VANGUARD INCARCERATED PRESS: Extreme Weather

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By Holly Davidson

Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) is a prison built exactly where the name states, central California, and in this part of the state our weather is extreme. When we have heat, it can reach up to 115 degrees easily, and when it’s the rainy season, it can rain for four to five days with no break. We get hail, we get fog and we get wind storms. I guess you can say we are pretty well-rounded in the weather department.

Now you would think that while building a prison in an area such as this, all of these things would be taken into consideration, but they are not. Our prison is built in such a way that we must endure this weather in all its phases. During peak season in summer when our temperatures begin to rise we have no reprieve. A woman said, “Once I was so overheated I thought I was going to pass out, so I sat down underneath a tree for shade and received a write-up since where I was ‘out of bounds.'” Very little shade can be found on our yards and the little that is available is sure to be in a marked out-of-bounds area. Many of us suffer from heat-induced seizures or are on medication that could cause them. One inmate said, “I have been so fatigued from the heat while walking from my yard to the medical clinic that I had to literally sit down where I stood.” A lot of inmates end up with sunspots and discoloration on their faces, and we are given nothing to remove them. This sun, which we are forced to endure physically, permanently marks us. You may think why not just stay indoors? The answer is that we live in concrete buildings which may as well be brick ovens. Unlike the medical and staff buildings which have A\C, we only have swamp coolers.

You may think, buy a fan, and we do, at least those of us who can afford one. Those who cannot must endure, while those who do have a fan must be two feet from them to even feel the effect. Those who cannot afford a fan most likely cannot afford a pair of shorts, a tank top, or other summer-like belongings either. Does CCWF provide them? No, they did not, nor did they consider that, given their decision to build a prison in a place with weather like this, they should provide us with proper clothing like a simple pair of shorts.

Then when an inmate “alters” a pair of pants into shorts by cutting and sewing them, that inmate is written up and charged for damaging state property. Likewise, if an inmate is caught with their pants up getting a tan or becomes sunburned, they are also “damaging state property.”

When it rains and pours here during the winter season, there are no covered areas that are not out of bounds for inmates to be outdoors. The rain ponchos that we can buy are cheap and tend to rip easily and CDCR often only provides ponchos (thin as trash liners) to indigent individuals. When it rains, our program goes on as normal which means that when the yard “goes on” due to incidents such as an altercation or medical issue, all inmates must sit down. They must sit in the mud or the puddle of water that they are standing in at the time of the incident. An anonymous woman said, “It is degrading, the way they think it is okay for us to just plop down on the wet ground in the middle of a rainstorm.”

After sitting in the mud or water, then we have to get up and proceed to wherever we were headed, wet and dirty. There are benches, but those benches are not allowed to be sat on by anyone during an alarm unless they have an ADA vest allowing for it. Many people will ignore staff and sit anyway which can result in an RVR. If they decide to stand instead of sit or if they run for cover by a building, all of those could result in being written up. A woman over 55 states that “policy is not followed and they are not allowed back into buildings during inclement weather in between unlocks.”

It comes to mind to just squat and a lot of people do just that. But unless you are extremely fit, it is hard to squat for more than 15 minutes and that is how long some of our alarms are. It is just inhumane to subject us to such extreme weather with no consideration offered.

There are many simple ways to correct these hardships afforded by harsh weather, many of which one must wonder why they have never been utilized. We need summer canopies, awnings, umbrellas on our benches, more trees planted, a change in the out-of-bounds area lines, fans provided permanently for each room, shorts and shirts provided with thinner material and shorter sleeves and A\C in the living quarters of inmates, not just staff buildings.

What’s needed for the aid from heat will also help with the rain but new rules need to be applied as well, such as being allowed to move to a dry area, stand still instead of sitting, or be allowed to sit on the benches. We also need rain slickers or some kind of safety umbrella made of plastic parts or ponchos of more durable quality.

All of these are simple solutions, which leaves us wondering why CDCR leaves the women of Chowchilla to suffer through such extreme and harsh weather when so many viable solutions are on hand. So I ask what has to happen? Who has to have heat stroke or catch pneumonia from the rain? What has to be said and to whom for this change to happen?  Are you reading this now thinking that you want to help implement that change? If so, please speak out in your institutions, and voice your discomfort. Otherwise, we will continue to suffer the heat and the rain. And if you’re reading this from the outside looking in, reach out to help provide the canopy or the poncho. Please do not let this continue unchecked.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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