Women prisoners: ‘Shout Their Names’

From the January-February 2017 News & Letters

Editor’s note: Families of prisoners who were declared suicides at California Institution for Women (CIW) continue to speak out. Their effort resulted in a “retirement” of the CIW warden and now a legislative audit of all California prisons’ suicide prevention procedures. Below we print the testimony of the sisters of Erika Rocha.

Graphic: Arizona Prison Watch

Geraldine Rocha: Erika was incarcerated when she was 14. She had no other life. In many ways, she was still a child. My sister was everything to me. Although she was older (I was eight when she was arrested), she was my little sister. We fought for her to be moved closer to us. When they found her, the paramedics pronounced her dead, because they saw that rigor mortis was already setting in… She was hanging for three hours and no one came!

…I can’t be saying, “This is who my sister was, this is what she was doing…” I should be saying, “This is who my sister is, this is what she is doing…” She died the day before her parole hearing.

Erika’s other younger sister: My sister was fun. She had severe problems with depression. She was denied help that should have saved her life. She was put on suicide watch and suicided two days after being released from it. She took her life after not being able to get the help she needed…No one should have to hear, after being told that her sister is coming home, that she is never coming home. (To read more about Erika Rocha go to: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/35834-erika-rocha-s-suicide-underscores-the-damage-that-prison-is-wreaking-on-youth.)

–Urszula Wislanka

One thought on “Women prisoners: ‘Shout Their Names’

  1. I don’t know why this is dated 2017 and not updated? I don’t see a recent date. This is my first time at this site. The words, “Shout Her Name” caught my attention. I read the story on the soul, rest in peace, Erica, who was found hanging after three hours.

    I did six years, half in CIW and the other half in that hell, CHOWCHILLA. I hated that place. It was so racist that I actually missed CIW. But since some fool had escaped and his woman was in CIW, they got scared he might come to bust her out. They got rid of everyone who had an escape, bail jumpers, etc.

    I was one of the first to go to Chowchilla. I ended up doing 30 days in the hole next door to death row; we spoke to each other through the vents. I just hated that place. Their staff walked around with a sense of entitlement and as if they took our crimes personally, even if they were not violent.

    I worked in the AIDS office in Chowchilla. In CIW, I learned computers and to type. In both prison I watched who acted like they had a conscience and who were sociopaths. I did time with the Manson girls and others and watched how normal they were after having such disregard for life; and yet they would give their lunch to cats. I wanted to understand that and to understand my self-destructive behavior better. These are the main reasons that in Bedford I went from GED to Pre-college classes, to my first semester in Mercy College in NY. I received my Associates there. Years later I went toward getting a degree in psychology.

    Am I just a neurotic New Yorker? Maybe, but there was more. I did three years on a six years sentence for escaping in Calif. but since I was already doing a one to three in NY, I ended up doing my Calif. time together in NY–the whole three years.

    What a difference was Bedford Hills prison, in NY. The C.O.’s attitude was like: “Lets treat these girls decent and it will make our job easier.” Smart thinking. In Calif. prison it’s all about control and intimidation and that is why in NY you can actually like and trust a C.O. as opposed to C.O.’s in jails and prisons in Calif. In Calif. the control issue goes overboard and that is why there is so much hate between prisoners and cops in Calif., in my opinion anyway.

    I would like to get involved and would appreciate a heads up if you are still in business.

    In Calif. I was railroaded with the three strikes law that was supposed to be for repeated violent offenders who keep being let out on parole and committed violent acts again. They went crazy giving people life for stealing a pack of cigarettes. They sentenced you, not on your crime, but on your past crimes that you had already paid for. My crime was forgery and since I had more forgeries in my past rap sheet they took one more and threatened me with 25 years to life because, like he said, “Esther, I have two forgeries: this case and one from your rap sheet. That’s two strikes. And you know I can go back to your rap sheet and find another forgery and that would be three strikes: 25 to life.” I told him, “My crimes are not violent, why are you striking me?” His reply was: “It is for serious felonies also.” Really!! If I had not taken six years with 80% I would have been doing life for two checks worth $100 each. Every time I was arrested I was guilty. They are supposed to be an institution of honesty and fairness but what they are in a courtroom are actors, out to win at any cost. If you are poor you get a free attorney that resents you for getting a free attorney.

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