Texas’ Minimum Security Death Row for Women


Pamela Weatherby

The Jesse R. Dawson State Jail, in Dallas, Texas, is a minimum-security prison for women. Corrections Corporation of America, CCA, runs the jail and turns a tidy profit doing so. Actually, the profit is messy and bloody. Dawson State Jail is a hellhole, literally a death trap for women.

Wendy King spent a year at Dawson. She knew that she and her sisters and her mother all have uterine problems. When she started bleeding, she called immediately for a doctor. None ever came. Ever. She bled continuously for nine months. No doctor ever came.

And Wendy King is one of the `lucky ones.’

Ashleigh Shae Parks, 30 years old, died of pneumonia. Her family, and others, say she was denied medication until way too late. Pamela Weatherby, 45 years old, died. Weatherby was taken off her prescribed insulin injections, and repeatedly went into diabetic coma. Until finally she died. Sheeba Green, 50 years old, suffered from diarrhea and difficulty breathing. Nobody did anything for a full three days. When she was finally allowed to go to the medical unit at Dawson, she lay for a full three hours before anyone even looked at her. Seven hours later, a doctor finally called an ambulance. The next day, Sheeba Green died of complications due to pneumonia.

Autumn Miller was in Dawson for a probation violation. She was in for a year. Miller knew something was wrong. She asked for a PAP smear and for a pregnancy test. She was denied. As time wore on, cramps and pain increased. Finally, one night, her pains became too intense for guards to ignore, and they took Miller down to the `medical unit’. Of course, there are no doctors at Dawson overnight, and so guards `took care’ of Miller, or, better put, took care of business.

The guards said Miller merely had to go to the bathroom, and so they gave her a menstrual pad and locked her in a holding cell. Despite Miller’s pleas, nobody came in to check, and so Autumn Miller gave birth to Gracie Miller, in the holding cell toilet. Guards then came in, shackled and handcuffed the mother, and took mother and daughter to the hospital. Gracie died four days later, in her shackled mother’s handcuffed arms.

Autumn Miller’s story is one of love and grief: “I kissed the baby and told her I loved her, and then I had to get back in the van and go to Dawson…. It’s unfortunate that it had to go this far for us to get to the point that someone noticed that something is wrong.” Her attorneys are more direct: “Autumn is traumatized and Gracie is dead.”

On Friday, Autumn Miller joined the ranks of women survivors and of families of women who died currently suing CCA and the State of Texas.

Advocates, prisoners current and former, politicians and just plain folk are campaigning to close Dawson. Others wonder, “Why is Texas’ worst state jail still open?” Why? Because the lives of women literally count for less than nothing.

Gracie Miller, Autumn Miller, Sheeba Green, Pamela Weatherby, Ashleigh Parks, Wendy King are the visible tip of an underground volcano that stretches across the United States, from sea to shining sea and beyond. These women were never meant to survive, and in many instances they did not.

Their deaths were planned. Their deaths, the harm done, the suffering were planned. Look at the books, look at the budgets, follow the money. You’ll see. Gracie Miller was never meant to survive. And she did not.


(Image Credit: Texas Observer)