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  photo courtesy Lynn Montgomery

COPA! NM demonstration July 15 at the prison outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Simultaneous protests were held at prisons and state capitols in several states coordinated by the Prison Reform Unity Project. More photos from other states.

Based on an interview with Tilda Sosaya of COPA! NM in Albuquerque, NM,
by Barb Sweeney

    Tilda Sosaya caught up with New Mexico's governor Johnson in Los Angeles at the Shadow Convention.  Tilda is a prison rights activist, and founder/ coordinator of COPA! NM (Committee on Prison Accountability). She speaks out against the inhuman effects of prison privatization, and voices her concerns for the "forgotten ones"
     Tilda reminded Governor Johnson of his statement that he "would rather spend money on building schools and have prisoners staked out in the sun and honey poured on them so that the red ants can be released on them and eat them to the bone.", and she asked if his views had changed at all. . He appeared rather disconcerted and tried to gloss over the fact by saying he "was actually just joking". The prison system is nothing to joke about.

     With privatization and slashed budgets, 6000 inmates currently inside the walls, and about 12,000 more on probation, parole, and in community corrections programs, this disturbing trend affects a significant number of families in New Mexico. At least 90,000 people, primarily women and children are negatively affected by the current mis-management of the prison-industrial complex.

     The prison population consists of 40% Hispanic, 30% Anglo and 30% Black-yet only 1% of the entire state of New Mexico is black.

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Steve Wilson and Tilda Sosaya appeared on Albuquerque Channel 27 to talk about prison issues and the drug war.  At right is Bruce Bush of the Delta-9 organization who hosted this lively show in the local TV series.
* The inmates sent to Virginia's Level VI Wallens Ridge State Prison were not involved in the murder of a correctional officer.
* 71% of our inmates are minorities.
* Female incarceration rates have increased by 116% since 1995.
* Male incarceration rate has increased by 31% since 1995.
* Private prisons in NM CANNOT provide safe conditions for inmates or staff.

     Lack of appropriate medical care for inmates, insufficient food, harsh and inconsistent policies, and complete indifference to the plight of families, characterizes the present state of affairs which exists in New Mexico today.

     Privatization removes responsibility for the management and rehabilitation of prisoners from the government, and places it in the hands of private corporations. This is forbidden in the state Constitution of New Mexico-- profits at the expense of people, punishment instead of rehabilitation, bottom line instead of human rights.

     House speaker Raymond Sanchez stated-"You substitute a profit motive for what should be the priority of government-the health, welfare, and safety of the citizens. You substitute accountability to a board of directors for accountability to a community."

     I met with Tilda and Mr. Dwight Duran in her Albuquerque, NM home. His lawsuit
settlement, known as the Duran Consent Decree, is well known in law schools. Mr. Duran's name is synonymous with prisoners' rights. Mr. Duran heads the board of directors of COPA! NM.  Tilda considers him a mentor and a prime motivating force behind her activist work.

     Tilda became aware of the prison system when her son Alex (19) was adjudicated in the fall of 1998. She states-"I was immobilized with grief, pain shock, and shame. I felt like I was wearing a wet, dark woolen cape. I didn't want to see anyone and I mourned".

     While Alex was awaiting trial she spoke with him twice a week. "Prisoners MUST call collect, and a 20 minute call costs $20!" "I became emotionally and financially bankrupt. I worried about a young guy in there with all the hardened criminals and violent offenders."   Her turning point was an ACLU event. It was there she realized that she was not alone, and that her situation wasn't the worst of the worst. She felt the need for a more direct approach by activism, and worked with other families to create COPA! NM.

     In August 1999, after a state caused prison riot in Santa Rosa, a contract was quickly crafted which shipped 109 inmates to Wallens Ridge Supermax in Virginia as "punishment".   Unfortunately, very few violent prisoners were included; some were there for shoplifting, possession of a controlled substance, or even failure to pay child support.   Their treatment has been appalling, and is now the subject of official investigations.   Inmates have been dragged, placed in restraints, shot with stun guns, and terrorized with attack dogs. Guards wouldn't allow them to meet personal needs-even taking bets on how long it would take prisoners to soil their clothes!

     After numerous deaths and outcries from various states, some prisoners have started returning home, even though their families aren't being notified . Tilda is concerned that some prisoners may have disappeared, and are unaccounted for.  In her view, prisons are meant for rehabilitation, not punishment. In the eyes of the judicial system, once you have completed your debt to society, you should no longer be "punished".

sp001476.gif (1864 bytes)     By turning people into profits and removing any rehabilitation and educational efforts, you are creating a vicious circle of hate and anger, and fostering recidivism.   Almost all prisoners will be returned to the community eventually. Society has to live with, and deal with, what the system has created. We are all directly affected by this travesty, and need to speak out against these injustices.

by Barb Sweeney [email protected]

 
COPA! NM is a not for profit organization, a project of NM REEF
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