
Sacramento, Ca. 95834

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