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They Don't Triple Bunk Dogs!

by Boston Woodard (c/o MikeRhodes [at]
Overcrowding and the Medical Crisis in California State Prisons
They Don't Triple Bunk Dogs!
Overcrowding and the Medical Crisis
In California State Prisons
By Boston Woodard

Pick up a newspaper, turn on your favorite TV news station, tune into a local radio talk show and listen to the buzz. Everyone is talking about the "Prison Health Care Crisis" and the "Inhumane Prison Overcrowding" bloating the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) prison system.

What you are reading, seeing and hearing are a lot of charts, numbers, predictions and comments from dozens of disingenuous vote-seeking politicians and prison officials. They are promoting their "cure" for the out-of-control catastrophe happening right now behind the walls of the entire California prison system.

What you are not reading, seeing and hearing about are all the personal horror stories of specific prisoners who are suffering, being mis-diagnosed and neglected by prison medical staff. It is well documented that prison officials have allowed this mistreatment to go on intentionally for many years. The entire prison system has gone mad with deceit, secrecy and greed at the expense of prisoner's health and California taxpayers.

Now, just like previous state governors, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has promised "Fantastic Prison Reform." This was before he decided to crawl into bed with the state's powerful prison guard's union, the California Correctional Peace Officer's Association (CCPOA).

In February this year, Robert Sillen, the former director of the Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital system, was appointed by U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson. Sillen was appointed to revamp medical care inside California prisons blamed an inept state bureaucracy, the governor and lawmakers for the prison crisis and suggested he would send federal marshals to Sacramento to seize money if legislators and Schwarzenegger don't provide sufficient funding to improve care for the state's 173,000 prisoners.

Health care and overcrowding has been in a tailspin for many years. The problem accelerated during the mid-l990's when (then) Gov. Pete Wilson changed the policy allowing media access to individual/specific prisoners who had legitimate concerns regarding prison issues that included health care and overcrowding.

Gov. Wilson also stopped a twenty year plus policy of prisoners writing the media confidentially (in sealed envelopes), without incident., by claiming it was an "institutional safety and security" matter. His claim was baseless and without merit. He duped the public into believing absolute nonsense without a shred of evidence to support his lies.

During the mid-1990s, the media ban served prison officials well preventing public knowledge of incidents. Consider the boiling alive of prisoner Vonn Dortch at Pelican Bay State Prison, the departments policy of encouraging the use of deadly force (high-powered rifle fire) to break up fist fights on prison yards; and the lack of overall medical and mental health treatment of prisoners, their deaths, permanent injuries and disabilities.

If prisoners with legitimate claims want to inform the media of a problem behind the walls, his or her only options are to write the problem in an unsealed letter which will be heavily censored by prison officials, or, by way of a collect phone call that is recorded and monitored.

If either of these methods reveal a claim of prison staff misconduct or a serious unhealthy living condition, that piece of mail will be confiscated or that phone call will be ubruptly terminated. The prisoner may be subjected to disciplinary action or confined to an isolation cell "pending investigation" of a fabricated rule violation.

The CDCR has an estimated $8.7 billion budget. And as mentioned, 173,000 prisoners. There are 33 state prisons that were designed for about half of the present population. Overcrowding has gotten so bad that more than 16,000 convicts are sleeping in gymnasiums and TV/day rooms. Another 117,000 are out on the streets, with 70 percent of them likely to return to prison within three years.

Solano State Prison in Vacaville California is an example of severe overcrowding and medical health for prisoners at its worst. There are over 6,000 prisoners in Solano. The prison was designed for less than half of that. The prisoners are seperated on four yards, numbers #1
through #4.

Yards #1 and #2 house "level three" prisoners and yards #3 and #4 house "level two prisoners. A convict's level is determined by a point system that allows a prisoner to be housed in a more minimum security facility. A convict must be involved for many years, "programing" in order to be placed in a level two institution.

Level two is supposedly for lower custody prisoners who have earned the right to more or better programming. You will have a hard time convincing the men in Solano's level two facility of that.

Yard #3 has six buildings that house approximately 1,600 prisoners. The older buildings were designed to hold 160 men. Today, there are 348 men crammed into tiny spaces so small that the Humane Society would order it shut down if animals were living there. According to the law, the space would be inadequate for dogs.

Full grown men are forced to sleep in "triple bunks" that are welded into spaces designed for a single bunk. Triple bunks are small beds stacked three high with barely enough room for a man to turn over while laying in them. They look like three coffins stacked one on the other with the sides removed. They don't triple bunk dogs!

The buildings are filthy, covered with dirt and thick dust all over the ceiling, bird-droppings abound and putrid smells waft throughout the building. There is no perminant air-flow and summer temperatures rise to over 100̊ inside the buildings.

There is nothing a prisoner can do to cool down. With 348 bodies stuffed into a space designed for 160, it's mind boggling how the convicts deal with these forced, deplorable conditions day in and day out. It takes a lot of courage.

Building #13 on three yard has 18 toilets for 348 men. There are no urinals. It’s a men's prison. NO URINALS! Most days convicts have to wait in long lines to use one of the few toilets available. Mornings are the worst time. Some men have had to deficate into plastic or paper bags because they could not wait for one of the few toilets. Others have been forced to urinate into empty cans or plastic bottles because their bladders were aout to explode.

Four small shower areas have a total of 15 shower heads in Building #13, not nearly enough for the hundreds of men who live there. Some men have to wait for hours most days in order to bathe. Recently, the prison's administration decided that an inadequate shower program wasn't bad enough so they had shower timers installed to shut the water off various times throughout the day. There is never enough time for everyone to shower.

Some convicts are made to work in filthy kitchen areas and in the prison's laundry, were temperatures can rise to 120̊ during the summer, wait for hours to shower; that is if the timers are on. Other prisoners have to stand in the toilet stalls and take what is called a prison "bird-bath," using a cup or an empty bottle to pour water over their heads from several small sinks that line the wall of the bathroom.

The gymnasium between yards #3 and #4 are no longer used for prisoner exercise. It now houses hundreds of men who are also stuffed into triple bunks. Like all housing units in Solano, the gymnasium is scortching hot in the summer. The ventilation is poor, mold and mildew grows throughout the toilet and shower area and the noise can be deafening. There are plans to install additional beds in the gymnasium.

Solano's medical situation is as bad as it gets. It is out-of-control with negligence and incompetence. The prisons "Satellite Clinic” is located in a small alley between yards #3 and #4. Just outside the clinic door, literally a few short feet away, are the kitchen's garbage dumpsters that are thick with flies and foul smells that permeate the inside of the clinic. At various times, a waste disposal truck parks just outside the clinic door and sucks up all the filth and greese that collects in traps under the asphalt.

Prisoners have to wait for hours for their pain, psychiatric and insulin medications. Those with open wounds requiring dressing changes wait up to five or six hours, standing with crutches in some cases, before they are attended to.

Water from a hose out back of the kitchen frequently floods the small ground-level waiting room in the Satellite Clinic. The hose is used to wash garbage from around the dumpsters and flows into the clinic from under the door. Foul smelling water is squeegied and mopped up by a clinic porter then everyone acts as if nothing had just occurred.

Many of the so called "medical staff" in Solano's Satellite Clinic are uncompassionate and incompetent. There is (what they suggest) a triage system to evaluate and determine the seriousness of a prisoners complaint. If your blood pressure "seems normal" and your temperature "seems OK," your name will be shuffled into a large stack of medical issues from other prisoners who have yet to be seen by a doctor.

Men with oozing infections, shortness of breath, swollen necks, obvious severe skin rashes, abscessed teeth, liver problems, and the list goes on, all have to wait exorbitant amounts of time before being seen by one of Solano's doctors, if they are lucky.

Many of the complaints regarding the medical process at Solano are not with the doctors personally, they are about the incompetent MTA's (medical technician assistants), many of the nurses and other prison medical workers who either do not do their jobs or ignore doctor's orders and medical policies.

Federal court appointee Robert Sillen stated that, "The medical system," which previously had been criticized by federal court officials as so depraved, ". . .inmates were needlessly dying," was in worse shape than first described and that his remedies would have to be more dramatic and far reaching than previously envisioned.

Take for example the recent case of a prisoner at Solano who was given the run around after complaining about an abscessed tooth. He was neglected by the medical department to the point that he died shortly after being rushed to an outside hospital for treatment he needed months before his death. Consider the case of another young man who had tuberculosis (TB) when he arrived at Solano. He was ordered to work in the prison's kitchen around food that was being served to thousands of other prisoners. The medical department failed to do their job allowing this man to be placed in the general population subjecting others to his illness. He too was rushed to an outside hospital but not before it was too late. He also died.

"There is no way we're going to get the constitutional medical care standards with current overcrowding," said Sillen. "If the state wants its system back, it will eventually have to address that."

Schwarzenegger called a special legislative session to address the state's inhumane, grossly overcrowded prison system. The governor argued that severe overcrowding could lead to a federal takeover of the entire system and the early release of "thousands" of prisoners.

Gubernatorial spokesman Adam Mendelsohn has said, "Under no circumstances, is releasing felons before their time is served an appropriate method to address overcrowding."

Sillen said health care delivery in prison is without a doubt hampered by overcrowding but that it is "premature" for him to talk of drastic changes that confront political opposition like early release.

Sillen's report was described as "ominous" by one state senator for its implication that Sillen might demand major changes to state government.

In another scathing report by John Hagar, a special investigator working for Federal District Court Judge Thelton Henderson with two prison related cases before him, Hagar said, "after two years of the most productive prison reform in state history, Schwarzenegger had begun retreating with his Chief of Staff, Susan Kennedy, and another top aide granting the guard's union, the CCPOA, a disturbing level of clout over prison management decissions."

Hagar complained that the Schwarzenegger administration is cozier with the powerful CCPOA than with the governor's appointed prison director.

These reports describe, "a web of incompatence in the department [of corrections] that has simply chosen to ignore it's problems," said Senator Gloria Romero, D—Los Angeles.

Solano State Prison could very well be the poster child for severe overcrowding and atrocious medical services for prisoners, but truth be known, there are other prisons throughout California that are certain to explode if relief does not come soon.

Writer's Note:

On May 9, 2006, I was rushed via ambulance to Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa California from Solano State Prison in Vacaville. I had a serious bacterial infection throughout my entire body that was killing me according to a doctor in Napa. After weeks of Solano's medical staff repeatedly telling me that there was "nothing wrong" with me, and that I would be placed on a waiting list to see a doctor, I almost died.

While I was being told by these geniuses I was "fine" and "OK,' I had a bacterial poison festering in my body. Even after numerous requests by me to be examined, not one medical staff looked at me. If they took a simple blood test early on, oral antibiotics would have done the job; this according to a doctor at Queen of the Valley Hospital. After many tests in Napa it is still a mystery how I became infected.

Days before I was admitted to Queen of the Valley Hospital, I was running a very high temperature. I could not walk or use my right arm. My shoulder swelled to twice it's size and my left foot looked like a football with toes. The infection was trying to burst it's way out of my body.

I had to piss in a bottle because I could not make the fifteen feet to the toilet that probably had someone sitting on it.

The day before I was taken by ambulance, several of the guards made numerous attempts by phone to inform the medical department my situation was fast becoming "very serious." Ultimately, the only way I was able to get some attention from medical, was one of the guards pushed his personal alarm and called in a "medical code." This is the absolute last thing that can be done by custody staff (the guards) in order to make the medical department do it's job.

After the alarm was sounded, I was carried by a half dozen convicts on a stretcher from the housing unit and placed on a small, medical transportation vehicle and brought to the infamous
Satellite Clinic.

I laid on a gourny inside the clinic for many hours in severe pain. Later that evening, and after months of being shuffled around with no one in the medical department paying attention to my problem, I was seen by a doctor; Dr. Noriega.

After examining me for a few minutes, Dr. Noriega told me that I was being transferred ‘immediately" to a hospital outside the prison. Dr. Noriega told me that my situation was "bad" and that I will be taken care of at Queen of the Valley.

I spent six weeks and a day at Queen of the Valley. It was determined by doctors there that the three surgeries 11 had were required to drain the poison from my body. Massive amounts of a powerful antibiotic were pumped into me for over a month.

I could not walk and my right arm was pretty much useless. I spent four weeks in the Acute Rehabilitation Unit (ARU) going through a very intense and painful rehabilitative process. I had to literally learn to walk all over again, this, with the help of many physical and occupational therapists. It took four weeks of therapy to regain some use back in my right arm. I could not move my arm without experiencing pain throughout my entire shoulder, neck and upper back areas.

It took six weeks, costing tens of thousands of taxpayers dollars to clean up the incompetence of Solano State Prison's medical department. It should never have came to that. Other medical cases similar to mine, many more serious, are going on right now throughout the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

It's frightening to think that I could have been a statistic on Solano's now infamous body count list due to poor medical conditions behind these walls. It is absolutely criminal that there are still many men suffering and fighting for their lives, struggling to get the proper, and in many cases, basic medical care they desperately need.

We can only hope that Mr. Silien does the right thing as soon as possible. We prisoners need help and we need it fast before more men needlessly die.


Boston Woodard is a prisoner/journalist who has written for the San Quentin News and the Soledad Star, and edited The Communicator. The Department of Corrections has pulled the plug on all three publications.
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Comments (Hide Comments)
by they also triple bunk college students
says alot, doesn't it?
I can't believe that the medical staff at the prison are more neglectful of the prisoners than the gaurds are. Do they need to be better staffed or what? Or they just assume that prisoners are making believe that they are ill so they can go to a hospital and then try to escape.

College students may have three bunks to a room, but I hardly think that they are crowded into a single 6ft tall space as these prisoners are.

In any case, it is clear that the non-violent drug offenders need to be let out of prison immediately. Especially if their only crime was personal use and posession. What happened to prop 36 anyway?
by Dawn (whybefade [at]
I really don’t care about these convicts, inmates, felons, killers, murders, pedophiles, rapists, or even the petty thieves and drug users. Most of these people are a menace to society.

What I don’t understand, is why you don’t get the training to get a job with CDCR and change the system from within. And then you can help all of these poor convicts that would certainly stab you in the back for a pack of cigarettes or some drugs.

You could not pay me enough to work in that negative, violent and nasty environment… And why don’t you ever write about the good men and women who chose that job to support their families? The officers that these inmates beat up, stab, spit on, and through their diseased bodily fluids in their faces. And NO, their all not provoked. One lady (43yrs old) was searching an inmate and found some drugs on him. So he beat her in the face until she was unconscious so he would not lose the drugs. And I’m sure that he went back to his friends and they all got a laugh about it.

You see, I work in a hospital where they bring these so called victims in. And let me tell you, I would love to be a prison guard and put a bullet in most of their heads!!

The inmates are rude, inconsiderate, and disrespectful to me and the other hospital staff. For some reason they all a sense of entitlement, event the female inmates. I want this, I want that, give me this type of medication, take me up to a room, give me a room with a TV, I’m hungry bring me some food, etc. And of course the inmates try to get on psychotropic medications so when they get out they can draw a check through the State Disability Insurance.

If you religious or not, one thing everyone understands is an eye for an eye. You hurt someone; you go to prison and suffer the consequences. And if that means you have to sleep three to a bunk bed and piss in a bottle, then so be it. I certainly don’t want these men running the streets where my friends and family live victimizing us!

by Sister of Terminally Ill CDC Inmate
I am the sister of a terminally ill CDC Inmate. I was 12 years old when my brother was convicted for first degree murder & sentenced to a term of 25 to life. He has now served over 24 years for this crime.

The men who are in these jails made the choice to break the laws of our society, and for violent offendors, I beleive that they must be kept out of society for as long as possible.

The problem is the structure of the institutions themselves. The inmates have been allowed to form their own inner societies and social pecking orders that are brutal to the extreme. Gang leaders can run nationwide cartels from inside prison walls, they can order hits, drugs are prolific, rape and gambling common place. This in turn hardens or "institutionalizes" inmates as they must live day to day in a war zone & learn all the ways to survive on the inside. Inmates who generate earnings from illegal activities both from inside and outside the jail walls can use money to increase their power and influence in the prison. Those who do not have the financial resources or are not committing additional crimes to generate earnings while inside are screwed.

Inmates learn right away how to survive inside by doing anything to get what they need. They will lie, con, cajole, threaten, steal, take by force, blame, place guilt upon other family members in order to get what they want. They are in such a brutal and precarious living situation that they don't even think twice about it anymore....then we expect them to get released into society and be able to function normally?

In prison, letting someone ahead of you in line could cost you your reputation or get you marked as a "bitch". You could be considered weak and would subsequently lose rank & status.

In society, letting someone ahead of you in line is or giving them your seat is considered a polite gesture.. how can these guys learn to tell the difference after 10, 15, 20 + years?

In order to lessen the overcrowding situation, CA needs to start reducing mandatory sentencing guidelines for non-violent / no-victim offenders, drug related crimes etc. and start parolling these prisoners OUT as soon as possible. Early release of someone who grew a field of marijuana is probably a better parole risk than a multiple murderer.

I do not want my brother to suffer to such extremes as the current housing conditions he is subject to at CDC Solano, however, he made the choice to take a life and now the qualify of his life is no longer in his control.

Let's get the druggies out and legalize marijuana, tax the hell out of it and use the proceeds for social services and after school programs for kids who don't have a positive role model in the home. Let's also start paying our public school teachers a living wage so we can entice well qualified and caring individuals to these positions who can make a difference in a childs future.

by Zenith
So many people assume that all these inmates are rapists, child molesters, murderers, etc. The words "convicted felon" insinuate just that type of image in people's minds. However, there are many people in prison that are completely non violent, well educated, kind hearted people who are absolutely terrified and lost in the prison system. I am not saying they have done no wrong--but people are in there for minor drug charges, forgery, technical probation violations (missing an appt, etc). I was incarcerated for calling in a refill on a hydrocodone cough syrup prescription. I was addicted to this medication, and I was formerly a registered nurse. I had no other criminal history. Those in my prison unit of 48 women included four other nurses, two pharmacists, an attorney, several kindly elderly ladies, and a variety of businesswomen. Almost no one was there for a violent crime.
I saw a woman die, in her thirties, from untreated pneumonia, after begging and begging for treatment, and the only people who attempted to do CPR on her were the nurse-inmates. The medical staff took 45 minutes to arrive after being called for the dead woman, and then refused to touch her. I saw another woman, doubled over in agony and with a belly that looked 9 months pregnant from fluid buildup due to liver failure, who was jaundiced as a carrot and close to death. She waited 8 hours to be seen--unable to move from the hard metal bench or even to use the restroom--only to be given tylenol and cruelly taunted by those fine correctional officers for her appearance. I saw another woman--a girl, really, just 18--who had lost her front teeth, get brutally humiliated by those wonderful brave CO's who made lewd sexual references as to what she could do now that she had no front teeth until she broke down in tears. I saw a physician's assistant tell a young girl who had severe staph infected boils all over her face, tell her that she must somehow be deliberately causing these boils just to show him up (because his "treatment" didn't work).
Please realize that these are all human beings, and as one CO told me once, the only difference between the inmates and most of the CO's is that they got caught and the CO's didn't. Most people have done something arrestable at some point in their lives--not everyone, but the majority of people--but as long as you got away with it and then went on to grow out of your foolishness or get treatment for your addiction (like our president, or Rush Limbaugh), you are seen as a decent person worthy of decent treatment. However, if you are poor, unlucky, etc and you end up incarcerated, suddenly you are looked at as lower than low, the scum of the earth, undeserving of even the care given a dog, and the people who torment, neglect and mistreat you are above reproach--fine men and women who can do whatever they like to those in their custody with the full support of the citizens.

Please realize that not everyone in prison is the type of person who will stick a shank in your back, attempt an escape, beat a guard at any opportunity, etc. Many of them are just regular people who did something foolish and got caught, and most of whom would benefit far more from treatment, rather than incarceration. Also, many are mentally ill/mentally retarded, and their "crimes" are more in the nature of chronic homelessness and inability to take care of themselves. These people are left to disintegrate into madness, to commit suicide, etc. This is NOT ok.

Most inmates are not sentenced to death--and even those that ARE are sentenced to a HUMANE death--not one of neglect and medical torture. The true reflection of a civilization can be seen in how it treats it's prisoners.
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