by Holly Davidson
When the power went off here at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) on Saturday, the 23rd of September, most of us figured it would turn back on in an hour or so. Power outages are not so frequent to be newsworthy, but they are never to this magnitude either. The entirety of CCWF went dark, not just a yard or a unit. Our backup generators kicked on. These provided power to the “cop-shops,” the hallway lights, the kitchens, medical, behind work change, and A-yard, apparently. This occurred at around 5:45pm. We went to bed that night to complete silence. No vents circulating air, no fans, no TVs, nothing. We expected the power to be turned back on over night or early in the morning. We were so wrong. All of Sunday was spent with us fighting to have the right to some electricity. If the cop shop has power, then we figured why should we be without? Our IAC members received permission to utilize that power by way of extension cords to charge our tablets. Our tablets are our main use of communication. Of course, we were anxious to have them charged.
Unfortunately, by noon not even half of my unit 509 received a charge. Upon releasing the same unit for noon meds, the alarm went off in D hall. We all took our seats as per protocol when the yard “goes down.” As the guards stormed into our unit to react to the alarm, Vanne Beaver (#WE6349), an elderly and disabled woman, exited D hall. The staff approached her as hostile telling her to take a seat. She pointed towards her hallway (C hall) and explained in very simple terms that she has a wheelchair and a vest. designating her mobility impairment and incapability of sitting down as instructed. Vanne then took a side step towards her chair, and the staff stepped forward and proceeded to spray her in the face. There was a room full of cops, and not one had their cameras on. Cameras are required by Sacramento to be on at all times, except in the restroom or during confidential interviews. Of course, no cameras were working within the unit either, so what happened was swept under the rug. That was only incident number one. The following day there were many alarms for reasons we can only guess at, but of course, none of these incidents were recorded either. Why they used this 48 hours of darkness as an excuse to not have power for their state required cameras, I am unsure.
But I do know that they could have utilized what power they did have to charge those cameras. The fact that they didn’t was by design. They used a freak outage as a way to confine us to our quarters. I don’t believe much effort was used in fixing the “problem.” Instead they figured they would just not give us our rightful program. On the second day, with no power in our cells the housing staff declared we would be allowed in the yard and that we could charge our tablets outside by canteen. Upon utilizing those plugs, inmates whose tablets were plugged in there had them confiscated by yard staff. Then inmates proceeded to sneak to plug in instead. I personally attempted this myself until an officer out of work change said she would take my tablet. When others around exclaimed the unfairness of that, the officer said, “If u can’t do the time don’t do the crime.” I am unsure where that even seems right because having no hot water to bathe with, no ability to even make a cup of coffee, no chance of calling home to complain verges on the side of cruel and unusual punishment.
They used this to contain us for a weekend no matter how you look at it. If inmates had not started to retaliate by having peaceful sit outs—thank u 513—then power would not have been restored so quickly. The fact that during such a crisis we were locked down is unfair and inhumane. It brings to the forefront the thought of what will happen during a natural disaster or something more severe. Their protocol is to lock us down first then decide what’s next. What if the power issue had caused electrical fires within the walls? We would yell for staff, but 32 women yelling at once for staff that are less than half that amount per yard could do nothing realistically. If the power was out they could not get our doors open in time to save us all, if they even heard our call.