Living Conditions Here in the CCWF
by Patricia Wright

 health  movement-building  prison-life

The idea for this letter began as a way to express my concerns about this institutions treatment of Close-A custody inmates, but quickly morphed into a forum for other unhappy inmates to voice their complaints on behalf of myself and all the women unwillingly residing at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, California. I ask for your assistance in solving some very serious issues.

  1. Those of us on Close-A status are frequently segregated and discriminated against even though we are housed with general population inmates. Many of us will be stuck with this restrictive classification for five (5) long years no matter how discipline free, compliant or cooperative we are. Our low priority for job assignments or education programming means we must wait two, (2) to two and a half (2-½) years before we can earn a privilege card. This card allows us to make three (3) phone calls a day and to shop $180.00 per month on the canteen, as opposed to one (1) phone call a month and $90.00 per month on canteen. My main complaint is that the restrictions on my phone privileges impede my ability to have necessary contact with my attorney and my family support system. This is grossly unjust. How can I help my lawyer with my appeals when my phone calls are limited? My family is very involved in my appeals as well as being critical to my emotional well being, so I need to speak with them often. It would seem logical to me for a privilege card to be a reflection of an inmate’s behavior, not the charges that brought them here. Since meetings for Long Timers Organizations, Battered Women’s Groups, Narcotics/Alcoholics Anonymous and various other support groups are held in the evening, we (Close A) are excluded due to our inability to go outside of our units after dinner, so why must we suffer further discrimination with the unreasonable prohibiting of contact with our support systems?
  2. Our mail has been backed up lately due to staffing problems in the mailroom resulting in delays of 3 – 6 weeks between the postmarked dates and the date we receive our mail. We have a right to receive in a timely manner. Even our legal mail can sometimes take 2 weeks or more to be distributed to us. This is outrageous.
  3. Overcrowding has had an adverse effect on all of us in many ways. Our rooms were originally built to house 4 women and yet 8 of u are packed in her like sardines. Forced to share only one bathroom and shower. When all the rooms became filled, our gym was then turned into an additional unit with 200 beds. When that wasn’t enough, our unit dayrooms were cut in half and 60 more beds were installed to house the overflow inmates. These dayroom inmates are sleeping on unsecured beds (they are not bolted to the ground) This has strained our indoor recreational space, laundry facilities, our library, chow hall and our outside exercise space to the point of bursting. Tension is so high due to al the women crammed into such a small space that bloody, violent fists fights bullying have become all too common. The suicide rate has increased alarmingly with the latest victim being a 26-year old young lady who hung herself in her room. The unsuccessful suicide attempts are too numerous to count. The increase in population has caused staff officers, medical personnel and counselors to be overworked to the point of exhaustion and as a result they are largely ineffective at controlling the frequent fights. They are as unhappy as we are about the overcrowding. We are frequently locked down or on modified programming due to shortage of staff; this only increases the unrest and violent behavior among inmates.
  4. The monthly indigent kits that are issued do not contain enough shampoo, deodorant or toothpaste to last (even the most conservative inmate) the entire month. With eight (8) women to a room it makes for a rather smelly problem as well as forces some women to feel the need to steal from others just to meet their basic hygiene needs.
  5. Last, but far from least, I would like to discuss the myriad of problems found in our chow hall. This is the most disgustingly unsanitary place I have ever seen. The workers are not screened for communicable diseases like Hepatitis and A.I.D.S. and visibly ill women are forced to work their shifts with no regard for germs. Gloves are not worn by all workers even though much of our food like salad, bread and cereal are scooped and deposited on our trays by bare hands. Facilities are not made available for frequent hand washing in spite of the large number of workers observed coughing, sneezing and even picking their noses as they go about their jobs. Restroom facilities are locked and usually contain no soap when the workers are periodically allowed to use them. A worker was recently chastised for throwing away a partial roll of toilet paper after it fell on the floor in the afternoon and the officer stated that no more toilet paper would be supplied for the rest of the day as punishment. I have personally observed kitchen workers leaving the chow hall in aprons and hairnets using the disgusting, fly infested outhouse in the yard and returning to work without washing their hands. There have even been instances of women forced to hold their urine to the point of wetting their pants and then being make to finish their shift in soiled clothing. Kitchen workers tell about fellow workers dropping food on the floor and picking it up and serving it anyway. I have even been warned on several occasions to avoid eating certain foods or drinking from the beverage containers because disgruntled workers have spit in them. Theft of food quite common and the last unit to eat must be given a quick substitute when mean suddenly runs short. One morning a worker returned to our unit bragging about bags down her pant legs fill with over 100 cartoons of juice. H-Pylori is rampant in here due to improper food preparation practices. On Thursday, October 19, 2007, at least five (5) women from D-yard had to treated for sever food poisoning. The workers that wipe the tables between diners’ use the same filthy rags to spread germs from table to table and I have personally observed these dirty rags being dropped on the floor and a worker just pick it up and resume wiping tables. I have even seen workers and staff sit on the table tops while the dinner line is being served and then move on leaving the table for the next unsuspecting diner to use.
  6. I could go on and on with the horror stories but I’m sure you get the picture. Something needs to be done! Most of us are aware of these incidents so we skip a lot of meals; but we can’t afford enough canteen to avoid the chow hall altogether. I am pleading with you to please help us improve these deplorable conditions. The staff knows when Sacramento or other officials are coming to visit so things shape up temporarily, but soon it is back to usual, sloppy, unhygienic patterns A few surprise inspections might be most enlightening.