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News Inside

A Column for Women Prisoners

Spring 1999

Between a Rock & A Hard Place

By Beverly Henry

My name is Beverly. I am HIV positive. I currently live at CCWF/Chowchilla. I have a very hard time trying to understand why a Facility this large would, be unable or unwilling to properly care for and monitor HIV/AIDS prisoners?

Now as a society, you must feel our medical care here at CCWF rates a "10". Well, feel again, because there are very few if anyone in our "locked up society" who would rate the Medical Department with a "1"! Being here daily provides me with an in-depth view of how callous our Medical Providers can be.

I am not a Prison Peer Educator. I am an Activist for my sisters behind these walls, who are in need of better medical care. I have a wealth of information concerning AIDS. I am unable to fight CCWF's Medical Department ALONE! My days end with discouragement and defeat. I will not stop trying to give support and information.

This week as one of my sisters who I refer to as "My Silent Lamb" struggles with pain, stress, and fear since being told: "Your liver is gone, your T4 count is 16, you have about 4 months to live, so, enjoy it." She is in my Unit, on the yard where most identified Positives live. Don't think that this yard is better than any other yard.

No authority has relieved her from her job. Thank God, her Supervisor has had compassion these past few days, by allowing her to rest. Medical has not issued her a wheelchair. No matter what she's feeling I watch her trudge to Meal Line, Med Line and I see her strength and determination.

My "Silent Lamb" speaks with her sparkling blue eyes; yet I see the pain and fear she deals with everyday. After all the "Silent Lambs" get cared for properly around CCWF, then and ONLY then will my fight be won.

The Advocate/Activist, Beverly Henry, W72830 510-06-02L, P.O. Box 1508-CCWF, Chowchilla, Ca. 93610.

Policy Wreaks Havoc in Women's Prison

By Judy Greenspan

A medical crisis of major proportions is jeopardizing the lives of HIV+ women at the Central California Women's Facility -- the California prison where most of the "identified" female HIV+ prisoners are now incarcerated. A recent visit by members of the HIV in Prison Committee of California Prison Focus revealed that women are being forced to stop taking their life-extending HIV medications because of a new "hot med" policy.

At the end of December, the prison administration changed how HIV medications are dispensed. Prior to this change, most women received a monthly dosage of their pills which they would take in their cells, thus protecting their confidentiality (many of the HIV+ women are not open about their HIV status). This enabled them to adhere to their particular drug regimen. Now, HIV medications are treated as "hot meds," forcing HIV+ women (in various stages of the disease) to stand on pill call line, 3 times a day to be observed taking their medications by staff with hundreds of women on line next to them.

Additionally, women are forced to hold up and open their cans of ensure in front of medical staff before they can take them back to their cells.

A Violation of Rights

Needless to say, HIV+ women are outraged and feel that their rights are being violated by this new policy. A group grievance signed by 20 HIV+ women prisoners indicates that many women are opting to stop taking their medications. The grievance states, "It's causing HIV positive women to be discouraged from taking their anti-virals because of the long pill line, standing for long periods of time in the cold, rainy weather, also the fact that confidentiality will be breached and long waits in line will cause late programming."

"We're being denied one of our doses on Sundays and holidays because there is no mid-day med line."

Judy Ricci, an HIV+ woman prisoner activist, writes:

Denied Doses

"Not only does this policy affect those of us who do take medication (you know -- every 8 hours, with different needs around food intake in correlation to med taking) but now we're being denied one of our doses on Sundays and holidays because there is no mid-day med line on those days. It's like they're going out of their way to make sure that there's no possible way any of us could follow these complicated drug schedules that are difficult to adhere to in the best of situations.

"I think this must be criminal. I mean, I don't know a lot about law. Even with my limited knowledge about meds, I knew when I committed to take them that it was a commitment for the rest of my life. If I, with my limited understanding, know the gravity of my situation and the seriousness of my drug regimen. They, as medical professionals certainly understand much better than I do.

"How then, do you have that kind of knowledge and still, not only neglect, but systematically and with malice, sabotage a whole population's medical treatment? How can I view it any other way?"

For those of us who have been fighting to win greater access to HIV medications for HIV+ women prisoners, this new policy is alarming. We are asking you to write a letter today to CCWF's Warden, Teena Farmon, P.O. Box 1501, Chowchilla, CA 93610; Fax No. 559.665.7158 (with a copy to Director C.A. Terhune), California Department of Corrections, P.O. Box 942883, Sacramento, CA 94283; Fax 916.322.2877.

Dear Warden Farmon:

I am deeply concerned about recent changes at CCWF making HIV medications "hot meds." We fear that this new policy will force women to quit taking their medications due to concerns about confidentiality and long hours spent standing in pill call lines. Women who are feeling weak or ill will opt to miss doses rather than stand outside in the rain and cold. We urge you to dispense HIV medications in prison the same as they are dispensed on the street and allow the women the dignity to dose themselves in the privacy of their cells.


cc: Director C.A. Terhune

For more information, contact the HIV in Prison Committee of California Prison Focus, 2940 l6th Street, #100, San Francisco, CA 94103; 510.533.2590. If you would like to send letters of support to the women inside, please write to Judy Ricci, W69939, Natalie Baret, W72142, or Beverly Henry, W72830, P.O. Box 1508, Chowchilla, CA 93610-1508.

Resources for Prisoners

Editors Note: We at Women Alive are aware that situations such as those mentioned in the "Inside News" article are happening in women's prisons all over the country. If you are an incarcerated woman and are in need of help, here is a partial listing of agencies that offer services to prisoners:

ACLU National Prison Project -- AIDS in Prison Project -- Attn: Jackie Walker, 1875 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 410, Washington, D.C., 20009

Alliance for Inmates with AIDS, 80 Fifth Ave., Suite 1501, New York, NY 10011, (Inmates can call collect to 215.545.2212).

For a more complete listing of resources (including regional agencies) please write to POZ: 349 W. 12th St. New York, NY 10014 Re: Prisoner Resource List. Or you may also write to Women Alive (Attn. Cathy Lopez), 1566 S. Burnside Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90019

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