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Sin Barras Rally at SC County Jail Held in Response to Recent Deaths at Facility
On April 6 the organization Sin Barras, which means "without prison bars" in Spanish, held a rally and march to the Santa Cruz County Jail in response to the four recent deaths of individuals while in custody at the facility. Approximately 100 community members rallied and listened to speeches which were first held at the Town Clock. Courtney Hanson of Sin Barras spoke, stating, "We don't want anymore people dying in that building right down the street on our watch." The group then marched to the County Jail, by way of Pacific Avenue and Ocean Street, where more speakers were heard and a noise demonstration was held.
Organizers announced they had gotten word that inmates were aware of the demonstration and were excited to hear it from inside. This was confirmed as marchers neared the women's wing of the facility, and individuals inside banged on the walls and flashed lights through the opaque windows.
Earlier at the Town Clock, Tash Nguyen of Sin Barras spoke briefly about the four people who died while in custody at the jail and how as a cost cutting procedure, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors voted to outsource the treatment of inmates, which began in September of 2012 by the California Forensic Medical Group. She said the for-profit business has a "history of lawsuits" for "medical neglect and abuse."
"Our jail is seen as a model county that a lot of other sheriff's departments are looking at," Nguyen stated, pointing to the broader implications of conditions at the facility.
According to the Sin Barras press release, those conditions inside the Santa Cruz County Jail amount to "torture."
"We demand that county officials provide real health care for those inside, eliminate pretrial detention, and fund homeless service programs and drug treatment centers outside of jail walls," the press release further stated.
While Sin Barras is acutely focused on conditions inside of the Santa Cruz County Jail, the organization's broader goal is to end the expansion of the prison system, and the self-replicating culture of surveillance and incarceration it produces.
"Fighting to make one jail humane, I don't know what that would look like," Courtney Hanson of Sin Barras said.
"If we were to ask ourselves," she continued, "if any jail could ever be humane, if it could ever be humane to put a human being into a cage when we know that our social and economic problems are much more complex than that."
"So that's why Sin Barras calls themselves a prison abolitionist organization," Hanson explained.
"We will fight for what Angela Davis calls non reformist reforms. We will fight for care so no more inmates die, but we know that historically these demands for reform actually are co opted to expand the entire prison system and build more jails, and we are here to say no to that. We won't let that happen."
Angela Davis has described the process of prison abolition as a long term goal, similar to the process of ending slavery in this country. To Davis, the prison system has become the predominate method with which society has been addressing social problems. This is not only ineffective, and adversely affects the liberty of everyone in society, but the practices are also shaping social relations negatively, Davis says.
Hanson stated that abolition is a, "stretch for our imagination," which wasn't a "surprise," but she emphasized that a shift away from the prison industry and towards community building was key to approaching these issues.
"We live in a society that teaches us that there is no other solution other than surveillance by men in uniform and putting people in cages," Hanson said, "and we know that when community comes together like this that we have a lot of better ideas than that."
Some evidence of this dynamic was visible during the march to the jail. As police sat in multiple patrol vehicles, observing the actions of the marchers, the duty of closing off intersections was undertaken by volunteer participants in the demonstration, aided by the newly formed organization, the Good Samaritan Mobile Medics Unit. The group also provided water and food, and also oversaw trash pickups which were intended to go beyond the simple maintenance of the impact of the event. Their intention was to go beyond that and beautify the areas surrounding the demonstration. The medics unit even announced that they possessed a sharps container and that they were able to dispose safely of used syringes if anyone had happened to spot any at any point along the day's route.
At the Town Clock, and then again later at the jail, Simba Kenyatta, of the Santa Cruz County Community Coalition to Overcome Racism (SCCCCOR), spoke about institutionalized racism and the prison industrial complex. Kenyatta reminded those in attendance how deeply entrenched the prison industry is in American society, noting that the United States has 5% of the world's population, but it has nearly 25% of the world's prisoners.
"These statistics are human beings, they are not just numbers," he said.
Kenyatta discussed the importance of community building, but cautioned that, "the system makes sure that we don't hook up." He encouraged people to communicate these and other important issues to as many people as possible. "We have to hook up with each other or we are dead," he said.
A variety of community members who have been incarcerated spoke.
A man named Warren, who described himself as having been homeless in Santa Cruz since 1995, said he has observed, "many police injustices." He claimed he was falsely accused of a crime and subsequentally it took him 28 court appearances in Santa Cruz over the time period of 18 months before he was acquitted. He emphasized how much money the county wasted with his case.
Speaking in front of the jail, a man named Jerry said he has spent a total of 27 years of his life incarcerated in "shit-holes like this," pointing at the entrance.
He spoke about a recent stay in the Santa Cruz County Jail when he was brought in for being under the influence of methamphetamine. He claims he was "beat down" by three officers during the process. Additionally, he said was not able to get the medication he seriously needed while in custody.
"All they want to do is take your blood pressure to see how your temperature is," he said about the medical care inside of the Santa Cruz county Jail. "That's the kind of medical they have here in this jail, that's the reason why people are dying in there, because they don't care about them."
He also said he felt that the majority of inmates that he has met were not incarcerated for serious crimes, but where arrested based on their status of being homeless.
Jerry, who described himself as being homeless, said that because of it, the police are, "doing everything they can to three strike me out of this town."
"They hate me," he said solemnly.
"Something needs to be done about this, and the only way it's going to get done is just like we are doing today, staying together."
Becky Johnson of Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom also spoke, as did a variety of Bay Area activists, including representatives from Critical Resistance, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, and All of Us or None. The Brass Liberation played during the march and at all points inbetween, including outside the front and back entrances of the jail.
Since August of 2012, four individuals have died while in custody at the Santa Cruz County Jail.
On August 25, 27-year-old Christy Sanders died in the facility. According to supporters, Sanders died in the jail after asking for help, "many times" over the course of the nearly two weeks she was in custody. They claim she had been complaining about not being able to breath and that her requests for help had been "shunned."
On October 6, 59-year-old Rick Prichard was in the facility, and the Sheriff's press release of October 8 stated that he, "suffered an unknown medical emergency," and when on to state that, "the correctional staff and on-site medical staff immediately began resuscitation efforts while summoning fire and paramedics." It was later determined that he died of cardiac arrest.
On November 20, authorities say they found 47-year-old Brant Monnett unconscious in his bunk. The sheriff's press release of November 21 stated that, "medical and corrections staff provided immediate life saving care until relieved by Santa Cruz Fire and AMR paramedics." Authorities say this was inneffective and he was pronounced dead in the facility. Monnett, according to the press release, "had significant history of substance abuse and was suffering from withdrawal symptoms at the time of his death."
On January 13, authorities say they found 47-year-old Bradley Gordon Dreher dead from a suicide in his single cell.
In March, Christy Sanders' Grandfather initiated legal steps against the County of Santa Cruz on behalf of her family. Prior to that in November, supporters opened an account at Chase bank to receive donations for her son.
Sin Barras has planned its next event for Thursday, April 25th from 6-8pm, a community forum titled "No More Jails: Reinvest in Our Communities," with further details to be announced.
For more information about Sin Barras, see:
Becky Johnson of Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom
Marissa and Marielle of Good Samaritan Mobile Medics Unit