[Pnews] Stopping the hidden problem of suicide behind bars
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Sep 9 11:32:11 EDT 2019
*Stopping the hidden problem of suicide behind bars *
By Stacy Rojas <https://www.ocregister.com/author/stacy-rojas/> |
September 6, 2019
There has been an onslaught of media attention to the suicide of Jeffery
Epstein. Millions of people are wondering what sort of neglect or
corruption made it possible for him to take his own life when guards
were supposed to be checking his cell every 30 minutes.
But suicide is pervasive in jails and prisons across the United States.
The difference is that little attention is paid when these deaths are
happening to people of color and the poor, to women and LGBT people, to
people who have been targeted and criminalized by the state for much of
their lives. When it comes to suicides inside prison, abuse and neglect
is often to blame for what are preventable deaths. Unlike the death of a
billionaire playboy, these deaths usually remain invisible to the public.
As recently as two weeks ago, two incarcerated women of color attempted
suicide at the Central California Women’s Facility. Concern over mass
suicides and attempts at CCWF and the California Institution for Women
led to a suicide audit by the California state auditor in 2017. The
audit highlights the state’s failure to prevent suicides in California
women’s prisons in particular. Recently, Erika Rocha’s family settled a
wrongful death lawsuit against the corrections department for failing to
prevent her death at the California Institution for Women.
During my time in the Central California Women’s Facility, where I spent
15 years, I personally witnessed four people die from suicides that
could have been prevented if the prison had listened when my friends and
I asked for help. We often ended up having to rescue our friends from
hanging themselves, because it took the officers so long to step in. And
sometimes, when our friends died, the prison officers or administrators
didn’t even notify us. We’d have to look at the Daily Movement Schedule
the next day and scan the page to see if the word “deceased” was marked
next to our friends’ names and identification number.
In prison, I never saw people who were suicidal get help they needed or
begged for. My best friend died in the supposed care of the California
Department of Corrections. After I called medical emergency to try and
save them, I was beaten by the guards. I was punished for trying to
perform CPR on my best friend.
After my best friend took her life, I too was suicidal. I felt like I
had a death wish. I was placed on suicide watch, where someone sat
outside my cell for 24 hours of the day watching me. They don’t help
you. They watch you. You don’t get a blanket, and you have to wear paper
clothes. Sometimes they won’t even let you see a therapist. I had
officers tell me, “Go kill yourself,” as if they wanted me to. They’re
not just neglectful; they’re cruel.
In prison, people with serious histories of trauma and crisis are being
watched by people who have no regard for the lives of those they are
charged with protecting — people who see us not as human beings, but as
nuisances in cages. It is the opposite of care. Prison compounds
histories of trauma and abuse, especially for those struggling with
suicidality, and treatment and protection are critically important.
We need people from outside the prison coming in to offer us support.
There should be training for those inside, to teach us how to care for
one another, so that we can practice suicide prevention and do peer
counseling with each other. At the end of the day, we know that we’re
the only ones watching out for each other. We have to take it into our
own hands to keep each other from dying, because we know from experience
that guards and the prison administration won’t do it.
/Stacy Rojas is an organizer with the California Coalition for Women
Prisoners and the Young Women’s Freedom Center. Rojas was incarcerated
for 15 years at the Central California Women’s Facility./
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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