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Dear Cathy

Letters from Women Prisoners

Summer 1999

Letter #1

I am blessedly healthy, both physically and mentally, thank God.

This is not about me. I speak out for my sisters who are not, and who cannot or don't know how to speak out for themselves. I speak out because I am angry and frustrated and heartbroken over what I see going on in prison.

I want to speak on a special sister I encounter every day in the med line. She has severe dementia, she recently had cancer surgery. At some point, she must have had a stroke because she has some paralysis in her right leg and arm and has great difficulty walking; needing to stop and rest frequently or grab a pole or a wall for support when she can. I want to help her but I know this sister is proud and that it's important to her that she make it on her own. Her T-cells recently went from 3 to 93, and she proudly announces this to anyone who will listen in her very best five year old voice. She makes me proud and she inspires me. This woman is a fighter. She breaks my heart. If anyone was ever in need of a compassionate release, this woman is. Why is she still here?


Other concerns

  • In December, medication distribution policy changed from issuing anti-HIV meds in monthly allotments to classifying antivirals as "controlled" medications, forcing women to stand in lengthy medication distribution lines 3 times daily in freezing weather and rain this past winter and in extreme heat soon to come this summer. Some women do not have the strength to stand (often in excess of an hour) three times a day. Some women would rather risk their health than lose their right to privacy and anonymity.

  • Recently, the medical department made a small concession and began to issue daily dose bags of protease inhibitors. Only, they still make it necessary for us to stand in line twice daily for the remaining antivirals.

  • There are no special diets for women who have special needs around food, particularly in correlation to medication intake. Statistics say more than 54% of the women inmate population has hepatitis C, yet no healthy (or special) diet exists for people with liver disease.

  • "Resource" (the nutritional supplements) are also treated as a controlled medication and must be opened and consumed under direct observation.

  • Everyone is screened for hepatitis upon entry to the institution. Positive results are reported to the CDC as statistics, but not to the affected inmate. If at some point the inmate wishes to test for hepatitis C, she can request a test which she will be charged $5 for.

  • There is no emergency medical care available, and virtually little or no access to an HIV specialist.

  • Prescriptions are routinely filled days late (sometimes longer) forcing unwanted drug holidays.

The list goes on folks. I could write all day. I hope you get the idea. I pray that you get angry, I pray that you fight back and at least write a letter.

Judy Ricci

P.S. I forgot to add that there is at least one woman here still on AZT monotherapy. Are you amazed? So am I.

Send letters

Please send letters of support for our cause to the HIV in Prison committee 2940 - 16th Street. Room #100, San Francisco, Ca. 94103 or you can write to the California Department of Corrections, or write Judy Ricci directly:

Judy Ricci, W69939 * 511-16-1L
P.O. Box 1508
Chowchilla, CA 93610

Note from Cathy

I wanted to thank you all for the many letters I have received from our sisters "inside." Due to space limitations it is impossible to print all of them word for word. Please keep those cards and letters coming. We will do our best to publish all of your concerns in future issues of Women Alive. Keep up the fight, and know that there are a lot of us out here fighting for changes in the system and fighting for you.

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This article was provided by Women Alive. It is a part of the publication Women Alive Newsletter.
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