Marcelina Gaingos, Victoria Ugalde, and Destiny Hoffman refuse to be forgotten in jails and holding cells

Marcelina Gaingos

On Friday, December 8, 2017, in Windhoek, Namibia, Marcelina Gaingos was picked up for violating a restriction order. Police deposited her in a cell at the police station and left. Marcelina Gaingos stayed in that cell for three days, without food or water and without a bed. Marcelina Gaingos is 34 years old, and was pregnant at the time of her arrest. Marcelina Gaingos was released after three days, largely, perhaps only, because her family raised a ruckus. Traumatized, weak, starving, she was taken to hospital. Then she was immediately taken into custody, and released again, two days later, without any charges being filed. Two weeks later, she went to the doctor for a check-up. The doctor informed her that the fetus had died. According to Marcelina Gaingos, ““The doctors say it was due to the cold and dehydration.” What happened to Marcelina Gaingos? The police “forgot”?

In January 2017, Denver, Colorado, police arrested Victoria Ugalde for an unpaid parking ticket. The police took Victoria Ugalde to a holding cell, handcuffed her to a bench, and left, for 13 hours. Although there was a toilet in the cell, because she was chained to the bench, Victoria Ugalde couldn’t use it. Victoria Ugalde recalls, “They forgot about me. I was looking in the camera, I was [saying] ‘Can anybody help me?’ And then, nobody … I was crying. I cried a lot. Because I had to use the bathroom right there. I started praying and talked to God and he told me, ‘I’m here … don’t worry, I’m with you.'” A month later, another unnamed woman suffered the same experience in the same holding cells. They “forgot”.

In 2014, Destiny Hoffman, 34 at the time, was sentenced to 48 hours in the Clark County, Indiana, jail, for having violated a drug court program. Destiny Hoffman spent 154 days behind bars. Why? The judge “forgot”. The judge also “forgot” to hold a hearing or provide Destiny Hoffman with legal counsel. The only reason Destiny Hoffman was released, after 154, was that a Clark County Deputy Prosecutor looked at her file and realized that everything was wrong. Now Destiny Hoffman is part of a civil rights law suit against Clark County. She’s one of 40 plaintiffs. Ashleigh Hendricks-Santiago was sentenced to 72 days in jail, and spent more than five months behind bars. The judge “forgot”.

The police forgot. The judge forgot. The State forgot. This forgetting is public policy, and it happens to women in jails and police stations around the world. When the State “forgets” that your living, breathing, human body is in its custody, that’s abandonment. Across the globe, police station holding cells and jails – the real wilderness of criminal justice – constitute a global archipelago of zones of abandonment, which appear temporary but are not. Ask the women who were abandoned for hours and days in holding cells; ask the women who were abandoned for months in jails. They’ll tell you. The experience of State abandonment is meant to leave permanent scars in individuals, families and whole communities. It’s a State policy that identifies individuals and communities as already dead and forgotten. Victoria Ugalde is suing the Denver police. Destiny Hoffman, Ashleigh Hendricks-Santiago and 38 others are suing Clark County. Marcelina Gaingos is considering action. These women refuse to forget and refuse to be forgotten. Never forget.

Victoria Ugalde

What happened to Tanna Jo Fillmore and Madison Jensen? The routine torture in Utah’s jails

Tanna Jo Fillmore

Last year, within one week, two women, Tanna Jo Fillmore and Madison Jensen, “were found dead” in their cells in the Duchesne County Jail, in Utah. Their deaths are still shrouded in mystery and official obfuscation. Their families are still grieving as they seek answers and, even more, an end to the violence against women in Utah jails. On November 15, 2016, 25-year-old Tanna Jo Fillmore was deposited in the Duchesne County Jail, for parole violation. On Thanksgiving Day, she was found hanging in her cell. The following weekend, in response to her parents’ plea for help, Madison Jensen was taken to the Duchesne County Jail. Within the next four days, she lost anywhere from 17 to 42 pounds, reports vary. What doesn’t vary is the excruciating pain of her final hours and days. Tanna Jo Fillmore and Madison Jensen join the circle of Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Christina Tahhahwah, Amy Lynn Cowling, Ashley Ellis, Kellsie Green, Joyce Curnell, Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, and so many other women who have died in excruciating pain in America’s jails. They also join the circle of Heather Ashton Miller and all the other women who have died, recently, in Utah’s jails and prisons. What happened to Tanna Jo Fillmore and Madison Jensen? The routine torture of prison state’s war on drugs.

According to Melany Zoumadakis, Tanna Jo Fillmore’s mother, when Tanna Jo Fillmore was taken to Duchesne County Jail, her parole officer assured the mother that her daughter would be placed on suicide watch. That never happened. Many things never happened. Melany Zoumadakis was never informed by the jail of her daughter’s death, and she’s still waiting for information: “I don’t know if she was alive when they found her. I don’t know if she was fully dead and if they tried to shock her heart and bring her back. No one will talk to me … I am the mom and until you lose a child, you don’t know the pain it causes.”

Tanna Jo Fillmore entered Duchesne County Jail on a probation violation. In fact, that was a death sentence.

If possible, Madison Jensen’s story is worse. Madison Jensen threatened to commit suicide. Madison Jensen’s mother was seriously ill, and so her father, Jared Jensen, desperate for help, called the police. The police took her in, dumped her in Duchesne County Jail, where she was denied access to her medications. For whatever reason, she could not hold down anything, not food, not water. She begged for help. Her cellmate begged for help. None came. She died, a slow and excruciating death. According to Matt Finch, an opiate withdrawal recovery specialist, “She was going through opioid withdrawal syndrome and antidepressant withdrawal. I can’t even imagine how much pain she was going through.” Jared Jensen can imagine: “My daughter went in there to save her own life and now she comes out deceased.”

We must all imagine the pain, if we are to end the policies and practices that have produced that pain, across the country, from one jail to the next. A woman loses 17 pounds, at the very least, in four days, begs and screams for help, vomits through the whole period, can’t move, and the staff response is … policy doesn’t allow her to take her necessary medication because the institution is a “narcotics free zone”? That more than narcotics free. That’s a zone free of humanity, and it’s where we all live. What happened to Tanna Jo Fillmore and Madison Jensen? The routine torture of women in jails in Utah and across the United States.

Madison Jensen

(Photo Credit 1: Salt Lake Tribune) (Photo Credit 2: Salt Lake Tribune)

The nation-State of Jane Doe: Torture in Texas

Welcome to the nation of Jane Doe, where State violence forces women into anonymity. Last week, two Jane Doe cases garnered national attention. In one case, a rape survivor was jailed for more than a month to “ensure” she would be present at her rapist’s trial. In the second, a U.S. citizen was forced to undergo body cavity searches at the U.S. – Mexico border. Meet Jane Doe; she is the face, body and name of citizenship in the United States today.

Last Thursday, “the ACLU of Texas and the ACLU of New Mexico announced a record settlement in which U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) paid a New Mexico woman $475,000 for illegally subjecting her to vaginal and anal searches after she was detained at the Cordova Bridge point of entry in El Paso … Last year the University Medical Center of El Paso paid the same woman — referred to in the lawsuit as Jane Doe to protect her privacy — a $1.1 million settlement for its collusion in the invasive searches.”

Jane Doe’s story began in 2012, as she crossed the El Paso’s Cordova Bridge from Mexico to the United States. A drug-sniffing dog alerted border agents that Jane Doe was carrying drugs. The agents conducted a strip search at the station, using a flashlight to examine her genitals and anus. Finding nothing, the agents sent Jane Doe to University Medical Center, where Jane Doe was forced to undergo observed bowel movement, an X-ray, a speculum exam of her vagina, a bimanual vaginal and rectal exam, and a CT scan. There was no warrant and Jane Doe never consented to anything. Finding nothing, border agents gave Jane Doe “a choice”: sign a medical consent form or pay for the hospital “services.” Jane Doe refused to sign, and received a bill of $5,488.51.

Jane Doe sued and last week won. According to Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas, “This result could not have been achieved without Ms. Doe’s courage and perseverance. Had she succumbed to the threats of CBP agents and remained silent, who knows how many others might have suffered a similarly despicable experience.”

In another case, in 2013, a different Jane Doe was raped, in Houston, Texas. This Jane Doe lives with bipolar disorder. Three years later, in December 2015, Jane Doe was testifying against the man who raped her. Midway through her testimony, she broke down. Initially, Jane Doe was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward. Once “stabilized”, Jane Doe was sent to the Harris County Jail, where she stayed for 28 days. Why was Jane Doe sent to jail? The court had a holiday break coming up, and so the prosecuting attorney dumped Jane Doe in jail so that she would complete her testimony. Jane Doe “was imprisoned in the hellhole of the Harris County Jail for no reason other than being a rape victim who struggles with a mental disability.”

Jane Doe is suing Harris County, Texas, for the abuse and torture she experienced in jail. During her month in jail, Jane Doe was assaulted, insulted, verbally abused, demeaned, and worse. She was put in with the general population, even though there is a mental health unit in the jail. After all of that, Jane Doe did exactly as she had done all along. She cooperated with officials and completed her testimony in January.

Jane Doe was in the same county jail as the man who raped her: “Her rapist was not denied medical care, psychologically tortured, brutalized by other inmates, or beaten by jail guards,”

This is the State of Jane Doe where two women, all women, become one and the same. Their suffrage and citizenship is violence and torture: sexual, psychological, physical, spiritual, economic, political. Welcome to the State of Jane Doe, no country for women.

 

(Image Credit: Moviefone)

The “crisis” of jails in Louisville, Kentucky, is the criminal justice system

Over the past few months, jails in Kentucky have been making headlines. Earlier in the year, the headlines were about how “a pattern of employee misconduct” in one juvenile jail killed a teenage girl named Gynnya McMillen.

The new headlines, though, are about the jails in Louisville, KY, the largest city in the State. You see, Louisville’s jails are overcrowded. How overcrowded are they? To quote former inmate Jennifer Kennedy, “It was terrible…I slept on the floor, on a mat. I had to borrow a cover from someone who had one in there.”

But wait, there’s more. Louisville’s jails are so overcrowded that the State has deemed it a crisis. The director of Louisville Metro Corrections even ordered the re-opening of an old, now illegal jail. This supposedly temporary jail is illegal because the building is not up to fire evacuation standards. One judge remarked that “If they have a fire there, people are going to die.”

Even when faced with the prospect of a holocaust of prisoners, the State continued putting people in jail, and so the old, illegal jail also filled up. Now prisoners are forced to sleep in gymnasiums and use portable bathroom facilities. With every new “temporary” solution, prisoners get moved around—and moving prisoners is a violent, destabilizing process.

It’s easy to think that this overcrowding crisis is sudden and surprising, but it’s neither. The State of Kentucky created this crisis. Faced with a surplus of revenue and falling wages throughout the commonwealth, state and local governments looked to prisons and jails in which to invest excess capital. More prisons and jails mean more prisoners, an induced demand that does not depend on crime rate. This resulted in the Kentucky having the fourteenth highest overall incarceration rate in the world and the third highest women’s incarceration rate in the world.

First, the State of Kentucky knowingly hyper-incarcerates people, especially women, who worldwide are the fastest-growing prison population. The State keeps demanding more, its thirst for caged bodies never satiated, and puts these prisoners in cramped, fire-prone conditions. State officials throw up their arms, wondering how anyone could have predicted this.

How will Louisville and the State of Kentucky “solve” the crisis? The State government offered to take 200 inmates into its custody from local jails, but the state jails are just as overcrowded; state facilities were already leasing out prisoners to local jails to begin with. Instead, the State is looking to reopen two private prisons run by the CCA as another “temporary” solution. Never mind that the Kentucky CCA facilities were major harbors of sexual abuse against women prisoners.

As Louisville and Kentucky scramble for solutions, two things are clear:

  • Women prisoners, and all prisoners, matter. As the State creates and covers up its own crises, women prisoners become targets of violence to solve said crises. The pain their bodies and minds must endure directly correlates to the amount of money the State invests in prison infrastructure. Women prisoners’ space and time are inversely related to these investments. The conditions that women prisoners endure—such as the risk of being burned to death in overcrowded facilities—are also the conditions on which entire modern cities, like Louisville, are currently being developed.
  • The solution for prison overcrowding is not to build more prisons or to find more “temporary” solutions. The existence of prisons at all, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore reminds us, is a crisis in itself, a major contradiction in a supposedly “free” society that allows “un-freedom” to exist. The only real, lasting solution is to abolish prisons and create alternative forms of justice that do not inflict more violence on other human beings.

 

(Photo Credit: WDRB)

What happened to Joyce Curnell? #SayHerName

Joyce Curnell

Last July, Joyce Curnell, a 50-year-old Black woman, died of dehydration in the Charleston County jail, in South Carolina. In her death, she joined Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Ralkina Jones and Raynette Turner: five Black women who died in one month in jails across the country. In her death, she also joined Kellsie Green, whose family called the police to arrest her because she needed help and there was no other help locally available. Joyce Curnell is the latest headstone to be placed alongside the highway of women missing and murdered by the State.

On July 21, Joyce Curnell went into hospital with severe stomach pains. She was diagnosed with gastroenteritis. When she was discharged, the local police picked her up on an outstanding warrant. Joyce Curnell’s son, Javon Curnell, had call the police and told them of his mother’s location and outstanding warrant. Joyce Curnell was struggling with alcoholism, and her children thought that the jail would provide her with the help she couldn’t anywhere else: “She’s my mom, but I’m trying to help her. She won’t listen, she drinks a lot. She needs some time to detox herself.” Javon Curnell saw only two choices for his mother: jail or the graveyard.

At the hospital, Joyce Curnell was hydrated, given medications and told to seek medical help if she had any more pain or vomiting. No one at the Charleston County jail did anything to address her pain. Joyce Curnell spent the night wracked with pain and vomiting. Guards brought her a trash bag to vomit into. No one moved her to any medical facility. Joyce Curnell grew too weak to go to the bathroom. In the morning she was too weak to eat and continued vomiting. No one gave her any water or helped in any other way. Medical staff “checked” her around 3 pm, and did nothing. By 5 pm, Joyce Curnell was dead. There was no failure here, but rather deliberate and lethal refusal.

The family is suing the Carolina Center for Occupational Health, which provide “health care” at the jail. As the family’s attorney explained, “This is not a situation in which Joyce needed access to cutting edge medical care to save her life. She needed fluids and the attention of a doctor. Not only has nobody been prosecuted in connection with Joyce’s death, it does not appear that any employee has even been reprimanded … You don’t need a medical license to administer Gatorade. At some point, she would have needed more than simple hydration, but early on, it probably would have worked.”

Who killed Joyce Curnell? Everyone. As has happened so often before in similar circumstances, the autopsy concluded that Joyce Curnell’s death was “natural.” What nature is that? The fault here is not in the stars but in ourselves, in our collusion with murders that, taken together, comprise a massacre. Where is the sustained outrage? The Curnell family sued the health contractors on Wednesday, and by today, the following Monday, the world has moved on, and Joyce Curnell, who died in agony, begging for help, for a drop of water, is dead.

 

(Photo Credit: The Post and Courier)

The gender of death: How (many) women die in jails

Yesterday, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, or BJS, released a report, Mortality in Local Jails and State Prisons, 2000–2013 – Statistical Tables. Suicide is the leading cause of death in U.S. jails. Also yesterday, the Spokane County Jail, in Washington State, requested that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate its recent rash of prisoner suicides. Today, reluctantly and under pressure from the Federal government, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department agreed to reforms in the L.A. County Jail that would finally begin to address “chronically poor treatment for mentally ill inmates and … years of abusive behavior by jailers.” Across much of the country, jurisdictions are finally beginning to focus on mental illness in jails.

From how one dies to how many ones die, jail deaths are gendered: “In 2013, a total of 967 jail inmates died while in the custody of local jails. The number of deaths increased from 958 deaths in 2012 to 967 in 2013, while the jail population decreased 4%. As a result, the overall mortality rate in local jails increased from 128 per 100,000 jail inmates in 2012 to 135 per 100,000 in 2013.”

Last year, a BJS report noted, “The number of deaths in local jails increased, from 889 in 2011 to 958 in 2012, which marked the first increase since 2009. The increase in deaths in local jails was primarily due to an increase in illness-related deaths (up 24%) … Suicide continued to be the leading cause of death in local jails”.

In 2000 and 2001, 91 women died in jail. In 2012, 122 women died in local jails; in 2013, 124. Starting in 2003, the number of women dying in local jails has never dipped below 110. More women are dying in jail, and women in jail are making up, year by year, a greater percentage of jail deaths, from 10.1% in 2000 to 12.8% in 2013.

From 2000 to 2013, 1630 women died in local jails. Of that number, 347 committed suicide.

On any average day in 2013, 100,000 women were in local jails. That’s up from 68,000 in 2000, and from 2000 to 2005, the numbers stayed well below 100,000. Today, 100,000 is the norm. Last year, the “good news” was that the suicide rate among women in jail had gone down from 30 out of 100,000 to 26 out of 100,000. In 2013, that rate rose to 30.

In a separate report, the BJS notes, “The female inmate population increased 18.1% between midyear 2010 and 2014, while the male population declined 3.2% … Males have made up at least 85% of the jail population since 2000. The female inmate population increased 18.1% (up 16,700 inmates) between midyear 2010 and 2014, while the male population declined 3.2% (down 20,900 inmates). The female jail population grew by an average of about 1.6% every year between 2005 and 2014. In comparison, the male jail population declined by 0.3% every year since 2005.” In 2000, 70, 987 women and girls were in jail; in 2014, 109,100. In 2000, women and girls made up 11.4% of the jail population; in 2014, 14.7%.

None of this is new. Girls end up in jail for status offenses; boys don’t. Women end up in jail, and dead, because they live with mental illnesses, and, when they need help, the police arrive. That’s the cruel and usual punishment of women in jails. How many more federal reports, scholarly studies, grieving families and dead women’s bodies are needed for the nation to act?

 

(Graph credit: Bureau of Justice Statistics / http://www.prisonpolicy.org)

Sarah Lee Circle Bear died in agony, screaming and begging for care

Sarah Lee Circle Bear

On July 6, Sarah Lee Circle Bear was “found” unconscious in a holding cell in Brown County Jail in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Women’s bodies keep being “found” in jails across the United States. Police are killing Native American women, such as Christina Tahhahwah, at a staggering rate. Overrepresented in prisons and jails, Native Americans are beyond overrepresented in jail mortality rates. They are the dumped and “found”. Sarah Lee Circle Bear’s death is typical as is the excruciating pain and suffering she was forced to endure as she died in agony, screaming and begging for care.

Sarah Lee Circle Bear was 24 years old, a Lakota woman, the mother of two children, aged one and two. She was picked up for a bond violation, which is to say for not much. According to other prisoners, before being transferred to a holding cell, Sarah Lee Circle Bear told her jailers that she was suffering excruciating pain. The staff told her to “knock it off” and “quit faking”. Inmates called to the staff to help her. The staff came, picked Sarah Lee Circle Bear up off the floor, dragged her out of the cell, and transferred to a holding cell. Later, they “found” Sarah Lee Circle Bear “unresponsive.” Her family is now seeking justice.

Prisoners, and especially those in jails, die in agony, begging and screaming for care. From 2000 through 2012, close to 13,000 people died in local jails. The State lists “cause of death” but never includes the State among those. Sarah Lee Circle Bear died in agony, screaming and begging for help. Her fellow prisoners screamed as well.

This is Chuneice Patterson’s story. A prisoner in the Onondaga County Justice Center, in Syracuse, New York, Chuneice Patterson died, November 2, 2009, of ectopic pregnancy. She spent hours in agony begging for care. No one came. Amy Lynn Cowling died, in December 2010, in excruciating pain in the Gregg County Jail, in Texas. From coast to coast and border to border, a national community has built with the shrieks of women in jail, dying in excruciating pain and suffering, screaming and begging for care. No one comes or, worse, they come and drag her away. The dead who are “found” are “unresponsive”? It’s the other way around.

What happened to Sarah Lee Circle Bear? Nothing much. All part of the plan. Just another Native American woman dead in a jail somewhere in the United States.

 

(Photo Credit: Terrance Circle Bear, Sr. / Indian Country Today)

How women in jails die: Another world is possible!

Michelle Mata lives in San Antonio, Texas, and she lives with mental illness. Until recently, that meant living with the near certainty that at some time she would need help, and, instead of help, the police, with no training in mental illness treatment or crisis intervention, would be called: “Mental illness is the only disease that when you’re in a crisis, the cops are called. You’re having a heart attack, you don’t call the police … I’m a mother. I’m a sister. I’m a friend. I’m a volunteer. I’m all these people. I contribute to my community, and I have a mental illness. My diagnosis is major depression, with psychotic features, dissociative identity disorder, and panic disorder … I want to be treated the way you want your mother to be treated if she was ever diagnosed with a mental illness. If I’m in a crisis, you know, I’m in a crisis, and I don’t, I don’t understand what’s going on around me.”

It’s a common story, an American story, happening every day across the country, and with dire results. Women in crisis “resist arrest”, are handcuffed, shackled, and sent to jail. And then what?

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report yesterday on mortality in local jails and state prisons from 2000 to 2012: “The number of deaths in local jails increased, from 889 in 2011 to 958 in 2012, which marked the first increase since 2009. The increase in deaths in local jails was primarily due to an increase in illness-related deaths (up 24%) … Suicide continued to be the leading cause of death in local jails”.

Among women prisoners, from 2000 to 2012, suicide was the most common “unnatural cause of death”. In 2000 and 2001, 91 women died in jail. In 2012, 122 women died in local jails. Starting in 2003, the number of women dying in local jails has never dipped below 111. That’s a minimum 22% mortality increase … and rising.

From 2000 to 2012,1457 women died in local jails. Of that number, 312 committed suicide and another 172 died of drug or alcohol intoxication.

On any average day in 2012, 100,000 women were in local jails. That’s up from 68,000 in 2000, and from 2000 to 2005, the numbers stayed well below 100,000. Today, 100,000 is the norm. The “good news” is that the suicide rate among women in jail has gone down from 30 out of 100,000 to 25 out of 100,000. But more women in jail are dying of suicide, and if you throw in drug and alcohol intoxication, it’s a crisis.

Most women in local jails are awaiting trial or are being processed. Twenty some years of zero-tolerance `urban redevelopment’ have combined with the gutting of mental health services to create today’s perfect storm of suicide and self-harm by women being held in local jails.

San Antonio decided to go another way. About a year ago, the San Antonio Police Department instituted a Crisis Intervention Training program for its police officers, and Michelle Mata is one of the trainers. Since the program went into full effect, officers have not used force even once on someone in crisis. People in crisis are going to treatment centers rather than jail. People living with mental illness and people living with people with mental illness report they are leading better lives. Another world is possible. Ask Michelle Mata.