[Pnews] Stopping the hidden problem of suicide behind bars

Prisoner News 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 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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