By: April Dawn Pineda
As of today July 31st 2017, I sit in my 10 by 4 concrete cell with a blue steel door, with no visability out a purposely fogged out window, (so we can't see the sky, for what reason I do not know) with a hatch for our meals in a maximum level 4 unit locked down for 23 hours a day to the beat of commercials, banging, clanging and screaming at all hours of the day. I'm at Elmwood Correctional facility in Milpitas California and have been in maximum level security ever since I've banged on a door without stopping back in 2014. My behavior has been what it can only be back in these remote, forgotten parts of the jail, muted and subdued, yet I am denied from our classification to down class, although I have completed the only two programs they allow back here several times over, meaning I complete the same "cycle" of material to receive a certificate (6 wk course for the yoga/meditation and a 12 week course for the substance abuse journaling program) then, upon the end of that program, we just begin at the same neverending cycle again, over and over, just like the commercials, TV shows, CO's and their attitudes picking favorites and bringing their petty jealousies and feelings to work, along with every other female housed here, some who feel as I do and some unfortunately who go against the grain and forget what uniform their wearing (meaning jail issue) and from lack of morals and respect turn against other females who share their own burden of being locked up, strained, drained and frustrated right alongside with them but only make matters worse with talking about the next female behind her back taking her burdens to a whole other level by destroying what chance of unity and building each other up we might have, for example, today as I sit here, because of the female locked up right beside me we can no longer clean our own unit and are subjected to a level (1) random cleaning by inmates who aren't housed here and could care less about how clean they get our showers or our hot pot being filled. This wouldn't even be an issue if we had plenty of time to program but as I mentioned before a maximum of an hour is what we get, if we get it and then we have our phone calls, showering, cleaning of our cells and exercise in the yard if were extremely motivated, so remember, this desision to have the level (1) inmates randomly clean comes from one girls mouth of unfair treatment. Her mouth is also another reason they won't program a girl she's afraid of with her group. Another reason they won't down class me to a unit where theres all kinds of programs available and opportunities to improve and rehabilitate myself, which I am frustrated at being denied the opportunity for this simply because a girl has moved her mouth with insinutions that are untrue and are dictating the desisions on a whole other level. These in many cases are the reasons for violence. In Chinchilla facility, CIW and other contact allowed facilities "snitching" is not tolerated and will be dealt with swiftly and violently. My solution is why the need to do this anyway when simple conversation between two incarcerated individuals or group concession would have been met with respect on the lowest level, simply because the communities (because that's what we are back here) needs are voiced point blank period. Instead this individual creates an unsafe, hostile environment for herself, when in reality it could've been avoided in the first place by simply voicing her needs respectfully. So, amongst other things I am currently facing my 3rd strike and because I am indigent I was forced to plead out "openly" to 80 to life. I say forced because my public defender threatened that if I went to trial I would lose and I would get 121 to life. He told me my Aunt told him I was guilty and to trust him. He further said if I kept prolonging to "open" "plea" they (meaning the DA) would take the romero option that they were considering striking some of my strikes off the table, because of the stress and frustration I was causing at wasting their time, playing games and the under 21 year sentence they were considering would turn into a much higher number. So you, as the reader, must be thinking, now, she must be a violent striker right? I got my first strike for stealing a bicycle out of target in 1998. I was 21 years old in LA and been in twin towers for 59 days (at the time a very long time for me). I was offered time served to take the strike a P.L. 211 or plead out to a pc666 for 16 mos in prison. I had no idea what a strike meant or the penal codes all I heard was time served and the other option was prison. My public defender simply told me never to get in trouble again. This is where the system went so wrong with the striker initiative in the 1st place, originally the striker law was invented for Polly Klause a 12 year old victim who was kidnapped, raped, and killed. The "3 strikes your out law" was invented for molesters, rapists, and killers. I am far from any of those things and am just an addict that supports my addiction through petty theft but because of the District Attorney's thirst for easy convictions fell victim to system whose machine was in full gear around the time when I first plead unknowingly to the severity of that strike, only being told that I could go home to San Jose that day and to never get in trouble again at 21 years of age.
Which brings me to now, where as a 40 year old woman I saw my life flashing before my eyes in the courtroom, actually having to psychologically remove myself to ensure I had no emotional breakdown or outburst which instinctually I knew would not help me, when I heard the numbers flying out of his mouth before I even knew what I was being charged with at my own arraignment, when he had snapped at me for the way I had given him my birth date, he then told me that if he were me he would have so much attitude if he were facing 60 to life. That's when I had said "for what?" He then told me my chargers of 1st Degree Burglaries to which still today I was at a loss, but after the days that followed, after I saw the many times as the lead public defender who had been in that court room for near 20 years and had the respect of not just other lawyers, but many inmates, District Attorneys and the entire staff, including the Judges, I realized that this man, in this small courthouse, held my future literally in his hands...and if he didn't want to go to preliminary because he didn't believe in my innocence and was on a first name basis with the D.A. himself that was prosecuting me, having his own paralegal come and tell me he was "God", then what were my options? Represent myself? Fire him and get another county appointed counsel who would not have the same small town good ole boy camaraderie in a 98% conviction rate county and get bull dozed around by the public defenders buddies that live in that court house with him? The system is too great a machine for a little guy like me to fight, when just recently San Jose Mercury's own headlines boasted correctional officers 2nd degree murder convictions based on "texts" and circumstantial evidence and murder convictions with no bodies found in other cases, unbelievable indictments in some cases with over 200 suspects named with no other reason other that they are related to a suspect with vague criminal convictions bored investigators like to label quickly with gang affiliation. Bottom line is this is just a small city trying so hard to put it's big boy pants on no matter however they can to make their own name for themselves whether it's recreating downtown for the super tech giant Google's takeover that will cost thousands of old businesses their livelihoods to ignoring the housing crisis that has almost 10,000 homeless (and those are the ones who decided to participate in the census) to making living here so unaffordable even the new milleniels entering into the tech world created their own sub roomate sites online. To the drumbeat of many today there are now two classes of people living in Silicon Valley, the people who can and the people who cannot afford to live here and that doesn't any longer include the middle class family, let alone the criminal justice system's victims who are stuck in a machine so slick the average wait for a capital defendant going to trial here in this county is anywhere from 2 to 9 years, and let us not forget that conviction rate of 98 is more like a solid 99 today. I am just another sacrificial pawn in a never ending game.
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