The San Quentin News conducted this interview with Deirdre Wilson, advocate for women prisoners who has a radio show on KPFA the last Friday of each month.
Tell us what groups you work with, your responsibilities and what population you serve?
I am Program Coordinator for California Coalition for Women Prisoners, a member of All of Us or None, and part of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s National Movement, dedicated to restore the full human and civil rights of prisoners and prison survivors.
Are women prisoners adequately served in terms of medical/psychiatric care?
Unfortunately, people often go undiagnosed with serious cancers…lumps that are not biopsied, are mis-diagnosed as something else, who are then found to be in late stages of cancer once they are biopsied.
We met with a young woman who was sentenced to life as a juvenile, who is known to have had mental illness, and was described as developmentally challenged at the time of her crime. She was 15. Although she is extremely bright and engaging, it is painful to see her struggle with paranoia, anxiety and what she says has been labeled “schizophrenia.” She does not take medication, as she doesn’t like how it makes her feel. Who would feel safe in that atmosphere?
What are some of the other issues facing women prisoners, and what can supporters do about them?
The primary issue facing women prisoners is what faces all of us as a society: destruction of community and family. …People can do a lot to support community health overall by working in any capacity to humanize those who are locked up, to advocate for alternatives to prison that are constructive rather than destructive, and to demand that children separated from parents in prison get all the support they need and deserve, including maintaining contact and relationships with their parents.
What is the mission of your radio show?
It is to amplify voices of prisoners, represent issues that affect them, and to let those inside know they are part of the community and that they are heard and felt on the outside. The most basic human emotional needs are to know that you exist, that you matter to others, and that you belong.
What advice would you offer to reduce the prison population?
“We met with a young woman who was sentenced to life as a juvenile, who is known to have mental illness, and was described as developmentally challenged at the time of her crime. She was 15”
Release all those with serious medical conditions and those who are elderly immediately, and with proper support and care. Review every person eligible for parole by the standard set by the law and immediately release those who meet it. Review all 3-strikes cases, gang enhancements and convictions of life without possibility of parole. Redirect at least 60 percent of state funding away from policing and the prison industry to viable support for those released; affordable housing, medical care, substance abuse, treatment, medical care and mental health support, and let people access the resources they need to grow and develop as valued human beings.
California Coalition for Women Prisoners, 1540 Market Street #490, SF, CA 94102.
contributed to this story.