By Mackenzie Wilson
Special to The Vanguard
SACRAMENTO, CA – More than 80 people attended a vigil outside the Downtown Sacramento County Main Jail May 18 for those who have died or suffered inside of its walls—at least four people have died inside Sacramento County jails this past year, and, since 2014, there are 64 reported deaths, charged Decarcerate Sacramento.
Hosted by Decarcerate Sac, community members, families who have lost loved ones, and formerly incarcerated people spoke about the conditions of the jail, the things they saw inside, and how their family members suffered at the lack of humane treatment inside the jail by its staff.
Also attending was Jasmine McFadden-Stevens, wife of William Stevens, who died of COVID-19 in the Sacramento County Main Jail.
Opened by song and poetry, speaker after speaker used the microphone to share not just their stories but the stories of people inside.
One speaker, Chanzie Cox, a former jail worker, said, “I was subject to and witnessed the conditions of others for three years. I prayed that one day I would have the right platform to share what I saw there so that it could inspire people to make a difference. I would witness women who would sit incoherent in rooms surrounded by mold and feces without any help for months.”
“A jail expansion will not solve the systemic and cultural issues that are killing our loved ones and community members. Only magnified investments in community-based services will be able to stop cycles of violence in our community,” said Cox.
Cox spoke about how in several cells there were “3-4 inches deep water with urine and feces in it…officers did absolutely nothing about the conditions,” and how after she told a jail lieutenant about it, he thanked her for informing him because none of the deputies told him.
Cox also remembered “Tammy,” who was “overmedicated…it took 15-30 seconds for her to respond to me. I believe she’d be alive today if she wasn’t overmedicated,” said Cox, adding, “Tammy” died when an orange wedged in her airway.
And Cox said a new jail didn’t need to be built, arguing that “we don’t need to build another jail to house people suffering from mental health crisis,” testifying she saw 13 men who were released and “10 were in mental health crisis…they had no shoes, their feet were calloused. They were released back into the streets; they didn’t need to be incarcerated.”
Jaxson Mills talked about being trans inside the jail and forced to live in solitary confinement for the 12 days, and how the only interactions with people they had was the taunting and ridicule by Sacramento Sheriff’s Department Officers.
Every speaker spoke on how caring for people’s basic rights, their bodies, and mental health was not something that could be found behind the jail walls, and how the County’s proposed new Mental Health Jail Annex would not solve the crisis going on inside.
They detailed the failures of Sacramento County to help them and their loved ones, that instead criminalized them and left them in worse condition than when they began their jail stays.
Kari Hamilton, another former incarcerated at the jail, confessed, “I witnessed things here I wouldn’t want anyone to go through. I avoided telling (family and friends) what I was going through because I didn’t want them worrying about me.”
Explaining the jail made everything look better, Hamilton said the day before federal inspectors came the jail had everyone “scrubbing” the jail clean.
And she talked about many miscarriages, one with a young woman, with a newborn on the floor, remembering deputies “didn’t do anything (and) finally picked the baby up and put it in a trash bag.”
“Sacramento County jails are deadly, dehumanizing, and perpetuate violence every single day. They are not preventing harm and violence in our community, only exacerbating it. Our community deserves real solutions for keeping our communities safe and healthy,” said Jael Barnes, Pretrial Justice Organizer, Decarcerate Sacramento.
“People with mental health and substance use disorders need care, not criminalization. Jail will never provide the proper care and will never stop criminalizing,” noted Tamara Lacey, Mental Health and Social Justice Advocate.